Atsushi Onita – “XYZ” (1984)
Atsushi Onita – “XYZ”
We are a few days removed from the debut of the vaunted “Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch” in a mainstream American pro wrestling promotion. AEW’s Revolution PPV featured the main event of Champion Kenny Omega squaring off with his long-time rival John Moxley in a ring surrounded by barbed wire boards, explosions, ring ropes laced with even more barbed wire, and even exploding barbed wire bats. They really hammered home the whole “exploding” and “barbed wire” part of the “Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch”…
… Except, if you’re reading this after seeing the match, you know that isn’t really the case.
The match ending was less of an explosion and more of a mild smoke-and-sparklers affair, which couldn’t even simulate the danger a match like that usually engenders. One could argue that this is easily the biggest disappointment in AEW’s short tenure, which up to this point has been surprisingly exceptional. This all has to do with the nature of this type of match and the history it brings with it. The “Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch” comes from Japan, specifically the wild promotion known as Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling aka FMW.
Headed by the inimitable Atsushi Onita, FMW was a glorious combination of martial arts matches, insane deathmatches, high-flying excitement, and an incredible amount of showmanship. Onita became a massive star in Japan due to the unprecedented violence exhibited in his matches, and this was without an ever-important television deal to draw crowds. As time went on, promotions like W*ING, IWA-Japan, BJW, and Freedoms began increasing the danger and the extravagance of these matches. Electrified pools, tanks of piranhas, nets of barbed wire, and more light tubes a block of office buildings all made their way into the squared circle. But while the violence acted as the bait for these matches, the hook was the storytelling. In the hands of Onita, the exaggerated drama of a deathmatch made Shawn Michaels’ maudlin epics look like a Bob Backlund waist lock exhibition. That’s what really made these matches stand the test of time, because many have upped the blood quotient, but few have attained the gravitas Onita’s matches often featured.
That’s what made the Omega vs. Moxley match such a letdown. Unlike your standard CZW main event, this match actually nailed the emotional aspect of it. The raw hatred between the two men, the excellent wrestling that was often missing in these matches, brilliant sequences like when Mox breaks up Kenny’s massively protected finisher, the One Winged Angel, by putting his foot on the exploding rope, which broke up the pin, but cost him a blown up leg, Kingston running in at the end to save his rival Moxley in a direct reference to Onita doing the very same thing to Terry Funk, the match really delivered… until the end. What makes this worse is just how long it took for a major American promotion to try this. WWF and WCW were certainly not going to air something so extreme on PPV, let alone on national television. Even hardcore favorite ECW couldn’t put something like this together. Some indy promotions have broached the idea with various levels of success, but no one with the reach of AEW has even entertained this idea. Some fans may very well have been waiting three decades to see a match like this, and it got sewered by the ending. Sad really.
In that sense, Onita still remains firmly ensconced atop the mountain of pro wrestling’s Grand Guignol spectacle. Onita is a truly singular figure in the pantheon of pro wrestling. He’s a high-school dropout who becomes the first graduate of the All Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo, which went on to produce some of the greatest names in wrestling. He gets hurt, retires, comes back years later and becomes one of the greatest independent wrestling success stories ever. He goes on to run for the Japanese Diet, wins a seat in the House of Councilors, and gets booted due to a sex scandal where he used government accommodations to orchestrate a threesome with porn stars. The man had an insane life.
Oh, and he released a 7” single in 1984.
Yes, before the blood and guts, Onita was a solid, yet decidedly not extreme, junior heavyweight wrestler working for AJPW. AJPW’s junior division was always in the shadow of their rival New Japan’s, with the likes of Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid, and eventually Jushin Thunder Liger, but Onita provided a solid enough alternative for AJPW fans. Apparently, it was even solid enough for a record label to extend him an offer to record a single, which is where we find ourselves today.
I’ve been doing this whole “music research” thing for about a decade now, and I am absolutely stunned that there is next to nothing out there on this particular single. Even if he wasn’t a massively popular wrestler, the man was still in the fucking House of Councilors. If an American senator had a record, you’d know about it. Like, say, if Bernie Sanders made a folk record with a bunch of musicians from Vermont, you’d know about it, right?
Yeah. Some other time perhaps.
But in all seriousness, I can’t find a goddamn thing about this single. Discogs aka my right hand in these projects provides me with nothing. Nothing on Google, the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, fucking JSTOR even. The closest I got was a podcast that discussed the single, but they had none of the details either. Hell, I only know that this was released in 1984 because someone said so in the comments of the YouTube video, so even that is suspect. Whatever, I just have to resign myself to the fact that this song is a weird anomaly apparently.
However, this begs the question: what the hell is this thing? Well, as best I can explain it, it’s somewhere between Meiko Kaji’s song “Flower of Carnage” and a rejected Bond theme. This is some serious eighties schmaltzy nonsense here. Now, strangely enough, it is not only common for Japanese wrestlers to release a song, but it is also common for that song to be incredibly cheesy. Tiger Mask, Jumbo Tsuruta, and yes, even the venerable Terry Funk have released some sappy-as-hell love ballads in Japan. Hell, Funk released an entire album called Great Texan that is about half sappy love songs and half Jimmy Hart goofball nonsense. Needless to say, ten out of ten, but that’s beside the point.
Hearing a man that would regularly explode himself croon over glistening chimes, a full string section, and some David Sanborn ass saxophone is something for which you can’t really prepare yourself. It is similar to the old Paul F. Tompkins joke about how you’re never ready to see Fabio, even if for some reason you mentally prepare for it out of the blue. You might think that seeing a dapper Onita pour out champagne on a boat won’t affect you, but then I’d be forced to call you a liar, and no one wants that. Is this song good? No, not really. This is 1000% novelty to me, but what a novelty it is. I never tire of wrestlers going weird shit, and thankfully, wrestling is always willing to oblige me with an infinite font of weird shit. I just hope they play this in a promo package on Dynamite in the future. Maybe for a match with an actual, not actually actual explosion.
BONUS: Here’s the legendary match between Onita and Terry Funk from 5/5/93 at Kawasaki Stadium that inspired all of this. Keep in mind, there were a reported 41,000 people there to watch this.
For more short song discussions, check out our post about the Tom Scharpling directed video for the New Pornographers song “Moves” here.