Let’s start this off with a setting. We are going to go to the Showboat in Atlantic City New Jersey. Here is the location of Game Changer Wrestling’s (GCW) Tournament of Survival 4, an annual one night, eight-man death match tournament in front of a bloodthirsty crowd. The atmosphere is electric and once the introductions are done a very familiar theme hits, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica. This is the entrance theme for the king of this promotion and GCW Champion, Nick Gage. The champ comes out and interacts with the crowd as if he’s just one of them except he’s about to be taking part in the opening match.
Similarly, in the same night, that same crowd get to witness a future star in the making, Toshiyuki Sakuda. This young man startles the audience with his death-defying antics and the fact he wrestles for several minutes with a giant needle shoved through his cheeks. He fights, mouth forced open amongst the broken glass, refusing to go down. The match is lost for him but the crowd has accepted him. He has been an ambassador for Big Japan Pro Wrestling (BJW) and introduced an American crowd to the Japanese style of ultra-violence. Both of these men have something in common, they are both deathmatch wrestlers. Both put their bodies through glass, pizza cutters, needles and more for the entertainment of audiences everywhere. Here is an examination of their impact on the industry.
Nick Gage: The American Present
Nick Gage has been in the wrestling industry for a long time. He debuted in 1999 in Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) where he would reside for over ten years. He worked almost all of their shows when not injured and held almost every belt they had. Whilst there he wrestled some of the best in the US Deathmatch field such as Necro Butcher, Mad Man Pondo, John Zandig and Drake Younger (who many will now recognize as a WWE referee.) Gage was affiliated with the H8 Club and would often feud with previous iterations of the club and Nate Hatred, the man he would form H8 Club with.
As well as tag team success he would hold the CZW Ironman Title, World Heavyweight Title, Death Match Title, and the Ultraviolent Underground Title. He also held gold in BJW during the CZW invasion era for the company. He has also won CZW’s Tournament of Death, winning the fifth tournament and outlasting the likes of Danny Havoc, Necro Butcher, JC Bailey, and DJ Hyde. Misfortune would follow Gage in future tournaments as unfortunate fates and injuries would cause him to leave tournaments early or cause him to be eliminated.
However, all of his success wouldn’t make up for an addiction to Oxycontin or stop him becoming homeless and desperate. Gage robbed a bank and was incarcerated for several years. For many prison time like this would be a death sentence for a wrestler’s career but Gage managed to rebound and is arguably more popular than ever. GCW has become his wrestling home and he is loved by the fans there. He has held their top belt for over 500 days and competes in countless events throughout the years. Just seeing his Tournament of Survival entrance is a clear indication of just how beloved the MDK King of Ultraviolence is and watching the levels of dedication and violence he puts into his matches it’s clear to understand why.
Gage has been doing death matches for decades and it seems he is showing no signs of slowing down now. He has won a Tournament of Survival, cut David Arquette with a pizza cutter and continues to amaze fans around America with his bloodbaths at GCW events. He has become one of the top faces for death matches in the states and draws fans in with his down to Earth persona, interactivity with fans and his complete dedication to the violent craft he has been a staple of for so long. Not to mention his profanity-laden promos stick in the minds of those who have heard them. He is imposing, brutal yet still likable to the crowds who have accepted him. He is without a doubt one of the top faces in GCW and will go down in any death match Hall of Fame when he does eventually hang up the light tubes and put away the pizza cutters. Until then, he will continue to bring the violence to any opponent who dares challenge him. Win or lose, the crowd will always stand behind Gage and that’s why he is the strong presence of the death match scene.
Toshiyuki Sakuda: The Japanese Future
Toshiyuki Sakuda has been wrestling for a considerably shorter amount of time. He is a product of the Big Japan Dojo and took to death matches in 2016. He is often seen with Masaya Takahashi and Takayuki Ueki as The 3rd Generation Chimodoro Brothers. Whilst not as accomplished as Nick Gage or a lot of his BJW roster he has shown a level of creativity and dedication that makes him stand out. His death match staples the giant needles, which I have taken to calling Ichi the Killer needles after the infamous Takashi Miike film, are often seen being used against him and shocking crowds in both Japan and the states.
Sakuda has been able to pull off impressive death matches against Alex Colon, Rickey Shane Page, Masashi Takeda, and Jun Kasai in his short-ish career. He is always willing to take extreme bumps, put himself in harm’s way and put over his opponents as the strongest men in the ring. He uses his shortness as a sign of speed and builds himself up as an underdog. He enters that ring with something to prove and whether he wins or loses he has the respect of the audience. This isn’t limited to solo outings either as he functions just as well in tag team bouts, with or without weapons.
Sakuda is far and away from the best example of a future star in the deathmatch field. He always has an appeal and is continuing to grow as time goes on. He could be the next Masashi Takeda or Jun Kasai, a respected megastar for future generations. He has all the tools to reach that level and will hopefully continue to put on exciting and probably quite dangerous bouts. Tournament of Survival was his first exposure to the States and they loved him, wanting to see more of him. That is the biggest sign that he can become the star I envision him to be. Now with the ever-expanding connections between British, American and Japanese death match stars and promotions, the world could be exposed to more Sakuda matches. GCW will be heading to Japan where they will work with Japanese death match legends and give their fan base another dose of Sakuda and his brand of ultra-violence.
Nick Gage and Toshiyuki Sakuda both symbolize the dedication and passion that deathmatch wrestlers hold for their craft be it as a veteran in his prime or a relative newcomer wowing crowds around the world. It’s an often looked down on field but it contains some of the best all-around wrestlers as well as those who will give their all when throwing themselves into glass. The fan base is passionate, the audiences are loud and the fact that many of these performers play Russian Roulette with there bodies adds that extra level of do or die to their matches. Nick Gage is the strongest contender for the American face of death matches. He is the Jun Kasai for an American audience. Someone who is recognizable and known for their match quality. It’s also safe to know that the future of the division is in safe in the hands of those like Sakuda, who has already shown how willing he is to go put on a show. Plus it’s not fun to introduce new people to his antics with the Ichi the Killer needles.
(All images courtesy of GCW, Toshiyuki Sakuda, Masaya Takahashi, ICW Milwaukee Twitter, Fite TV, Beyond/CZW YouTube)