Into the Vault: IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995

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Into the Vault: IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995

Also known as IWA Kawasaki Dream, the IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995 show was the first wrestling tape I purchased via the tape trade. Ever since the special segment that WWE ran on the Four Faces of Foley during the Attitude Era, I had to watch some of Mick Foley in Japan. 

Now, I also had The Best of Cactus Jack in Japan in that order but this deathmatch tournament was talked about among wrestling fans thanks to newsletters and the early commercial internet. Let’s get started with this Into the Vault ‘95 Special! 

Low-Tier 

Let’s kick off IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995 with a pretty bad match as Tiger Jeet Singh takes on Mr. Gannosuke. This was a chain deathmatch featuring barbed wire boards. The match itself was nothing to write home about—which is weird since he was putting on wild matches in IWA Japan outside of this event.  

Terry Funk was running his B-match game for the quarter and semi-finals and defeated Leatherface in probably the second quarterfinals bout. Singh vs. Gannosuke sucked eggs, just so you know. Cactus Jack taking on Terry Gordy is a bit of a floater for me. Sometimes when I watch it I’m like “Ugh” and other times it’s a mildly acceptable match.  

Into the Vault: IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995
Photo Credit: Masanori Horie

Think of it like this: if wrestling was food, most of these low-tier matches are like gas station breakfast bars. Sometimes they’re fine and other times you’ll need two of them to hold you over until actual breakfast. 

Kamikaze vs. Iceman was a meh match. It wasn’t just flat out bad so much as it was pretty boring and was match meant to cool the crowd down. Barbed wire boards and broken glass? That sounds like a W*ING specialty. Funk took on Tiger in this semi-finals match when he should’ve just gotten a bye and rested up for the finals.  

Yeah, Tiger won his match but someone should’ve pulled the performance clause and said his quarterfinals disqualified him from the semi-finals or something. The IWA Tag Team title match between the Headhunters and Los Cowboys (Silver King and El Texano) went way too long. I don’t know if this one was made longer so that Foley and Funk could get another 30 minutes or what but it should’ve been 10-12 at most. 

I will say that I was amazed when I saw one of the Headhunters do a moonsault at 320-plus pounds. The NWA World Title was defended here and it was a style mismatch. Tarzan Goto is a brawler and champion Dan Severn is a technician. That isn’t to say brawlers and technicians can’t have a decent or good match but Tarzan Goto and Dan Severn weren’t going to change opinions on that. 

It was a physical match that had some downtime in the action but was short enough that it was fine. Overall this was another meh match. Highlights include Goto slapping Severn at the start twice and the referee botching the arm check when Goto was trapped in Severn’s hold at the end. 

Mid-Tier 

Although it was on the lengthy side—the IWA Tag Team title bout was longer by seconds—the first title match on the show was solid. Flying Kid Ichihara failed in his defense of the WWA International Light Heavyweight title against Takashi Okano.  

For my fellow 90s and early 00s puroresu nerds and fellow deathmatch nerds, Okano is better known as The Winger of Big Japan and FREEDOMS fame. He also had a good showing in the first CZW Best of Best junior heavyweight tournament. 

The match was slow at the beginning and ended on a mid-tempo. Don’t expect a lot of futuristic, pioneering high flying here. This was more pre-razzle dazzle lucha 

Exotic-Tier 

The best match of the IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995 quarterfinals was Shoji Nakamaki vs. Hiroshi Ono. Nakamaki was a sports journalist with a soccer and baseball background who began training in FMW Dojo pretty late in life. In IWA Japan, his regular partner was Hiroshi Ono and the two put on a good but short bout that featured thumbtacks and a barbed wire bat—the same as Gordy vs. Cactus. 

Even though he didn’t advance to the finals, Shoji Nakamaki had a perfect run in the IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995 tournament. His barbed wire boards and spike nail board deathmatch against Cactus Jack was the best match on the card.  

King of the Deathmatch 1995 Finals

Nakamaki was a trash wrestler but a good, charismatic brawler who would take big risks. Foley was a decent wrestler at this time but a great, charismatic brawl who would take big risks—and his had potential in the tank. These two were made for each other and it showed in this brief match. 

The final match of the tournament was a Time Bomb Deathmatch featuring barbed wire rope—that didn’t explode—and exploding barbed wire boards! Boards were more of an IWA Japan thing but the exploding ring was an FMW specialty.  

IWA Japan actually considered itself a competitor to FMW and its style of brawling, hardcore, and lucha. It even managed to get Tarzan Goto, Mr. Gannosuke, and Flying Kid Ichihara from FMW. Running Kawasaki Stadium where FMW was doing its May 5th shows as well as an exploding ring match as the main event? Pretty cheeky IWA Japan. 

The match was a good brawl between good friends with both taking bumps on and into the barbed wire. While the ring explosion didn’t go as fans expected—there was a lot of excitement here and a good finish with Cactus Jack winning.  

IWA King of the Deathmatch 1995 Verdict: 4.5/10 

The finals, Cactus Jack vs. Shoji Nakamaki, and Nakamaki vs. Ono were the best matches on a card of eleven matches. Watch the show for these matches but if you’re a fan of Foley, I’d toss the match versus Terry Gordy in there as well. It was a quasi-decent match depending on if you can deal with Gordy’s decline during the period. Sometimes, I’m perfectly fine with the match and it could end up being mid-tier.  

On other viewings, I end up thinking about how Gordy was just 34-years old during the match, had the amount of experience and knowledge he had in the business and was sliding. I didn’t expect a match in IWA Japan to be his best work. As a result, the match drops down. That said, whether it was low-tier or mid-tier, this show wasn’t breaking 4.5 out of 10. 

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