In September of 1981, a wild brawl took place in Tupelo, MS, the same place where Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee battled The Blond Bombers in the historic “Tupelo concession stand brawl” two years earlier. Similar to the original concession stand confrontation, blood flowed as nachos, hotdogs, and right hands were swung during the mayhem in 1981. This time, it was Ricky Morton and Eddie Gilbert clashing with Masa Fuchi and Atsushi Onita, two of the standout talents from All Japan Pro Wrestling. Fuchi and Onita worked the territory as apart of their excursion, a Japanese wrestling traditional that sends athletes with the most potential around the world to learn different styles before they return to their native country as more polished performers.
When Onita returned to All Japan, he resumed his status as one of the top Jr. heavyweights in the promotion. However, the high risk aerial style took its toll on him, causing a series of very serious knee injuries that put his career in jeopardy. In early 1985, Onita was forced to retired from the sport, ending a decade of performances that made him a recognizable name during a very popular era for the wrestling genre in Japan.
In many ways, Atsushi Onita had two completely different careers. He resurfaced on the scene over three years later, taking that time to heal from the injuries that many assumed had ended his career. The following year, he founded his own promotion, but it was very different from the athletic contests that he was known for previously. Ironically, Onita borrowed a page from the action he saw in Memphis to create a new genre, and in the process, alter the entire direction of the industry.
In 1989, Onita founded Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling, renegade promotion that was completely different from anything the country had witnessed at the time. Over the next few years, FMW became extremely popular with matches that featured barbed wire, explosions, and fire, peaking with a draw of over 40,000 fans for its fourth anniversary show when Onita fought Terry Funk in an exploding barbed wire match in 1993. That same year, Nintendo released a FMW video game, an indication that the once underground death match scene was recognized as a main stream success.
Post-match, Onita often took the mic and delivered emotional speeches with tears in his eyes while blood continued to stream down his face. After the leader of FMW threw down the microphone in triumph to conclude the show, fans rushed toward the ring, reaching through the ropes for the chance to briefly shake hands with the death match icon. Even with his wrist tape covered in a mixture of blood and ash, fans clamored to tag the scarred hands of the Japanese gladiator. Undoubtedly, Atshushi Onita reached mythical status.
A young manager, Paul Heyman borrowed often from the blue print that FMW crafted when he guided Extreme Championship Wrestling during a revolution that changed the presentation of sports entertainment in the United States.
Onita retired once again in 1995, only to return a short time later, which led to the fans calling him “Mr. Liar” after an emotional retirement tour led to what was supposed to be a definitive conclusion. Throughout the years, controversy followed Onita, both for his business practices and a scandal outside of the ring. He left FMW in 1998, and the company collapsed less than four years later after the legendary Hayabusa, an amazing athlete that carried the organization on his back, was tragically paralyzed after a botched moonsault. The late Hayabusa kept his promise to the fans when he walked into the ring during the FMW relaunch in 2015, a year before his tragic death at the age of 47.
Outside of FMW, Onita worked as a freelancer, retiring several more times before he was back to wrestle again. Despite the backlash from his almost immediate return to the squared circle from FMW fans, his charismatic and risk-taking style provided other opportunities. In 1999, he worked a series of matches for New Japan Pro Wrestling, culminating in a pair of exploding barbed wire matches against Chono and Muta, drawing over 60,000 and 48,000 fans for each bout respectively. He won a Japanese Senate seat in 2001, but a scandal prompted his exit from politics. Still, his popularity remained and a political video game was released. In more recent years, Onita continued to draw crowds for a variety of promotions, including Zero-1, All Japan, NOAH, and independent groups, as well as promoting his own cards.
Similar to how FMW influenced ECW, the South Philadelphia-based promotion inspired an entire generation of wrestlers to pursue the sport. During the early 2000s, the American independent circuit began to feature death matches, a style pioneered by Onita, more often, and saw groups such as Combat Zone Wrestling find a niche for themselves. As CZW grew, many risk-taking competitors made a name for themselves and generated a fan following.
One such grappler is Matt Tremont, a pro for nearly 11 years that dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler after he saw CZW tapes as a youth. Through a series of bloody battles, dangerous falls, and an admirable passion for the sport, Tremont has achieved the status of the death match icons that he idolized. A former CZW Heavyweight champion, Tremont achieved many of the goals he set for himself, and even launched other projects, including “Bulldozer’s Collectables,” a wrestling superstore in Berlin, NJ.
This Saturday, for the first time in decades, Atsushi Onita will have an official match in the United States against Matt Tremont, a contest that fans of the genre consider a dream match. The influence and draw to Onita wrestling a death match in America is not a new concept. In fact, other promotions tried to make it happen, but it never materialized. Onita made a one-off appearance at the ECW Arena to set up a bout with The Sandman in 1998 as apart of the talent exchange that saw some extreme originals work Japan, and allowed Tanaka to have an incredible series of matches with Mike Awesome in the United States. Rob Black, the founder of XPW that eventually served prison time for digressions related to his adult film company, scheduled Onita vs. Sabu for a match that never took place. Combat Zone Wrestling is the only company that will feature Onita wrestling in a death match in America.
“A Lot of logistically work to get Onita and his crew here. I did the early work and he responded. I know it’s been a lot of communication and work on DJ Hyde’s part. So, a lot of the work and credit goes to him to make this match and event happen among others as well that have helped tremendously,” Tremont explained.
A road map of scars decorate the forehead of the man known as “The Bulldozer,” and within the past few years, his profile gave him opportunities to work many different areas, including a tour of Mexico earlier this year. Despite his extensive resume, Tremont still wanted to work with the athlete that created the genre. He was fascinated with the wild brawls in FMW since he originally watched the action on a bootleg VHS tape that he found in a random box at a flea market during his youth.
“I have been fortunate enough to accomplish a lot in my almost 11 years in the business. This match and event is my biggest and means a lot to me personally. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. In my opinion, this is the biggest CZW event of the year, very historically for many reasons. I’m excited. Onita in my eyes and in my opinion started it all. I know elsewhere as well, but has far as raising the bar and the violent matches and stories they were telling , Onita and FMW were number one.”
Hundreds of tickets are already sold, and fans are traveling from several states away to see the legendary grappler live. Considering the legacy of Onita, and the passion for ultraviolence that Tremont brings to the ring, part of the intrigue for this match is what will happen when these two share the squared circle.
“Expect blood, violence, and a memorable evening. On top of Onita and I, there is a stacked card as well. In my opinion, this is CZW best card of this year and can be bigger than any TOD or COD. I look forward to a packed Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ and fans from around the world enjoying it live on the Highspots network,” Tremont said.
After a career that spans over four decades and a collection of scars that zigzag his entire body, Onita maintains an aura of an icon in professional wrestling, both in his native country and America. This Saturday, legendary Japanese veteran collides with one of the hardest working athletes in independent wrestling today for an ultraviolent dream match.
For more information, you can go to czwrestling.com
Until next week
You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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