If you’d asked me a bit over a year ago whether there was a chance that Minoru Fujita would become one of my favourites, I’d, well, honestly have been so confused I wouldn’t have known how to answer. I was aware of his existence, didn’t hold anything against the guy, but wouldn’t have expected him to wander onto my radar. Then, he turned up in ChocoPro, and everything changed. Because it turned out that as well as being a wrestler with a wildly varied career that has taken in everything from Battlearts to the NJPW junior division to his current deathmatches, he’s also a big old softie. Someone who has embraced ChocoPro as a second home, donning the Pencil Army dungarees and stabbing people with weapons from his cat bag. Throw in some fantastic matches with Yunamon, Emi and Akki, and Fujita has become a wrestler I find it very easy to sing the praises of. However, there is still that wild career that I have barely looked at, so for this Wrestler Mixtape, I figured it was time to dip my toe in the water.
Low Ki vs Minoru Fujita, Pro Wrestling WORLD-1 (8/4/04)
The weirdness of that career can be summed up by our first match, which took place in Pennsylvania for Pro Wrestling WORLD-1, a company owned by, among others, Steve Corino. At the time, Zero-1 was a part of the NWA, which had presumably led to Fujita coming over for a short tour with Masato Tanaka, Kohei Sato and Ikuto Hidaka. I can’t, however, figure out if there was a closer relationship between the two companies or if they simply shared a similar name. None of that’s particularly important, as the main thing is that it’s 2004, and he’s wrestling one of the kings of the American indies at that time, Low Ki.
Before we get onto the match, I want to note that young Fujita is hot. I think you could argue that 2021 Minoru has that grizzled old wolf thing going for him, but 2004 Minoru is a beautiful man, plain and simple. If nothing else, this match is worth watching to do a bit of respectful admiring.
Outside of that, he was a very different wrestler at this time. This is the guy who had been a part of Battlearts, spent the previous year working as a junior in New Japan and was now set to make Zero-1 his home. There isn’t a hint of the deathmatch wrestler that would come, as he spends the opening minutes grappling with Low Ki before eventually settling into a dominant heel role, working over the American. It’s a simple format, playing off the small crowd being in their countryman’s corner, but Fujita has some fun with it, looking like he’s enjoying himself. There is even a moment where he pulls out a comedy karate chop, hinting at the personality that his ChocoPro run has shown off so nicely. He even gets to show off a bit of flash himself as he sets up Low Ki for his comeback, hitting a nice Avalanche Hurricanrana.
Despite that, it’s not a blow away match. You can tell it’s two guys who don’t know each other particularly well working in front of a small crowd. They keep it simple, running through the basics and both performing their roles admirably. It leaves us with something that is a curiosity rather than a must-see. If you want to see how Fujita looked and wrestled back in 2004, it’s probably not going to be your first choice, but you certainly won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time.
Minoru Fujita vs Jaki Numazawa, BJW (7/3/16)
It would have felt wrong not to include at least one deathmatch on the list, so let’s jump forward to 2016, at which point Fujita had been getting stabby for a couple of years. We’re in BJW, where he is taking on another wrestler who has popped up in ChocoPro, Jaki Numazawa. Despite that, I don’t think we can expect to see a match like this anytime soon in Ichigaya, as they had a Dog Collar Chain & Barbed Wire Deathmatch.
If you were to create a deathmatch spectrum where you have your fairly straightforward WWE-style hardcore at one end and your shards of broken glass and knife boards at the other, then this sits right in the middle. Fujita and Jaki aren’t doing anything particularly fancy, but what they are doing looks like it hurts. It’s two men beating the shit out of each other, leaving them both bloodied and bruised from having that chain hammered into their foreheads. If you stumbled on it in a back alley, you’d call the police, terrified they were going to kill each other.
And yet, what stands out is the little moments of personality. Fujita, early on, inviting Jaki to run the ropes only to yank on the chain the second he does or the way the two of them take so much pleasure in whipping it into each other’s balls. You can see why these two grizzled brawlers fit in at Chocolate Square because there are as many laughs from the crowd during this as there are gasps, Fujita at one point neglecting to take into account that chopping a man who has a chain lying across his chest might be a bad idea.
On top of that, you still get a bit of the wrestler that Fujita was back in 2004. There is a moment where he escapes Numazawa’s attempt to choke him over the ropes by skinning the cat, and he’s moving well at this point in his career. It’s just that rather than exchanging holds with Low Ki, he has bar brawls with Jaki, ending with a thudding headbutt from Numazawa that caused me to flinch. Even that would be outdone by the finish, Fujita unable to escape the second attempt to choke him with the aid of the ropes, leaving the ref with no choice but to ring the bell.
As always, your mileage will vary with this style of match. If you’re a deathmatch hater, watching these two isn’t going to be the thing to bring you around, and it’s not something that would ever crossover into more mainstream chatter. It’s a fight between two hard men, who happen to have a bit of personality and comic timing to go along with their violence.
Minoru Fujita vs Moeka Haruhi, Ganbare (26/1/19)
Jumping forward to 2019, this is a Minoru Fujita who, in appearance, is very familiar to me, but in attitude, not so much. In there with the much smaller Moeka Haruhi, Fujita is playing the bully, a side of him that we’ve never really seen in ChocoPro.
And while I don’t want my beloved Mino Pencil to become a meanie, it is a slight shame because he’s good at this. At the start of the match, Fujita isn’t taking Moeka seriously, sulking on the apron when the fans chant her name and then rocking her in his arms like a baby. He’s acting like this whole thing is below him and that he can end it whenever he wants to.
It’s a set up that is without a doubt a trope, but it’s one I love, and these two do it fantastically. Haruhi is brilliant in the underdog role, being rag-dolled around the ring before finding the opening to desperately try and get back into the action. Minoru, meanwhile, sells the shock of her defiance perfectly. What initially seems like an easy day at the office is slowly getting more difficult, and you can see him having to readjust to deal with that. By the time Moeka gets him over for a suplex and follows up with a series of double stomps, you can see a hint of panic in his eyes.
The ending is great, as Fujita suddenly turns it all on and brings that power advantage to the fore. Even then, though, Haruhi makes sure he has to work for it, kicking out of a Tombstone to the shock of all involved and forcing him to see her off with a Spear. It’s a pretty spot-on example of how to get over in defeat, as she earned Fujita’s respect and came out of this with her head held high. As for our Minoru, this is a heel version of the wrestler that I fell for, so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s my favourite match of the three.