Death match and chill

I don’t like horror. As a genre, whether movies, tv, fiction etc. I don’t like it. Or rather, I don’t get it. The awful creativity of the human mind in creating monsters or new ways of suffering, the rising suspense in waiting for the worst to happen, imagining the worst…not my thing. Or so I thought. Then I discovered death matches. More than that, I started watching death matches before bed to relax. Particularly in the midst of very real personal and global anxieties, death matches have been an outlet and even a special sort of comfort.  

To be clear, I don’t think death matches are horror. They can be. But they aren’t exclusively so. However, as a niche and distinct style of wrestling, they certainly share some overlap in wanting to startle, shock, scare or even repulse their audience. 

September 2022’s death match between the legend Jun Kasai and NJPW’s El Desperado has drawn wider attention to what the style can offer. The match is, for me, a beautiful example of the depth and range of the death match. It was not simply about fear or shock or disgust, though those were there, it was also romance, struggle, hope and redemption. It was deeply human, much like some of the best of the horror genre. This match, like most of my favourite death matches, weaves elements of horror among other themes. 

Death matches are good for you, honest.

It turns out, for me at least, that death matches hit on the catharsis that many fans of horror say draws them to the genre. While research may have already suggested that horror is good for us, particularly for anxiety, somehow scientists are managing to overlook the simple joy of the death match (I know, can you believe it?!). While few of us are likely to need to face a fear of having posters stapled to our foreheads, based on my study of one, I argue that death matches bring us directly into contact with human pain and fragility in a way that can release fear and tension. Just like the horror genre, it can do that in a whole variety of ways.

I am not a death match aficionado (nor a horror one, clearly) but still I offer you the chance to extend my experiment and a taste of death match storytelling for the deathmatch-curious, with a little bit of horror genre styling. You can watch all of the matches below for free right now – let me know if they are good for you!

Five death matches to fall asleep to:

1. Ryuji Ito vs BADBOY Hido, BJW 18 Dec 2004. 10 items death match. 

Big Japan Pro Wrestling (BJW), already known for its death matches, was seeing a resurgence in 2004 with a new weekly show on Samurai TV. This match on their 10th anniversary show was a defence of the Deathmatch Heavyweight Championship between Ryuji Ito, already over year into his 850 day reign as champion, and the more death match experienced BADBOY Hido. Ito’s Dragon Splash is always deeply satisfying to watch and waiting for the introduction of the cactus adds a nice layer of suspense!

A clip from the match: Ito and Hido on the floor outside the ring, having crashed through barbed wire.

Horror category: Modern Classic, Gore, Arachnaphobia (don’t worry, no actual spiders, just a ‘spider net’ and a ‘spider light’. Watch and see!)

2.Ikemen Jiro, Yuko Miyamoto, Isami Kodaka vs Jun Kasai, Yusuke Kodama, Masaya Takahashi, Ikemen Produce, 17 September 2019

Some serious death match guys and…ikemen?! Mostly here because I love everyone in this match but also as a ‘blood-free’ option for anyone who is not a fan of the more graphic aspects of the death match style but wants to see some high impact spots from some excellent wrestlers.

Jun Kasai about to hit Ikemen Jiro over the head with a table mid-match

Horror category: PG, Gangs, Innocent Hero

3. Megumi Kudo vs Shark Tsuchiya, FMW 22 Dec 1995, no ropes barbed wire death match.

Death match queen Megumi Kudo takes on the terrifying Shark Tsuchiya. This match is violent and bloody but with excellent babyface comebacks as Kudo tackles her big bad rival. If you like this, Kudo’s 1997 retirement match against Tsuchiya is also well worth watching.

A blood stained face of Megumi Kudo, mid-match

Horror category: Gore, Revenge, Monsters

4. Jun Kasai vs Rina Yamashita, Freedoms 3 Jan 2022

In 2022, either name would alert you that this might be worth checking out, and it is. Yamashita is out to prove herself against the legend and champion Kasai in a heavily glass focused match. Already having faced and proved herself against a slew of legends in recent months, this match for the title is yet another step in Rina’s ascension to death match legend herself. 

Rina and Kasai mid-match. There is glass on the mat and blood on both their faces.

Horror category: Blockbuster, Survival, Future franchise

5. Akito vs Asuka/VENY, DDT 15 July 2019, IPPON Light tube death match

Because light tubes are scary and breaking them is really scary. This match takes a big death match staple and turns it on its head for a seriously suspenseful match. 

Akito and VENY stand in the ring before the match, Akito holding a single light tube.

Horror category: Suspense, Comedy

Bonus – if you’ve already seen this classic and like some comedy in your death matches, you might also want to check out the Extreme title match between HARASHIMA v Antonio Honda, DDT 28 April 2019, Panty Hunt Tiger Rope Deathmatch. The DDT Extreme championship gets really extreme with the involvement of a tiger and skimpy underwear.

I still don’t watch horror movies – one upside of death matches is that they rarely last long – but I can say that death matches have shown me that I do actually like a little horror in my life. If you have any recommendations of other horror-flavoured matches, share them with me! Happy Halloween!