Photo Courtesy of Dr. Mike Lano

Atsushi Onita and FMW were at peak popularity when Summer Spectacular 1993 rolled around. The company drew 36,223 fans to the gigantic show at Hankyu Nishinomiya Stadium, bringing in what roughly translates to $1.6 million at the gate.

Viewing it with a modern perspective and to give you a proper feel for Onita’s rock stardom in the early ’90s, last year’s Wrestle Kingdom drew 34,995 people, this year’s Wrestle Kingdom was announced at 38,162 fans.

The show featured stars up and down the card including a semi-main event featured Terry Funk and Tarzan Goto vs. The Sheik and Sabu, Masato Tanaka wrestled in the opener and even Michinoku Pro got a featured match with The Great Sasuke, Battle Ranger Z and TAKA Michinoku defeating Jinsei Shinzaki, Super Delfin and Gran Naniwa.

Everyone was there for one match though.

The Summer Spectacular 1993 main event was an “exploding ring no rope barbed wire time-bomb death match” for the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship between Onita and old nemesis, the scythe-wielding hardcore renegade, Mr. Pogo.

The two had reignited their rivalry for this summer blowout card in Osaka, and while the in-ring work leaves much to be desired, the overall live-action John Woo-ism of the match itself had this Kansai crowd on the edge of their seat for the better part of fifteen minutes.

He sat on a bench in the locker room backstage. With a soft stare he repeated “Kowai na,” and only twice.

“It’s scary.”

Atsushi Onita had blue, red, and white face paint under his right eye, easy to see as he stomped down to the ring, or rather, the pit. The ring was enclosed inside a cage hung with barbed wire and rigged with explosive pyrotechnics.

Onita entered the ring and indulged the crowd and himself before Mr. Pogo strode to out. His iconic face paint and general air of sincere contempt he visibly carried in his upper body are what Pogo used to tell his side of the story even before the match began.

Similar to Pogo, Onita had a cold glare on his face before the match. As both men entered the ring, they stared at each other, then charged each other immediately after the ring of the bell.

Onita and Pogo locked up, sloppily, with urgency. Onita offered a knuckle lock contest but quickly faked out Pogo and laid in a few stomps followed by a jumping DDT. Off to the exploding barbed wire cage death match races we go.

Onita teased whipping Pogo into the barbed wire cage after this. Oohs and aah from the crowd sounding like a semi-rehearsed choir. Pogo later countered and dished out a few headbutts. His face; the contempt on and behind the paint.

The two pulled each other’ hair and Pogo almost went into the exploding cage. This is more like an action movie, the final scene of Die Hard or something, all a couple steps ahead of what pro wrestling was at the time and could be in the future.

More headbutts. Pogo later dragged Onita around the ring by his ankle and threatened to tie it up in barbed wire. Onita countered out by standing up and throwing on a side headlock. They tease crashing into the cage together once more.

It happens moments later, the first explosion. People are screaming themselves raw in the crowd, and both wrestlers are selling as they’ve been in a firefight.

Pogo later takes out a knife or box cutter and literally stabs Onita in the back.

“Five minutes. Five minutes past.”

The referee is dressed in what looks to be a nuclear waste cleaning suit.

The pace and feel of the match changed when Pogo pulled out what looked to be a long nail and repeatedly stabbed Onita in the head and lower back with it. Blood flowed both from Onita’s head and back, through his white singlet top, and from Pogo’s head, a crimson sheen atop the Pogo war paint.

The crowd desperately chanted Onita’s name at this point in the match. He sold like he was being tortured, a perpetual look of agony on his face; he fought back like the hero the crowd made him out to be.

A few headbutts and nail strikes were exchanged before Pogo used a forearm smash to knock Onita into the second side of the exploding cage. A brownish crowd and loud boom erupted, as did the crowd.

This crowd’s love for Onita was at, like, Michael Jackson levels. It sounded like it here, at least. Onita seemed to connect with the crowd a bit more as an over-the-top Chow Yun Fat + Marlon Brando thing happening. Because his death matches were so outlandish, Onita had to cultivate a persona to combat these new “characters,” or the ring gimmicks. He was the ostentatious provocateur needed to sell a match of this kind.

Pogo took off his boot and beat Onita over the head with it. Pogo wasn’t ever known for his technical skill. Really, here, he felt more like a goon of a bigger, scarier monster boss; the barbed wire exploding cage itself.

The siren blared at the five-minute mark. The sense of fear and danger is so enhanced by this siren, cycling at full blast, reminding us that things are about to get worse.

Pogo took some time to light and spit a massive fireball at Onita, who rolled out of the way like Jackie Chan. Pogo seemed to have singed his face a bit.

If you think of Mr. Pogo as a villain, a bad guy, a goon, then yeah, I’d say Pogo was a great foil to Onita during this time. His style and lack of any real in-ring skill or athleticism allowed him to create a character that functioned on a different level, something more evil, more fantastic.

At just three minutes before the Big One, all three bodies in the ring crashed into the side of the ring closest to the hard cam. The spot was rushed and the trio merely triggered the rig; the impact was awkward if anything.

After this, Onita DDT’d Pogo onto a part of the ring that was on fire. The ref was still stunned from the explosion so Onita dragged him up and shook him out of shock.

After three more DDTs, Onita pinned Pogo with 2:16 left before the ring was to explode. The ref was completely knocked out but Onita, or Steven Segall here, absolutely insisted on saving the Good & Fair referee from destruction.

The selfless Onita wasn’t strong enough to protect his compatriots but draped his arms around them before the explosion. The explosion itself was amazing in its symmetry and brutality, as “Wild Thing” by X entered into the sound system.

Coming off an outstanding week of in-ring action in Japan this past week, I urge you not to judge this bout wearing the same modern era goggles. Onita vs Pogo’s death matches were never about furthering the craft of pro wrestling, but more so to ignite drama, to incite fervor in the crowd, and that is what they did here. Don’t critique this on the action in the ring, per se; judge it on the simple drama of the story. Watch Onita’s superfluous facial expressions closely; listen to the crowd believe in their hero. Pogo was a faceless heel with nothing more to do than torture Onita, and in this case, it was what worked. It drew a house.

Drama meets violence.

Atsushi Onita will make his next U.S. appearance on April 5 at Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3 in Jersey City, NJ. Watch out for blood exploding barbed bat shrapnel, but most importantly? Keep an eye on the face of “Mr. Liar.”