Fans of hard-hitting, Japanese-style pro wrestling will be in for a treat on November 6th, as Kentuckiana-based Paradigm Pro Wrestling will be putting on another big show. That event, called Fighting Spirit Heavyweight Grand Prix, will be another PPW tournament centered on UWFi rules.
For Josh Crane, that couldn’t be more ideal. The 25-year-old, 260-pound Indiana native will have an advantage going onto the 12-person tournament. Not only does he have experience wrestling in the fabled Japanese strong style, but he’s also one of the toughest men in the tournament. This comes from both his strong style background and his penchant for death match style performances.
“I worked for Paradigm Pro in December in a hardcore match and then I heard of this UWFi strong style tournament,” Crane told SlamWrestling. “It blew my mind. I had to be in it because I’m drawn to the Japanese style. It means a lot for me to be part of it. It’s a Midwest company and I’m a Midwest guy without a home company. This tournament will help me showcase that I’m a man of many traits.”
Like its predecessor Heavy Hitters 2, Fighting Spirit Heavyweight Grand Prix will center on a revival of an old style of wrestling. Inspired by Japanese shootfighting promotion Union of Wrestling Forces International (UWFi), this tournament will have different rules and structure than what most wrestling fans may be used to. The UWFi rules matches will not have pinfalls as a path to victory. Instead, matches can only be won via knockout, TKO (technical knock-out), submission, or via point system.
Crane (real name Josh Mendenhall) began his wrestling training in 2008. He was inspired to become a pro wrestler after seeing his favorite stars John Cena and Chris Jericho face off in WWE. Soon after, he discovered hardcore wrestling through tapes of companies like Big Japan Pro-Wrestling (BJW), Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) and W*ING.
“I had a rough life at home, and when I found independent wrestling, I saw people going through rough situations. They were like me, and they acted and moved like superheroes. I wanted to have the strength those people had,” he said.
After four years of learning the basics from a local training facility in Indiana, Crane ventured out and got his best training from two Americans versed in strong style.
“In 2012, I switched to train under Scotty Vortex and Drake Younger. Both of them knew and understood Japanese wrestling. They made me take countless bumps and lots of work on my conditioning. ”
That training helped Crane develop his style and make him into a favorite for the upcoming tournament. He’s a man that likes to strike a lot with chops and lariats, and isn’t afraid to “knock people out.”
But his other claim to fame is his love of death match-style wrestling. Crane’s best work was in BJW, a Japanese promotion that specialized in ECW-and-CZW-style hardcore wrestling. his first tour with BJW was in 2019 and he wrestled almost every night with them for months. To him, it was the best of both worlds, combining the best of pure pro wrestling and deathmatch-style wrestling.
It was during his stint there that Crane became famous for his high-risk matches. Two of his most famous matches were against NJW mainstay “Mr. Danger” Matsunaga and featured some wild stipulations, both involving dangerous animals.
The first was a Scorpion Death Match, with the stipulation being that one had to force their opponent into a glass aquarium filled with 10-15 Emperor scorpions. In a delightfully ironic twist, Crane won the match for his team (it was a 2-on-2 tag match) by putting his opponent in a Scorpion deathlock while their torso was inside a scorpion aquarium.
(It’s a throwback to one of the most epic matches in death match history, the famed Piranha Death Match, where Kendo Nagasaki faced Crane’s hero, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga. Nagasaki managed to force Matsunaga into an aquarium filled with water and red-bellied piranhas. It had a barbed-wire board on top that acted as a lid, so when Nagasaki closed it on Matsunaga, he was submerged for five full seconds, bleeding and splashing about as piranhas swirled around him. In the end, Nagasaki won and Matsunaga was lucky to escape with only a few nips on his ankles.)
With that experience, Crane’s going into the Fighting Spirit Heavyweight Grand Prix unafraid. He welcomes any challenge and looks forward to fighting anyone, no matter who they are. That said, he did list three people he’d prefer to fight if he had the choice: Nolan Edward, Lee Moriarty and Tom Lawlor. He also wants to have a rematch with ROH’s Jonathan Gresham, whom Crane credits for bringing out a new side of him.
Beyond the tournament, Crane hopes his combination of skills and toughness will help him get signed to more companies. He hopes to wrestle for Paradigm Pro more, get signed by Black Label Pro, and then make it to Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) as well. And given what he’s bringing to the PPW tournament, it’s fair to say he will be a top prospect for all those companies.
Aside from the upcoming PPV show, Crane will also be making other appearances in Indiana in the coming weeks. His next two biggest shows include his debut match for ARW Wrestling in Indianapolis on September 26th, followed by a Double Death Tag Team match for IWA-MS on September 27th in Connorsville, Indiana.
Paradigm Pro Wrestling’s 2020 Fighting Spirit Heavyweight Grand Prix will be held at the American Legion Post 204 at 412 N New Albany St in Sellersburg, IN, on Friday, November 6th. Tickets range from $25 to $35. The event will be an all-ages show, with a full bar available for ages 21+. Doors will open at 7 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. More information is available at ParadigmProWrestling.com