In preparation for Eddie Kingston and Chris Jericho’s “Barbed Wire Everywhere” collision this week on AEW Dynamite, it was high time to look back at one of pro wrestling’s most dangerous matches, the barbed-wire match. The first barbed-wire matches—which range from barbed wire replacing the ring ropes to barbed wire covering bats, chairs, and other items—were thought to happen in the Amarillo territory in the 1960s, and it was a sporadically used gimmick in the ’70s and ’80s before erupting in popularity with the rise of Atsushi Onita and the FMW promotion in Japan. I wrote a book about bloody wrestling, but after watching so much carnage to narrow this list down to 20 I need the same therapy that Facebook content moderators do. My mental anguish, though, is my reader’s joy!
20. Kenny Omega vs. Jon Moxley
AEW Revolution (March 7, 2021)
This “Exploding Barbed Wire” death match was a great effort from both wrestlers, a match with some very clever and well-done spots that has one famous fatal flaw: This was AEW’s attempt to do its version of the Funk vs. Onita match (which we will discuss later). Omega used Onita’s Thunder Fire powerbomb, Bryce Remsburg was dressed in the same sort of Hurt Locker suit as the ref in the FMW match, and the sacrifice by Eddie Kingston was very similar to the Onita sacrifice. Unfortunately, if you add a time bomb to a match, the explosions have to look good, especially the final explosion; here, it looked like crap, like a couple of 12-year-olds lighting sparklers. It was so bad the crowd started booing, which was a bummer because both guys worked really hard. I loved the spot when Moxley broke up the pin after Omega’s finisher, the One-Winged Angel, by kicking the wire and setting off an explosion. A lot of the early teases looked good: they built well to the impact of the first falls into the wire and the paradigm shift into the barbed-wire landmine was really nasty looking, even if the landmine didn’t look great. I could have done without the three-on-one Good Brothers run-in finish—which left the ending of the match feeling a little flat—although if the time-bomb spot looked better, that would have been forgiven, but it was a dud, and that is why the match is so low on the list.
19. Sabu vs. Terry Funk
ECW Born to be Wired (Aug. 9, 1997)
A grisly, messy match, but certainly a memorable one. Funk was 53 years old and the ECW World Heavyweight champion, defending against ECW icon Sabu, who at the time was working a WWF invader gimmick. There was some early circling and punching, with both guys tasting the wire. The match fell off the rails when Sabu missed an Air Sabu dive off the chair and landed hard on the wire, slicing his bicep wide open. That threw off even Sabu, and he had Bill Alfonso help him by taping the wound shut with athletic tape. Funk had to vamp a bit while Sabu recovered, and he violently beat on tiny Alfonso with a fist covered in barbed wire. Funk was the babyface in this match, but it was hard to root for him as he ripped off Alfonso’s shirt and raked his back bloody. Rob Van Dam came out to attack Funk and set him up for a dive with Sabu wrapped in barbed wire. For his second dive, Sabu wrapped himself and Funk in wire and put him through a table. This intertwined them both in a ball of barbed wire, and they just rolled around the ring stuck together like necklace chains stored together in a jewelry box. Sabu rolled on top and pinned Funk to win the title, but it was hard to watch them scream in pain as they had to be cut out.
18. LAX vs. oVe
Impact Wrestling (Jan. 18, 2018)
This match—dubbed Barbed Wire Massacre III—was a six-man stunt show between the oVe team of Sami Callihan and the Crist brothers taking on LAX (Homicide, Santana, and Ortiz). It was advertised as being “too violent for TV,” airing instead on Impact’s Twitch channel. This was a match in which all six guys clearly had a lot of ideas, and could have probably used an editor. Homicide was the star, taking very big bumps for a guy with some miles on him, including: getting thrown chest-first into the barbed wire, exchanging fork shots with Callihan, and, in my favorite moment of the match, pulling out a bottle of Patrón Silver and pouring it all over Sami’s cuts. Impact is a promotion that isn’t afraid to get red, but despite a cut or two on the arms or back, this didn’t really get bloody. Jack Crist entered the match in an all-white shirt, jeans, and vest combo like a cater waiter; I was very excited to see the outfit covered in red, but he somehow escaped the match with it still shining white. The finish was pretty wild, with Santana sticking wooden skewers into Dave Crist’s head and suplexing him off a ladder through tables. It probably had too many things going on—not sure if you need skewers and ladders and tables in a match that already has barbed wire—but for a 2010s stunt show, it had some very big stunts.
17. “Stunning” Steve Austin vs. Chris Adams
USWA (May 25, 1990)
This was an oddly dry barbed-wire match, with both guys getting some scratches, but no visible blood. It was also early in Austin’s career, and part of his first big feud with his trainer and Texas mainstay “Gentleman” Chris Adams. Austin had Adams’s ex-wife, Jeanie Clarke (a.k.a. Lady Blossom), as his valet and was working as an arrogant pretty boy with long blond hair—a very different vibe than “Stone Cold.” One really fun early spot had Austin trying to bail out of the ring to stall but scraping up his back when he tried to take off; a fun bit of comeuppance for the weaselly heel. The finish came with Austin trying to press slam Adams on the wire, but Adams slipped out and crucifix-pinned Austin. We got a pretty nasty post-match beatdown, with Austin and Mean Jeanie using brass knuckles and a chair to get their heat back and set up the next couple of months. This was a match that was more about the fear of what could happen than what actually did happen, but they did a nice job of getting over that fear.
16. Tyler Black vs. Marek Brave
AAW Windy City Classic II (Nov. 25, 2006)
This was the apex of a feud that started when Black (now known as WWE superstar Seth Rollins) turned on his longtime partner Marek Brave after winning the AAW Heavyweight Championship. These two came up together as partners and opponents throughout the Midwest. (Brave had to retire due to a neck injury, and now co-owns a training school with Rollins.) This felt like a pair of kids going out there and doing a crazy, bloody match almost for fun. There was a fresh-facedness to it, like this was going to be where they acquired their scars. Big moments from the match include Brave going flying through the barbed wire to the floor, and both guys getting gouged in the face with barbed-wire strands and bolt cutters. The finish saw Brave get his revenge by sending Black through a barbed-wire board on the floor before tossing him like a sack of meat into the ring. This felt like a mid-2000s indie match in barbed wire, as it had plenty of reversals and dramatic two-counts along with the gruesome gore. We haven’t really seen the real sicko side of Black since he became Rollins (unless you count the silly eyeball feud with Rey Mysterio, and I do not); it will be interesting to see whether WWE going TV-14 again lets him bring back out the red.
15. Nick Gage vs. Matt Tremont
GCW Tournament of Survival 2 (June 3, 2017)
This was the finals of the 2017 GCW Tournament of Survival and had real emotional stakes for something this gruesome. After serving five years in prison for armed robbery, Gage made a four-month comeback in 2015 before he was sent back to jail due to a parole violation. This tournament was his first show in two years and he got to the final to face Matt Tremont, who had become the top independent death match wrestler in Gage’s absence, idolizing Gage during his time in CZW in the late 2000s. They battled in a no-ropes barbed-wire light-tubes match, and the focus was really more on the tubes than the wire, but my goodness did they go for it with the tubes. Both men ended up saturated in blood, glass, and weird light tube dust; they must have broken over 100 tubes by the end of the match, leaving the ring a gruesome mess. My favorite part of the match wasn’t even a death match spot, it was when Nick Gage yelled his catchphrase “who’s the fucking man” and Tremont responded by thrust kicking him hard in the chest; that one shot was more violent than all of the broken glass and barbed wire shots. This match is a lot—even for the freaks out there it is a lot—but it was an important moment in the odd subculture of American death match wrestling. An icon returning and sacrificing sweat, tears, and a good portion of the blood in his body to prove that the world hasn’t passed him by.
14. Carlos Colón vs. Hercules Ayala
Capitol Sports Promotions 14th Aniversario 1987 (Sept. 20, 1987)
Colón in San Juan is one of those transcendent pro wrestling babyfaces—think “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in Dallas, Bruno Sammartino in Madison Square Garden, or El Hijo del Santo in Arena Mexico—just a master at playing the strings of an audience. Ayala is one of Colón’s great rivals; he is built like a circus strongman and came into this match wearing the WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship belt while being pelted with trash by the crowd. This was a battle of two of the dozen or so “masters of the figure four” in ’80s wrestling (Ric Flair, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Austin Idol, etc.), and in addition to the barbed wire, the match had to be won by figure four. It was a grisly battle, with both guys getting pushed head- and back-first into the wire multiple times. There weren’t big bumps, but lots of camera close-ups of barbs puncturing flesh. The finish was great, with Ayala stuck in the figure four and pulling himself to the ropes by grabbing the barbed wire, only to have the anything-goes stipulation backfire on him when the ref wouldn’t break the hold. Puerto Rico was and is a hotbed for blood-soaked brawls like this; ’80s wrestling magazines were full of lurid pictures of Colón or Abdullah the Butcher covered in gore, and I am sure this match inspired a full-page pull-out poster in an issue of Wrestling Eye.
13. BJ Whitmer vs. Necro Butcher
ROH War of the Wire II (July 28, 2006)
This was part of the ROH vs. CZW feud, a turf war between two of the main promotions in the Northeast. The big climax of the feud was an excellent Cage of Death match between the two teams, but this was two weeks later closing out unfinished business with ROH mainstay Whitmer taking on death match king Necro Butcher in a Necro specialty. This was full of gruesome bumps by both guys in both barbed wire and thumbtacks, and Whitmer seemed to be out to prove that he was just as big a sicko as Necro Butcher, which is a high bar to reach for. Whitmer had this long, stringy ponytailed hair—he looked like a roadie for the String Cheese Incident—and the grossest part of the match was when he would get that hair all tangled up in the wire and would need to be cut out. Necro threw some of his great-looking soup bone right hands and got dumped right on the crown of his head via an exploder suplex for the finish. This match pales a bit in comparison with the Cage of Death a couple of weeks before, but it was still a gruesome spectacle, and one of the few times ROH let Necro be Necro.
12. Jerry Lawler vs. Jackie Fargo
CWA (July 16, 1974)
This is the oldest barbed-wire match many have seen on tape, and like many of the ’80s matches, the wire is less of the focus. Still, this is Jerry Lawler vs. Jackie Fargo: we don’t need crazy barbed-wire bumps, we have huge rights and lefts. Lawler is pure heel here, with a cheating manager, Sam Bass, and a porn ’stache, and he pulls out a foreign object and chokes Fargo on the barbed wire when Bass distracts the referee. Watching Lawler hide a foreign object from the ref is like watching a master sleight-of-hand magician; he is the Ricky Jay of brass knuckles. Fargo was the top Memphis babyface star before Lawler, and he may be the only wrestler in history who can match Lawler awesome punch for awesome punch. There was a great moment near the end: Lawler, ducking and evading haymakers from a bloody Fargo while peppering him with jabs and hooks, smirked at his advantage, only for Fargo to knock him tiptoes over temples with an enormous right. Fargo won the match with a huge atomic drop, and it actually felt like a finishing blow. Very cool stuff—a great chance to see Lawler as a pup, and Fabulous Jackie still in his prime
11. Carlos Colón vs. Dick Murdoch
Capitol Sports Promotions (April 6, 1991)
Colón and Murdoch worked this barbed-wire match like a comedy match. Both guys still bled and there was some gouging, but a lot of this was super amusing shtick. Murdoch was a master at being both a super credible ass-kicker, and a stooging goofus. The opening of this match saw Colón back Murdoch into the corner where he got pricked in the ass by barbed wire and pranced around the ring like Winnie the Pooh getting stung by a bumble bee. Murdoch’s manager, Joe Don Smith, was suspended above the ring in a shark cage, and kept lowering down a mini-blackboard with advice on it, so Murdoch stopped multiple times to read little notes. The match finish came with Smith trying to lower down brass knuckles to Murdoch, but Colón getting them and KOing Dick. Good palate cleanser of a match, if you get overwhelmed watching all of the gore.
10. Great Sasuke vs. Atsushi Onita
Michinoku Pro Eternal Flame (Oct. 30, 1994)
Onita vs. the Great Sasuke was a barbed-wire battle featuring two gang leaders with opposing (yet equally intense) styles. Sasuke was the majordomo of Michinoku Pro, a promotion that melded lucha libre and traditional Japanese junior heavyweight wrestling. Sasuke was known for having a reckless disregard for his own body, with wild dives that often saw him flying into the crowd and landing hard on concrete. Onita was the head attraction of FMW, and the inventor of the modern style of barbed-wire match, which was as much about wild bumps as getting poked and cut.
This was an exploding barbed-wire land-mine time-bomb death match. It nicely built to its biggest moments, and those moments were huge. Sasuke does a handspring Sasuke Special over exploding barbed-wire ropes, which is one of the most absurd high-wire acts in wrestling history. They crash into the exploding wires and land mines multiple times, and all of the explosions look awesome. The shot from a helicopter of the final time bomb going off looks like when they imploded Three Rivers Stadium. This isn’t as much of a hyper-emotional drama as other great Onita matches, but as a spectacle it is spectacular.
9. Cactus Jack vs. Eddie Gilbert
TWA Spring Spectacular II (May 18, 1991)
Cactus Jack and Eddie Gilbert were both coming off undercard runs in WCW, hitting relatively low ceilings. They both left WCW and started feuding on the independent scene in a series of violent matches with the goal of showing they had more to offer. This match was held in the Tri-States Wrestling Alliance, which was a precursor to ECW, a promotion that got an outsize amount of coverage in wrestling magazines based in the Northeast. This was almost a bridge match from the more brawl-heavy style of barbed-wire matches in the ’80s to the big bump-and-stunt shows that barbed-wire matches became in the ’90s. There were lots of great-looking punches by both guys and Memphis shtick from Gilbert, including a fireball. Cactus Jack was also a sick bump freak, taking a hot shot on the barbed-wire-wrapped ropes, and getting his head wrapped in the barbed-wire ropes, which felt like something out of a Saw movie. Gilbert never made it back to the big leagues, but this series clearly opened people’s eyes, and led to Cactus Jack being in a much bigger spot when he returned to WCW; its an important part of his legend.
8. Raven vs. the Sandman
ECW Holiday Hell 1996 (Dec. 7, 1996)
The Sandman was defending the ECW World Heavyweight Championship against his hated enemy Raven, who had already recruited both Sandman’s ex-wife and 7-year-old son into Raven’s Flock, and had even crucified Sandman on a cross of barbed wire (a move that cost them Kurt Angle, who appeared on this show and decided against joining ECW after it happened). This match was a truly out-there performance by the Sandman. Just hurling his pill-and-booze-filled body all around the ring and hard into barbed wire multiple times. It had been a while since I’d watched a Sandman match, and I had forgotten what a deceptive athlete he was: the ultimate example of the beer league softball player who looks like shit but makes diving catches in the outfield. At one point, Sandman got a running start and bounded over the barbed-wire ropes to land a cane shot on Raven; another time, he wrapped himself in barbed wire and tried a flip dive through a table only to come short. My favorite spot of the match was Raven trying to set up a table in the corner and Sandman cutting him off by flinging himself through it, the impact of the collision sending Raven hard into the wire. Raven was able to finish the Sandman off with a DDT into wire, doing more damage to himself than Raven did to him. Wild stuff between two ECW icons delivering the kind of reckless nonsense that made that promotion legendary.
7. Megumi Kudo vs. Combat Toyoda
FMW Seventh Anniversary Show (May 5, 1996)
FMW was left in a tough position after Atsushi Onita’s second retirement (of many). Onita was its main star, and the promotion was built around his Grand Guignol spectacles. The promotion was left in the hands of two younger stars: high-flying ace Hayabusa on the men’s side and the super charismatic Megumi Kudo on the women’s side. As part of the main event for the first post-Onita Kawasaki Dome show, Kudo faced off against her longtime rival Combat Toyoda, in Toyoda’s retirement match and the first-ever women’s exploding barbed-wire match.
This was a mash-up of a dramatic exploding barbed-wire match and a workrate-heavy ’90s Joshi match. The wrestling was fine, but you come to a match like this for the explosions and it had three great ones: Kudo getting dropkicked into the wire and singeing her arm; Combat missing a splash and going chest first into the wire; and in one of the coolest explosions in history, Kudo German suplexing Toyoda and driving them both into the wire for a huge explosion. It felt like something that might happen in a Godzilla vs. Mothra fight. Kudo would follow Toyoda into retirement a year later, but her short run as the Queen of Death is super memorable.
6. Drew Gulak vs. Danny Havoc
CZW Proving Grounds (May 12, 2012)
Despite being a CZW regular, Drew Gulak was a fish out of water in this match. He is a consummate grappler and was working an anti-hardcore gimmick, including taunting the incarcerated Nick Gage. Havoc was a CZW lifer whose only ambition was to splash around in the fetid waters of death match wrestling; there is something awesome about someone committed to a scene, and he was going to punish Gulak for trying to make a mockery of his dreams. Gulak used his mat skills early to tie Havoc up in knots, taunting the crowd by denying them the blood they came to see. Gulak then used grappling to bust Havoc open, driving his forehead into the wire with a abdominal stretch and then showing the crowd his blood as if to ask, “Are you entertained?” They built it up tremendously, so when Havoc finally dropkicked Gulak into the wire 15 minutes into the match, the crowd popped like it was Hulk Hogan wagging his finger or Jerry Lawler dropping a strap. Once Gulak tasted the wire, he embraced the chaos, whipping Havoc with a strand of barbed wire and then wrapping him with it and putting on his Gu-Lock (a grounded Dragon sleeper). Gulak also took multiple bumps into the wire, including a dragon suplex on a strand, and a Death Valley driver in barbed wire to give Havoc the victory. Great stuff—an on-paper style clash that ended up melding perfectly.
5. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga vs. Yoshihito Sasaki
ZERO1-MAX Max Around 2005—Tag 4 (Nov. 17, 2005)
This was the climax of the Stop the Matsunaga angle. It started when Kazuhiko Ogasawara saw a picture of young ZERO1 wrestler Ryoji Sai in a fashion magazine and thought it was disgraceful for a fighter to be a ZERO1 star. After losing their initial matches, Ogasawara brought in Mitsuhiro Matsunaga as a secret weapon. Matsunaga started his career as a karate fighter, but morphed into a death match star in FMW, W*ING, and Big Japan. Matsunaga was let off his leash and he started mauling Young MAX, stabbing not only the wrestlers, but also various ringside officials. Matsunaga ran through the roster, including Ogasawara, who tried to put him back in the bottle only to get brutalized himself.
Sasaki was the top star of the Young MAX group, a fresh-faced, good-looking kid who, like Heather Langenkamp, was entering a nightmare to slay the monster who had been preying on his friends. Matsunaga just savaged Sasaki, lumbering forward like a shambolic ghoul, tossing him into barbed-wire spider nets, stabbing him with pliers and spikes, and painting the ring with his blood. However, Sasaki was able to grab his moment and did a go-behind to attempt a German suplex. Matsunaga tried to break the grip by stabbing Sasaki in the hands with a spike, but he missed and stabbed himself in his stomach. Sasaki then hit an absurd Torture Rack DDT right into a spider web barbed-wire contraption, putting a stake into Matsunaga’s black heart. The whole saga was one of the cooler start-to-finish stories in wrestling history, like something you would find in a bargain-bin horror comic.
4. Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk
IWA Japan Duel of the Wilds (Jan. 8, 1995)
Mid-’90s Cactus Jack was one of the great runs in pro wrestling history. He was traveling the world, cutting promos that felt like Tarantino speeches, and having memorable violent wars with icons. This was in a gym in Japan, but Cactus knew the tape would get released and the match would live on in perpetuity, so he set out to have a classic. Funk may have never had an off night in his entire career, and he was perfectly willing to go flying into barbed wire, light himself on fire, and create a legend.
Pre-match, Cactus delivered a soliloquy discussing how much he loved and respected Funk and how he needed to destroy Funk and himself to join the pantheon with Bruiser Brody and Funk. This match was completely unhinged; it started with Funk hurling chairs wildly into the ring, and kept going at that tempo the entire time. Cactus lit multiple chairs on fire and smashed them into Funk’s back, and Funk wandered from the back with a flaming branding iron and jammed it into Cactus’s chest. The use of fire seemed totally uncontrolled, and it really looked like these two would burn down the building. (Later that year, they nearly did burn down the ECW arena trying a similar stunt.) The match had that same sort of raggedness throughout. Funk went stumbling into rows of chairs, Cactus looked like he tried to replicate the spot that cost him his ear, except he tried to do it in barbed wire (he thankfully fell instead of staying hung). The finish had Funk hit a DDT but just kind of fall over on Cactus and pin him. This was a pair of World Champions, consummate professionals, who know that sometimes being consummately unprofessional is the right move.
3. Homicide vs. Steve Corino
ROH War of the Wire (Nov. 29, 2003)
Incredible dramatic battle, part of one of the great feuds of the 21st century. Homicide is a marvel at conveying real menace; when you get him in a vendetta kind of mood it feels like he will settle for nothing less than a vivisected corpse in front of him. He and Corino had been battling for the better part of a year and in their previous classic, Homicide had shattered Corino’s eardrum, forcing his second, Guillotine LeGrande, to throw in the towel. This was Corino coming for revenge in a match type ROH had never run before.
The video started with both men trying to hype themselves up in the back, with Corino seeming very apprehensive about what he has to do, and Homicide getting a monster pep talk from his hype man, Julius Smokes. The match started slow with a stare-down, and the first big attack by Homicide was him ripping at Corino’s bad ear. Homicide felt the wire first, going underarm-first into the wire and getting his throat and arm thrown into the wire via a slingshot. Homicide took over when he was able to DDT Corino on a barbed-wire bat, splitting him badly, which Homicide exacerbated by jabbing him with a fork (which was gifted to him by Abdullah the Butcher), both in the forehead and the bad ear.
Homicide just violently took apart Corino, smashing him in the ear with a barbed-wire bat and pummeling him with fists, only for Corino to reverse it by monkey flipping him upside down into the wire, with the wire shredding Homicide’s gear. Corino then hung Homicide upside down by his knees into the wire while he pounded on him. Both bumps looked disgusting, like Homicide was trying to sever his popliteus tendon. It just kept going. Homicide broke a cobra clutch by driving Corino through a barbed-wire table; Homicide threw a steel mesh guardrail from the outside into the ring, landing right on Corino’s skull; LeGrande broke up an STF by throwing rubbing alcohol into Homicide’s eyes. Finally, Corino put on protective gloves and laced a strand of barbed wire around Homicide’s throat into a cobra clutch hold until Smokes was forced to throw in the towel. This felt like an ending, but it also felt like a feud that could never end. These two would fight again multiple times, and nearly 20 years later, 7-year-old Colby Corino, sitting in the audience at ROH War of the Wire, would take his turn at finishing Homicide.
2. Jerry Lawler vs. Dutch Mantel
Continental Wrestling Association (March 29, 1982)
This was part of an iconic series of matches between these two in 1982 that started when a partnership of convenience broke up and both guys battled over the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship. Despite Mantel fighting dirty and acting heelish, he was still super popular with the Memphis fans, as almost an incubatory “Stone Cold” Steve Austin ass-kicking babyface. So despite this being a heated, violent rivalry, the match was contested between two babyfaces. The barbed wire in this match was used more as an impediment than as a weapon, forcing both men to stay in the ring, and keeping Mantel from grabbing chairs, which he had used with great success in the other matches in the feud.
There was a great moment early when Lawler was running the ropes, but had his momentum disrupted by fear of the wire, which allowed Mantel to hit a Thesz press. Mantel did drive the wire into Lawler’s head, opening him up (which was relatively rare for Jerry, especially compared to the amount of bleeding top babyfaces normally did in the 1980s). What makes this match so iconic, though, isn’t the barbed wire: This is the greatest fist fight in wrestling history. Both guys just unload on each other with beautiful punches. Lance Russell on commentary compared this match to the Thrilla in Manila between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and by the end of the match that is what it felt like; both wrestlers pushed themselves past the point of exhaustion, but continued to go, refusing to die a comfortable death. It felt like a match that would shorten both men’s careers, which is saying something considering Lawler is still wrestling now 40 years later. The match ended with them clunking heads and Lawler just falling, exhausted, on a prone Mantel for the pin. An absolute war and one of the best minimalist matches of all time.
1. Atsushi Onita vs. Terry Funk
FMW Fourth Anniversary Show (May 5, 1993)
Atsushi Onita basically created the modern barbed-wire match, changing it from just poking and blood to something built around spectacle and huge moments. Onita is the master of the big-budget blockbuster. He creates massive displays of emotion, explosion, and drama—he is the James Cameron of pro wrestling, and this match was his Titanic.
Onita started his career as an All Japan Pro Wrestling trainee when Terry Funk was All Japan’s biggest foreign star, and this was a chance for Onita to bring his idol into the twisted world he created. This was a battle between the greatest barbed-wire wrestler of all time, Onita, and the greatest wrestler of all time, Funk (who also might be the second-greatest barbed-wire wrestler of all time). The match was contested in a ring with the ropes taken down and surrounded by barbed wire, with the addition of a time bomb that would explode the ring when a certain amount of time had elapsed.
Onita took the first shot into the exploding barbed wire, which left his singlet charred black and cut vibrant, bloody streaks on his back. Funk took the second explosion, which was also huge. Funk is a master at punch-drunk selling, and nothing can trigger punch drunkenness like being blown up. Onita started cracking Funk with headbutts, but despite his impairment, Funk was able to sidestep Onita, sending him into the wire. Onita was able to take control, and with both men covered in blood, he hit two Thunder Fire powerbombs for the pin and then bailed from the ring as an air raid siren was blaring to announce the imminent explosion.
However, Onita couldn’t do it—he couldn’t leave his hero to perish in the fires of hell. He rolled back in the ring and frantically tried to slap Funk conscious, and when he failed to revive him he covered Funk’s body with his own as the bomb went off. We then get one of the greatest cinematic moments in wrestling history when the entire baseball stadium is silent and the ring is covered in smoke and ash. A single guitar riff rings out as you see a bloody Onita slowly rise from the carnage. He embraces Funk and they ponderously leave the ring with their arms around each other’s shoulders like John McClane and Al Powell leaving the wreckage of the Nakatomi Plaza. They never had a rematch, sadly, so this was left as a brilliant short story rather than an iconic novel. But what a short story.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.