ECW vs. FMW vs. ZEN
review by Stuart
FMW's golden era was well underway going into the four shows covered on this tape. The tape kicks off with an explanation of the intricate and excellent storylines built up over the past few months. On 9/28/97, Atsushi Onita pins W*ING Kanemura in a No Rope Barbed Wire Electrified Dynamite Land Mines Cage Time Bomb Death Match. Onita's career and Kanemura's W*ING Alliance group were on the line here, so Kanemura had to disband. Soon after, Onita turned heel for the first time ever in FMW, forming an outsider group named ZEN with Kanemura, Hideki Hosaka, Hido, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, The Gladiator (Mike Awesome), Mr. Gannosuke and Hisakatsu Oya. The last two were members of the Funk Masters of Wrestling group which disappeared when Funk left FMW. ZEN make an immediate impact. Onita, Kuroda & Hido convincingly beat Hayabusa, Masato Tanaka & Koji Nakagawa for the FMW World Street Fight 6 Man Tag Titles. On 11/20, Tanaka gets an upset pin on Onita in a tag match, setting up a non-title singles match between the two. On 11/28, Tanaka beats Kuroda. Gannosuke and Kanemura are angered that Onita made his match with Tanaka the main event of the 12/19 show, ahead of their match with Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki. On 12/5, Hayabusa beats Oya in a great match and Oya decides to leave ZEN, joining Hayabusa's defense side. And then there's Koji Nakagawa, a temperamental FMW wrestler who on 11/28 tells President Arai that he's quitting FMW. On 12/13, Hayabusa cuts a promo after a match, with Tanaka and Oya looking on. Nakagawa appears and angrily punches Hayabusa, having to be held back. Then we learn about Team ECW with clips of ECW action. Paul Heyman preaches ECW as having the hardest working athletes and puts over Terry Funk and Sabu. He says he wants to bring ECW's work ethic to Japan because Japanese fans appreciate hard work. On to the 12/19 show...
Tommy Dreamer vs. The Gladiator
This is butchered down. Awesome takes Dreamer off the apron and through tables with a Liger bomb! Clip. Awesome lands a slingshot body press for 2. Clip. Liger bomb for 2 3/4. Tommy escapes an Awesome bomb attempt but is drilled down with a spinebuster. A running Awesome bomb gets the win (9:52).
Paul Heyman approaches the ring slowly and shakes hands with President Arai. Ricky Fuji (who is half Canadian) translates Heyman's promo. He says similar stuff to his backstage interview. He says FMW and ECW will exchange talent and the fans pop when Fuji translates that. He says that in 1998, ECW wants to show the American people FMW by having a Death Match on PPV. This was supposed to be Onita vs. The Sandman but it never went through, despite Onita appearing on ECW TV to set it up. Heyman calls for the music...
Terry Funk vs. The Sandman vs. Buh Buh Ray Dudley
Sandman is really popular. I guess FMW has a large set of tape collectors since tons of people chant "ECW" throughout this and other ECW matches. Curiously, Sandman and Buh Buh, enemies in ECW, form a pact. Sandman lifts Buh Buh and drops him down with a legdrop to Funk. They go for it again but Sandman surprises Buh Buh with a backdrop suplex. They go through the motions of using a ladder and trying to introduce the ECW "three way dance" style to FMW. And you know what? This match is awful. Everything looks contrived and weak. Buh Buh is easily the worst, exposing the business at every turn and doing everything wrong. Sandman is probably the best of the three here since he actually bumps around and does something, including a slingshot somersault legdrop to Buh Buh under the ladder. Buh Buh hits Sandman with the Buh Buh Cutter on the ladder and Funk covers, Sandman being eliminated (6:32). D-Von interferes to help his brother, but it backfires with a misplaced chairshot. Funk BLOWS a DDT horribly for the win (8:18). The intro should have been Sabu vs. Sandman if anything. This was embarrassing for any ECW fan and was even worse than the Ian vs. Axl Rotten matches, since they tried to do more than they were capable of.
Mr. Gannosuke & Yukihiro Kanemura (c) vs. Hayabusa & Jinsei Shinzaki for the FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Title
Both Hayabusa and Shinzaki's entrances still make me shiver. Gannosuke and Kanemura get monster heat. From the FMW I've seen, there have never been two heels as hated as they were at this time. President Arai reads the proclamation so Kanemura takes it from him and tears it up. BOOO! The storyline of this match is that Hayabusa has bad ribs, so Gannosuke and Kanemura go after those. Gannosuke goes for Shinzaki's Praying Ropewalk which outrages the fans. Shinzaki puts a halt to it though. Shinzaki and Kanemura are tagged in. Kanemura, with a cheeky grin in his face, simply walks up to Shinzaki and kicks him low. MONSTER HEAT. Shinzaki hits a backflip kick for 2, Gannosuke saving. Gannosuke (with Kanemura's assistance) powerbombs Shinzaki through a table outside. The story of the match sets in as they attack Hayabusa's ribs and work over them. Hayabusa starts to get some offense but Kanemura just strikes the ribs from behind. Kanemura and Gannosuke use their Fire Thunder double team which is nothing like Gannosuke's Fire Thunder and more like a 3D-cum-Stunner, but they call it Fire Thunder anyway. Gannosuke runs into a high kick and Shinzaki is tagged in. He arrives with a Praying diving shoulderblock. He catches Kanemura with a back kick, then a face crusher for 2. Kanemura charges, but Shinzaki hits a Frankensteiner for 2! He goes for the Praying powerbomb, Gannosuke tries to charge to break it, but Hayabusa leaps OVER Shinzaki and Kanemura from the top and on to Gannosuke! This allows Shinzaki to hit the powerbomb and a split second after that, Hayabusa flies out with a MASSIVE tope con hilo to Gannosuke! Shinzaki puts the Goku-Raku Gatame on Kanemura but quickly breaks as Hido plans an assault. Shinzaki gives him a cold stare.
Kanemura tries an attack from behind but Shinzaki quickly strikes with a back kick. Hayabusa is tagged and gets near falls from a springboard elbow smash, Fisherman's buster and the closest from a Tiger Driver. He goes for another move but Gannosuke hits he and Shinzaki with a barbed wire baseball bat. Kanemura knees Hayabusa in the ribs and follows with a gutwrench powerbomb for 2 1/2. Gannosuke and Kanemura mockingly pray and go for a powerbomb but Shinzaki jumps Kanemura from behind and gives Gannosuke a dragon screw leg whip! Hayabusa grabs a thick wooden board and cracks it over Kanemura's head thrice. He follows with a release Dragon suplex, then a Falcon Arrow, Gannosuke breaking at 2 3/4! Shinzaki hits Kanemura with the Praying powerbomb and Hayabusa follows with the firebird splash! Hayabusa springboards but Kanemura lifts a knee and drives Hayabusa's ribs into it, quickly covering him for the win (17:49)! This was a great example of the FMW heavyweight style. It offers a really good alternative to the New Japan and All Japan styles, in that it's very fast-paced and exciting with so many saves and near falls. I'm not saying the other styles don't have them, but FMW has more. This was an excellent tag match with great action at a fast pace while also implementing psychology in the form of Hayabusa's rib injury. I love both of these tag teams. Shinzaki's mystique compliments Hayabusa's own so well and they form the ultimate law-abiding hero team for the fans to cheer. Opposite the ring, the two rebels with no respect at all who'll do anything to piss people off. So in the end, both teams play off each other perfectly. Have I mentioned how much Shinzaki in FMW ruled the world?
Atsushi Onita vs. Masato Tanaka
Tanaka badly wants a win over Onita. ONITA GETS HEEL HEAT! The match is joined early on with Tanaka's legs around the ring post. Onita whacks the left knee with a loud chairshot and follows with a figure-four around it! Back in, he locks on a regular figure-four. Tanaka does an awesome job of putting over the injury with pained cries of agony. After a seemingly eternal struggle, Tanaka reaches the ropes. Onita throws a couple of shoot-like(!) kicks to the leg. What's going on!? He hits a reverse splash from the second rope and Tanaka lifts his knees, in doing so hurting the injured one more. He manages to stand and throws some elbows, then a springboard lariat to the back of Onita's head, sending his mentor out. Tanaka goes out with a tope suicida but Onita holds a chair out and it hits the injured knee! powerbomb on the floor to Tanaka! Onita gets one of those thick wooden boards that seem to never break and delivers two HARD shots to Tanaka's Bushwacker-like skull for 2 1/2. Tanaka launches his defiant comeback, a big elbow to the face for 2. He follows with a running elbow dash in the corner, then a tornado DDT for 2 1/2! He throws some more elbows that are easy to hear making contact (mic'd rings rock!), then a lariat for 2 1/2. Tanaka charges Onita with a chair but has it kicked back into his back. Onita breaks the chair over Tanaka's head and follows with a backdrop driver! Thunder... Fire... powerbomb! Tanaka kicks out! Onita persists with a jumping DDT, then some running headbutts. ANOTHER TFPB for 2 3/4! Tanaka won't give up! Tanaka blocks a third and follows with a Death Valley bomb for 2 1/2! Tanaka with his own TFPB for 2 7/8! Onita charges into a boot. Tanaka tries his rolling elbow smash, but in PERFECT motion, Onita counters with an inside cradle for the win (20:07)! That ending was done really well, one fluid motion. HEY, what happened here? Bret Onita-Hart wrestled and wrestled well! Why didn't he do more matches like this? And Tanaka was every bit the next-superstar-in-heavyweight-wrestling that he has always had potential to be so this was really good. Tanaka put the sense of desperation (due to his knee injury) over really well although the injury was kind of forgotten when they went into the hot closing sequence. In the end though, this could technically be Onita's best singles match for a long time and certainly better than anything he's done since to the best of my knowledge. Very good match.
Backstage, Gannosuke and Kanemura are furious at Onita for praising Tanaka and having the main event match. They do an intense face to face and Onita shouts at them, probably saying, "You're with me or FMW!". On to 12/20...
Jado & Gedo vs. The Dudley Boys
Jado and Gedo have their unfashionable yellow pajamas on here. This match is clipped, thankfully. Buh Buh manages to expose the business some more, calling spots and what not. Gedo and Jado go for the superbomb but Buh Buh saves, throwing Jado off the top. Gedo drags referee Go Ito in front of him as Buh Buh delivers an avalanche. Buh Buh with a Buh Buh Cutter to Jado and Gedo with a frog splash to D-Von, and both men make covers, but there's no referee. Gedo and Buh Buh pick up Go and throw him over the top, the match thrown out (17:48). Buh Buh challenges Jado and Gedo to an ECW Arena match. That didn't happen either.
Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer & The Sandman vs. The Gladiator, Mr. Gannosuke & Yukihiro Kanemura
Gannosuke and Kanemura get heel heat for using Funk's spinning toehold on Dreamer. The fans chant "Tommy" to get behind him. He strikes back with a low blow and screams, "EC-fuckin'-W!". Sandman and Gannosuke have an exchange, Gannosuke hitting a missile dropkick. Funk and Kanemura have a boxing match! Then a big brawl ensues. Funk gets Sandman's cane and whacks the the Heel God's with it with it as Awesome occupies himself elsewhere. Funk puts Gannosuke in the spinning toehold but Kanemura breaks it and Terry's skull with a wooden board, allowing Gannosuke to roll over for the win (13:48 - another clip job, probably for the best).
Atsushi Onita, Tetsuhiro Kuroda & Hido (c) vs. Hayabusa, Masato Tanaka & Hisakatsu Oya for the FMW World Street Fight 6 Man Tag Titles
ZEN attack and brawl they do. Clipped is this. Good that isn't. Oya and Kuroda exchange chops, Oya ending that with a swinging neckbreaker for just 1. Onita and Tanaka brawl, Tanaka desperately wanting some sort of revenge. He sends the legend down with an elbow. He hits an avalanche but misses a second and is dumped on his head with a release German suplex. Tanaka and Kuroda brawl outside and in the background this thing happens to fly through the air. I imagine the thing is Hayabusa trying to break his neck, but weirder things have happened. Hido hits Oya with an Ace Cutter. He misses a lariat and Oya drops him with a backdrop driver for the win (17:52). NEW CHAMPIONS! Unfortunately, this was clipped. Well, 12/20 didn't deliver much, so hopefully 12/21 can be more worthwhile.
Mr. Gannosuke vs. Hisakatsu Oya
CLIPPED! Big backdrop suplex by Gannosuke. Gannosuke uses one of Oya's favored holds, the Octopus. Oya struggles to the ropes. Gannosuke with a Praying powerbomb for 2 1/2. It looks like Michinoku Pro ref, Ted Tanabe, is the official here. Gannosuke hits a powerful lariat for 2 1/2. He misses a second but strikes with a low blow and cradles Oya for the win (16:07). From the clips, this didn't look as good as it could have been.
Atsushi Onita, The Gladiator, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, Hideki Hosaka & Hido vs. Terry Funk, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer & The Dudley Boys
Brawl, brawl, brawl. Clip, clip, clip. Buh Buh Bomb to Hido for 2. D-Von with a guillotine legdrop for 2. Awesome is tagged in and decks everyone on the ECW side. He hits D-Von with the running Awesome bomb, but Dreamer breaks the cover. Dreamer tries the spinning toehold that his mentor made famous, but Hido kicks him off. Funk applies it, is rolled up, but turns that into his own pinfall for the win (15:57). Onita canes Sandman after the match to build heat for their mythical Death Match. I wish it had happened actually, because Onita in ECW would have been so fitting, since ECW took the FMW influence to America. This didn't look as bad as the other ECW stuff on the tape, but it didn't look good either.
Masato Tanaka (c) vs. Yukihiro Kanemura for the FMW Double Titles
These two have a storied past and many great matches. Someone unfamiliar to me reads the proclamation and Kanemura idly kicks his leg before grabbing the paper, tearing it and throwing it at Tanaka. BOOO! Early on, Kanemura powerslams Tanaka off the apron through a table! Kanemura gets a wooden board. SMASH! Kanemura covers with one foot for 2 1/2. He follows with a cradle tombstone for 2. Clip. Kanemura is dazed against the ropes and Tanaka sends him into la-la land with a stiff elbow to the head. Kanemura ducks a second and delivers a release German suplex. But he then charges and is turned inside out with a lariat. Tanaka springboards off the second buckle and delivers a swinging DDT! After some struggling by Kanemura, Tanaka hits a TFPB for 2 1/2! Tanaka runs into an elbow, tries the rolling elbow, Kanemura ducks, then delivers a bone-crunching uranage for 2 1/2! I love the complex sequences these FMW guys are capable of, since they have worked together so long. Kanemura hits his OWN Thunder Fire powerbomb for 2 7/8! Tanaka comes off the top with a diving senton for another near fall. He goes up again with the ring bell, and smashes it into Tanaka's face for a 2 3/4 count. Tanaka tries a comeback with elbows but Kanemura nearly removes head from body with a lariat for 2 1/2! Tanaka gets the wooden board off Kanemura and breaks it in half over his head! Elbow smash for 2! And then a BRUTALLY STIFF elbow smash that sends Kanemura into a deep sleep, Tanaka successfully defending his title (15:00)! This was good, but they've done much better. These two always put on a good stiff match in the ring though. What will 12/22 bring?
Sabu vs. The Sandman
There's a big "ECW" chant before the match even starts. Both guys are really over. Sandman goes to cane Fonzie but Sabu clips his legs. He delivers cane shots of his own before Sandman ducks one and sends the Human Upstart down with a lariat. They move into the spots when Sandman goes out with a somersault pescado type thing. Sabu hits Sandman with a chair, then goes up top WITH a table. He planchas outside and drops the table on Sandman's head. Sabu puts a ladder on Sandman's head and rushes him into a corner. He then delivers a slingshot legdrop on to it/him for 2 1/2. Fonzie is really annoying with that whistle. Sandman puts the ladder on Sabu and hits a slingshot somersault legdrop for 2. He hits a Frankensteiner from the top, which awes the crowd somewhat. Sabu shouts "OUTSIDE!" for all to hear, then dropkicks Sandman from the top out. Sabu puts Sandman on a table and somersaults out on to him and THE TABLE DOESN'T BREAK BUT SANDMAN'S BACK DOES! Sabu goes up top with the ladder and legdrops it on to Sandman for the win (13:13). Messy and sloppy throughout. These two had a good match at House Party 1998, but aside from that it's all been junk that I can remember.
The Gladiator & Hido vs. Terry Funk & Tommy Dreamer vs. The Dudley Boys
They do a read cool spot early on. Four guys put each other in a train of side headlooks. Awesome jumps from the top over them and takes the last man (Buh Buh) down with a sunset flip for 2. Buh Buh actually uses the Buh Buh Bomb on Awesome but The Gladiator no-sell's, springs straight back up and hits a powerbomb. Then in another very cool highspot, he leaps over the top with a tope suicida to everyone! Buh Buh tries his own and nearly breaks his neck by catching his foot on the rope, but the effort was there. Tommy ties Hido to the Tree of Woe and dropkicks a chair into him. The Dudleys hit 3D on Hido, eliminating he and Awesome. Terry puts the spinning toehold on both members of the Dudleys several times, the free member having to break it up. Buh Buh throws salt in Funk's eyes. Tommy arrives with a board and hits both Dudleys with it. Beulah gets revenge for Terry by throwing salt in Buh Buh's eyes. Tommy and Terry hit Buh Buh with a double DDT for the win (13:22). Some good spots, but nothing else worthwhile.
Hayabusa, Jinsei Shinzaki & Masato Tanaka vs. Atsushi Onita, Mr. Gannosuke & Yukihiro Kanemura in a War Games Cage Match
This is a basic War Games match but two men enter the ring in each time period. Hayabusa and Kanemura enter first, Kanemura not waiting until the 10 count ends. Hayabusa throws a ladder at him and follows with a Taue-like big boot in the corner. Kanemura sends Hayabusa into the ladder and delivers a sidewalk slam on it. The fans are ALL OVER Kanemura, relentless booing. Kanemura is kicked off the ladder in the ring and is also hit with a barbed wire baseball bat by Hayabusa. Gannosuke and Tanaka are cleared to enter. Tanaka climbs the cage but Gannosuke throws a chair at him and brings him down. He climbs in but is met with a bat shot by Hayabusa. Tanaka arrives with a chair and delivers a chair dash to Gannosuke. The fans are WILD! Kanemura goes low on Hayabusa. An "Onita" chant breaks out. Kanemura and Hayabusa scrap half way up the cage. Hayabusa leaps off the ropes with an attack to his hated rival Gannosuke. Springboard lariat by Tanaka to Kanemura. The final two are cleared to enter and Onita attacks Shinzaki in the aisle and climbs in. Kanemura meets Shinzaki on the top of the cage where they have a tussle. Tanaka and Onita continue their rivalry with a fiery exchange of punches. Shinzaki catches his own enemies, the Heel God's, with dragon screw leg whips. He goes for the Praying powerbomb on Gannosuke is kicked low. Kanemura drives a knee into the groin. OUCH. Gannosuke goes for the biggest insult, a Praying powerbomb to Shinzaki, but the High Priest powers out of it and backdrops Gannosuke down. Onita hits Tanaka with a chair but the youngster quickly fires back with a lariat for 2 1/2! Shinzaki considers going for the Praying Ropewalk to Onita but settles on a chop from the top. Onita floors Shinzaki with a chairshot, then hits a DDT for 2. Shinzaki fires back with a backflip kick to ZEN's leader. Shinzaki goes for the Praying powerbomb on Onita but Kanemura throws the ladder at his back. The Heel God's throw Shinzaki face-first into the cage then choke him against it with the ladder. They then handcuff Shinzaki to the cage! Kanemura dropkicks the helpless Shinzaki, then directs his focus to Hayabusa. Poor Hayabusa is dropped on his head with THREE release German suplexes, two from Gannosuke and one from Kanemura! Shinzaki desperately tries to break his handcuffs as a deep sense of urgency and desperation sets in.
Gannosuke continues the disrespect with a Falcon Arrow to Hayabusa. Kanemura drops an elbow from the ladder, Tanaka making another save for his friend! Shinzaki breaks the handcuffs but Kanemura and Gannosuke re-attach them! Shinzaki fights them off with his free hand and feet, and locks Gannosuke in a choke sleeper! Release Dragon suplex of DOOOOOM by Hayabusa to Kanemura! Tanaka hits Onita with a tornado DDT! He goes straight after Kanemura with elbow smashes, sending him into the cage with a couple. Onita catches Tanaka with a lariat but then charges with his own elbow smash! TFPB to Tanaka, Hayabusa saving at the last split second! The Heel God's hit Hayabusa with their Fire Thunder double team. Another TFPB to Tanaka by Onita but he kicks out! Onita goes for a third but Tanaka counters it into a Death Valley bomb for 2 3/4! He follows with his own TFPB, Onita again kicking out! Kanemura and Gannosuke are only interested in assaulting Shinzaki, leaving Tanaka to hold Onita down. HAYABUSA CLIMBS THE CAGE. FLY FALCON! MOONSAULT OFF THE TOP OF THE CAGE! R.I.P. Onita -- you were my favorite pioneer. Hayabusa wins the match for his team, pinning the mighty Onita (17:52)! This match was awesome. Five very good and better wrestlers and a shockingly inspired-as-an-actual-wrestler Onita in one action-packed and dramatic match. I loved the story going into this match because of the chemistry I mentioned above. They all played off each other so well. Tanaka vs. Onita. Kanemura & Gannosuke vs. Shinzaki. Hayabusa vs. ZEN in general. This was one of the best War Games matches ever. The crowd was SCORCHING HOT which helped matters too. The best match of this kind, in my humble opinion, actually happened in FMW, an unbelievably great FMW vs. W*ING Alliance match in '96, which actually had less good workers than this match, but was still better. Gannosuke, Kanemura and Hido were different to the other ZEN members -- less serious and more juvenile. So something had to give...
... and something did. The babyfaces are thrown out of the cage by the Heel Gods. Gannosuke and Kanemura walk over to their leader. And backstab him! They attack him which causes Hideki Hosaka to arrive, but he gets thrown out the same way he came in. Onita is thrown into and handcuffed to the cage and the troublemakers tear his ZEN t-shirt off. A man in a hooded jacket arrives and attacks with chairshots. The hood flaps back and it's Koji Nakagawa! Hey, he said he was quitting FMW and he did. He joined ZEN! Kuroda unlocks Onita's handcuffs and words are exchanged. There is a shot of the new ZEN: Onita, Awesome, Kuroda, Nakagawa and Hosaka. Since I have the follow up commercial tape to this, I won't go into the aftermath and will save it for that review. In the ring, FMW's theme song hits as the home team are victorious. The battered Hayabusa, Tanaka and others celebrate with fans to end the tape.
This truly was a golden era. I've rarely enjoyed a specific time period in wrestling as much as FMW from around 10/97 up until the 4/98 PPV debut, with FMW's pre-Quinones era one of the challengers. The action was intense, brutal, and it seemed like everyone was over with the crowd. This tape was a good example of that. The ECW mini-invasion was a mess. The only ones in the crew that they should have sent were Funk, Sandman and Sabu. With them, they should have sent some actual wrestlers of different ring styles. If I had to pick three, they'd be Shane Douglas, Bam Bam Bigelow and Rob Van Dam. ECW returned in 1998 with a slightly better group. The ECW matches were a clear decline in quality from the all-FMW matches, almost all of which rocked. The storylines at this time were so gripping and complimented the wrestling enough without being a blatant intrusion. Oh, FMW's golden era was truly happening and there was more to come. I think this heavyweight style is much easier than the NJ and AJ styles to introduce a newbie to puroresu. It isn't too garbage-intense and is very exciting. You WANT to see this, if only to see Onita get technical and then an enthralling War Games Match.
For more of Stuart's thoughts and opinions on puroresu, visit www.puroresufan.com