WARNING STRONG VIOLENCE AHEAD

Ladies, Gentlemen and all non-binary people out there welcome to the first annual SteelChair Deathmatch Awards. We know year-end awards are more generic than ever but hey, with 2020 being one of the worst records on year for most people, let’s at least try and celebrate something that actually managed to thrive in 2020, the deathmatch. With crowds limited and empty arenas everywhere, some companies took to making small crowd shows with massive matches and took the no fan situation to the absolute limit. So, join me and my other deathmatch specialist Mathew MacMillan as we rundown the best of deathmatch from 2020!

Promotion of the Year (US)

John: ICW No Holds Barred: From January at No Holds Barred Volume 1, ICW has shown that it is not only good at putting on insane cards, but it was also more than willing to take its violence to new levels. A ring of chains and pit-fighting shows have helped ICW stand out in the deathmatch world and led to the formation of several new stars over the course of 2020. Always willing to push the limits for better or worse, ICW has made 2020 their year.

Mat: ICW No Holds Barred: This year no other deathmatch promotion has adapted to the restrictions 2020 set upon everyone than ICW No Hold Barred. From June onwards they have managed to hold multiple monthly shows that have created a positive buzz within the community. The chain ropes and the Pitfighter x MMA cage matches have been refreshing and more importantly, ultra-violent. From Homicides’ bleach waterboarding of Casanova Valentine at NHB Vol. 1, Akira’s profile-raising summer of crazy senton bombs and the flaming deep south destroyer at NHB Vol. 6, ICW gave us a year of insane spots (to name a few) as well as great shows.

Honourable mentions: H2O, GCW, No Peace Underground & IWA Mid-South

Promotion of the Year (Worldwide)

John: BJW: Trying to keep up with deathmatches worldwide can be a daunting task. There is high-class deathmatch talent all around the world and that list is ever-growing as time goes on. BJW stole the limelight for me as it put on so many excellent matches and took a lot of the no fans problems and made them work for them. From the excellent title scene and the continuous additions and upgrades of young talent like Drew Parker and Shunma Katsumata means they can steal the award now and potentially do it for many years to come.

Mat: FREEDOMS: No other promotion’s top title has had the consistently high-quality matches that FREEDOMS’ King of FREEDOM world title has had; they are without question the top DM promotion in the world today. Toru Sugiura’s matches against Yuko Miyamoto, Masashi Takeda and Jun Kasai were incredible with a big match feel around each one, which you want when it comes to title matches.   With a versatile roster, that includes Violento Jack, Daisuke Masaoka, Toshiyuki Sakuda & Rina Yamashita each card FREEDOMS produce is a good time usually building to a great main event.

Honourable Mentions: Guanatos Hardcore Crew, Zona 23, ChocoPro Wrestling

Wrestler of the Year (US)

John: John Wayne Murdoch: Much like ICW No Holds Barred where he has become the ace, John Wayne Murdoch has made 2020 work for him. He has battled the spectrum of talent on the US deathmatch scene and built a whole throne of skulls to sit upon. He has remained almost fully unbeaten in ICW and put on some of their biggest matches even taking part in the hit or miss hour-long ironman deathmatch. Murdoch really has taken everything the company has given him without a shred of ego. Even he doesn’t seem to understand his own reputation at times.

Mat: Alex Colon: A standout performer for GCW on their tour of Japan, during the Homecoming weekend, in the fifth Nick Gage Invitational and while winning his second Tournament of Survival, 2020 saw Colon consistently perform at a high level. Alex Colon is a name I always look out for when I see a death match card announced, you know you are going to get one of the very best at this style. With a GCW title match set against Rickey Shane Page set for sometime in 2021, could we see Alex Colon cement himself as one of the elites with a title run?

Honourable Mentions: Rickey Shane Page, Matt Tremont, Eric Ryan, Bam Sullivan

Wrestler of the Year (Worldwide)

John: Minoru Fujita: Once again, there have been a wealth of worldwide stars but none stand out to me more than Minoru Fujita. He’s been a veteran for a long time and has shown off his range in all manners of deathmatch. Now he has the BJW Deathmatch Title and has defended it against some of the company’s best in a whole manner of interesting matches. Plus, he has stretched his comedic muscles with deathmatches alongside Rina Yamashita and “deathmatches” in ChocoPro. 

Mat: Toru Sugiura: With a title run that, in my opinion, is up there with Takeda’s epic run with the Big Japan title Toru Sugiura is without question the best deathmatch wrestler of 2020.  An explosive wrestler, he hits hard and shows great intelligence. His reaction to the early stoppage of his match against Masahi Takeda was genius, attacking Takeda in frustration he got the crowd hungry for more rather than leaving disappointed at the stoppage because of the gruesome injury. As mentioned in promotion of the year, his run of matches against death match legends has been superb. With the Christmas day rematch against Takeda due to air in early January, the expectation is high. It is a potential MOTYC if it is anything like his 2019 Blood Xmas match against Violento Jack then we are in for a hell of a match.

Honourable Mentions: Abdullah Kobayashi, Ryuji Ito, Masashi Takeda

Breakout Star (US)

John: AKIRA: Everyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been high on AKIRA since No Holds Barred Volume 2. Ever since he pulled a tube senton off the roof of a house, he’s continuously put on high-quality matches for all kinds of promotions with an excellent blend of catch wrestling, Shibata-Esque Strong Style and raw brutality. Considering one of his go-to moves is a Muta Lock with a saw to the head, it’s no surprise that he has helped innovate the scene with even more creative bloodletting. 

Mat: Atticus Cogar: At only 23, Atticus Cogar is 2020’s Prince of Death Matches and part of the hottest heel act in independent wrestling in 44OH! A talented wrestler with natural charisma and a good look, the sky is the limit for Cogar in the deathmatch scene. Some people would say attacking MASADA from behind and taunting him on social media is not a good idea but that’s how Cogar has decided to finish 2020.  A win over MASADA could go a long way into establishing the PODM’s as a major player in 2021.

Honourable Mentions: Alex Ocean, Bam Sullivan, Mouse

Breakout Star (Worldwide)

John: Shunma Katsumata: Since the pandemic crippled live shows, DDT started its TV Show series. One of the stand-out stars of those shows was the super-hardcore LEGO fiend Shunma Katsumata. From his match with the demon doll Yoshihiko to battling Isami Kodaka and Daisuke Sasaki for the Universal title, Katsumata took DDT to its hardcore limits and progressed to BJW as a deathmatch newcomer. This is but the tip of the iceberg as to watch he can do on the deathmatch scene and I feel 2021 is going to be another massive year for ALL OUT’s hardcore star. 

Mat: Yuki Ishikawa: Yuki Ishikawa first caught my eye as 1/3rd of my MOTY back in June. He absorbed a hell of a lot of light tubes but showed tremendous fire. Originally, I thought Toshiyuki Sakuda was going to be the future of the Big Japan deathmatch scene, but he has since gone freelance. However, Ishikawa has been involved in a lot of matches with Big Japan legends such as Ryuji Ito, Jun Kasai & Yuko Miyamoto and most recently he had a well-received scaffold deathmatch with Isami Kodaka. With more matches like that and should he continue to learn from the veterans, Ishikawa should end 2021 as an important player in the Big Japan deathmatch scene.

Honourable Mentions: Toshiyuki Sakuda, Drew Parker, Miyako Matsumoto

The Bloodbath of the Year (US)

John: Rickey Shane Page vs Matt Tremont (H2O The Last Extravaganza Night One: When Matt Tremont announced his last match, expectations were high. When he announced it would be in his home promotion on its biggest weekend ever against a long-time foe, they got even higher. Guess what, it delivered. This was a classic style match in the confines of a ring full of light-tubes. It bled story alongside plasma and sent the Bulldozer out on his shield at the hands of arguably wrestling’s greatest villain right now. 

Mat: Nick Gage vs Rickey Shane Page (GCW Run Rickey Run): Nick Gage is one of the most over wrestlers in the business today, seriously watch one of his entrances, and RSP is one of the most hated heels going today. Together they have created one of the hottest feuds in all of wrestling.  RSP released several well-produced promos and carried out numerous sneak attacks on Gage to generate nuclear level heat for himself and his 44OH! stable. Going into this match I was anxious as well as excited, could it live up to the hype?! YES and then some. It was a violent, bloody match filled with spectacular spots, surprise appearances and twist & turns. The visual of a gloating RSP standing in the middle of the ring as the enraged fans rained garbage down on him was the best way to end the show and continue the Gage/RSP feud.  I for one cannot wait to see the rematch.

Honourable Mentions: Alex Colon vs Rickey Shane Page (GCW Tournament of Survival 5), Lindsay Snow vs Neil Diamond Cutter (No Peace Underground You Will Never Be One of Us), John Wayne Murdoch vs Orin Veidt Ironman (ICW No Holds Barred Volume 8)

The Bloodbath of the Year (Worldwide)

John: Toshiyuki Sakuda vs Yuki Ishikawa vs Abdullah Kobayashi (BJW Crisis Survivor Volume 2): This comes as no surprise. The best match in the deathmatch advent calendar this year and one of my favourite matches of the year saw the trio take the no fans situation and spin it into a gratuitous display of blood and broken glass. This was the type of match that could only be done in the confines of this situation. If there were fans in the building this bloodbath could not have happened. Plus, you had two of the hungry younger talent in the company trying to batter the veteran Kobayashi and claim his status. Words can’t do this match justice, track it down and revel in the carnage.

Mat: Toshiyuki Sakuda vs Yuki Ishikawa vs Abdullah Kobayashi (BJW Crisis Survivor Volume 2): This match instantly comes to mind whenever the 2020 match of the year conversation is brought up. Held in the BJW Dojo, the crowd noise replaced with the non-stop pop of light tubes and crunch of broken glass. this the most fun I had all year watching wrestling. From the dojo being covered in light tubes (567 if the name of the match is to be believed) to the sight of Sakuda & Ishikawa duelling on the scaffold, this was not about nuanced technical wrestling, it was deathmatch at its finest, as a spectacle of violence. In comparison to all the cinematic matches that became the norm in 2020, none would have anything as beautiful as the visual of Kobayashi’s bloody face smashed into several of the 567 light tubes in front of the camera or Sakuda drinking his own blood as it poured down his arm post-match.

Honourable Mentions: Ryuji Ito vs Minoru Fujita (BJW Last Buntai), Casanova Valentine vs Joel Bateman (Deathmatch Downunder Tour), Toru Sugiura vs Jun Kasai (FREEDOMS Deathmatch Carnival Volume 2)

The Flaming Destroyer Award for Most Shocking Moment

John: Blood Shed Destroyer: One of the things that tend to draw people to deathmatch wrestling is the spots. FMW had the exploding wire and the sickle gutting, now we have the Orlando Death Squad and other weapons experts revolutionising the brutality we see. Nothing has been burned into the minds of deathmatch fans and Twitter in general than the Blood Shed Destroyer from John Wayne Murdoch and Orin Veidt’s first ICW encounter. They ended their match with a Deep South Destroyer from the top of the Blood Shed through a flaming glass. It was an ode to excess and I still remember it like it was yesterday. 

Mat: Blood Shed Destroyer: A deep south destroyer from the upper level of a shed onto a flaming layer of glass above two layers of doors in the ring below. How could I not give this the most shocking moment?! It’s one you see shared on social media by one of the many deathmatch giffers out there and say, “I NEED TO SEE THIS”.  Kudos to John Wayne Murdoch and Orin Veidt for creating a deathmatch moment that will be remembered for a very long time.

Honourable Mentions: Light-tube Guillotine (No Peace Underground), Neil Diamond Cutter’s Spots (various), Matt Tremont’s Scaffold fall (H2O Last Extravaganza), The Flaming Wheelchair (POR Hardcore Grand Prix)

Light-tube Award for the most reliable wrestler

John: Eddy Only: Reliability comes in many forms. Whilst many would focus on work rate and consistent quality, I chose something else. Consistently hilarious and an all-round motormouth, I chose Eddy Only. Not only is he the funniest man on the mic, but he is also a master at out-heeling everyone. No one does a better job at making themselves the most hated man in the room than Eddy Only whilst working this perfectly into his matches. Whilst his victories are few and far between, his qualities always shine through, well that and cigarette smoke.     

Mat: Alex Colon: Alex Colon is a deathmatch wrestler who consistently performs at a high level.  He is someone you know who is going to give an explosive, well-structured match regardless of opposition. It is why I think he’s the best western deathmatch wrestler and most reliable in 2020. I would recommend any of his matches from the GCW Japanese tour, his Homecoming deathmatch against AJ Gray, any of his TOS5 & NGI5 matches to back this up.

Honourable mentions: Jun Kasai, Isami Kodaka, Eric Ryan, Reed Bentley, Jeff Cannonball

Bundle of tubes Award for top faction

John: 44OH!: There couldn’t be anyone else really could there? No other faction has blazed a trail quite so destructive across so many companies in years. 44OH! boasts some of the top deathmatch stars, breakouts and achievers whilst also making themselves the most polarising group in wrestling. Love them or hate them, you always no two things, they’re going to show up without warning and they’re no doubt going to make you hate them. Rickey Shane Page has formed a group that has grabbed wrestling by the balls and formed so many rivalries, without giving single care to the consequences. 

Mar: 44OH!: 44OH! are the best faction in all pro wrestling, not just deathmatch wrestling. No one else comes close. If you have seen any show that they have been part of, you will have witnessed the heat they attract. This is by their own creation; their promos leave you speechless with the brutal putdowns they direct towards their opponents and like all the best villains it works because you believe that 440H! think they are the good guys. Boasting members such as the current GCW champ Rickey Shane Page, current Prince of Deathmatches Atticus Cougar and most of the funniest guys on the scene Eddy Only it should come as no surprise that they have provided some of the most memorable moments of 2020 with their memorable matches, surprise attacks and video packages.

Honourable Mentions: The Rejects, Third Generation Chimidoro Brothers

Lifetime Achievement Award

John/Mat: Matt Tremont & Danny Havoc: Danny Havoc is someone I’ve always respected in the deathmatch industry. His obituary was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. Appreciated worldwide, Havoc got the respect he deserved and for this award, I want to make sure another trailblazer gets the accolade he’s earned whilst he can appreciate it. Matt Tremont helped bring me back to wrestling. His CZW work brought me back to US deathmatches and the work he’s doing with H2O to bring a new deathmatch company into fruition. He’s training the stars of the future with no ego to show for it. Tremont helped breathe new life into the deathmatch scene and will continue to do so behind the scenes. 

Eyes Toward the Future Award

John: Deathmatch Downunder: The future is a scary thing to think of right now. The world is wracked with uncertainty and pain but there are some lights at the end of the tunnel. My one to watch is a whole new company coming up in a scene that has gone unloved. I present Deathmatch Downunder, a deathmatch company bursting onto the scene from Australia. Everything I’ve seen so far gives me hope that the company is going to put on incredible matches whilst also doing things the right way. A bloodletting company with a strong division and a good list of ethics and practices. Their first show is in January and I cannot wait to see it.

Mat: BJW’s new stars: Each Death Match title match of 2020 saw no champion under the age of 40. Abdullah Kobayashi won it for the 5th time, Ryuji Ito for the 7th and Minoru Fujita won if for the first time at the age of 43. That is not to say the quality has been poor, in fact, I have really enjoyed Fujita’s reign, it felt fresh after Kobayashi & Ito’s time with the belt. Which is why I would like to see Big Japan put more emphasis on building younger stars, it is hard not to think, “did they miss a trick in not pushing Toshiyuki Sakuda this year,” as he is a star in the making. Obviously, Yuki Ishikawa has been having a progressively good year, hopefully, BJW make the most of 2021 in cementing him as a player within the division

Honourable Mentions: Non-Pandemic wrestling, Freelance Toshiyuki Sakuda, ICW raising the stakes for 2021

Before wrapping up I’d also like to offer a massive shout out to all the photographers, giffers, gear makers, commentators, staff, weapon builders and everyone who is involved in making this scene thrive. The industry owes you so much and it’s great to see that even though this hellscape of a year, the scene has been alive with people trying to make it a better place through promotion, photography, new gear for stars, casting out the trash, making the business safer and in general keeping the whole genre going as the wrestlers carve each other up in the matches. You’re all appreciated and let’s hope that 2021 gives us the chance to see more shows live. Thank you for reading, let us know how horrendously wrong we are with our awards and give us your choices through social media. Until next year, let’s celebrate the goriest wrestling has to offer.

All images courtesy of Earl Gardner Photography, Chris Grasso, ICW NHB Twitter, FREEDOMS Twitter, Toru Sugiura Twitter, Superluchas, ThingsBrokenIn, Deathmatch Downunder Twitter, Robert Starks Bellamy (Mouse), H2O Twitter, GCW Twitter, Red Shoes Media, HeyyImRob