What's kinda funny is that people will see 1 or 2 of the crazier death matches from original FMW and think they understand or get "Onita." It's probably worse as he's gotten older as he's had to rely more and more on the actual gimmicks to hide his mobility issues. I know I felt this way before I started researching, reading about and watching Onita. There's a notion that Onita was great in AJPW but, got hurt and etc.
So, I think there may be this misconception that Onita sucked in FMW because he moved to the death matches, got sliced, made faces and cried. He was a legitimate baby face in a Japanese wrestlin where there were no old school faces and heels at the time. NJ & AJ wanted to shift away from the Abby, Tiger Jeet madman to the athletic competition of wrestling as UWF's shoot style was so darn popular. Clean matches, no blood, no run-ins, etc. Onita was like, "Screw that! My knee's all jacked and I'm gonna sell my ass off." Well, at first he wanted to prove himself to be a worthy competitor by challenging the UWF. They denied because well, he would have forced himself onto their card by cult of personality/hustling. They had enough personality with Maeda, Takada and Fujiwara.
So the World Karate Association in '89 was game and wanted to put on Onita's challenge to legitimate fighters: Puro vs Karate.
I think there's an assumption (again I felt this way when I first got into FMW) that Onita only saw death matches as the true evolution of wrestling OR that it simply covered up physical or talent limitations. Onita wanted to make a name for himself again. He wanted his names to be in light and wanted the fame, money, and women that came along with it. The death match was a means to an end for him. My impression is that he is a hustler and was going to get what he was after by any means necessary...including sacrificing his body.
Once that WKA feud with Aoyagi was a smash, he and his partners knew they were on to something, even if for a little while. Onita was willing to go where others didn't want to go...either because of taste, sensibility, or fear of harm.
I think that gets lost when people perhaps watch a couple of the landmark matches in FMW. Then, they see a pure wrestling match in AJPW and remark how much they like him there. Yes, Onita could go when young and healthy. That's vanilla. People want to care about there wrestlers. They want the guy who had to quit wrestling because of a bad injury, did manual labor, was in jail, and fought to be someone again. Someone who directly challenged legitimate fighters regardless of the cost to seek his former glory. Someone who was willing to go to the depths of wrestling hell for this- barbwire in place of ropes, barbwire boards, electrified explosion barbwire etc. Not only was this stuff not being done in Japan, it was not even done before. That is quite a story and a character and really isn't that what pro wrestling's all about.
Onita vs Aoyagi (10/10/89): This is the first FMW main event to make commercial tape. The style here is Different Style which was influenced by UWF. Puro vs Karate. The World Karate Association was jointly involved as FMW was I'll say more the name of the show or series than a federation at the time. Kinda like how Big Mouth Loud had less than a dozen shows. That's kinda what Onita and his team were thinking with FMW.
On to the fight! Very exciting stuff- first few rounds Aoyagi was in control by hitting Onita with some really good Karate kicks. Lotsa heat and Atsushi selling it like serious damage has been done. Vicious thunder fire bomb here...best P. Bomb in the biz to me. I thought this was going to be just an OK type of bout but, I'd highly recommend it. The round systems aids in the drama and relatively low workrate. I was into this one!
Onita & Tarzan Goto vs M. Matsunaga & Jerry Bleyman (aka Jelly Greyman aka Jerry Flynn) (12/10/89): 1st Japan Barbwire match. Here the wire is attached to the ring posts so that it surrounds the apron. In deadly essence, it's a wire bound lumberjack match. It's actually more dangerous to be waiting for a tag than in the ring. Well...equally dangerous.
In beautiful Onita fashion, that crazy fucker leans into the wire at every opportunity. He wants to sell to the fans just how deadly this is. Oh and he gets his wish in the form of a foot long 1/2 inch deep gash on his arm. It really is unsettling. I read from Bahu's site that this wire was much stiffer than wire used subsequently. I think this type was switched to the more flexible wire because of this wound. There was no give. Nonetheless, this felt like a real pit fight type match. Kinda like the end of 'Kickboxer' with the taped glass fists. The match itself was OK as Matsunaga was still all karate kicks but, Goto & Onita bled. Onita though was at the theatre. A must see for historical purposes for sure.
Onita vs Masanobu Kurisu (02/12/90): For the first time ever, we get barb wire boards surrounding the ring. Plus we get two AJPW vets laying in the slaps, chops, and headbutts. This isn't a fuck around, tease the wire, do a crappy move or two, do a wire spot type death match. Both guys gave and received some really good shots here...barbwire spots too. It's a great match and and is relatively short. Brief but, intense so, they never overstay their welcome. Brutal finish- go see this!
Onita & Tarzan Goto vs Masanobu Kurisu & Dragon Master (Kendo Nagasaki) (04/01/90 FMW): This match still gets some gab. Rightfully so. This is sublimely violent and realistically stiff. That sounds like some academic bullshit but, these were some of the most haphazard chair shots I've seen. Like, "I'm trying to pound this fucker into sand" attacking. And it ends perfectly at 11 minutes. The finish is tremendous. Showed my better half because it was so gnarly. She goes, "Well...that's violent!" Seal of approval in my book Classic awesome stuff.
Lee Gak Soo vs Atsushi Onita (05/19/90): This match up is kinda a WTF match up but, Onita's WKA agreement was kinda over but, still wanted to have the martial arts component (realism) in the company. I believe he did a tour of South Korea and the company they worked in conjunction with loaned some talent for Japan shows. Lee Gak Soo being a Tae kwon do badass who is a lot of fun to watch. So again, this is a Different style match with rounds and such. First round, they're pretty evenly matched. LGS has got his kicks and speed but, Onita is bigger and can throw and pin down the martial artist. Round 2, Axe kick to Onita's nose but, answers with a hellish backdrop suplex. Round 3, Lee blasts O. in the face right at the bell and opens a cut. There was a saved by the bell moment here too. Nice finish tease! Round 4: LGS is shaky but, manages to put Onita down. It's not enough as he Thunder Fire bombs the will to live outta LGS. Damn that was getting great...I wish this was longer.
Watch the post match as the up close video shows just how battered Atsushi's face is from those kicks. He got fucking blasted! Lee Gak Soo all the way man! He's got a match with Jimmy Backlund/Del Ray from the 04/01/90 show that's good as well. Doesn't top this match with Onita.
Onita vs Tarzan Goto (08/04/90): First ever electric barbwire match. Onita was crazy! The brawling and moves done were really good but, to me there was way too much time spent on the Figure Four leg lock. Apparently, it's a last man standing type match so, it really doesn't make sense. Plus it's boring. In a hindsight kind of way, they really didn't use the wire effectively for any drama. Onita would accidently hit the wire, and it would go off. It looked pretty bad. More like the little kid getting zapped on the fence in Jurassic Park than, the latter firework type pops. It's 11 minutes but, this was just OK. Onita spams finishers and wins. It wins Tokyo Sports' MOTY but, it's for the sheer insanity and spectacle of it rather than the quality overall.
*Hoping this would wash the bad taste of the above match outta my mouth* Tarzan Goto vs Gran Mendoza (08/20/90) This is a JIP handheld that I watched. There's probably a non JIP video but, it's all handheld. Here's it's a wire around the post match like the late '89 tag match. Goto gets cut pretty bad on his barrel chest and left arm. He exacts some serious vengence upon Mendoza by getting him to bathe in the steel spikes. This was fun but, unfortunately not worth going out of your way to see.
Onita vs Mr. Pogo (11/05/90): Per Bahu and match/tape listings, most of the build up didn't make it to commercial tape. So, after the Lee Gak Soo match, Onita wants LGS to be his new tag partner. LGS accepts and Tarzan Goto is pissed as he's the #2 man. Onita's like, "It's my call bro." Then the two fight (see Aug. match) and Goto brings in Mr. Pogo as his secret weapon tag partner. Pogo is like pretty much all of the other stars in FMW as people know him from years past in a major company (NJ in his case) but, have been wrestling in the States and Puerto Rico in the meantime.
Ok on to the fight! Atsushi comes in a like a demon- throwing his belt at Pogo and when he escapes to the out side, the Big O dives right through the ropes after him! Eventually (through the meddling of Victor Quinones) Pogo gets the better of our hero. He's sticking him with some kind of curve handled weapon. It looks like a children's umbrella with all the umbrella bit removed. Ha! Ok, why not!? Then, Senor Pogo decides to take his cowboy boots off and tenderize Onita-san's face. Holy head spike Batman! Pogo straight piledrove Onita on that chair. But, come on that's not enough...it's fucking Onita. He asks to get stabbed for an angle...he's crazy and tough...amongst other things :-I
He fights back with some of the sickest no touch headbutts ever. Pogster is bleeding now and gets thrown to the concrete. He tries to steal back control but, O. says, "Fuck that noise!" DDT! Now he's flying off the apron like a poor man's Misawa. Victor Q. get's his too. Or the table collapses...I can't tell but, this the chaotic shit that is great about early FMW! This is Texas Deathmatch rules and Onita is clearly trying to KO the camo pants villain. It's unfortunately 11 minutes as I easily could have watched another 2-3 minutes said this was a great match. It's NOT but, only because I felt it wrapped up too soon Highly recommended match and an excellent close to FMW's first year.