REWIND: Kawasaki Dream
I almost chose to write about something else for August 20. It's not like there aren't bucket loads of people already waxing poetic about the King of the Deathmatch tournament on the internet already. 2025 will be the 30-year anniversary of the tournament, and it's one that had a profound (and stupid) effect on my friends and I when we finally got our hands on this tape in 10th grade.
As with much old wrestling, the tournament has been lovingly uploaded to YouTube for all to relive over and over again. I'm not going to deep-dive the whole thing beat-by-beat, but I will note that it starts off with one hell of a highlight video to start things off pieced together with footage from throughout the tournament.
As the introductions take place, I'm reminded that like many weirdo wrestling kids of the era, we were probably drawn to this tape by Cactus Jack and Terry Funk. I'm 99% sure I bought some version of this at one of several music/movie/very cool t-shirt shops in the mall, though I'm not sure if the tape itself has been lost to time by now. Maybe it's still in my parents' garage with all of the episodes of Monday Night Raw I taped for yet unknown reasons.
Watching and rewatching this tape kicked off a little deathmatch phase for my friends and I, who were always wrestling either inside or in the backyard at one of our houses. At some point in our grand wisdom, we decided to take our pointers from Kawasaki Dream and use thumbtacks in our matches.
We only did it a handful of times, but the first time was definitely the worst. We assumed that if we cut the tips of the thumbtacks off that they may not have as much opportunity to stick into our bodies and, thus, may not hurt as much – all while still looking pretty good on video.
I regret to inform you that I think we wasted a lot of time snipping thumbtacks.
For the match, we laid the tacks on a piece of OSB board laying in the backyard. I took some bump onto them – probably a suplex or a hiptoss. I'm sure we all took our turns getting tossed onto them because, obviously, it was very cool to be doing such a thing.
I don't necessarily remember the landing hurting too badly, other than the overall pain of landing on a board in the backyard with no give whatsoever. What I do remember, though, is the way I bounced across the board after landing leaving dozens of scratches from our dutifully trimmed tacks on my back and arms. Showering felt great for a bit until those scratches healed up.
We were also extremely smart in the use of fire in our attempt to make our own Kawasaki Dreams come true in the backyard. What lights on fire? Paper! Paper lights on fire! We balled up a bunch of paper, threw it onto some more OSB and attempted to have one of us fall off of a ladder through the board.
I think this was the final shot of our home video – me pushing my friend off of a ladder through a barely-burning board, while fake blood dripped down my face. At least we were smart enough to use fake blood at the time! And, thankfully the fire didn't really catch all that well on the table because I can only imagine how badly we would have been fucked if one of us landed on a board covered in burning paper rather than something like lighter fluid that generally burns up quickly.
We'd later become friends with a kid who was a fire-eater in a circus, and he let us know how to safely work with fire. He even supervised us and had a fire extinguisher on hand in case things went awry. You truly do learn a lot between grades 10 and 12.
Onto the actual Kawasaki Dream, though. The whole of the tournament isn't much to write home about, aged now almost 30 years and wrestled by a lot of guys who were lumbering at best. The main attraction is, of course, the tournament finals between Cactus Jack and Terry Funk, but there is some fun to be had along the way.
I always got a kick out of how incredibly gentle the voice coming out of Leather Face sounded. The absurdity of taking popular movie monsters and just making them into wrestling characters wasn't lost on me, even back then. Maybe it's time for a renaissance of this – I think a Leather Face/Freddy/Jason trio could make some noise in AEW.
In Terry Gordy/Cactus Jack, Jack takes maybe the worst bump of the night when he's slammed off of the top rope to the stadium floor on what look like impossibly thin mats. The thump of his body hitting the ground followed by coughing fits still give me sympathy pains. It's also in this match where I get my first-ever exposure to tacks in wrestling, as Gordy drives Cactus into a bed of them with a sickening high-angle powerbomb.
After Cactus picks up the win, we get an all-time great promo from Terry Gordy as he walks the halls backstage: "Shit. Fuck...! Mother fucker pinned me! Fuck!" Shakespeare couldn't have written it better himself.
The Headhunters were such an insane tag team for the time. They may have been born out of their own time, because some of their agility and double team moves would have been so popular today. You can never go wrong with giant dudes doing dives and moonsaults, and their combination suplex into a super powerbomb still kicks ass.
Before the main event we get a plunder clusterfuck with Dan Severn defending the NWA World Heavyweight Title against Tarzan Goto. This one goes all over the place, as predicted by the sweet-voiced Severn in his pre-match promo. At one point toward the end, Severn just starts hurling chairs into the ring from the crowd which is a pretty spectacular site to behold.
After a short duel with chairs, Severn tosses Goto with a belly to belly suplex before Goto escapes the ring and begins pummeling him with a chair yet again. Despite a beefy clothesline a pair of front-face piledrivers (I guess? Like a Styles Clash without hooking the arms) from the challenger back in the ring, Severn comes back to drop Goto with a German suplex to setup a rear naked choke which sends the bloodied Goto to sleep.
And then, of course, it's main event time. Terry's shirt is already blood-stained, now rust brown instead of white. Cactus' arm is heavily taped up from damage done earlier in the night. They begin teasing whips into the barbed wire almost immediately, Funk putting on the brakes to a gasp from the crowd as he points to his head. That's where he keeps his brain!
As Cactus is whipped toward the barbed wire, he opts to slide out of the ring to regroup as Funk repositions a barbed wire board in the center of the ring. After a few strikes, Cactus presses Funk's head into the barbed wire, tearing the bandage from his head. Funk responds by shoving Cactus into the barbed wire, Jack's hair becoming briefly entangled in the wire.
Funk is the first to explode as Jack knocks him into the barbed wire board in the center, explosions going off as the board flickers aflame. It becomes a bit of a game of tit for tat as Funk eventually hiptosses Jack onto an equally explosive second barbed wire board, the second of four or five sprinkled around the ring.
We go back and forth with each man feeling the brunt of the barbed wire until Funk locks on, of all things, a wrestling hold! He slaps the squealing Jack in the spinning toe hold but is suddenly attacked by Tiger Jeet Singh whom Funk defeated in the previous round. Jack and Singh whip Funk into a barbed wire board propped up in the corner and Cactus can only pick up a two count before the countdown begins for the ring to explode.
In a scene that would be somewhat duplicated decades later in AEW, the explosion itself is a bit of a disappointment. The boxes around the ring explode and send sparklers into the air, but even the crowd in 1995 seems taken aback by the lackluster boom. Funk himself looks around confused, arms out as Cactus meets him back in the ring.
Jack feels another boom as he's backdropped onto a barbed wire board, but he's able to roll out of the ring moments later to procure a ladder from beneath the ring. His face covered in blood, Jack flies with his patented elbow drop but only picks up a two. As he ascends again, Funk tips the ladder over and Jack falls into the barbed wire ropes and onto the board below.
Despite being the aggressor in the final moments, Funk collapses to the mat and Jack crawls over him for the three count – but Funk shoots him arm up just after the three, once again sending a wave of confusion through the crowd.
In the ring Jack is presented with his trophy and bellows for Terry to join him in the ring. Funk instead hobbles away, his hands held out in front of him as he solemnly makes his way to the back. Jack watches on from the apron, blood streaming down his face as he holds his trophy by his side.
I didn't expect to sit down and watch the entire show, but it was actually a breeze to get through at just around two-and-a-half hours. This main event seemed larger than life to me as a teenager, but it comes in at just under 15 minutes and isn't quite as perfect as I would have remembered. Still, the mark it made on me and my friends stuck for life – thankfully, the marks the thumbtacks made on my back only lasted a week or two.