Pro Wrestling, for all its drama, can put on some wild shows. Sure, the outcomes are usually known ahead of time and people aren’t trying to kill off anyone else, but short of that thing can get really creative. This one ranks right up there as The Wildest Wrestling Match I’ve seen.
The recent passing of Former Japanese Olympic and longtime pro wrestler Masa Saito had me looking around for some of his matches, and in it is one that has become a legend, even if it isn’t talked about much in the States. It is the Ganryujima Island Deathmatch.
What this match was, it was the pro wrestling version of a duel. I believe it was a send up to the famous Japanese stories about the duel between samurai Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojirō that was to have taken place in 1612. That story is a legend in Japan and has been passed down for generations. The pro wrestling version, not so much. This “event” took place in October of 1987.
It was dreamed up and stared legendary wrestler (and MMA Icon) Antonio Inoki who was also the promoter for New Japan Pro Wrestling at the time. And since you can’t have a deathmatch alone (The WWE tried that,) selected as his opponent for this was Masa Saito. A Former Olympic Wrestler that had recently come back from a long run in the States that had recently ended. He had gotten out of jail for helping to throw a boulder through a McDonald’s window for not serving him. Saito was treated like a huge star by Inoki.
The “match” was supposed to take place at dawn but had been delayed until later in the day. Again, harkening back to the legend. Both men were boated out to the small island near Honshu where a ring had actually been set up outdoors. There was press to cover it and both guys brought others to train with and help out. Unlike something that would happen today, this was not carried live on TV or anything like that. A video was released and that may have been it.
The match itself started in the ring like most wrestling matches do. A lot of grappling holds and leg locks. It is well into this “match” that both men go tumbling from the ring and start fighting on the grass. Mostly headlocks and such, but it is a weird visual.
They get back in the ring that the sun actually starts to go down and lit torch are out. So yeah, some television trickery has obviously taken place, not like that wasn’t known by having this in the first place. Eventually, it gets dark and they are fighting outside the ring by torchlight. Suspend your disbelief if you haven’t already. Japanese or not, it is still pro wrestling. Especially when Saito survives getting hit in the chest with a chunk of firewood.
Things wrap up in darkness and covered in blood. From what they are bleeding from, who knows? I won’t spoil the ending of this madness but it went dark during this fight and the video goes for nearly 2 and half hours, There is a lot of filler and padding of time. The actual match is a bunch of grappling and simple wrestling type holds, but much like wrestling here in the states, Inoki wasn’t going for realism here and was lot more hype than it is for actual wrestling style violence.
But for two guys holding a wrestling match in the outdoors of a small island, what is there to expect? Even for back then it was just something different to get people to talk, probably buy some VHS tapes, and pay tribute to a famous story and the duel that it tells.
But in the here and now, it shows one of the most bizarre matches in Wrestling history and pays a very unusual tribute to a warrior that is no longer with us. So if you watch this, don’t try to make it a mat wrestling classic or compare to anything modern with the television and wrestling tricks involved. You’ll just ruin your time in doing that. I don’t think that was what either of these two wanted.