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Grimmas

Atsushi Onita

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I've watched most of the matches Loss recommended (thanks for the list), and a few others to round out my research. Here are my thoughts:

 

Pros

  • The first thing that stands out is Onita's charisma, even in the stuff from the early 80s. Just a magnetic personality.
  • I really like the way he sells the big spots from his death matches. He's like Willem Dafoe getting killed in Platoon or something. One of my big gripes about Cena and Shawn in particular is what I call their action movie montage selling, so slow and overly dramatic, no nuance. Well, that brand of selling works a lot better when you're selling an actual explosion as opposed to a clothesline.
  • The big death matches are really well-structured, with all the big spots usually being well built to and having meaning.
  • Really good understanding of his role, and created a character perfect for his environment. He's a total badass, who's vulnerable enough to convey the sense of danger involved in these matches. He doesn't come off like a monster who doesn't care about what happens to his body, rather a man who is willing to take his body to the limits in order to succeed. It's almost an internal battle with Onita, how far can I take myself?

Cons

  • Mostly worked a style that I find pretty devoid of artistry. I'd probably rather watch any other style of wrestling over death match wrestling. You can say he performed the style well or that it was successful, both of which are true, but that doesn't alter the fact that I find that style of wrestling lesser than pretty much every other style. In that respect, I kinda liken Onita as a candidate for my ballot to Hogan, and I'm not sure who I would rank higher. I don't have a particular problem with Hogan's formula, but I don't think it's very nuanced either, and not usually what I'd consider GOAT-level wrestling.
  • I've seen Onita doing some really stupid shit in his matches, and that's ignoring the fact that working with barbed wire and explosions is pretty inherently stupid to begin with. I've seen him potentially cripple an opponent and potentially cripple himself. All wrestling carries a semblance of risk, of course, and I think that all wrestlers do stupid things in matches, which usually go unnoticed, but when you're working in this kind of environment, you should probably take a little more care.

I'd say Onita is a low-level candidate for my ballot. He's a guy with some really good qualities, which are almost cancelled out by his bad qualities. I do give him credit for working a style I personally hate, yet still making me care about and appreciate as a worker. Ultimately that may be what gets him onto my ballot.

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As far as the "pioneered a dangerous style that was a detriment to wrestling" during the 92-93 time period in the Observer, Meltzer is constantly talking about the escalation of the dangers of wrestling from a lot more than just the FMW craziness. He also talks about the increasingly dangerous dives being done in AAA, bringing up the story of Akira "Tiger" Katayama that I had never even heard of before as a guy who was in a wheelchair and apparently only had control of his tongue due to a missed dive. He talks about Cactus Jack being way too reckless, especially in the 2 big Vader matches where he got concussions in both. He even brings up the All Japan main events as being increasingly hard on the guys and taking the style too far.

 

Dave also makes a strong argument for him that works for this discussion of his place as one of the greatest ever:

 

And a packed house of 41,000 fans (approximately 32,000 paid) paying $1.8 million gate made it the biggest and most successful financially over-the-edge wrestling show in history. Wednesday night's (5/5) Atsushi Onita vs. Terry Funk match at the Kawasaki Baseball Stadium was the latest step in the world of "Can you top this?" wrestling gimmickry. By the results at the gate, it will only signal more of the same but going farther over the edge for both Frontier Martial Arts-Wrestling, and its imitators. These new levels of risk-taking to be labeled as pro wrestling will no doubt go unchecked until serious injury, or worse, results.

 

Fortunately nobody was hurt this time. Well, hurt badly, that is. And a lot of money was made. From this and his other outdoor shows, not to mention the solid nightly business of his office, Onita's place in wrestling history needs to be acknowledged. He has to be ranked as one of the biggest drawing cards in the history of the pro wrestling business. If you're skeptical of that label, think of how many people have drawn 32,000 paid or $1.8 million for what was promoted as a one match show, but also drew over a consistent basis of several years as this show was not a one-time fluke?

 

I haven't seen much of Onita, pretty much just the Memphis tags and the AWESOME tag w/Goto against Masanobu Kurisu & Dragon Master (04/01/90, FMW). I realize FMW got more and more crazy as the 90s rolled on, but I didn't see anything in that tag match that really pushed the hardcore envelope any further than what had already been done in some of the crazier Memphis brawls.

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Onita would no doubt be in mine and would certainly be high up. A big FMW Onita match honestly felt and looked like a war movie, with Onita playing the part of the wounded soldier who wouldn't quit. I honestly don't think there's anyone could do that genre of wrestling better. His charisma was off the charts and he just knew how to dramatize pro wrestling better than anyone else. Onita carried FMW on his back up until his retirement, but he also was the biggest reason it got destroyed due to being selfish and an asshole.

 

If you think Onita wasn't solely responsible for drawing those big crowds, you are on crack, so let me show you the semi-main events on those shows:

FMW 9/23/91 - 33,321 Fans - Main - Onita/Goto - Semi-Main - Gregory Veritchev d. Katsuji Ueda (16:44) via KO

FMW 9/19/92 - 30,000 Fans - Main - Onita/Tiger Jeet Singh - Semi-Main - Tarzan Goto & Gregory Veritchev d. Leon Spinks & Brian Sayodill when Goto made Sayodill submit. (10:39)

FMW 5/5/93 - 41,000 Fans - Main - Onita/Funk - Semi Main - Gregory Veritchev d. Leon Spinks (8:10) - GREGORY VERITCHEV VS LEON SPINKS. GREGORY VERITCHEV VS LEON SPINKS was your semi-main.

FMW 5/5/94 - 52,000 Fans - Main - Onita vs Tenryu - Semi Main - FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship Match: Mr. Pogo & Hisakatsu Oya d. Tarzan Goto & Mitsuhiro Matsunaga when Oya pinned Matsunaga (16:30) to Defend the Titles for the 1st Time. Mr. Oya was your draw here? I think not.

FMW 5/5/95 - 58,250 Fans - Main - Onita vs Hayabusa - Semi Main - FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship Match: Hisakatsu Oya & Ricky Fuji d. Mr. Pogo & Yukihiro Kanemura when Oya pinned Kanemura (12:45) to become the NEW FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Champions. Man, Oya-mania running wild here huh?

 

Now, Kawasaki's without Onita's main event and draw:

FMW 5/5/96 - 32231 fans - Terry Funk & Mr. Pogo d. Hayabusa & Masato Tanaka and Combat Toyoda's retirement vs Kudo. Notice, Funk is in the main event and draws 9 thousand less than his main event with Onita on 5/5/93.

 

Kudo's retiement with Onita:

FMW 4/29/97 - 16,000 fans - Kudo vs Shark explosions match, Onita 6-man return(I think) and Hayabusa vs Gannosuke mask vs hair

 

Onita comes back in 1997 and look what happens:

FMW Kawasaki Stadium 9/28/97 - 50,012 fans - Atsushi Onita d. W*ING Kanemura (17:41) in a No Ropes Exploding Barbed wire Exploding Cage Death Match. This card was a bit more loaded though with a Shamrock/Vader cage shootfight and Hayabusa/Shinzaki vs Mossman/Kobashi.

 

Sorry, but the evidence is clear. Either Onita's a super draw or Gregory Veritchev was the lost draw of the 1990's. I'm going with the former. WWF and WCW couldn't even draw 40,000 fans during the mid-90's despite having a much larger population and audience to work with. And if you think any other promotion was getting even 10k with a Veritchev vs Spinks main event, you're on drugs. No other promotion at that time except NJPW and one UWFi card came close to the 40k-50k an Onita main event was going to do.

 

President Arai of FMW and Mick Foley both confirmed that the explosion matches were pretty safe and were just gimmicktry. You can even tell by watching them as Onita never gets blood after taking some of the explosions that they don't do jack except create some smoke. Arai tells a funny story in his book about how they had to go to 11 different hospitals at one point before someone would even take Onita in, because his injuries were non-serious. Onita's worst injury had nothing to do with wrestling - He jumped into a dirty cold river with cuts and almost killed himself. This was not part of a match and he got pneumonia from it.

 

I'd blame the really violent and hardcore stuff on Pogo/Matsunaga/WING/BJW more as their stuff didn't look safe at all and none of them had any concern for anyone's well being. They were doing the truly stupid and dangerous stuff.

 

Oh and Onita's injuries are part of the work. He always wears a bandage on his head.

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Rocketing up my list after the last week. Watched a lot of FMW stuff and Onita really is a great wrestler. A part of it is just that he has a flare for the dramatic, but he's also excellent at little things like reacting to individual spots, or making the most out of moments that look like they were probably unplanned and potentially disastrous. He sits around in holds some, but I actually think that makes the bigger moments bigger, so while his matches can drag, I consider the slower pacing a net positive. He also has one of the most conclusive and violent looking finishers in wrestling history, which is especially necessary given the style he worked. After watching all of this stuff I am more convinced than ever that he is basically a Carlos Colon tribute act (the way they work is astoundingly similar), but I hardly consider that a knock.

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A name that I'd always hear about but would ultimately avoid because of the whole umm . . death match thing. I've binge watched Onita for two days straight. That's why I love this place. I'm sure it's been said plenty before, but the No Rope Exploding Barbwire Timbomb Texas Holocaust Death Match association under sells Onita. He really is a complete pro wrestler. Great sense of timing, fun offense, good expressions, MASSIVE finishing move, takes a beating like a champ. Great brawler and thrower of bombs. Lovely theme music. Even the headbutts - which would be annoying as fuck in the hands of any modern Japanese worker -are purposeful and satisfying. Goes down in a bunch of flames.

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I can't believe I haven't said anything about Onita, who's an old huge favourite of mine. Funny that for the longest time he was ridiculously underrated as a worker. But *great* worker ? Let's be fair for once. He's great at being Onita, and he does some stuff better than anyone (work a death match, for instance, which is fitting; milking dangerous spots; crying). But even as a big time Onita fan, I wouldn't call him a great worker. Some of his stuff looks downright awful. Of course the whole is more important than the sum of its part with Onita. Would he make my list ? Without a doubt.

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Not that much Colon over the years (never been very impressed by what I saw until now), although I have a *shitload* of 80's WWC somewhere on a hard drive waiting for me to watch eventually (since I prefer to watch stuff in context, I have no idea when I'll get motivated, I've been pushing this back over and over again for a long time now). I'm also interested in that Puerto Rico is an obvious big time influence on the Japan 90's garbage scene.

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Onita will finish highly on my list and I am not a big proponent of the deathmatch style I think he is so exceptional at telling stories in the ring through spots and subtleties. His charisma is ridiculous and he always picked his spots well. It seems like a contradiction to point to nuance in barbed wire exploding ring,etc style to point out but he knocks it out of the park in making his matches seem more epic than they have any reason to be. When it comes to timing heat and the comeback he is great and legitimately one of the 5 most charismatic people I've ever seen in the ring. It doesn't matter that I don't speak his language, his demeanor and pacing tell all there is needed to know. I love Onita.

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Just watched this:

 

Atsushi Onita & Tarzan Goto vs. Masanobu Kurisu & Dragon Master - Barbedwire Death Match (12/10/89)

Atsushi Onita vs. Masnobu Kurisu - Barbedwire Outside the Ring Death Match (2/12/90)

Atsushi Onita vs. Tarzan Goto - Barbedwire Exploding Land Mine Death Match (8/4/90)

Atsushi Onita vs. Mr. Pogo - Barbedwire Exploding Land Mine Death Match (5/6/91)

Atsushi Onita vs. Fumihara Asako - Barbedwire Exploding Land Mine Match (8/17/91)

Atsushi Onita vs. Tarzan Goto - Barbedwire Exploding Land Mine Cage Death Match (9/23/91)

Atsushi Onita & Tarzan Goto vs. Sabu & Sheik - Fire Death Match (5/6/92)

 

Some brutal stuff. Onita is an extremely emotive worker who will score highly on intangibles.

 

I am sure there was tears from some of the opponents here, which seemed pretty odd to me. Like uncomfortable viewing.

 

Tarzan Goto is someone who will also likely make my 100, intense and violent performer.

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I'm not doing a ballot because I simply don't know lucha well and I refuse to participate further in any form of Listmania if I am personally unwilling to go all in on a subject. But I feel I should probably speak up, since he is my bloody avatar and all.

 

I honestly think he's close to the ultimate example of "better than the sum of his parts". Not the biggest, fastest, or strongest. Had some kind of weird match structures at times. But he was very unique and found ways to make that work. He was one of the first Japanese wrestling stars I got into (I got on with FMW a little before All or New Japan in the tape trading days), and I admit I still find enjoyment in him. I don't really know how much if anything charisma is supposed to count in this kind of a vote, but not even speaking a word of Japanese the guy is just magnetic, couldn't take my eyes off him. He is absolutely a guy that I'd buy as a "you'd have to be there" figure, but he was completely integral in my developing an interest in Japanese wrestling in the first place. Even if for the most part that transitioned away from FMW to All Japan over time.

 

I think the fact he had some pretty good matches with some absurdly limited workers in what was, at the time, honestly a weak territory he had to carry, should count for a lot. Unfortunately by the time FMW got legitimately good he was really on his way out as a star.

 

I'm not touching the "death matches aren't good wrestling" thing because it tends to come 99% of the time from marks that still haven't worked out that shoot style wrestling is a gimmick that was taken way further and has ended up endangering far more wrestler lives than anything Onita-era FMW tried. I think dismissing someone on the basis of "they pioneered a dangerous style" is a slippery slope criteria I wouldn't go down. But if I did the first three people it disqualifies from consideration are Inoki, Maeda, and Takada. Two of whom I happen to think are pretty great wrestlers.

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Shootstyle as a gateway for pro wrestlers to start taking up shoot fighting? In addition to how it exposed the business within Japan. I think that that's kind of a tenuous view but it's different from making All Japan the big scapegoat.

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Onita was never really a technical kind of guy, it boils down to what you find entertaining in wrestling. Im not all in on just guys who are creating a story over workrate at all but Onita could definitely magnetize you to his matches for the most part. He made me give a shit and want to watch him versus anyone and everyone despite how convulted the stipulations. He is pro wrestling.

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I ranked Atsushi Onita 89th and I blew it with that one too (I'm sensing a pattern). I love his sort of big spectacle driven wrestling. I really appreciate the drama of his insane death matches, but I enjoy the just straight up brawls even more. The Aoyagi series, the WAR tag match, the great 1990 Pogo match, the April 1990 tag match, shit the Concession stand brawl in Tupelo. I like the bit of his pre-injury AJPW work I've seen as well and would welcome recommendations from that era if anything new has popped up in the last 5 years.  About the only time I don't enjoy Onita is when Mr Pogo is carving him up with the sickle. 

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He and Foley are very different wrestlers, but Onita kinda reminds me of Foley in the sense that they both knew how to create spectacles with violence. He's someone I need to do a deeper dive on but his peaks are undeniable.

I will say that if this were simply a "coolness" contest, Onita would be a strong number 1 contender.

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I've actually seen more of his AJPW work than FMW work and he was a real solid guy in the ring before the injury. Basically all the things that have been mentioned about his deathmatch work, but applied to junior heavyweight wrestling. I would imagine the junior scene in AJPW would have been wildly different in the 80s had Onita not suffered what appeared to be a complete freak and stupid injury. 

After Onita's injury, the title is barely defended. Chavo has a nearly 300 day reign with 4 defenses, Mighty Inoue has a 468 day reign with 6 defenses and I've seen all these matches with him and had no clue he was even a title holder during this period. It's briefly part of the Kobayashi vs Tiger Mask feud and as soon as Misawa Mask wins it, he has all of 1 defense before the title quietly goes dormant and is replaced with a non NWA affiliated championship about 9 months later. 

 

I will say I watched the Funk/Onita barbed wire match after the Mox/Omega one and was actually offended at how they directly just redid 90% of that match including the post match stuff but every single thing they did was worse than what Funk/Onita did in 1993.

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The watch party with Onita was SOOO much fun. Of course you get the blood and guts, but it's really the aura of Onita that makes him stand out. It's a spectacle and that is so rare in wrestling, he's special.

Here is the playlist we used.

(2) Atsushi Onita WP - YouTube

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I happened to watch Onita and Aoyagi from 1989 FMW today and it was a great reminder of how quickly Onita mastered being a dirtbag superstar. Just nuclear heat. He did not need the death match trappings, even though he would go on to make very good use of them.

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I said it earlier in the thread but I absolutely love his non-death match work. Childs, I would recommend revisiting this one against Tarzan Goto from 1991 if you're in the mood for just "regular" Onita. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=az3oJslfoug

Its easy to forget how quickly he developed the style. Barbed wire matches by December 1989 (that Jerry Flynn barbed wire tag blows my mind). Exploding matches by August 1990. I'm happy with the way it worked out but I do kinda wish we got even more stuff like the big Aoyagi matches or that Goto match. I just love the Onita from the Tenryu tag. I also like to imagine what wouldve happened if Maeda called his bluff for UWF2.0 

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On 4/25/2021 at 7:00 PM, Boss Rock said:

I will say that if this were simply a "coolness" contest, Onita would be a strong number 1 contender.

1000% 

 

Like just look at him. Coolness and swag pouring out of every molecule in his body. 

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