Jun Kasai & Mitsuhiro Matsunaga vs. Nick Gage & Zandig
August 6, 2000
Big Japan Pro-Wrestling
JR Akihabara Station Showa Exit Open Space)
This match, known colloquially as “Fire Road” among the hardcore wrestling intelligentsia, has been the hardest to find among the first six in this series. I first watched a clipped version on YouTube, then another slightly longer collection of match highlights narrated by the YouTube user BlakeO561. I found these videos challenging to follow—the camera cuts seemed to omit key action in the match, and it was hard to suss out a cohesive narrative. Finally, The Wrestling 101 curator Kevin Hare helped me get my hands on a digital copy of the full match.
Having now seen the match, I can honestly say that having an unedited copy did not help me make any more sense of it. If Terry Funk and Atsushi Onita’s exploding barbed wire masterpiece was a slickly produced action-movie melodrama, Fire Road is more like an expressionist collage: a torn-up canvas indiscriminately littered with gravel, ash, barbed wire, flesh, and blood.
The match takes place in a gravel clearing outside the Akihabara train station in Tokyo, and it begins with Americans Zandig and Nick Gage tearing the canvas off the ring, dousing it in gasoline, and lighting it on fire. Though the fire is largely extinguished from the wooden boards that form the floor of the ring, there are a few cloth pads that cover parts of the barbed-wire ring ropes, and those stay ablaze for much of the match.
The Japanese duo of Jun Kasai and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga initially approaches the ring carrying a fencing sword and a barbed-wire baseball bat, only to double back to retrieve a car. Matsunaga then drives the vehicle toward the ring area and rams it into Zandig, who rolls over the car’s hood and onto the gravel. Fire, blood, gravel, barbed wire, and a crowd of people scrambling out of the way of a moving vehicle, all set against a hazy, foreign cityscape…the whole experience evokes a cable news report about a particularly bad outbreak of urban violence in a civil war somewhere. For some reason, the performers and audience here are mostly doing this for fun.
Anyway, the match is fought largely in pairs, with two wrestlers fighting each other in one part of the venue and the other two battering each other elsewhere. The camera cuts between the two parallel fights create a sense of urgency and chaos, but also, the absurdity of the simulated violence makes this all objectively very funny. One second, you’re watching Gage bash Kasai with a chair. Next thing you know, the camera cuts to Zandig … lying on his back with his hands tied to the bumper of a car? And wait, is Matsunaga driving the car and dragging Zandig along with him!? Later, you’re watching Matsunaga and Zandig brawl outside the ring, and then all the sudden, the camera cuts to Kasai…who has commandeered the massive truck CZW uses to lug its ring around? And now, sorry, what the fuck?…he’s on top of the truck!?
I know what you’re thinking … and yes, of course, Kasai did an exaggerated jerking-off motion before leaping from the truck onto the other three men standing in the ring below.
The match has no structure, flow, or narrative. It’s two out of three falls for some reason, but any attempts to win the match are secondary to the assorted acts of violence the wrestlers use to try to kill each other and themselves. The disjointed, disorienting nature of the match is enhanced by the fact that the wrestlers are not particularly skilled in their execution and frequently make mistakes. In other words, they’re not just doing a bunch of nonsensical shit but often doing it by accident.
At one point, Matsunaga attempts to powerbomb Zandig off the hood of a car through a table, but Zandig’s head bounces off the side of the table as he somehow falls through the crevice between the table and the vehicle. Later, Zandig tries to powerbomb Matsunaga off the car and through the table, but the table doesn’t break. These botches are baby shit compared to the mother of all botches that occurs during this match—if you’ve seen it, you know exactly the one I’m talking about.
This comes when Jun Kasai attempts to do a running somersault over the ropes and onto his opponents standing outside of the ring. Instead, he stumbles along the way and just absolutely eats shit, crashing through the flaming, barbed-wire ropes and pulling them down with him as he nosedives to the floor below. Seriously, go to the 4:45 mark of this YouTube video and watch Jun Kasai eat shit! Why did anyone involved in this think anything they did was a good idea?
Fire Road was totally incomprehensible and objectively very stupid, but I’m glad I watched it. Human beings are capable of doing so many things.
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