WARNING: STRONG VIOLENCE AHEAD
It’s spooky season once again. You know what that means. It’s time to dive into another 31 deadly, bloody, horrifying deathmatches as we go into the 3rd annual deathmatch calendar. As always, this will be a day-by-day calendar of gore as we break into some of the greatest, nastiest, and most infamous of deathmatches across the years culminating with my pick of the year so far at the number 31 spot. With the preamble out of the way, let’s see what is awaiting us in this year’s tour of wrestling terror. This time it’s Mathew MacMillan’s turn to bring his match of terror.
Last year when John invited me to write a piece for the 31 days of deathmatches, I used the opportunity to talk about the match that made me fall in love with the deathmatch style, Masashi Takeda vs Masaya Takahashi. and has introduced me to new favourites, be it wrestlers, matches or promotions. In the time since I wrote that feature, my wrestling viewing fell off significantly as I struggled with the little to no crowds and promotions/wrestlers struggling to adapt their style to accommodate the enforced restrictions to crowds. However, I still find deathmatches to be a must-see, particularly those featuring Toru Sugiura and the FREEDOMs promotion.
My introduction to Toru Sugiura was in 2019 when he defeated deathmatch legend, Jun Kasai, for the King of FREEDOM World Title in an excellent match, surprising as Kasai was suffering from many injuries at the time. Kasai’s autobiography mentions that around that time he didn’t want to attend events because his body was in so much pain. From that match until July of 2021, Sugiura would assemble a reign that, in my opinion, is one of the best of the modern era. Eleven matches that had several Match of the Year contenders (both Violento Jack matches and the Blood Xmas match against Masahi Takeda). It was much better than what the higher-profile promotions were churning out. During his run with the belt, he would defeat icons of the Japanese Deathmatch scene such as Yuko Miyamoto, Takashi Sasaki & Jun Kasai again in August 2020. We saw Sugiura evolve from the fiery new champion who was out to prove himself as the man to carry the company, to the confident champion who was the guy to beat in FREEDOMs and it was down to his opponents to prove themselves to him.
This leads me to match no.9 of his reign I will be highlighting today, his match against Toshiyuki Sakuda. Toshiyuki Sakuda was someone I thought, despite his small stature (5’1), was destined for big things in Big Japan, especially after he won my DM of 2020, the Three-Way 567 Fluorescent Light Tubes contest against Yuki Ishikawa & Abdullah Kobayashi where he pinned Big Japan legend Kobayashi. He’s a charismatic wrestler who has won admirers both in Japan and the USA with the reckless abandon he throws himself around with. However, with their money issues, Big Japan seemed at the time to be reluctant to push the younger guys, preferring to keep established names such as Kobayashi, Ito and Minoru Fujita holding the Death Match Title in 2020.
Sakuda made FREEDOMs his home promotion by the end of 2020, a promotion that has given him several high-profile opportunities, he received a shot at the KOF title in Feb of 2019 against Jun Kasai, is part of the ERE faction alongside high profile DM guys, Masashi Takeda, Takayuki Ueki & Violento Jack and is on half of their, at time of writing, Tag Team Champions with Ueki. On the 9th of February 2021, he then received his shot at Sugiura and the KOF championship.
Sugiura would get in Sakuda’s face right upon his entrance to the ring, cockily grinning as he held up HIS title belt in the face of the much smaller challenger. The Psychopath Boy Sakuda was not phased one bit, jumping him as soon as the bell rang, absorbing light tube shots, and using his agility to counter his larger opponent’s power. Sakuda is in control for most of this match, Sugiura managed to stop his momentum a couple of times with some exciting power spots such as a backdrop to the outside through a bundle of light tubes and an impressive-looking stalling super plex. But Sakuda was relentless, saw covered boards were smashed into Sugiura’s chest, tattoo needles stabbed through one cheek and out the other, sentons on the light tube-covered champion and a top rope destroyer through a glass panel demonstrated he was more than a match for the champ. There is a close up of Sugiura’s face towards the end that put over the challenger, he looked punch drunk, and from here on in Sugiura shifted up a gear
As blood was streaming out of him at an alarming rate due to a nasty cut at the back of the head caused by landing awkwardly on a broken tube, the final stretch took on even greater urgency. In the end, Sugiura hit his finishing elbow to tubes into Sakuda’s face after a quick back and forth with tubes. Wrestling is often best when it’s straightforward, and this was a straightforward story told extremely well, with the brutality providing the spectacle we expect from deathmatches. Toshiyuki Sakuda came into this match looking to prove he deserved to be in the main event, and he succeeded – he NEVER looked out of place. Sugiura’s excellent selling put the smaller man over as a serious threat to his title as champion. By winning, Sugiura maintained his status as champion, looked strong and he made his opponent appear strong at the same time, which helped establish another player in the main event scene, truly a sign of a great champion.
All images courtesy of FREEDOMS