The Wrestling 101 – Match #4
Atsushi Onita vs. Terry Funk
May 5, 1993
Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling
Kawasaki Stadium

Watch it on YouTube

Okay, what the fuck did I just watch?

I’ve seen a lot of pro wrestling, but this was something different, a real fever dream of a production. I say “production” because it feels like “wrestling match” is not an adequate description of what I just witnessed, a genre-bending live-action performance that mixed recognizable pro wrestling theatrics with action-movie production choices and the ending of a great Shakespearean tragedy.

For those who haven’t seen it, the premise of the match is that the ring ropes have been replaced with barbed wire loaded with explosives. Every time one of the combatants collides with the barbed wire, an explosion is triggered, and the wrestler bleeds a little more. Midway through the match, a five-minute countdown clock appears onscreen, and an alarm plays throughout the arena—signaling that the ring will soon be engulfed in a massive explosion of the remaining pyrotechnics lining the ring’s perimeter. 

The alarm is a sort of “woah-OH, woah-OH!” sound reminiscent of when you’re watching an action movie or playing a video game, and the good guys are attempting to escape a nuclear reactor or underground bunker before a massive bomb detonates. The alarm, blood, and barbed wire give the match a psychedelic, hallucinatory quality.

On one hand, there are elements to this match that will be familiar to any pro wrestling fan: Terry Funk’s deeply satisfying pro wrestling punches, and the eternal pro wrestling struggles for control that occur as the wrestlers approach the barbed wire.

On the other hand, some elements feel otherworldly: namely, there is an alarm blaring throughout the arena and an onscreen clock counting down to a giant explosion.

The match ends with about 2:40 left on the alarm clock, after Onita kicks Funk into a barbed wire explosion and follows up with a DDT for the three-count. But it’s the post-match action where this one really shines, and where the production crosses over from pro wrestling into something else entirely.

After being defeated, Funk gets up and begins to choke Onita with what appears to be a string or a piece of wrist tape. Onita gains control of the brawl and leaves Funk lying in the ring. With one minute left on the alarm clock, a piercing siren is added to the alarm we’ve been hearing, escalating the anticipation and adding another layer of surreality to the production.

With about 12 seconds left on the clock, Onita rolls back into the ring in a desperate attempt to save Funk. He slaps Funk to try to bring him to his feet, but fails to wake him. As the crowd counts down the final three seconds of the alarm clock, Onita lays himself over a prone Funk, sacrificing his body to save a man with whom he had just been engaged in an epic, bloody struggle. 

What pathos!

What melodrama!

Two bitter enemies transformed and bonded in love through the intimate experience of trying to kill one another! The two men lay still as the pyrotechnic barrels surrounding the ring explode with a bang, shooting off flames that burn out into clouds of smoke that shroud the ring.

It’s then that this totally bizarre thing we’re watching transitions from epic stage tragedy finale into action movie montage. As the smoke clears, the live crowd audio is muted and replaced with a slow, wailing guitar solo that plays as our two bloody heroes stagger to their feet, arms around each others’ shoulders in a tender embrace. The music eventually fades out, the live event audio is turned back on, and Onita gives a short speech to the crowd. The two men carry each other out of the arena, collapsing to the floor as they approach the exit.

Of course, one final twist is waiting for us after Onita and Funk return to the locker room. Like many great action movies, we have a post-credits scene to set up a sequel. Funk first extends his hand to Onita and offers his thanks for saving him from the explosion. “I mean it from my heart,” Funk says. “Thank you.” 

And then, a moment later, he rescinds his hand and steps away. “But I cannot be beaten by you. Next time…my rules.” We close with Onita standing motionless with his hand left hanging, his scarred face shocked and still as the man he just finished saving turns his back and exits the scene.

Whatever the fuck this was, it had everything: violence, pathos, melodrama, loud explosions, humor, and an action-movie montage. And somewhere in there, amid the excitement and the carnage, was the ageless Texan we know and love, throwing his classic, old-school pro wrestling punches.