On the January 2 All Japan Pro Wrestling show from Korakuen Hall, the company made one of its most surprising decisions in quite some time. Yoshitatsu, a competitor known from his days competing in both WWE and New Japan, defended the GAORA TV Title against Jun Kasai. To the surprise of the crowd and media, Kasai ended the champion’s 587-day reign and became the 18th holder of the GAORA TV Championship. But who is Jun Kasai?
The term “deathmatch legend” gets bandied about, but searching for another phrase to describe Jun Kasai is difficult. There is a unique quality to Kasai as both a performer and a person that’s hard to define. His scars tell the stories of two decades of razor-wire matches. But unlike so many deathmatch participants, Kasai is a talent in the ring. He has good matches, they just often get violent. Kasai’s quiet, everyman demeanor how an artist who’s body is a jagged canvas. In many ways, he is the Japanese Mick Foley.
In an interview with the Viceland series, The Wrestlers, Kasai discussed watching wrestling on TV with his father. The elder Kasai would scoff at the action, claiming it wasn’t real. The young Jun vowed to create a style the even his father couldn’t doubt.
Debuting the violent world of Big Japan Wrestling (BJW) during the late-90s deathmatch boom, Jun Kasai immediately made an impact with his brutal, often nauseating hardcore matches. Kasai’s reputation grew in the west thanks to the proliferation of tape trading in the early-2000s. On the strength of BJW’s alliance with US-based Combat Zone Wrestling, Kasai traveled to the states for the first time with Team BJW in their feud with Team CZW. In 2009, Kasai forged the Big Dealz faction with John Zandig, Nick Mondo (current AEW video director), Wifebeater, and the late Trent Acid. While working with CZW, Kasai grew his western fanbase.
Upon returning to Japan, Kasai became something of a cult figure in deathmatch culture. Kasai parlayed this into a successful freelance career in the country, collecting championships not only in BJW and CZW but DDT, Wrestle1, FREEDOMs, and most surprisingly, the indie josh promotion Ice Ribbon. In 2009, Kasai’s match with Ryuji Ito, which Kasai won after a pedigree onto a cactus, was named indie Match of the Year by Tokyo Sports.
After years of cult status in both the US and Japan, Kasai drew interest from Viceland. On The Wrestlers, Kasai was profiled, along with the late Danny Havoc, as prolific deathmatch competitors. From this mainstream attention, Kasai has an autobiography coming out this month and his own feature-length documentary, which will profile his rise in Japan.
All Japan made a smart decision to put the GAORA TV title on Kasai, whose profile is sure to grow in the coming months. Kasai will make his first GAORA TV defense on January 24th against Black Menso—re, who held the title three times under his real name Yohei Nakajima.