"I want to thank all of you people, for letting me be your hero." These for the words that Sick Nick Mondo had for the crowd at Tournament of Death 2 after beating Ian Rotten. The crowd was absolutely in love. He had done it: he beat his teacher, and then beat the owner of the rival company that thought they could beat CZW. Nick Mondo was on top of the world. The day that this article is going up, June 5th, 2021, Nick Mondo is being inducted into GCW's Deathmatch Hall of Fame, and I thought what better time to look back on a truly special career than when he's being recognized by his peers.
I truly love deathmatch wrestling, and today I get to say that unashamedly as we celebrate a true deathmatch legend. As we look at Mondo's career, and I hope you take time to watch some matches with me, I want to assert that Mondo belongs in the same conversation as AJ Styles, Chris Hero, Samoa Joe, Scoot Andrews, Amazing Red and the rest of them as the amazing light Heavyweights that redefined independent wrestling in the early 2000's. We are going to look at what makes Mondo such a good wrestler, what makes his deathmatches so special, and why Tournament of Death 2 is truly unlike anything else in wrestling. Before we go any further though, I want to comment on where Mondo is now. Even if you have never heard of him before, odds are you see his work weekly. The Moxley video from 2019 revealing he had gone back to his Moxley name, as well as the NJPW teaser for him, were directed by Mondo. In 2020 he became a director for AEW, so now we see his video content all the time.
Mondo's career began in 1999 and immediately he was part of the young CZW. In 2000 he got to go on an excursion to Big Japan Wrestling, which surely had a big impact on the young wrestler. While Mondo is best known for his work in deathmatch, early on in his career he ended up in a couple of matches for Steel Domain Wrestling. There he faced a man you might be more familiar with: CM Punk. These matches with Punk are a great example of why Mondo should be in that light Heavyweight conversation, but we'll see more soon. Early on in CZW Mondo did better in tag teams than he did as a singles star. He won the CZW Tag Team Championships with Ric Blade, beating the very popular Backseat Boys of Trent Acid and Johnny Kashmere. This team would eventually fall apart, and Blade would turn on Mondo. Their falling out would lead to an incredible match that actually made this top ten. After that Mondo would move into the singles division, where he would become best known for his time with the Ironman Championship. Now Ironman rules in CZW doesn't mean it's an Ironman match, it basically just means no dq but you have to introduce the weapons. The ring doesn't start lined with lighttubes or anything. He would go on to become a three time champion, and it's safe to say he is most associated with the belt. In these days Mondo would have some absolute classics both in CZW and IWA Mid-South. He would compete in Tournament of Death, Best of the Best(good match with the Briscoes there), King of the Deathmatch, and Ted Petty Invitational as well. Mondo showed that whether he was fighting with a few weapons, all the weapons, or no weapons, he was a great wrestler. He took second place in the first ever tournament of Death, losing to wifebeater in the finals where he took the now infamous weed whacker shot to the stomach. Mondo's popularity continued to grow eventually leading to Tournament of Death 2.
I always feel like when talking about deathmatch I have to compare to mainstream wrestling. Like so and so is the Hogan of deathmatch, or this is the pipe bomb of deathmatch, but there is nothing in mainstream wrestling to compare to tournament of Death 2. Mondo came into the show already planning on retiring, but no one in the crowd knew that. Five of the eight wrestlers were from IWA Mid-South, including IWA Mid-South owner Ian Rotten. The story was CZW trying to win their own tournament. Zandig, the owner of CZW wanted to win, Ian wanted to win, and everyone wanted Mondo to win. When Ian was set for the finals, it came down to Zandig versus his own student Mondo. He'll talk about what happened there, but Mondo miraculously wins. In an incredibly brutal match, Mondo beats Ian Rotten, defending the honor of himself and CZW, and that was it. Mondo retired after that, and I can't think of a show with that weight. We'll be talking about that show a lot, and as amazing as watching tournament of Death 2 is, it's important to remember that Mondo got hurt bad. The infamous spot that everyone remembers wasn't something that Mondo even wanted to do, and Mondo himself says it's a bad match. I will try to explain why it's still a great match from a storytelling perspective, but of course I respect Mondo's pain and that he's over this show. That's why I wanted this to be a full top ten, not just looking at Tournament of Death 2. Mondo is so much more than that night, and I hope we can see that in this article.
#10: Tournament of Death 2:Nick Mondo vs JC Bailey
let's just get this out of the way now: all three of Mondo's Tournament of Death 2 matches are on this list, and although this one is the lowest, it's still fantastic. We often look at damage accrued in deathmatch tournaments, but Mondo came into this tournament already having his wrist broken in three places, but watching this you wouldn't know it. Unfortunately, this is the only time these two would meet in the ring, but it's a great first round matchup. These two are perfectly matched in size, weight, speed: Bailey is basically just Southern Mondo here, and that mirror image match works so well here. They showcase that they are aware of the current indie style, but this is a deathmatch through and through. We get quite a bit of lighttube breakage, and for being so early in Tournament of Death history you can see they already understand what makes a good first round match. They know the right amount of blood to shed. And this match is incredibly satisfying. It certainly belongs on this list, but the other matches from this show do top it.
#9: Nick Mondo vs Trent Acid
seriously Mondo's third Ironman title reign is incredible. Acid tries to keep it a wrestling match, Mondo tries to keep it deathmatch, but the thing is Mondo is great at both. Like many great Mondo matches, the first few minutes are just good old fashioned wrestling. Mondo locks in some brutal submissions. They trade attempts at Irish whips, and as always, Mondo's kicks are amazing. These two know each so well after so many matches together, and I'd say this is their best match together. Acid isn't known for deathmatches at all, but he does a great job here. If you've never seen Trent Acid before, I hope this match shows you why GCW now holds the Acid Cup. Eventually the intensity ramps up as chairs, tables, trash cans and more are introduced and the ring becomes a deadly playground. Mondo wins the match with an assault driver onto chairs covered in thumbtacks, and damn it looks cool. This is a great fight between two fantastic wrestlers, and it doesn't get talked about nearly enough.
#8:Nick Mondo vs Mad Man Pondo vs Wife Beater
this match is super important because it's Mondo's first singles title win. At this point the CZW Iron Man Championship was vacant after Lobo got injured, and so these three all stepped up. It's safe to say no one was expecting Mondo to win here, but he shocked everyone. The crowd clearly thought one of the bigger wrestlers would get the win, and why wouldn't they? Most of the match Wifebeater(named after the shirt I promise) and Pondo are absolutely dominating. Pondo isn't quite the deathmatch legend he would become yet, but he's very much on the way. Wifebeater on the other hand is seen as one of the best only behind the likes of Zandig. These three beat the living crap out of each other, but what's fascinating is seeing Mondo squirm through the match. He's the smallest guy so he's armdragging and springboarding every which way to avoid taking big hits. He still goes through the wringer in this match, but his intelligence is on display throughout. It's an excellent crowning moment showing that Mondo had a big singles run ahead.
#7:Tournament of Death 2:Nick Mondo vs Ian Rotten
Thank God for Ian Rotten. Mondo has talked about this, but Rotten basically walked him through this entire match. It's a lot slower paced, but again, Mondo has a broken wrist, 2 concussions, and a punctured back. The fact this match happened is a miracle. Over the years I've heard so people crap on Rotten, but here he very much cradled Nick Mondo to make sure his final match was as good as it could be. Is it the most brutal match in ToD? No. Is it the best wrestled? No. But does it have the most emotion behind the win? Hell yes. Honestly, this match doesn't matter. I think it's fine, Mondo thinks it's a stinker, but what matters is the Cinderella story as Mondo becomes what we all knew he could be: the very best. Out of context, it's a fine deathmatch, but with everything going on, it's a farewell I'll never forget.
#6: Tournament of Death 2:Nick Mondo vs Zandig
what can I possibly say about this match that hasn't been said a million times. Mondo takes a bump off the roof through tables and lighttubes, gets punctured bad, and gets knocked out. The spot is probably THE defining image of CZW, but Mondo was pissed at Zandig about doing it. So I want to talk about all the things outside the physical bump that make this match so special. Maybe, just maybe, I can convince Mondo that his storytelling still shines through here. Ian Rotten was already set for the finals of ToD2. Someone from CZW had to beat him. Of course, Zandig wanted to defend his company, but Mondo had already been runner up once, this time he wanted to win. The match is 2/3 lighttube log cabins, meaning the first person to be put through two cabins loses. Mondo gets put through one first, and it seems like Zandig is going to go through to the finals as two company owners fight. Then they end up on the roof. Mondo and Zandig battle with lighttubes and fight in an epic encounter that gets overshadowed by how they got off the roof. Bravo to whatever cameraman was up on the roof with them by the way, he got up there fast. Zandig and Mondo spend quite a bit of time up there, before Zandig finally hoists up Mondo and they go over the side. That's it, Mondo went through two cabins. Zandig begins to celebrate until the ref reveals it was Zandig who broke the cabin. The match is still one, and Mondo isn't even conscious. Ever so slowly the pair work their way back to the ring. Zandig lays a cabin in the middle of the ring, and they tease their finishers through the cabin. Eventually to dodge the cabin, Zandig rolls out of the Ring. Mondo uses his last bit of strength to hoist the cabin over the rope and it smashes on Zandig. Somehow, someway, Mondo won. When I saw this match I truly cheered for Mondo. It's impossible not to. It's awful what happened to Mondo in this match, but like he said later in the night, he was our hero, and I truly hope he believes that. He's my hero.
#5: Ted Petty Invitational 2002: Nick Mondo vs Nate Webb
The Ted Petty Invitational is a 16 man Tournament in IWA: Mid-South and despite what company it's in, is not deathmatch. As such, both these men are here to prove they can wrestle without lighttubes. Nate Webb and Nick Mondo have had several matches together, but I wanted to show that they work well together in the ring without weapons. Being a first round match in a 16 man Tournament it's fairly short, but Mondo really showcases what I've come to known about him: his kicks are frightening. When you watch a match like this you see the wrestling ability of these two wrestlers, and then when you go and watch them in deathmatches you see that same base, just built upon with weapon spots. These two are some of my favorites of early 2000's deathmatches, and what they do in this match is admirable showcasing that they are true wrestlers. No matter what anyone says about their deathmatches, they know they're good, and this match proved that to every critic. Mondo hits some big moves in this match, including a brutal double stomp off the top rope, and ultimately wins the match with an assault driver after dodging a moonsault across the ring. A short but very sweet match that's a giant middle finger to everyone to every call them garbage wrestlers.
#4:Nick Mondo and Jun Kasai vs Johnny Kashmere and Justice Pain
this match is pure carnage and God I love it. I've spent a lot of time in this article defending deathmatch as having storytelling and pacing and care, but ya this match is a car crash and it's perfect. Just like sometimes in wrestling you don't want a 75 minute 7 star classic you just want people beating the crap out of each other, sometimes in deathmatch you just want some crazy action. First of all, I want to give credit to Kashmere. He's not usually a deathmatch guy but he does great here. Second: I love Jun Kasai. He's easily the best known Japanese deathmatch wrestler thanks to companies like Big Japan and Freedoms. Seeing him team with Mondo is such a unique treat, and they get along quite well. I'd love to have seen more tag moves, but the match quickly becomes a fight as all four men brawl around the arena battering each other with literally anything in this fans bring the weapons match. Third: props to the camera person in this match. This match has one main camera and whoever is holding it has amazing cardio. Keep an eye out for Mondo running across the background holding a vacuum. Four fantastic wrestlers take crazy sick bumps and two of my personal favorite wrestlers pull out a huge win. It's just great fun and I hope you enjoy it too.
#3:Nick Mondo vs Ric Blade
this match is pure hatred plain and simple. Former tag partners turned enemies. I wanted to include some of their tag work, but Ric Blade and Nick Mondo to me are good friends but better enemies. As with all good Nick Mondo deathmatches, this starts with just some good wrestling. Mondo truly can just fly around the ring and between moves like running up the turnbuckle into a back elbow(ya I don't have a word for it) and his springboard Blue Thunder Bomb, Mondo is an incredibly talented and creative wrestler. They brawl all over the arena taking it into the bleachers. This is easily one of the most personal matches of Mondo's career, and despite not being his most famous bump, Mondo takes a brutal almost cartwheel through a sheet of lighttubes covered in barbed wire. Blade is another fantastic name in deathmatch wrestling, and this feud with Mondo is probably his most famous. If people think that deathmatch can't have story just watch this. It's the simplest deathmatch story: we really hate each other so we'll do anything we need to in order to win, but it's told so effectively. How do you go from being best friends to throwing each other through barbed wire? Blade's senton from the ceiling is an amazing spot that rivals any other large leap in wrestling, and he hits it so clean. It's frankly picture perfect. Z-Barr and Trent Acid get involved and even power bomb Blade through a ladder, but Blade kicks out to a massive pop. Mondo misses a springboard leg drop, hitting the ladder instead. Blade wins a beautiful moonsault on Mondo who's crushed between two ladders(and breaks his nose in the process) to end an incredible match.
#2: Nick Mondo vs Messiah
Holy crap this match is amazing. If you don't like deathmatch you should still watch this match. We get two broken tables, some chair shots, and a thumbtack spot. It's less bloody than some WWE matches, and I promise you this match showcases everything good about CZW. One thing this match does so well is build. The match begins with a few minutes of no weapons before one table, then a second. The tables get teased for a while before they are eventually broken. Every complaint I see about deathmatch is countered in this match. People complain about too many big weapon spots early on: this match is paced beautifully. People complain about deathmatches not having story: this match is a "title shot" for Mondo, but Messiah is a double champion, and when losing tosses Mondo what was considered the secondary belt in a fantastic heel move. People say there isn't good wrestling in deathmatch: Mondo and Messiah are both great in the ring and this match could have easily main evented any company. These two have been in the ring numerous times together, and therefore know each other's style well. This leads to counters to counters to moves, and yes that sometimes involves weapons. The sheer build up to a table being broken is a masterclass in tension. The weapons help add just that little extra intensity to this match, but even without them it would still be a great match. This match has one of my favorite finishes of all time when Mondo hits his springboard leg drop on Messiah covered in thumbtacks. I expected to be putting a ToD2 match at number one, but this match is truly special. I wasn't expecting to find this match when I began this list, but it's truly become one of my favorites and one of the best of both men's careers.
#1: Ted Petty Invitational 2002:Nick Mondo vs Colt Cabana
like I said earlier, Mondo was looking to prove in the Ted Petty Invitational that he can truly wrestle, and if this classic with Colt Cabana doesn't convince you of that then nothing will. The story going into this match is that Cabana views Mondo as just as deathmatch guy, and Mondo knows that. Mondo doesn't even try to bend the rules towards his preferred style, instead he throws every ounce of wrestling knowledge he has at Cabana. He counters holds, he goes for rollups, he looks to chain together big moves. He isn't trying to be a deathmatch wrestler in a traditional Tournament, he's trying to be a traditional wrestler, and despite losing, he absolutely succeeds. He puts in his absolute A game here hitting his signature kicks and some good grappling. In this match they bring up his recent injury with Wife Beater from the infamous weed whacker spot. They actually explain on commentary that injury is why Mondo is wanting to show he can wrestle outside of deathmatch, and Cabana takes advantage of that injury whenever he can. Cabana bites the scar at one point, and if that's not the most heel thing you can do in a match I don't know what is. In this match we have what is possibly the very best double stomp out of Mondo as he just absolutely bounces off of the back of Cabana's head. The fact we never got a big rematch between these two in a 30 minute plus match is criminal, as Mondo is able to earn the crowd's approval despite Cabana being the clear favorite to move on. Cabana may have won but the crowd cheers his name after the match, having done what he set out to do: prove his wrestling talent. This is easily Mondo's best traditional wrestling match, and a side of him that everyone needs to acknowledge.
Tonight, we honor Nick Mondo for his contributions to deathmatch. I hope after reading this though, that you see the need to honor him for his contributions to wrestling, full stop.