Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Pro Wrestling Vol. 43: Best of All Japan Pro Wrestling 1997-1999 (Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama)

Hey Yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

Pro Wrestling Love vol. 43:
The Best of All Japan Pro Wrestling 1997-1999

Objective:  Break up the Greatest Match Ever Project (hosted at http://gweproject.freeforums.net/) into more manageable chunks to help me build my Top 100 List for the project.

Motivation: Contribute to the discussion around these matches to enrich my own understanding of pro wrestling and give a fresh perspective for old matches and even hopefully discover great pro wrestling matches that have been hidden by the sands of time.

Subject: This forty-third volume of Pro Wrestling Love is the conclusion of the Top 12 countdown of the best matches to take place in All Japan Pro Wrestling from 1997-1999. 90s All Japan holds sacred place in the hearts of hardcore pro wrestling fans. It is usually touted as the greatest era in pro wrestling. I remember once reading one person’s comment as describing as reaching Pro Wrestling Nirvana. So while some companies need a whole decade or at least five years to pile up twelve matches worthy enough to do a blog post, 90s All Japan can do that it in three years easy. The peak is definitely the mid-90s, but the late 90s still provided some classics. From a quality standpoint, the company transitioned to being carried by the burgeoning Misawa vs Kobashi rivalry however from a business standpoint when it came time to sell out the Tokyo Dome for the first time in All Japan history (commonplace for New Japan) they relied on the ‘ol standby of Misawa vs Kawada. The tag team landscape has changed. In ’97, the teams were Misawa/Akiyama, Holy Demon Army and Kobashi/Johnny Ace. In ’98, in an effort I presume, to get Akiyama out of Misawa’s shadow, they transitioned Akiyama into a team with Kobashi called Burning while Misawa’s took on his good friend Rat Boy Yoshinari Ogawa as his tag partner. You can revisit past Pro Wrestling Love Volumes at ridingspacemountain.blogspot.com. You can check out the full version of these reviews in ProWrestlingOnly.com by going to the forums and finding the folders associated with the date of the match.

Contact Info: @superstarsleeze on Twitter, Instagram & ProWrestlingOnly.com.

Greatest Match Ever?

Top Six Matches of All Japan Pro Wrestling 1997-1999

#6. Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama vs Vader & Stan Hansen - RWTL 12/5/98

Big monster gaijin is exactly what has been missing from AJPW since about 1995. Vader is looked awesome here. By 2001, I thought he was showing his age, but he definitely had no trouble keeping up with the All Japan boys. Hansen has lost a step, but he brought the sadism when it is called on. Vader & Hansen felt like two big bulldozers and we were transported back in time where Kobashi was that plucky underdog babyface.

Everything in this match felt so urgent. Kobashi & Akiyama recognized they were up against an unstoppable force. They had to press any advantage given to them lest they be swallowed up whole by these two Great White Sharks. Vader initiated a test of strength against Kobashi you dont see that too often. Kobashi throws some vicious chops and Vader does not even flinch. Vader throws one haymaker and sends Kobashi flying. Kobashi tries to fight fire with fire but Vader is just Too. Much. Man. Vader & Hansen double team. Their double shoulder block looked so good. Kobashi comes charging and hits Vader from behind. I like how chippy this is. Kobashi tags out. Akiyama tries his best but ends up in the corner taking those big Vader bear paws. Akiyama gets a high knee from the middle rope and quickly tags out to Kobashi. Kobashi comes flying in, hits a couple bombs tries for the pin. Nada. Goes for suplex and Hansen hits him hard in the side. There is way more respect for Vaders size in this match (three early suplex attempts and none landed). Kobashi gets his ass kicked by Vader & Hansen. It is all simple, but wicked effective. Just using their body weight and hard parts of their body to beat him up. It is like Vader & Hansen are the best possible Demolition. Kobashi gets a quick lariat and tags out. Akiyama gets a missile dropkick. He is flying around, but ends up taking a wicked back elbow from Hansen. I am loving how the faces cant get anything started against these two monsters. Just when you think there is hope, It is extinguished by sheer brutality. Vader flying body attack on the outside. Vader misses a charge in the corner. Akiyama dropkicks the knee! Akiyama tags out. Kobashi charges at the knee! Here is their chance! Single leg crab. Hansen saves. Kobashi charges. Hansen is persistent. DDT and then Vader splash. This is so not fair! There is a real sense of injustice that after all that work to gain the advantage that not it being taken away from them. Now we enter the finish run with lots of double teams from the Big Boys. Vader splash and hard Hansen elbow on prone Kobashi. Hansen throws Akiyama into a Vader body attack and Hansen DDT on Akiyama on floor. Things do not look good for out heroes. Hansen with douchey kicks to the head. Vader body attack into Back Drop Driver and then Vader powerbomb only gets two. They set up for Vader to whip Kobashi into Hansen lariat, but Kobashi fights out and Akiyama hits a flying knee to the back. Kobashi clobbers Hansen with a clothesline for the win.

Excellent monster vs plucky underdog match. Kobashi & Akiyama wrestled with the urgency necessary to beat these monsters. Hansen & Vader really did feel like an unstoppable force. I thought the finish run was a bit overkill that all those moves should have killed Kobashi. I did like the actual finish with Akiyama hitting the knee from behind. It felt like a fun action movie finish. I thought they did a really good job making you doubt Burning would win. One of the all-time great Summer Action Blockuster matches . Definite top 5 1998 All Japan match of the year.

#5. All Japan Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 6/12/98

-Kawada is the ultimate choke artist. It is a great character dynamic
-Story of the match: Kawada opens a can of whoop ass, but again comes up short
-Early: opening matwork is more perfunctory to me than NJPW heavies. Past two matches were a one hour draw, I think this was to get fans thinking this would be a one hour draw
-Kawada's selling early was phenomenal. Loved how he crumbled on chop to neck and then knee to ab
-Kobashi looked like he was going to run away with the match early but some well timed kicks to the head and LARIATO by Kawada puts Kawada in the lead.

-Kawada is so vicious and such a dick in control. Kobashi selling and fighting from underneath is his bread and butter.

-Kobashi looks to turn the tide using a bomb.
-Why do people try to German Kawada? You are just asking for a kick to the head.
-Kobashi hits a half nelson suplex first headdrop and it is 17 minutes into the match.
-Kobashi looks for the moonsault. When he pumps the fist before the moonsault always makes me mark out.

-Kawada kicks him in the head as he is jumping off. Kawada really opens up a big lead.
-I love how everything is earned. Kobashi fight back less and less as Kawada is kicking more and more ass. Initially Kawada still needs to kick him in the head to cement his lead.
-Back Drop Driver - Kawada looks to have this in the bag. Powerbombs ensue and more kicks and now the Stretch Plum. Credit to them to getting a Kobashi chant started in the Stretch Plum, which has been killed off since like 93/94.

-It is about this point where you are like is Kawada actually going to be able to put Kobashi away?
-Kobashi is such an emotional babyface. Him crawling to the ropes while Kawada kicks him in the back of the head is gripping.
- The struggle over this Kawada power bomb is pro wrestling!
-Kawada drills Kobashi in the face with his that running high kick and Kobashi's glassy eye sell is incredible
-Kawada is running out of steam. Rope a dope? Kobashi catches foot -> dragon leg screw->LARIAT. Not the best Kobashi's lariat
-Big Kobashi chants! Kobashi trying to hulk up. If I was a Kawada fan, I would be like not again at this moment.
-MOONSAULT! KICK OUT! Kawada's selling is fantastic.
-Kobashi has been using that Lariat to control the match on his comeback so Kawada is attacking like he would Misawa's arm. Kobashi blocks high kick and hits a Lariat, but cant block second high kick to head. Levels playing field.
-Kawada drops into an arm scissors in to a cross-armbreaker, big reaction. This would be a huge coup for Kawada to stave off Kobashi and his onslaught.
-Kawada is kicking him, but you can feel that he has run out of ideas and steam. Kobashi dives at him with a lariat, but it is bad arm and he is left writhing in pain. Kawada has hope, but not much left in the way of offense. He has his high kicks, but he needs Kobashi to make a mistake. KOBASHI LARIAT AGAIN!
-Kawada cant even stand as Kobashi holds him up by the hair and BURNING LARIAT~! Count to three!

This match reminds me of the Federer vs Roddick Wimbledon final that went on forever with Roddick in the Kawada role and Federer in the Kobashi role. Roddick only had his serve and he was just delaying the inevitable. He would win his serve, but he was so tired, he was barley putting a dent into Fed's service games. Federer is the superior all around player and eventually won. Kawada was delaying the inevitable. By 1995, Baba had positioned Kobashi as Kawada's equal with the one hour draw and subsequently in 1996. Misawa was the best, but these two were 2a and 2b. Here Kobashi finally begins to turn the tide. Kawada was just outgunned in this match. He had his chances and opened up a big lead, but he didn't have the firepower to put away the best offensive wrestler in history. You could go as far as to say that Kawada was so hyped for the Dome match with Misawa where he came out guns blazing that he was going to have a let down and the fact he was facing Kobashi means he couldn't afford that. Kobashi was amazing in this match from selling to offense. This did not feel quite up there with the tippy top best of All Japan, but definitely an awesome match. 

I liked that Kobashi basically controlled the first ten minutes with his macho tactics (test of strength, strike exchanges), but that the champion ultimately got the best of him with a lariat. For the rest of the match Kawada wrestled like he was Ali, no body shots, everything was directed at Kobashi's head. This felt more American with the very extended heat segment by Kawada on Kobashi. After the powerbombs and back drop driver, you can feel Kawada running out of steam and the Kobashi train ready to pick up. Some really great selling by Kobashi just to plant a seed of doubt. I liked the desperation Kawada at the end trying to kick Kobashi's arm off, running around to escape, throwing wild kicks to head. This is the ultimate "NOT AGAIN" match. Gets the monkey off his back beating Misawa a month prior in the Dome, only to open a big lead against Kobashi here and choke. 

#4. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Jun Akiyama - Budokan 7/24/98

I love that even something as well-defined as the All Japan canon can still be re-evaluated and hidden gems found. Before the release of the 98 yearbook in 2014, I had never heard this match discussed in the same breath as Kobashi/Kawada from this year or as an All Japan classic. Watching it now, I definitely it belongs in the same class as the other All Japan epics.

At the Champions Carnival 98 Akiyama developed a penchant for attacking the knees of his opponent and with Kobashi having one of his knees heavily taped, you know this will come into play as soon as the first dragon leg screw is attempted within the first five minutes. Akiyama is aggressive as fuck in this match. The beginning is pure intensity. He just elbowing through everything. Kobashi is fighting back, but Akiyama just keeps coming and coming with those vicious elbows. Kobashi tries his old tricks to slow it down like going to the test of strength, but even there Akiyama eventually gets back to the elbows. Akiyama hits a MONSTER HIGH KNEE to the side of Kobashi's head and Kobashi sells it like death. What is interesting about the beginning is that Akiyama fights so hard to get control, but then does not seem to know how to follow it up. Twice, he goes for chinlocks and both times Kobashi powers out and regains the control. The second time, Akiyama decides this is no time to fuck around and dropkicks the knee. I love the initial struggle to hit the second dragon leg screw attempt with Kobashi desperately chopping Akiyama's neck, but it is to no avail as Akiyama wrenches the knee. Kobashi's fire up after this is fucking so invigorating. I was tired going into this match from a day of hiking and swimming in Greece. Watching Kobashi fire up, fired me up! Kobashi knows his only chance to try to finish this match quickly so they trade big suplexes and then on the outside Kobashi kills Akiyama dead with a half nelson suplex. Akiyama is doing a great dead weight sell. Crisis averted. Kobashi nails a DDT, typically great Akiyama sell. Kobashi's bum wheel prevents the first powerbomb attempt, but he is fucking Kobashi so bites the bullet THROWS AKIYAMA DOWN! He cant capitalize and Akiyama rolls to the apron. Kobashi gives pursuit. Then in what appears to be the turning point of the match, Akiyama whips Kobashi off the apron by the knee. OW! Just like that Kobashi looks like dead meat. Akiyama is able to take his time stalking his prey delivering damage to the knee and while also regaining strength.

Kobashi crawling away on all fours in the ring in desperation to get away from Akiyama only to be dropkicked in the knee is why I love pro wrestling!

Great figure-4 and then Scorpion Deathlock. The transition here is pretty weak. Others have lamented the half-nelson suplex transition (could be seen as pop-up, no sell) and even the dragon leg screw (overreliance on apron spots), but to me those totally fit in the match. The first one was all about crisis management and the second one was Kobashi giving pursuit and basically falling into a trap. This one is that Akiyama basically had Kobashi dead to rights, but the ref told Akiyama to get off Kobashi, BUT he did not submit. He just wanted to check on him, which is pretty bullshit. Kobashi is able to hit a wicked, desperation lariat that knocks the wind out of Akiyama. They both sell for like a minute. Love they milked that spot.

Kobashi using the ropes to stand and hobble over and then hold himself up while violently chopping Akiyama down is why I love pro wrestling.

Kobashi definitely gives an all-time selling performance. First it is the freak out about the attempted attack, then it is the selling of the attack and finally it is fighting through the pain. I am lapping this all up. This is a great reminder why I chose him as the greatest wrestler ever. He is teeing off on Akiyama with knife edge chops to the head.

Half nelson suplex...Akiyama back kicks the bad knee!!! Fuck yeah! Akiyama lunges and chop blocks the bad knee as Kobashi is trying to get up using the ropes. He hoists Kobashi on his shoulder and drive the knee into the top turnbuckle to set up the big elbow to back of the neck for two. He signals for an Exploder, gets the first, dropkick to knee and second is unsuccessful. The Budokan is RUMBLING! It is back to the figure-4 smart strategy. Akiyama is giving an all time great offensive performance in his laser focus on the knee. This reminds me a lot of his all-time great performance in the Misawa 2000 match where he was laser focused on the neck. He give sup on figure-4, not my favorite. BRAINBUSTER!!! Only two. Yep he is cooked. He goes for the cover again. Don't like his chances. Kobashi blocks Wrist-Clutch Exploder and as he is on his way down he clubs him in the back of the head. Kobashi needs a Hail Mary. Exploder->Pop Up Lariat. Ok, that was unnecessary and worthy of lamentation. Kobashi sells the knee like a champ and "KO-BASH-I" rings throughout the Budokan. He uses the ropes to hold himself up and applies the sleeper smart move for a man with a bum wheel OH SLEEPER SUPLEX!!! LARIAOTO! 1-2-KICKOUT! BURNING LARIAT MURDERS AKIYAMA WHERE HE STANDS!

I was not really much of a fan of the Kobashi/Akiyama pairing in NOAH. The matches were epics and were great just not my favorites. Hands down the best match they have ever had in my opinion. Loved the dragon leg screw and back kick on half nelson suplex as transitions. Akiyama's offense was killer. Kobashi's selling was sublime. The issue was getting Kobashi back on offense. The ref thing was bullshit and the pop-up Lariat was All Japan excess. Enough to keep from that upper echeleon of AJPW classics, but still one of the classics and superb performance from both wrestlers. 

#3. Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue vs Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama - RWTL 11/28/97

Holy shit! This was incredible! Like how I have never heard or seen this before, Tremendous individual performances by everybody. When Taue is the least impressive in a tag match, you know you are watching something really special. The urgency, the unique set up, the selling of Akiyama, the will to win from Misawa and the outright sadism of Kawada make this an elite AJPW tag match, which says a lot about this.

This has to be a contender for the hottest opening two minutes in pro wrestling history. Just dripping with urgency and struggle. Both teams want to land a death blow early and they are all running around. Loved the double dropkick from the babyfaces, that massive Spinning Heel Kick by Kawada that sends Misawa to the apron. Of course, the climax, Taue depth charging Akiyama through the table. I love a match where the beginning matters. This beginning sets up everything.

Misawa is left to fend for himself. This is a great heat segment on Misawa. Nice hope spot the reverse springboard headbutt but then realizes he is all alone with Akiyama still out over by the table. All by myself, don't wanna be all by myself. Good balance between Misawa showing life to stave off Holy Demon Army's big moves and Kawada & Taue kicking the shit out of him with their basic, but hard-hitting arsenal. It is basically a great Misawa extended comeback handicap style with the endgame being the hot tag. He finally tags out and Akiyama hits this massive diving elbow, but is clearly favoring his back. He tries Northern Lights but his back gives out. From there, you see some of the best back selling and back work you will ever see. It is cold and merciless as Kawada and Taue zero in on his back and just pound the shit out of it. One of the best vertical suplexes ever by Taue, Kawada stretches Akiyama and two double stomps to the back. Kawada RIFLES Akiyama's back with kicks. He sets up the stretch plum right in front of Misawa, cocky or just bad strategy. That "will he or wont he tag" is so dramatic and when Misawa gets the tag, if you don't get Misawa, this is the match to watch. He comes in just blasts muthafuckas with that elbow. You really feel that sense of pride and that sense that winning means everything to Misawa. I love how he elbows Kawada off the apron of one side of the ring and then goes flying out the other side of the ring with a diving elbow. Insane sequence in terms of electricity. Tiger Driver for Kawada. Taue saves and here come the double teams on the isolated Misawa, NODOWA~! Misawa blocks the next two and a Tiger Driver allows him to tag. Lets see what Akiyama can do. Akiyama mans up hits Northern Lights but no bridge, Exploder and Kawada stomp his bad back on the cover. OW! Akiyama hits a massive high knee which I lost my shit for. Just a great babyface spot. Exploder attempt but Taue hits a Rock Bottom Nodowa. Massive Kawada bodyslam and kicks him really fucking hard in the back. In the background, Taue hits a DDT on Misawa on the exposed concrete so now it is Akiyama by himself. Akiyama has one less gasp when he tags Kawada in the head and Kawada drops ot his knees running the ropes (great Kawada selling) Dropkick to the back of the head, German, on second one, Kawada does his reverse kick to the bad back and Taue attacks the back. Wicked lariat, how is that not the finish. FUCKING HUGE AXE KICK TO THE BACK! That Powerbomb Goddamn! How s that not the finish. Misawa has nothing left and Akiyama succumbs to the best stretch plum ever.

Everyone gives an all star performance. Best Kawada match that I have seen in forever. He has had great matches in 98-99, but not those next level performances that I remember when I ranked him #10 of all time. This was that next level extraordinary performance. Incredible sadistic, hard hitting, energetic, great selling down the stretch. One of the all time greats at working on top. Awesome selling by Akiyama. Misawa trying to dig the team out of the hole was awesome. Loved that early hook, that hot beginning and the table spot totally hook you in. Everything follows naturally and effortlessly from that. Really having trouble reasoning why this is not ***** so it is *****.

#2. Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 10/31/98

I have watched this match twice before. Once, I thought the finish was overkill. The second time, I thought the whole match was insanely great and on par with 1/20/97. Neither time, I wrote a full review, which I am regretting now because it has been years since I have seen the other Kobashi/Misawa matches and I am worried that this will lose some luster going into cold, but I really want to knock this one out before the Greatest Match Ever deadline. Doing this stream of consciousness style because it is a long match. 

The crowd is molten for this and both men are insanely over. It seems like Misawa is more over. Even though, Misawa is the challenger, he has beaten Kobashi in every championship encounter. So Kobashi still needs to prove himself to Misawa, which creates an interesting dynamic not often the champion comes in the underdog. The opening sequence is very spirited, lots of blocking and ends up with Kobashi hitting the powerslam for the first cover. Kobashi is looking good early he counters again into a hammerlock and then bars the arm. Misawa is the King of the Comeback so while a hot start is important, you need to finish. Misawa clocks him with the first elbow. Kobashi roars back with a chop when Misawa rears back for an elbow, Kobashi wisely takes a step back. They have established Kobashi is not going to back down, but he is the young, dumb kid any more he is not going to take any unnecessary headshots. 
Kobashi takes him down with a drop toehold and back to the armbar. To me this is a wise strategy. Contain Misawa and then set up your offense from there. He is not working the Emerald Elbow arm by the way. He is working the non-dominant arm. Kobashi is looking for the Crossface Chickenwing, Misawa is forced to block and this leaves him susceptible to a Russian Legsweep. I love that type of wrestling. Kobashi goes the to All Japan standby of the Surfboard spot. I love tests of strength in wrestling. They serve as mini-battles and ways for wrestlers to earn small victories on the way to the bigger victory. They are like milestones. Misawa keeps trying, but Kobashi overwhelms him the first two times. Misawa gets closer on the third time, but Misawa mule kicks. KOBASHI LUNGES AT MISAWA WITH A SHOULDER TACKLE! I love the full court press. He is not going to let Misawa breathe. 

Chop in the corner. Irish Whip but Kobashi is following close behind and slams him in the corner. He holds onto the Irish Whip into the ropes for a kneelift and then a big suplex. Kobashi is not letting Misawa have any space to create offense. Lots of body contact. Love it. Big strong chops to the back and then a facelock again sapping the energy. This is an A+ strategy from Kobashi. Misawa gets a knee to head to escape but Kobashi immediately starts chopping the neck hard. Misawa starts to GROWL which you dont hear too often and he fires off one of his trademark elbows. Kobashi wins the first Elbow vs. Chop war with a barrage of spectacular spinning back chops to the neck. Nasty. 

Amazing spot! How many times do we see Misawa use the middle turnbuckle on an Irish Whip to hit a reverse crossbody or reverse elbow. Kobashi is follwing so close behind that Kobashi shoulderblocks his back as he attempts it. Full court press! Kobashi makes what could his first mistake in a mistake-free match as he places Misawa on the top rope. Never give your opponent the high ground. Misawa knocks him off the top rope and Kobashi takes a back bump. Misawa hits his first high spot. Missile dropkick. Kobashi gets up and immediately closes the gap with a shoulderblock but this does NOT bowl Misawa over. Crucial. That missile dropkick took a bit more out of Kobashi. Misawa hits an elbow and a spin kick to send Kobashi to the floor. Misawa dropkicks Kobashi into the railing and a spinning slingshot splash to the floor wipes out Kobashi. You have to wrestle a mistake-free match against Kobashi, but Kobashi made the first mistake. Misawa flicks the sweat from his brow in characteristic Misawa fashion. I missed Misawa. Somersault plancha from the top rope onto Kobashi. I love Misawa. Spinning clothesline. Before R-Truth emulated John Cena, he emulated Misawa, fun fact. Senton gets two. Misawa is in his groove. He is hard to beat when he is in rhythm. Misawa grabs a tight chinlock. 

The sound of flesh on flesh in a Misawa match is always riveting. He hits so hard. Misawa gets his trademark front facelock and transition into a Rings of Saturn like submission. Misawa is sapping Kobashi's energy and imposing his will on Kobashi. Elbow vs Chop War is just scintillating. Kobashi glazed over, glassy eye look is great. Kobashi ends up on the outside. Misawa flips over the top rope as Kobashi evades the head on dive. Misawa goes for the elbow off the apron, anti-air dropkick to the midsection by Kobashi. HUGE! The rout was on and Kobashi just quelled Misawa's run. Kobashi starts legdropping Misawa's neck repeatedly over the railing and then over the middle rope. Misawa is left clutching it. Kobashi knows after getting his ass kicked this is his chance. He hits two successive Back Drop Drivers for two. The crowd is chanting "Misawa" loudly. Kobashi went for broke there. Targeting the neck instead of the Emerald Arm is a sign he is playing to win instead of defensively. Kobashi grabs a front chancery/front facelock which works the body part and lets Kobashi recalculate. Misawa elbow leads to an immediate head drop German. Misawa comes up swinging and Kobashi FLIES into a sleeper! Wow! That was just insane in how quick and sudden everything was. Kobashi is trying to beat the living incarnation of Die Hard basically. I love Kobashi's response to any sort of Misawa's offense is to move insanely fast into an offensive move. He is trying to snuff out a rally as soon as it starts. He is taking no chances. Kobashi goes for the Powerbomb. I think to myself this is unwise. Trying to powerbomb Misawa is like trying to powerbomb Kidman. Misawa-rana...NO...KOBASHI BLOCKS BOSTON CRAB! HOW DID I FORGET THAT SPOT! MARK OUT CITY! I AM GOING CRAZY! 

Kobashi looks to make a mistake by charging corners as this gives time for Misawa to counter. Misawa jumps into a Half Nelson Suplex, nope Misawa blocks by lunging into the turnbuckles. Kobashi is trying to recover and quash the rally. Catches the foot, Misawa nails him in the mush with the free foot. ROARING ELBOW~! Misawa nails his trademark diving elbow. Again it is such small mistakes that make the difference when you wrestle Misawa. You have to wrestle a mistake-free match. 

Misawa nails a diving elbow from the top rope.  Now Misawa is thinking finish as he attempts the Tiger Driver for the first time. Kobashi back drops out. Misawa hits a German. Kobashi, out of desperation, lunges with the shoulder tackle MISAWA SWATS HIM OUT OF THE AIR WITH AN ELBOW! MARK OUT CITY! TIGER DRIVER~! 1-2-NO! Big Flying Bodypress gets two for the Ace. They do that awful double clothesline spot. One guy comes from the top rope and the other hits one from the mat. I didnt remember that at all. That was the first bad spot of a match that has just been aces thus far. I think that's the levelling the playing field spot going into the finish run. 

Kobashi is struggling to his feet. He needs the ropes. Misawa goes for a Monkey Flip? A curious decision. Kobashi hot shots him! HALF NELSON SUPLEX~! Kobashi cant capitalize but things have swung into his favor for sure! We are at the 30 minute mark and this match has just flown by. BUCKLEBOMB~! DDT! Dragon Suplex, but Kobashi does not hold on. He crawls for the cover, but it is only two. What will it take to beat the GOAT? Roaring Elbow, no Kobashi catches him with a lariat and then a suplex-slam for two. Kobashi is beside himself. Only one place left to go: BURNING HAMMER, but MIsawa blocks. Kobashi puts him on he top turnbuckle and he has him in position, but Misawa flips out. LARIAOTOOOOOOO~! 1-2-NO! He covers again incredulously. DDT! Man did he plant him. Legdrops the back of the neck. Top Rope Legdrop On The Back Of The Neck! Still only two. Kobashi goes for another cover. He is in disbelief. He tries to wrestle himself with the Burning Lariat. MISAWA ELBOW TO THE LARIAT ARM! WOW! Spinning Back Chops to the bad neck! This is insane! Kobashi Bucklebomb again no here is the MISAWA-RANA into the buckles. That looked dangerous as fuck. Misawa powders and Kobashi is up first. That has to be depressing for the challenger. Kobashi teases the Half Nelson Suplex on the apron, but the big apron spot is TIGER DRIVER TO THE FLOOR~! THIS IS GLORIOUS DECADENT PRO WRESTLING! They do a great job milking this spot for all its worth. 
SPINNING ELBOW! Misawa just starts landing somersault legdrops to back of Kobashi's neck as a Fuck You! TIGER DRIVER '91! HE SPIKED HIM ON HIS FUCKING HEAD! 1-2-NO! KO-BASH-I! KO-BASH-I! KO-BASH-I! Misawa charges with his elbow cocked LARIAOTOOOOOOOO! Cmon Kobashi crawl! Crawl! Right hand draped over Misawa 1-2-NO! Crowd didnt bite on that. Kobashi tries to press the advantage but Misawa roars back with a barrage of elbows! 1-2-NO! WHAT THE FUCK!?! Kobashi tries to find sanctuary with the ropes, but Misawa pries him off the ropes to hit a Tiger Suplex for two! MISAWA OBLITERATES KOBASHI WITH AN 1-2 ELBOW COMBINATION!

WOW! 46 minutes of pure awesomeness! This match is like Death By Chocolate. So rich, fudgy and decadent. Dont eat it all the time, but when you do it knocks your socks off. The body of the match is so insanely good. Kobashi was just all over Misawa to start. Definition of the Full Court Press. He was sniffing out and stuffing Misawa's offense at every turn. He had so many of Misawa's trademark counters scouted. I like that tiny mistakes he did make matter so much in this match. Against anyone else, you can recover, against Misawa it can spell doom. Kobashi's big finish run was spectacular and it was really well-built to the Burning Hammer which he couldn't hit. The Tiger Driver off the apron FELT HUGE! That was the game-changer. The overkill was just after that. The Tiger Driver '91 should have been the finish and Kobashi didnt need another nearfall, but still three minutes of excess does not ruin the match, it is just a little too fudgy. I am still giving it full marks because you be hard pressed to see such a great detailed-oriented match for 40+ minutes that Kobashi scouting strategy is what I live for in wrestling, just A+ wrestling psychology. I have this #3 behind 1/20/97 and 3/1/03, but unless Flair/Steamboat pull it off during their rewatch this will be the only twosome I have with three ***** bouts. 

#1. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Osaka 1/20/97

A lot has changed in the last 15 months, namely, Kenta Kobashi is the Triple Crown Champion having won it from Akira Taue in the middle of 1996. Misawa had dropped the title to Taue. Baba used Taue like he would a gaijin as the transitional champion between two major native stars. Kobashi main evented the October Anniversary show going to a draw with Kawada. Thus the hierarchy had become Kobashi and Kawada are equals (60 minute draws in 95 & 96) and that Misawa was superior to Kawada. Until Kobashi beats Misawa one on one in a singles match, Misawa will be considered his better. So even though Misawa is coming in the challenger, no one should mistake Kobashi for the favorite, he is the definitive underdog to Misawa The Ace.

The basic narrative of the match is that Misawa is the challenger so he is going to start hot. Kobashi has learned from his mistakes of October 95 is much more focused (midsection, arm). However, each man makes pivotal mistakes in the match that create meaningful momentum shifts and lots of drama surround dueling arm psychology (Misawas elbow & Kobashis lariat have been compromised).
First 15 minutes: Misawa gets off to a fast start because he is the challenger. He lands his diving elbow. Misawa is on point and wants to win back HIS titles. Misawa goes for a quick Tiger Driver. Kobashi does not let the match get away from him and scramble. He manages a DDT. Misawa powders and grabs neck. Back in and Kobashi hits some lethal spinning back chops. Brutal. He works over Misawas midsection; thats different. Punches to midsection, shoulderblocks, front suplex and ab stretch. Misawa getting an elbow here and there but Kobashi is cutting off by going to the midsection. More focused.
Kobashi Irish whips Misawa, dumb move basically creating separation for Misawa. Misawa puts on brakes and elbows him. Small mistakes against Misawa matter. Misawa is able to get a surfboard. Good control, but feeds into Kobashis strength. Misawa mule kicks out once Kobashi reverses. Kobashi comes running at him with a shoulder block and elbowed out of the sky. Another dunderhead move by Kobashi this time macho pride gets the best of him. Small mistakes will cost you against Misawa. You need wrestle a nearly perfect match.

Misawa karate kick and Kobashis powders. Misawa waits for him and gets butterfly suplex. Misawa in command grabs facelocks. Starts kicking Kobashi but doing more to fire him up. Great sequence where both men are unleashing strikes and it feels like a pivotal moment like whoever wins this exchange will take a big lead. Misawa wins and Kobashi ends up on the floor. At this point, Misawa is sticking to the game plan of slow & steady wins the race and after a couple Kobashi mistakes. It seems like a routine finish.

Misawa goes for his diving elbow again (ruh roh say all seasoned wrestling fans), but he ends up flipping over on apron. He kicks Kobashi into guardrail and then DIVESEATS STEEL!!! OW! That look like it hurt! Misawa comes up clutching his arm as Kobashi takes the high ground. Kobashi made some serious mistakes, but Misawa made the biggest in the first 15 minutes! Just like that the entire complexion of the match changes.

Second 10 minutes: Big lariat takes Misawa off apron. Big Misawa chants. Kobashi rolls Misawa in the ring to pin him, but only gets two. Barely lifts a shoulder. In one ten minute stretch, Kobashi works like the best Taue and Misawa in one awesome package. Focused with great counterwrestling! Misawa throws a weak elbow to show his elbow is hurt. Big knee from Kobashi crashing into the bad elbow and then a dropkick too the elbow. Then just ramming the elbow into hard objects. Great armwork that is laserfocused. Misawa is throwing elbows no effect. All three of Kobashis arm submissons are well set up. First Half Nelson suplex set up by all arm work leads to an armbar with lots of heat. Then Kobashi counters an elbow into a Fujiwara armbar. When Misawa blocks a German and charges Kobashi counters that into a cross armbreaker. Misawa tries a spin kick and Kobashi catches and throws and dumps him on his head. Laserfoucsed like Taue and excellent transition of Misawas offense into arm-related offense for his own purposes like Misawa would do. FANTASTIC Kobashi control segment!

Third Ten Minutes: KOBASHI goes for the kill shot: a LARIAT. Misawa gets up a lucky elbow that cripples Kobashis arm in one blow. He rolls to outside. Misawa hits a corkscrew plancha to outside that wipes up Kobashi. Misawa cant use the elbow might as well use whole body. Blocks Kobashi Lariat with double elbow. OW! Release German right on his skull! Then Tiger Driver, but in too much pain to get a proper cover. He goes up top for an elbow but Kobashi Lariats him out of the sky. Kobashi writhes in pain before covering. Kobashi selling his ass off. Powerbomb and the Orange Crush. Neither get him the duke. Kobashi is frustrated and in a lot of pain. Lariat blocked, but Misawa just rolls to outside. Kobashi stalks prey and is wounded himself. Powerbomb on apron NO MISAWA-RANA! Huge spot! Kobashi sells. Very critical stretch here. Misawa finally is able to make in roads by getting a desperation elbow to Kobashis arm that basically levels the playing field. However, Misawa is having a hard time capitalizing and when he goes for a high risk move (diving elbow from top) Kobashi makes him pay, but now he cant capitalize. It all comes down to the apron spot. Kobashi, bad arm, tries a powerbomb off the apron which would have been the home run shot, but a timely Misawa counter pretty much seals Kobashis fate.

Last 5 minutes. Misawa elbows. Shitty German due to bad arm. One Roaring Elbow, Two Roaring Elbows, Third One NO Lariaoto! Kobashin in pain. Dumps Misawa on head with headdrop German. It is on! Misawa ducks low and headbutts him in abs when he comes in charging. Roaring elbow to back of head. Tiger Suplex gets two. TIGER DRIVER 91~! ONLY GETS TWO! Kobashi chants. Kobashi clubs Misawa from knees and lunges again, but has nothing behind them. On third one, Misawa gets a Sleeper SUPLEX! AND Blowaway Elbow gives Misawa the win!

Stone cold classic. Everyone and their mother knows that. Selling by both men was off the charts great. Offense was incredible. Excellent transitions between segments. Every move had consequence and everything had a purpose. Love the story of ramping up mistakes. First it is small stuff like charging at your opponent with a shoulder block then it is diving from the apron into the steel railing and then it is the hurricanarana off the apron! The dueling arm psychology was tremendous especially when you have Misawas elbow and Kobashis lariat in play. Loved the inability to follow up down the stretch due to their injuries. Basically it came down to two things, Misawa got a lucky elbow that landed in just the right place to render Kobashis arm useless. Kobashi was running away with the match. When Kobashi had re-established himself, he went for that high risk move (powerbomb off the apron) thats how you have to beat Misawa with big time high risk moves and he paid for it. The last five minutes is pretty great you have to kill me before you beat me stuff that All Japan does well. Kobashi looks great in a loss and Misawa proves that when Triple Crown is on the line he will stop at nothing to retain and he just always has a little extra.

No comments:

Post a Comment