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A fun sci-fi fighting project, and the deathmatches that inspired it

I’d read some of Dave Walsh’s writing on kickboxing and wrestling when I was just starting out in this here internet game, and got a chance to work with him a bit here at Cageside before he went all in on his fiction writing career. As somebody who likes a good sci-fi novel (and sometimes wishes I had the imagination and or chutzpah to try my hand as a novelist), I followed Dave’s work. But I didn’t get a chance to write about it* until INTERGALACTIC BASTARD.

INTERGALACTIC BASTARD is Walsh’s latest book. It began life as a serialized story, and it often reads like something you’d find in an old magazine with a name like “Two-Fisted Tales!” That’s a compliment coming from me, and if it would be coming from you, then it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy reading about Coop Sabre, his exploding barbed wire bat, loyal lady friend, and somewhat shifty uncle/manager as they work their way through an intergalactic future of no holds barred prize fighting.

The trappings of the world Dave’s created owe more to non-scripted combat sports like mixed martial arts or boxing. That familiarity is welcome; there’s a reason there’s a bunch of Rocky and Undisputed movies. Where things get very pro wrestling, and where Walsh’s book really comes to life, is when Coop is fighting. Every foe and match is a little different, and makes me want to give Dave the book for a sci-fi Lucha Underground-meets-Bloodsport promotion immediately. It would need to be animated or have a billion dollar budget, of course, but let me have my ultraviolent dream.

Beyond that, I’m not a trained critic, and a more detailed “review” of INTERGALACTIC BASTARD from me would mostly involve recapping action scenes and telling you I thought they were cool. But since Dave and I are online friends — and because while I know enough to recognize the pro wrestling influences in the book, I don’t know a lot about them — I invited him to tell us more. As mentioned above, his roots are in non-fiction writing, and I knew he’d knock the chance to write about some of his favorite wrestlers and matches out of the offworld arena. He did. I also figured if I was curious, some other folks might be, too.

So if a pulpy read about dudes and other lifeforms beating each other up in space sounds like your idea of a good time, drop a few bucks on INTERGALACTIC BASTARD.

Now here’s Dave to tell us more about his book, and drop some deathmatch knowledge.

Ten years ago, something happened to me and I finally did it. I sat down to work on a short story idea that was burning a hole in my head and worked through the night, nailing down over 7,000 words in those harrowing hours and realizing I wasn’t writing a short story, I was writing a novel. The original idea was a simple one and made sense within the realm of combat sports I was writing in regularly at the time: imagine waking up as Chuck Liddell, after accomplishing so much, only to be treated like an afterthought.

That had to suck.

In my head, becoming a novelist was always the end goal, but actually doing the thing (writing a novel) eluded me. Somehow, this thread of an idea became a full novel with time, and after washing out in searching for an agent, I decided I was going to go it alone. I had friends all throughout the MMA and kickboxing worlds, tons in the media. Surely everyone would help me out. The end result was... not great. From a technical standpoint, the novel was a mess. I was out-of-shape and had never written anything this long before. Years removed from my college days and writing workshops, I had been instead writing nothing but shorter news stories and occasional think pieces. Stuff that flowed easily and didn’t need to worry about tense-shifting, locking in a POV or anything else.

So, we don’t talk about The Godslayer around here anymore.

The story never left me, though, even if my love for combat sports waned and I somehow found myself as a science fiction novelist as a career path. After releasing almost a dozen novels, dealing with a pandemic, my twin boys and a busy wife working in healthcare, 2021 was the year of burnout. Then I suffered a crummy injury and an idea I was kicking around as a serial for fun about a cyberpunk space gladiator, went from a thing I was doing to blow off steam to revisiting the themes I had ineptly explored ten years prior. This time, though, I took one of my genuine passions as inspiration. What was that inspiration?

Japanese deathmatch wrestling.

There’s a magic to the brutality and earnestness to it. It’s an art form of itself. One that isn’t afraid to take risks or try something new, while remaining true to itself, even when soaked in melodrama. To talk about Japanese deathmatches it’s impossible to not talk about Atsushi Onita, one of the few wrestlers who saw the value in the deathmatch and a place to carve out a name for himself. His match with Terry Funk remains one of the most spoken of and influential to this day.

In fact, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega’s famous deathmatch with the fizzled out ending explosion sampled heavily from this match, paying homage to the magic that happened here. While it’s difficult to look beyond the bummer of an ending where Eddie Kingston was laid out on top of Jon Moxley to protect him, in reverence to Onita laying on top of Terry Funk to protect him from the explosions after laying him out, it’s still shows how this match resonates almost 30 years later.

This story I was working on, INTERGALACTIC BASTARD (INTERGALACTIC DEATHMATCH at the time, but there was a comic that came out with that same name and I didn’t want to deal with that), took direct inspiration from Atsushi Onita in quite a few areas. Coop Sabre’s chosen gear is a pair of torn up jeans, a white leather jacket and his weapon of choice is an exploding barbed wire bat.

... Can we talk about how many people asked me about The Walking Dead as an inspiration for the bat thing? Because it was a lot and I only watched the first season, never read the comic, and only really dabbled with the Telltale games about Clementine. Okay?

It’s also impossible to separate that while my original intentions of this story were for it to be fun, silly and an episodic, monster-of-the-week type of thing where Coop battled against wild-looking aliens on far-off worlds, it took on a much different form. Just like the art of deathmatches themselves, which were at times ridiculous and gimmicky, the story couldn’t help but take turns, like Onita did to add the human element to the brutality. The idea of the person behind the beloved larger-than-life character had stuck with me from my first novel, and at a low point myself with an injury, suffering from burnout and whatever else, my original intent melted away.

Unlike the stories I’d been penning prior, the galaxy wasn’t a stake. As much as I wanted to write a shonen and DBZ-inspired story about a man fighting against the odds, that wasn’t the actual battle. The real battle was just existing as a person expected to perform for an audience, both physically and mentally. It was the strain on relationships that comes with destroying your body and mind while the world cheered on. Somewhere during writing and releasing this story as a serial, a very real-life person who also took heavy inspiration from Atsushi Onita (right down to using his theme music, just like Coop does) in Jon Moxley, checked himself into rehab. If anything, it just steeled me to the fact that these folks deserve respect and support for what they do, and the world needs more stories like this to show this side of life.

Because, look, at the core of this here, are the people. We know them as performers, but what they do can, at times, transcend any traditional barriers we understand between a performer and their audience. I’ve seen thousands of wrestling matches in my lifetime now, and none has stuck in my head quite as well as a BJW classic of Takashi Sasaki and Yuko Miyamoto from 2007 has.

There’s a certain kind of drama being played out here, where they know brutality needs to be on the menu, but that brutality for brutality’s sake won’t be remembered for anything other than the sheer spectacle. This is a match where both men just throw everything they have at each other, until there’s nowhere else to go but both of them standing high above the crowd on a scaffold, exchanging elbows and trying to fling the other one to their doom. Why? Because they’re out of ideas or ways to make the other man yield and it’s beautiful. For 20-something minutes, these men become something more than what they ever could have been prior, telling a story that is still difficult to beat when you add up the elements at play.

Yes, there have been a lot of deathmatches, but that one remains special. I could make an argument that Masashi Takeda has come close to making a match this special a few times now, but I keep coming back to this one. In the grand pantheon of great matches I’m sure most people won’t push aside their Ric Flair NWA favorites, AJPW’s Four Pillars and their epics, prime AJW’s sublime and brutal storytelling, Tanahashi and Okada classics, or even their frantically paced Kenny Omega epics, and that’s okay. For me, I needed inspiration for a story that seemed grand but turned inward, and the grandeur, melodrama and ultimately personal stories that Japanese deathmatches told proved to be the perfect muse during a troubled and imperfect time.

While I vainly hope that you’ll check out INTERGALACTIC BASTARD in one format or another, enjoy it and take something away from it, thus helping support myself and my family, it’s also that you take a look at a relatively obscure slice of wrestling history for a lot of fans and do some exploring as well. Wrestling is, of course, utterly ridiculous even at its best, but there’s still an allure to it that most of us can’t explain. It’s a physical sort of storytelling that can do so much with so little and while I’ll not make lofty claims about stories of many-limbed aliens powerbombing a dude as a higher form of art or storytelling, I’ve reached a point in my career where I can’t write fight scenes without making them pro wrestling matches.

Because wrestling is the best.

You can check out INTERGALACTIC BASTARD and order it via paperback, ebook and hardcover here. For more information about myself and my books, check out my website.

* In case anyone is going, “Great, an advertorial”... Dave’s the only person or entity involved in the making of this post who will make money if you buy a book at one of these links. There’s no deal in place with Cageside, SBNation, or Vox Media. This is just me blogging about something I liked, and getting the dude who created it to blog about the pro wrestling connection to it.

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