Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The History of BJW: Japan's Longest-Running Hardcore / Deathmatch Wrestling Promotion

BJW (Big Japan Pro-Wrestling) was founded in 1995 by former NWA Americas Heavyweight Champion Great Kojika and former AWA Southern Heavyweight Champion Kendo Nagasaki. There were many promotions created in Japan during that decade, but BJW stood out from the traditional style of Japanese promotions, as it featured a hardcore (better known in Japan as deathmatch)-style product.

In BJW's early years, not every card featured hardcore action, and the ones that did would feature only one hardcore match. That changed in July 1998, when the company began having more than one hardcore match on a card, and the BJW Death Match Heavyweight Championship was established that next month. For three years, the talent on BJW events had been showing that they were very skilled wrestlers, displaying psychology from the opening bell to the end of the match, ring presence and quick-thinking being included in matches, with every move being executed for a reason. So when the focus on hardcore wrestling increased, it blended together with technical wrestling, adding to the action and creating a unique and exciting style of wrestling.

As BJW continued to focus on the hardcore style into the 2000s, wrestlers including Ryuji Ito, Abdullah Kobayashi, and Jaki Numazawa began to be recognized on the hardcore / deathmatch scene for their exceptional proficiency as wrestlers of that style. They were amongst the top draws on the BJW roster and helped increase the company's popularity. It was in 2009 when, with the company able to draw 1,256 fans to the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo (Japan's Madison Square Garden) and having a television show on Fighting Samurai TV in Japan as well as a strong reputation as a deathmatch company, BJW was ready to branch out to the international market.

The BJW English website made its debut in the early part of 2009, making BJW one of the first Japanese wrestling companies to make a website to attract the English market outside of Japan. One of its features was Big Japan Shop, which had many BJW products available for purchase, including DVDs. Knowing that I could help the company connect with the English market, I reached out to BJW, and began writing a column for the website, as well as became an Administrator for their Facebook page.

As BJW's popularity continued to increase, American networks were interested in the BJW product, and it caught the attention of the American wrestling scene as well. In 2011, CZW reached out to me expressing interest in working with BJW. In the early-2000s, BJW and CZW had a working relationship that ultimately fell apart. But the CZW of 2011 was under new management, and a working relationship with CZW would be a good opportunity for BJW to include American hardcore wrestlers in its events in Japan as well as potentially increase its footprint in the United States. I helped bring BJW together with CZW to form a new working relationship, which led to BJW having its first event in the United States.

By 2012, BJW slowly began to focus on its Japan audience again. Its English website was no longer being updated (although I continued doing the Bout Review column and other BJW-related writing on my blog), and it went back to its roots, reminding fans in Japan that although BJW is excellent at presenting hardcore wrestling, that isn't the only style of wrestling that its great at. BJW introduced the BJW World Strong Heavyweight Championship, created to spotlight the type of wrestler who does not focus on the hardcore style of wrestling, and giving the wrestlers of its strong style division (Strong BJ) a championship of its own. With the BJW World Strong Heavyweight Championship a part of BJW's main event scene along with the BJW Death Match Heavyweight Championship, the company can claim that it has some of the best world-class wrestlers, of both the strong style and hardcore styles.

Today, Daisuke Sekimoto, Yuji Okabayashi, Takuya Nomura, Daichi Hashimoto, Yasufumi Nakanoue, and Yuya Aoki are amongst the main eventers of the Strong BJ division. Ryuji Ito, Abdullah Kobayashi, and Jaki Numazawa continue to the represent the Death Match divison well, and have been joined by others including Kankuro Hoshino, Masaya Takahashi, and Yuki Ishikawa. Some wrestlers have managed to make an impression in both divisions, such as Hideyoshi Kamitani.

With both divisions being equally impressive, it's fair to say that the Strong BJ division is more popular, due to it being more mainstream. There would be more American networks willing to air that division's style of matches. However, the hardcore matches of BJW's Death Match division are no less exciting. Some of its most popular match types are, "Weapon Bringing Death", "Fluorescent Lighttubes Death", and "Barbed Wire Board Death".

Strong BJ and Death Match are not the only divisions that BJW features. With wrestlers from both divisions, the BJW Tag Team division is considered by many fans to be one of the top tag team divisions in Japan. Kazuki Hashimoto, Kaji Tomato, Kota Sekifuda, and Tatsuhiko Yoshino are some of the wrestlers who are a part of the BJW Junior Heavyweight division, which many fans feel is competitive with the Strong BJ division. There is also a six man tag team division, where the BJW Yokohama Shopping Street Six Man Tag Team Championship is defended.

BJW is a unique and important promotion that has had a significant impact on the world of pro-wrestling. The company's focus on hardcore wrestling has helped to popularize the style around the world and is a popular destination for fans of it. Also, many wrestlers who are very familiar to North American wrestling fans have passed through BJW's doors, such as WALTER (currently wrestling for WWE as Gunther), Zack Sabre Jr., Adam Cole, Chris Hero, former WCW Light Heavyweight Champion Jushin Thunder Liger, Tomohiro Ishii, and Tommy End (currently wrestling for AEW as Malakai Black).

In recent years, BJW has resumed branching out to the international market, providing information in English, exporting DVDs overseas, and now also has a streaming service, as it attempts to grow its large fanbase even more as BJW likely will continue to provide wrestling fans with exciting action for many years to come.

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