The Story of BJW Part One: Innovating the Death Match

BJW or Big Japan Pro Wrestling is a wrestling company steeped in death match legend. It has been the birthplace of hardcore innovation and is often viewed as the best of both worlds in the Japanese wrestling world. Its tool to success is based off of its duel audience appeal and the fact that it offers such distinct styles to mixed audiences through its product. But just how did it get this far? Let’s explore the rich history of BJW. This first part will look into the early days of the death match division and their work with CZW. Be sure to check both companies out after reading here, it’s a fun rabbit hole to fall down.

Innovation From The Start

BJW was formed in 1995 by former AJPW wrestlers Shinya Kojika and Kendo Nagasaki. They set up the promotion at a time when death match wrestling was really taking off through work in the USA through ECW and Japanese promotions like FMW. However unlike FMW, which was spearheaded by Atsushi Onita, BJW did not have a certain star power or the same kind of funding to break into the mainstream. Despite both Kojika and Nagasaki both enjoying success around the world, they struggled to get the funds to get the promotion going. The owners would not stay together for long as Kendo Nagasaki left the company in 1999 whilst Kojika still runs the company now. He is also still wrestling despite being in his 70s.

However, instead of giving up and closing up shop, the creative team turned to innovation to get the company off the ground. They took the death match formula and turned it up to 11 by creating many new and limited styles that would not be seen anywhere else. These worked to bring in viewers whilst also hiding the more financially limited side of the company under violence, blood and spectacle. These include but are not limited to, the circus death match and many death matches involving piranhas, scorpions and crocodiles. However that last one has only been done once and was lambasted for the small size and timid nature of the crocodile involved.

These death match types have been adopted by companies around the world and probably even more so by backyard promotions. These matches still generate the company interest as they can be found online and infamous clips of old matches grace top ten insane match lists and the like. This was even more noticeable at the time as the audiences came in and the company was able to prosper from it.

Working With CZW

Much like BJW, the USA’s CZW was making it’s name off of mad violent matches and a distinct love of hitting opponents with solid objects. For much of 2000 and 2001 the two promotions would feud with each other. This lead to the companies trading talents to one another and the formation of a CZW stable within the death match division of BJW. That faction included many of the big names from CZW at the time including John Danzig, Wifebeater and Nick Gage and also featured Trent Acid, Justice Pain, Johnny Kashmere and Nate Hatred. This stable would be dubbed the CZW Warriors in the promotion and often saw them warring with Japanese talent.

However, the Japanese talent also shone during this relationship as Jun Kasai cemented himself as a legend early on by travelling to CZW with Danzig and taking part in an “Un F’N believable match” that saw Kasai fight with a taped up broken elbow after taking a nasty Crucifix Powerbomb over the ropes. This would not be the only injury sustained during the relationship as BJW wrestler Ryuji Yamakawa would have to shelf himself for several months after a botched Chokenstein off the apron from Wifebeater. The incident saw Yamakawa slam head first into the concrete after slipping off a table, fracturing his skull.

The partnership was definitely prosperous for the company. It gained American viewers and a whole slew of talent to use. Whilst being mutually benefical, it didn’t last very long and dissolved for unspecified reasons. To this day no one knows for certain why the partnership was stopped or who was responsible. John Zandig had been Death match champion and had recently taken part in a provocative and controversial Exploding Glass Panes match against Mitsuhiro Matsunaga. It’s a head scratching situation and one that left wrestlers from both promotions confused over at the time. It should be noted that the companies still work together now as BJW stars have graced CZW over the years.

BJW Death Match Heavyweight Title

The Death Match Heavyweight Title

One of the most notable things about BJW is the fact it has a whole roster of wrestlers dedicated to fighting over the Death Match Heavyweight Championship. It’s considered one of their top belts and is often hotly contested all year round. It is obviously defended in death matches and will often main event the bigger shows on BJW’s calendar. However the title has often been defended and changed hands at house shows as well.

It was first debuted in 1998 and the first champion was crowned after an eight person single elimination tournament. It featured some of the biggest death match wrestlers at the time including famous now NJPW fan favourite Tomoaki Honma. Other names included Shadow WX, who wrestled in the infamous Crocodile Death Match and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga who wrestled the Exploding Glass Panes match against Danzig. The most prominent name was the eventual winner, the Great Pogo who had been legendary for his work in FMW. He was crowned the first Death match champion of the company but would only reign for 14 days, losing the belt to Matsunaga in a Glass and Fire Coffin Cremation Death Match. This was a rematch of the tournament final where Pogo beat Matsunaga in the same match to win the title originally.

The Death Match title has been in the hands of legends and company favourites alike as Abdullah the Butcher had a short reign of 49 days in 1999 after beating Shadow WX in a Lumberjack Death Match for the title. WX regained the title after beating the Butcher in a Barbed Wire board death match. Tomoaki Honma had two lengthy reigns with the belt in 2000, the first for 182 days until he lost to Danzig in a Lemon, Salt and Mustard Death Match. He regained the title later in the year and held it for a further 98 days before leaving the company in 2001 and vacating the title.

Following Honma’s departure, the belt would be worn twice more by Danzig during the CZW partnership and would once again be vacated when this partnership dissolved. Following this we would see the rise of some still popular faces in the company today with the likes of Ryuji Ito and Abdullah Kobayashi starting to claim and wield the bloody hardcore belt. In fact Ito still holds the record for longest reign with the belt, holding it from August 2003 to December 2005 for a total of 850 days. He was eventually beaten by Kobayashi in a scaffold match to end the record breaking reign.

Kobayashi, Ito and Sekimoto

So there you have it for now. We have covered the early years of the death match division of BJW. We will be coming back to this division to talk about further champions up to the modern day. In part two we will be focusing on the other divisions within BJW and the stars of the Strong division. For now though, it is nice to lament the history of the absolute batsh*t world of death matches and one of the leading companies pushing the needle further into death territory or the syringe into the cheek of death territory. It’s easy to laugh off death matches as trash or overly violent none wrestling but how can you not admire the sacrifice these wrestlers make? It’s ultraviolent art and is still running strong now. Not to mention the big reason the company got its start was because it followed the path set by other promotions like FMW and IWA Japan. Death matches were the draw then and they still are now. See you in part 2…

If you are interested in seeing more, BJW have a streaming service at bjwcore.com or a YouTube channel you can see highlights on. CZW is found at czwstudios.com for streaming and have a YouTube channel for highlights. 

(All images and videos courtesy of samurai-tv.com, czwstudios.com, Pro Wrestling Fandom)

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