Hey Yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,
Pro Wrestling Love vol. 63:
The Best of All Japan Pro Wrestling 1995-1996
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 sixty-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 (AJPW) 1995-1996. Where we left in Volume 58 was with Toshiaki Kawada as Triple Crown Champion and Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi as World Tag Team Champions after winning the Real World Tag League. No one can take away Kawada's title reign, but in terms of the kayfabe All Japan universe, there was an asterisk next to Kawada's title reign because he did not win them from Misawa. Three times he had tried and three times he failed. He won by beating Dr. Death. The storyline through 1995 is can Kawada beat Misawa. He ends up dropping the belts back to Hansen as a transitional champion so that Misawa can once again reign as the undisputed Ace of All Japan. A curious thing happens in the Misawa vs Kawada Champions Carnival match 30 seconds into what was to be a 30 minute draw, Kawada broke Misawa's orbital bone with a kick to the face. Misawa being The Fucking Man wrestled the next 29 minutes and 30 seconds with a broken eye socket. It turned out to be a happy accident because all three of the 5 star classics that come from All Japan that year are a result of Kawada & Taue targeting the bad eye of Misawa. In a lot of ways, All Japan peaked in 1995 both stylistically with 6/9/95 and in terms of booking as Misawa vanquished the challenge of Kawada again. They sort of sputtered a conclusion for the year and then reset in 1996 with a renewed emphasis on tag team wrestling. The year 1996 saw the return of Dr. Death Steve Williams reforming his team with Johnny Ace and the ascendancy of the super rookie Jun Akiyama replacing Kenta Kobashi as Misawa's junior partner. This greatly freshened up the match ups and also gave Kobashi a chance to spread his singles wings by defeating Akira Taue for his first Triple Crown. Thus we begin the transition to Misawa vs Kobashi taking center stage over Misawa vs Kawada in the later parts of the 90s, but that was covered in earlier parts of Pro Wrestling Love. 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.
|My Favorite Moment In Any Match Ever|
Top Six Matches of All Japan Pro Wrestling 1995-96
#6. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs
Kenta Kobashi - Anniversary Show 10/25/95
The first major Misawa vs Kobashi match for the Triple Crown takes place at the big October Anniversary show at the Budokan. This matchup would go on to main event two of the next three October Anniversary shows at the Budokan. This would only be Kobashis third title shot of his career (Doc in Sept of 94 and Kawada hour draw in Jan of 95) while Misawa was in his second reign as champion. At the time of this match Misawa and Kobashi were still the lead babyface tag team of All Japan, though by the beginning of 96, Kobashi would graduate to leading his own team while Misawa would take Akiyama under his wing.
The match is wrestled very much in the vein of two tag team partners vying for the most coveted prize in the promotion. I know some people criticize that Kobashi never fully shed his plucky underdog persona, but I think this match represents that last matchup of young Kobashi. Kobashi is always going to be a vibrant, energetic and emotional performer, but this feels like the last time he felt like a junior to the other Pillars. It was his coming of age match. The story of the match is slow and steady wins the race.
Kobashi comes out like gangbusters. He knows Misawa is coming with an elbow and throws him face first into the mat. Great spot to show Kobashis familiarity with Misawa as his tag partner. Hitting a suplex into a powerbomb where Misawa lands back first on Kobashis leg. OW! That had to hurt both of them. Misawa rolls to the outside and is selling his back. Powerbomb on the floor well thats not going to help the back. I love when a match starts off red hot like this. Kobashi as Misawas tag partner knows how damn good he is and wants a quick win. Bodyslam->Fist Pump->But Misawa rolls too far away for moonsault. BOOOOOOOOOOOO! Kobashi starts hitting leg drops to the back of the beck, but misses one from second rope. I like that as a way for Misawa to get some time to recovery.
Misawa comes in and tries to use his trusty elbow to turn the tide. Kobashi actually goes for a cross armbreaker and work over the arm. Misawa elbows Kobashis arm. Here we see the youth of Kobashi and something we will have to see if he improves upon that is his focus. He totally departs from the arm in order to go back to his comfort zone of power offense: surfboard and sleepers. It is conservative and plays to his strength. In a lot of ways the first half of the match feels like it is worked in reverse, finish run, limb psychology, opening holds. I think it tells the story of a young hotshot that is reverting back to a conservative approach. Misawa is just waiting and waiting.
Kobashi goes high risk by going to the apron and Misawa hits an elbow. From here it is pretty standard, but awesome Misawa. Elbows from all corners of the ring, Tiger Driver, flying bodypress. But we see what will plague Misawa in this match. Lack of killer instinct something he never has a problem with in the past. The first Tiger Suplex is downright gentle and more of a pinning combination. The second one he chucks Kobashi right on the back of his head. When Kobashi gets back in the ring, Misawa does not know what to do next and all of sudden Kobashi gets a drop toehold and a leg drop to the back of the neck. Misawa takes a suplex on his head and then Kobashi just hurls his body at Misawa knocking him hard back into the turnbuckles. Misawa is down in a heap clutching his neck and shoulder. Awesome, awesome selling by Misawa and the crowd picks up on that it might be the end. Kobashis finish run is awesome with powerbombs galore, moonsault and a second moonsault while Misawa is trying to get up that pops me HUGE! I love shit like that and Kobashis selling for it was great. Kobashi goes for a third powerbomb, but Misawa-rana and ROARING ELBOW~! Again, Misawa cant put Kobashi away. He is elbowing and elbowing, but Kobashi just keeps coming forward. I love how Kobashi keeps ducking into the body trying to get throws and Misawa will beat him off with elbows. One time Kobashi does upend Misawa, but it is too little too late. Eventually Misawa realizes that his tag team partner has too much heart to stay down and has to use the Tiger Driver 91 right on his freaking head to put him down.
Not a perfect match, definitely some parts that dragged, the middle of Kobashis opening control and the finish took longer than necessary. Overall, great first match in the series. Kobashi came out looking elite in the loss. Hot opening, lost the lead, but came back through guts and willpower and just came up short but it was not due lack of effort or heart. Definitely showed he needed to be more focused and disciplined and that his power and strength would not be enough to beat the Mighty Misawa alone. Misawa is living proof slow and steady wins the race. Weathers the early onslaught and sticks to the game plan. Great selling of the back and later the neck. Really great selling down the stretch to put Kobashi over as a threat. I thought his offense built appropriately from I dont want to hurt the kid to Fuck it, my titles are more important than you so I am going to drop you on your head.
#5. AJPW Tag Team Champions Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue vs
Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama - Super Power Series 5/23/96
My initial impression of the Misawa & Akiyama team is that Akiyama is a much more strategic wrestler than Kobashi. He is more active in double teams, guarding Misawa's covers and wrestling a more strategically sound tag team match. Misawa & Kobashi were two great singles wrestlers that won on the sheer force that they were two greatest of all time. Akiyama being the young gun overcame his youth by wrestling more textbook. Watch the opening, he stays in the ring almost the entirety of Misawa's portion. He is helping out with double teams and guarding against Kawada. Another moment later on after Misawa face in peril and a hot tag, Misawa had returned and he was having trouble hitting a bomb on Taue originally he wanted a Tiger Driver, but that morphed into a Tiger Suplex and he still couldnt hoist him over and he called out maybe one word in Japanese and Akiyama was on it and kicked Taue and boom Tiger Suplex. Never saw that out of Misawa/Kobashi, not trying to disparage Misawa/Kobashi who had great matches not just with Kawada/Taue, but also Doc/Ace and Baba/Hansen so they worked, but I liked how quickly the Misawa/Akiyama unit gelled.
Just some notes, I wanted to cover that I didnt in the opening paragraph. I liked how Akiyama was out to prove his mettle from the outset. He was confident and was out there to win. I love when people at least attempt or hit their finish early in this case an Exploder on Taue. It makes me believe you arent out there putting out a performance you there to win. A wrestling match doesnt have to go 30 minutes, it could be 2 minutes make me believe you want the "W" not a great match. I love how Misawa was right out there with an Elbow Suicida as soon as Taue powdered. He was on it. After the Misawa in Peril, Akiyama stood up and won control against Kawada, slaps, jumping knees even a punch. Akiyama proved he belong. He bested Taue too, great double dropkick and then it goes into the Tiger Suplex sequence I discussed. Akiyama tagged back in and was going for the Exploder. Now let's talk Holy Demon Army.
I have been focusing on Akiyama because he is shiny & new and he is the focal point. Kawada was taking a very Misawa approach to this match. He was hanging back letting Taue eat some pretty big bombs (Exploder, Elbow Suicida, Tiger Driver and Tiger Suplex) but whenever it almost got of hand he was there. The initial shine climaxed with a Tiger Driver and I was like Kawada/Taue are due. Kawada launched his sortie and freed Taue. Kawada hits a Dangerous Back Drop Driver, pretty wicked headdrop bump from Misawa. They worked over Misawa's neck together. Kneedrops, kicks, Snake Eyes and Stretch Plum. Transitions out to the hot tag was a little weak...I think just some Misawa elbows. We covered Akiyama's hot tag which was very effective in Akiyama proving his mettle. After the Tiger Suplex when Taue was about to take a Exploder is when Kawada struck again from the apron. He broke up the attempt and more importantly took Misawa out of commission with a Jumping High Kick that led to a NODOWA~! Kawada and Taue have been licking their chops as they have played with their food as Akiyama is at their mercy. Pretty damn perfect opening.
Damn they put Akiyama over huge! Big balls on the booking and it paid off. Akiyama takes a lickin but he keeps on tickin'. Taue Powerbombs Akiyama, but it is not Dynamic. Taue wants to finish the punk off with a Nodowa of Death. Misawa's hand is forced and he comes in, Kawada cuts him off at the pass, but he fights through it to save Akiyama and pulls him back to the sanctuary of their own corner.
Misawa's hot tag is glorious as he lights Taue up, nice German suplex. This match is so efficient. On the Tiger Driver attempt, Kawada TRUCKS him with a Lariat. Now Kawada is in and they tease the big finish run is going to be Kawada putting his archrival away. Powerbomb. Dangerous Nodowa/Back Drop Driver Combination. Akiyama is there to save. The Second Powerbomb is thwarted by the Misawa-Rana. Blocks Jumping High Kick! ROARING ELBOW~! Kawada is out cold! This leads to the Akiyama hot tag. At first, it looks like it is going well, nice Northern Lights. German, nope, Kawada does his standard Pele kick save. Trademark Jumping High Kick...whats this Kawada has injured his ankle! Taue rushes in to try to pull him safety. Misawa intervenes and throws Taue out and SPINNING PLANCHA BY MISAWA! Crows has been whipped into a frenzy! Akiyma dragon leg screw to Kawada's bum wheel got a huge pop! Misawa hits a massive German Suplex on Kawada. Akiyama buries him with Three Exploders! Akiyama PINS KAWADA!??!? HOLY SHIT! Kobashi did NOT even do that! WOW!
Kawada was a total pro here. Selling his leg like only he can and boy oh boy did he feed Akiyama on those Exploders great job. He made Akiyama right there. So selfless, hats off to him. Akiyama is an instant overnight sensation. What a coming out party! Love the new dynamic that Akiyama brings to these tag matches, very strategic and he definitely was a new wrinkle for Kawada & Taue who are usually the ones exploiting the double teams and being the better tag wrestlers. Misawa & Akiyama immediately are amazing tag team not because they are each individually great because they really executed a smart tag strategy throughout the match. They times their double teams and saves so well. Misawa was still the leader it was his Roaring Elbow that put Kawada in a hole and it was his wise blocking of Taue that stopped Kawada from tagging out and it was his German on Kawada to set up Akiyama. Really excellent tag team wrestling!
#4. Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue vs Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama
Real World Tag League 12/6/96
Of all the uber famous All Japan matches, you know the ones only known by the Date, this is the one I have seen the least. I think I have only seen it twice and have no recollection of it and I also dont know what the hook of the match is.
First Half: After about 5 minutes, I said out loud to myself "Absolutely genius". This is the best tag team match ever from strategic and mechanics point of view. 6/9/95 is all heart & soul that will win the day, BUT this is thinking man's wrestling at its finest. I will do my best to distill down all the great moments. Misawa & Akiyama are a much better TEAM than Misawa & Kobashi, which was a unit of two great singles wrestlers. I noticed this immediately during 5/23/96 and they showed that again.
Akiyama stands up to bully Kawada and knocks him down with a Jumping High Knee. How does he press his advantage? He tags! Genius! This allows the double team to consolidate the advantage. Akiyama, wise beyond his years, knocks Taue off the apron enabling Misawa to wipe out Kawada with Elbow Suicida. Miswa scores a Tiger Driver and nearfall. Where does it all start? A timely Akiyama tag. He was not tired. He landed just one blow. Most people would continue on offense, but thats dumb. It is tag TEAM wrestling. Use that man advantage consolidate the lead.
Not to be outdone, Taue steps up to bat. On the attempted Second Tiger Driver, Taue wisely comes to Kawada's aid and attacks Misawa from behind, which exposes a mistake by Misawa to have his back to the enemy corner. Kawada bowls him over and what does he do? He tags out! Expert move. Great sequence from Taue and Misawa ending with Taue planting Misawa with the DDT and a Powerbomb, NOT Dynamic for a nearfall. Where does this all begin? A deft, timely save from Taue at peak danger converting defense into offense. Taue is setting up for perhaps the Super NODOWA when Akiyama showing his youth is NOT wasted on the young and saves Miswa who us his high position to Elbow Drop Taue and tag out. Perfect match thus far. Akiyama gets a Dragon Leg Screw on Taue?!? Kawada senses the danger and interferes. Taue lingers a bit longer than expected but hits the Nodowa and tags out. 5 minutes folks. That was 5 glorious fucking minutes.
The next 5 minutes centers around Kawada/Taue in cruise control doing what they do best just generally pummeling and grinding Akiyama down. There is not much in the way of transitions or excitement. It is a comedown from the frenetic first five minutes. After all that fast break, uptempo offense, the experienced Holy Demon Army slows the pace down and exerts their advantage. Weakest point of the match thus far was Akiyama's easy escape to tag out Misawa. Just a simple back suplex. C'mon. There were not even that many teases.
The next 5 minutes revs things back up. Misawa and Kawada have one of their classic fiery exchanges, which ends with a Kawada Jumping High Kick. What does Kawada do after being in a grueling strike exchange with the greatest striker in pro wrestling history? HE FUCKING TAGS! Because that's what you should! This match is so pleasing to my brain. Taue comes in and is just a massive dick. His offense consists of stepping on Misawa's face, javelin-spearing Misawa's face into the top turnbuckle, stepping on Misawa's face and then trying to end the match with NODOWA OFF THE APRON~! MISAWA CLEANS HIS FUCKING CLOCK WITH A MASSIVE ELBOW! Holy shit! This was not one of those let me pepper you with Elbows. This was the Sweet Home Alabama Elbow! WOW! MY jaw hurt! Misawa tags out to Akiyama who comes off the top and knocks Taue down. Akiyama has a sleeper/smother/choke on Taue similar to what Kawada was doing to him during his heat segment. Nice little revenge spot. Definitely living up to the hype thus far.
Second Half: Fuck Man! This match is really fucking good. Akiyama and Misawa run through a beautiful sequence of double teams set up by frequent tags. Chicken Soup for a Tag Team fan's soul. Misawa hit a missile dropkick and a flying bodypress. Misawa has looked really good in this match. For the second time, it is a Tiger Driver attempt that does the Super Generation Army in. Kawada TRUCKS Misawa with a Lariat and then dumps Akiyama ass over tea kettle to the outside. Taue tags out and now it is Kawada & Taue that show off their double team ability. Nice Kneedrop/Top Rope Taue Elbow. I like the way the heels are paying back that babyfaces in a way that makes them look insecure. Like they are copycats but also smart strategy.
Then something very peculiar happens. Misawa snaps off the Misawa-Rana on the Powerbomb. He does NOT tag out. At first, I am pissed. They have wrestled this match immaculately how dare he play Hero-Ball now! That's when it hit me. If this leads him down a road where they lose because he decided to play Hero-Ball and got so obsessed with winning and beating Kawada then this deserves the ***** rating. Lo & behold that's exactly what happens as Akiyama would never be the legal man again. After all these smart and timely tags, Misawa decides it is time to go Iso and he fucks his team. He did not trust Akiyama with the Ball even though Akiyama won the Tag Team Titles back in May. Misawa was going to do this on his own. Granted, he got a lot closer than almost anyone else would because he is the kayfabe SIngles GOAT BUT this is not singles wrestling; this is TAG TEAM wrestling.
The number one complaint I have seen about this match is that Kawada looks like a chump because Misawa smokes him and basically has him beat. That is the point. In 6/9/95, Kawada sold his soul to beat Misawa. In 7/24/95, Misawa exacts his revenge and vanquishes him. In 12/6/96, Misawa becomes Kawada. He is the one who becomes obsessed and consumed with beating Kawada on his own to the detriment. The Misawa made two big miscalculations: 1. Akiyama couldn't handle the ball down the stretch 2. Akira Taue goes off in Game 7 of the Finals! Taue is a world-beating, game-changing force of nature. Do Not Fuck With Him.
Akira Taue has many great performances but offensively this may be his best. He looks the greatest fucking wrestler ever. Once he hits the Baba Neckbreaker Drop and pretty much renders Akiyama useless for the rest of the match with the NODOWA OF DOOM OFF THE APRON, the Holy Demon Army has this on lock. Taue never lets up. The ever-loyal henchman bows out gracefully so that Kawada can get his second pinfall victory over Misawa and collectively the First Real World Tag League Victory for Kawada & Taue! A long time coming!
All four men played their roles well. I expected this match to be about Akiyama, but it is really not. He is a great rookie, but I dont think a mature 1996 Kobashi would have succumbed so easily. That why Akiyama was perfect. Misawa underestimated his help. The genius of this match is how well the fundamental tag team strategy was executed for the first 20 minutes and when Misawa deviated from that and played Hero-Ball is ultimately what cost them the match. Taue was such a game-changer and looked awesome. Kawada just needed to be Kawada excellent ragdoll, jelly leg selling and when he needed to be vicious down the stretch the mean streak came out. 6/9/95 still wins the day because of the emotion and the amazing story. This is 6/9/95 inverted in such a way that Kawada's victory and Taue storming around the ring is feel-good, but I dont hate Misawa or Akiyama so it is not as emotionally stirring. Logically excellent match. Between the '95 Carny Final, Misawa/Kawada '95, 12/3,93, Doc vs Misawa '94, and Hansen vs Kobashi, how the hell am I supposed to rank these! They are all amazing! Really blew me away!
#3. AJPW Triple Crown Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada
Summer Action Series 7/24/95
AJPW Triple Crown Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada - AJPW 7/24/95
Based on the first ten minutes, I think this is on pace to be better than 6/3/94. There's really not much need to review. It is self-evident once you watch it. They do an excellent scouting routine early and they are working a ferocious clip. No one is fucking around. I liked Misawa blocking the Jumping High Kick to the face. You see on one of the German reversals that Misawa clutches his face and not soon after Kawada CRUSHES his face with a big boot. KOPPOU KICK~! I popped huge for that. This match is built around Kawada breaking Misawa's face in the Carny about 4 months prior. Kawada is merciless attacking the face. I love how he is elbowing the neck and then all of sudden changes gears and goes high. There are some fucking great Kawada Kicks where he really rears back and rifles Misawa in the face. Misawa sold this onslaught well. I would say Misawa feels more in danger of losing than any other Singles match (even moreso than the Doc loss). Kawada is relentless. Just when I think they may be going over board with Misawa taking too much of an asskicking, he blocks some kicks with his elbows and then starts firing back. I love how Misawa has to earn that comeback. there is a lot of tussling before Misawa SMOKES him with the Roaring Elbow. Misawa always has a puncher's chance and Kawada sold this blow wickedly. Lots of classic Kawada selling: Cant run the ropes, stumbling & fumbling until he falls on his ass, great stuff. Misawa is folding him in half with German. But cant land the Tiger Driver. Misawa went from looking he was getting blown out to routing Kawada. The Elbow bails him out again. As the ten minutes come to a close, they do Misawa's Facelock, the Facelock does not have the heat of 1992 and it is a dead in the water move...come to think of the match has not had much heat, but it more minimalist, body part focused. They transition to Kawada by doing one of All Japan's favorite transitions one guy holds onto the ropes for dear life to avoid the Suplex and then lets go and SMOKES the other guy in the face with a strike. Kawada hits two MEATY Lariats after this that are just wicked to take command.
Yeah this is better than 6/3/94, there are so many nice little touches from Kawada that make this stand out from a traditional King's Road match. In one case, it is how the ref sells it. Kawada guzzles Misawa up quickly and goes for a chinlock/sleeper, but the ref urgently breaks it up and freaks out. Making you believe Kawada was choking Misawa. The crowd booed. It was all thanks to the ref. Kudos to him. Another bout of frustration saw Kawada mount Misawa and just rain down punches on his face. I wish we got a better camera angle on that, but it was things like that made this so much more heated. 6/3/94 was the ultimate King's Road match, this feels more personal and like there is more hatred in it. I LOVED the droptoehold and RIFLE KICK to the bad eye that was sick. The twin DANGERRRRROUSSSSSSSSSSSSS Back Drop Drivers was a great climax to that. I liked Kawada going for the Powerbomb, being thwarted and going for Stretch Plum instead. Two great Powerbombs ensued look at the drive in his legs on the second one. I loved how when Misawa ever connected with any offense, Kawada would either kick him in the face or drop him on his head. It just looked like Misawa had no prayer. I should mention those two heated moments, the choke and full mount punches came after especially frustrating nearfalls(two Dangerous Back Drop Driver and two powerbombs). You could see the momentum start to shift to Misawa as Kawada was running out of gas and Misawa's elbows were really starting to land. Kawada whiffing on the Jumping High Kick was the first signal to me that the end of was nigh for the challenger. Misawa OBLITERATES him with an Elbow and just goes Full Head Drop Mode with devastating German and Tiger Suplexes. Kawada comes up swinging with two big closed fists as he makes his Last Stand. Misawa headbutts the abdomen! I love it! Elbow and ROARING ELBOW~! Kawada is fucked. It takes two more massive Tiger Suplexes but it is all over for Kawada.
6/3/94 with the Tiger Driver '91 finish did not give them much room to grow outside of a Kawada victory here. I think that's one of the main reasons 6/3/94 is more fondly remembered is the finish is more epic. Baba's booking in 6/9/95 really heeled Kawada in my eyes. He went from competitive archrival of Misawa to fucking asshole consumed by jealousy stopping at nothing to win. You dont want Kawada to win this match because he is a prick. Misawa needed to win this match because of that. I wonder if Kawada winning at 6/3/94 and Misawa winning the comeback match in 95 which then causes Kawada to lose his mind and go full heel trying to injure Misawa in their '96 match would have been the best arc. Baba's booking has been analyzed to death regardless 6/3/94 and 7/24/95 are fucking amazing. I am more confident in who I am as a reviewer to say this is the better than 6/3/94. To me 6/3/94 is the ultimate workrate wet dream match. There is so much more to wrestling than workrate and I think this match does a better job capturing the personal animosity between these two and just how unhinged Kawada had become. *****
#2. Mitsuharu Misawa vs Akira Taue - Champions Carnival 4/15/95
There are two sleeper picks for best 90s All Japan matches of all time, this and the Doc/Misawa title change. In a world where the canon is so explicit: 7/29/93 (Kobashi/Hansen), 12/3/93, 5/21/94, 6/3/94, 6/9/95, 12/6/96 and 1/20/97, these two Misawa/Doc and Misawa/Taue stand in defiance as possible challengers to the throne. I know most people give this ***** and Loss ranking this as #14 in his best matches of the 90s is a huge win for the match. I don't know where I will rank it, but this is my favorite match of the bunch. 2012 Martin Take it Away!
I am just going to get this out of the way. This is one of the greatest matches of all time and in top 10 of the greatest All Japan matches of all time. Full Stop. Don’t pass Go and collect $200, sit your ass down and watch this match. I was skeptical of the rep this match has because I did not think Taue as a singles competitor could deliver that time of performance. Who am I to doubt Akira Taue? (2020 Martin: Jeez dont have to get hot about it. I think most people think this match is awesome. Don't worry a lot of people underrate Taue at the beginning, as long as you have seen the light, all is forgiven.)
The match begins with a series of counters to put over their familiarity with each other. Taue side-steps a Misawa flying lariat and drives him into the ground sending Misawa to the outside. (2020 Martin: The scouting here was really choice. Taue evading Elbows. Misawa catching himself on Snake eyes and armdragging out of NODOWA. Misawa takes more damage because he misses two flying moves and hits the mat hard. Also on the leaping lariat, Taue drove his face into the mat, it looked like it bothered Misawa's injured eye) All of sudden, we get Air Taue as he dives onto Misawa on the outside and Misawa chants begin in earnest. I loved this because it established that with both men so familiar with each other that they would have to wrestle outside their moveset to keep their opponent off-balance. (2020 Martin: Air Taue was a good way for Taue to get the first offensive move of the match)
The hook of the match is Taue aggressively attacking the injured eye of Misawa (remember Misawa legitimately broke his orbital bone in match with Kawada earlier). Taue utilized this tactic to cut off Misawa offensive flurries and to setup his own offense. A good example of this is when Misawa slides over the back of Taue on a suplex attempt only to receive a stiff elbow to his eye. (2020 Martin: Lets break this down further, Misawa tries to trap Taue in a facelock shortly after Air Taue, but Taue grabs at the eyes and Mares him over. The attack on the eyes are the beginning was not overt but if you watch closely Misawa was wincing and touching his eye. We get Dragon Sleepers but they are not around the neck but around the eyes and nose. Taue had a game plan. As for the stiff back elbow that I did mention it is genius because it plays into the scouting aspect of the match. How many times have seen Misawa use the slide down the back on a suplex to start his Comeback, here Taue has it scouted and stiffs him right in teh injured eye. This is when Misawa really starts selling.) Misawa for his part puts on a offense clinic of his own.
Against Kawada and Kobashi, Misawa is more than willing to let them have their spotlight, but against Taue Misawa has more free reign to take larger chunks of the match to himself. Misawa actually taking so much offense is indicator to the viewer that his normal rope-a-dope strategy would not work here because the injury is that much of liability. Thus Misawa is looking to end this match much earlier rather rely on his normal strategy of extending his opponent and then taking advantage. This gives a different feel from normal Misawa matches as he is much more aggressive and urgent with his offense. After a flurry of spin kicks, elbows, two elbows dives and a ROARING ELBOW~!, they actually tease Taue losing by countout. (2020 Martin: I never give credit to Misawa for his kicks but he has some nice kicks especially his spin kick. There is a great moment where he has started his comeback and has Taue stunned but he does not immediately follow it up because hie eye hurts...once he gathers himself he hits the Spin Kick and then Elbow Suicida) I have to mention the normally stoic Misawa seems a bit pissed that Taue was so willing to take advantage of his injury. (2020 Martin: That Roaring Elbow was fucking HUGE! I have to say it caught me off guard because it came so early in the match. I can buy that Misawa wanted to get out of this match sooner rather than later because of his injury).
At around the 12:00 minute mark, all hell breaks loose as Taue claws Misawa’s eye repeatedly to stop his elbow flurries. This culminates with Taue stepping on Misawa injured eye. The Japanese crowd and announcers collectively lose their shit at the ruthlessness and audacity of Taue. I have watched a lot of Japanese wrestling and never remember a crowd actually booing a wrestler that is how heated this got. Seventeen years after the fact that spot is still fuckin sweet. (2020 Martin: I was waiting for this moment. This and when he claws at the end. I forgot how lusty those boos are. The Japanese crowd was pissed and the Japanese announcer could not believe at the shamelessness of Taue. Taue was a desperate man and desperate man do desperate things. This is the moment where Taue's strategy became overt; he was going to target the injured eye.)
Taue tries to negotiate his kill shot: the Nodowa off the apron to the floor, but Misawa elbows his way out of it. (2020 Martin: Before that Misawa fought to regain control only to be picked up from behind and hit with a back suplex off the apron. Never turn your back on an opponent especially one as ruthless as Taue. The tease of the Nodowa off the apron is an excellent spot). Misawa in desperation runs through more of his arsenal: spinkick, senton, frogsplash, german suplex, Tiger Driver, but can not garner the victory. Then we arrive at the spot of the match and maybe my favorite sequence in all of pro wrestling. (2020 Martin: I was thinking the same thing! TWINNING!)
Misawa floats over Taue back on a vertical suplex attempt and lands on the apron. UH OH! Taue immediately takes the edge of his hand and drives it into Misawa’s injured eye. (2020 Martin: I love how Taue holds his Chop Hand frozen to brazenly demonstrate to the world what he did. Was he proud or was he shocked? We will never know) Taue goozles him, but Misawa is clinging to the ropes for dear life, but Taue chops his hand to break his clasp. (2020 Martin: Shawn Michaels eat your heart out. This is how you do high drama!) NODOWA TO THE FLOOR!!!! (2020 Martin: The crowd, the announcer and me 25 years later collectively lose our shit). Now the entire ending is in doubt. Before, Misawa was the favorite even with eye injury because he was the ace and none of the Four Corners had beaten him. However, this is the move that killed Kobashi and Kawada dead. This is the move that signals the end is nigh! Either ending is totally satisfying to customer as Misawa will either overcome this adversity as before or Taue will prove to be the Misawa-Slayer. As a smart wrestling fan, I can predict 95% of the outcomes of all matches because I have just watched that much wrestling. Sometimes the journey is more fun than the ending. However, then there are matches like these when the irresistible force (Nodowa on the floor) and the immovable object (Misawa) meet and I don’t know who will win, but fuck it is going to be one helluva ride. (2020 Martin: I didnt think about it in this way, but it is true. If I was watching this for the first time and didnt know the outcome, I could buy into either finish. Great work!)
Taue runs through his offense (German, DDT, Atomic Legdrop) and punctuates this run with a DYNAMIC BOMB~! MISAWA KICKS OUT!!!! O SHIT!!!! NUCLEAR NEARFALL! Built so well in this Carnival! That was the payoff to Taue pinning Kobashi and Kawada. What a payoff! The ending is a great illustration of why Misawa one of the best ever. John Cena would have hulked up and ran through his offense to get the win, but Misawa presents his twist on the babyface comeback. (2020 Martin: 2012 Martin is wrong. Cena became the Misawa of Comebacks in WWE. More apt would have been Hogan. I am sorry for my ignorance in 2012). Misawa strikes with his elbows, but with each elbow he is falling down or powdering. He is using these desperation elbows to create breathing room for himself to recover. (2020 Martin: You nailed it, 2012 Martin) You get the feeling as a fan that he just did not stop being injured or fatigued, but that he is fighting through it. Taue is both dazed by these vicious elbows and fatigued from running through most of his offense. Taue is still able to kick out of a german suplex and a Tiger Driver. Taue, sensing that the end is near, tries one last ditch effort by clawing at the eye and the crowd is molten with heat at this. (2020 Martin: Another iconic moment in an iconic match) Misawa elbows through the claw and TWO Tiger Suplexes finish it for Misawa! Misawa perseveres and overcomes!
One of the greatest matches I have ever seen. (2020 Martin: Damn straight!) It is one of those matches where you feel like you reached a Pro Wrestling Nirvana as a pro wrestling fan. This is one of the best individual Misawa performances I have ever seen as he puts over Taue as a force to reckoned with and himself as a resilient wrestler that overcomes adversity with his heart and elbows. Taue stepped up his game huge throughout the Carnival and there was no brighter moment than this match where he ate Misawa’s offense well and was totally ruthless against the eye. This match represents what pro wrestling should be: the simulation of human struggle. Taue is struggling to step out from Misawa’s shadow and is willing to do anything to finally end his “Reign of Terror”. (2020 Martin: I think added element of this is Taue is plagued by self-doubt. He is driven to shameless, ruthless tactics because he does not believe he can best Misawa on his own merits. He needs to exploit a weakness with illegal tactics. Clawing the eyes is illegal regardless of health. This was not merely taking advantage of an injury, this was combining cheating with kicking a man while he is down. It is offensive and should be resoundingly condemned as unsportsmanlike conduct and savory. The beauty of this is the levels. Taue does not come out attacking the eye. It is only after he struck with a vicious Roaring Elbow. It is out of survival and lack of self-confidence to get the job done that he resorts to these blatantly disgusting tactics. He is desperate because he does not believe in himself. He is shameless because he values the victory over human decency. Desperation + Shamelessness = Ruthless. This is best type of heel work.) Misawa is struggling with overcoming his broken orbital bone and an opponent willing and able to exploit it. (2020 Martin: Misawa is the valiant hero overcoming two big obstacles and ultimately triumphant. It is not his offense but rather his selling that wins him the day. His decisions to pause and and take the time and let us know his pain allows to become a part of his journey. He let us in and in doing so made us all the more invested. Vulnerability humanizes and the humanization process creates empathy & understanding. Misawa tapped into that. If Taue's performance is the greatest heel performance, then Misawa's was the greatest babyface performance) When pro wrestling is done right, I do not think there is a greater medium of entertainment. On April 15, 1995, Mitsuharu Misawa and Akira Taue did pro wrestling right. The only question is this the Greatest Match of All Time? The answer is I dont know, but it is in the Top 10 of all time.
#1. AJPW Tag Team Champions Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs.
Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue - Super Power Series 6/9/95
On the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Greatest Wrestling Match Ever (I really wish Edge vs Orton was on 6/9, this comment will not age well), I am watching this match again for the first time in gosh at least ten years. I vividly remember the ending but I kinda forgot how they get there and the Kawada BLASTS Misawa off the apron and it all comes rushing back. This Misawa vs Kawada at their most heated. Kawada calmly lets Kobashi reverse his Irish Whip so that he could rule full steam ahead and nail Misawa in the bad eye. Watching all of '93, '94 and the front half of '95, I have found Kawada the hardest of the four to connect with, which is weird because when I was a teenager I was all aboard the Kawada express and that big boot teleported me back to High School watching this on Youtube. I thought that spot was so cool and at the time I didnt even know about the orbtial bone. Misawa is rightfully pissed after some selling (dont sleep on Kobashi being aghast at what happened) and demands to be tagged in. Kawada nails him with another boot, but Misawa keeps going. They do a great criss cross sequence and then Kawada nails Kobashi off the apron! Oh Hell Yeah! Corners clear and this shit is crazy.
Things settle down and Kawada tags out to Taue. They work a short five minute heel in peril segment on Taue which I totally forgot about. Misawa looked pissed the whole time and was just ripping into Taue. Kobashi was also dishing out the leather. They work a great dive sequence. Misawa does his Tiger Mask distraction act and it is all diversion for Kobashi to nail a shouldertackle from the apron. Misawa SMOKES Kawada and then ELBOW SUICIDA! Great climax to the face shine. Kobashi misses a shoulder tackle from the middle rope perfect timing as the shine had peaked. Kawada wastes no time progressing the match to the next Act by rifling the injured leg of Kobashi with kicks (the thigh/knee was all taped up, my understanding is from a six-man tag on 4/15).
Kobashi fights back because he is fucking Kobashi. He kicks Kawada in the face, but his bad leg is the plant leg and stumbles backwards and collapses. A great moment. I love that is a Kobashi move that actually cements Kobashi's own heat segment. Strong heat segment on Kobashi. Taue Scorpion Deathlock. I watched the 60 Minute Broadway from January which features a 19 minute heat segment on Kobashi so I was shocked how quickly this was over, but I know they come back to it. Taue goes for the Kneecrusher, but Kobashi chops his way out of trouble. Misawa dispatches Taue with Elbows but he wants his receipt on Kawada, Kawada drops down from the apron. Misawa lulls Kawada into a false sense of security and DECKS HIM! Misawa applies a Boston Crab on Taue with his back to Kawada who comes up from behind calmly and KICKS Misawa right in the bad eye. Was that an allusion to the Maeda shoot kick on Choshu?!? It feels like they are playing on shoot-y feelings in this match. All these words and we are only 15 minutes into the match! This match still does the trick. :)
The stretch after the Maeda-style shoot kick until Kobashi powders in agony is one of the best stretches in pro wrestling. Misawa had powdered after the kick to the face. Taue rolls Misawa in and tags out. Kawada kicks him in the face and Misawa bellows in pain. Kawada just pummels him in the corner, relentlessly. He throws the ref back. It is insane You get this feel he is shoot pissed off. Misawa FIRES UP! Elbows for everyone! Kawada sells so well. Taue needs to win Henchman of the Year for what he is abotu to do . Misawa is on a roll when Kawada BLASTS him with another kick to the eye. Here comes Kobashi to join the fracas. Taue eyerakes Misawa down and then dropkicks the injured leg of Kobashi to save Kawada. Henchman of the Year. Kawada stomps and stands on the injured leg. Misawa breaks free. Kawada kicks. Misawa NO SELLS! Kawada kicks! Misawa ELBOW BARRAGE~! Taue saves and THROWS MISAWA DOWN BY THE EYES! Taue sweeps Kobashi's leg and stomps the bad leg. Then in the greatest moment of the match thus far...Taue Nodowa on Misawa ON KOBASHI'S BAD LEG! HOLY SHIT! I FUCKING LOVE IT! KAWADA COMES CRASHING DOWN WITH BOTH KNEES ON KOBASHI'S BAD LEG! Three fucking glorious minutes of chaotic wrestling action. TAUE FUCKING RULES!
The heat segment on Misawa is really great. Kawada is such a fucking prick. Spinning Heel Kick! Forearm pressed against the eye or standing on it. Wicked lariat at one point! He is just out of cave in Misawa's face. Kawada hits the First Powerbomb at 20 minutes and Taue intercepts Kobashi and hits a kneecrusher. Kawada launches Misawa. 2 count. Should have been a bigger nearfall I just dont think Budokan thought this was only going 20 minutes. Great Stretch Plum on Misawa now Kobashi has recovered and attacks Kawada. Kawada clubs him with a right closed fist but they clothesline each other down. Misawa tags out to Kobashi. I thought Misawa/Kobashi were fucked. Kobashi holds his own against Kawada. Kawada sweeps the leg but tags out to Taue. Kobashi is able to actually get control of Taue and they hit a double Tiger Driver at around 25 minutes to a bigger reaction. Kobashi fist pumps but Taue breaks up the Moonsault. Here comes Misawa who is all piss 'n' vinegar. He is just fucking Taue's day up with this Elbow Onslaught. Tiger Driver for two. Kobashi detains Kawada as Misawa goes for the Facelock. I really love All Japan and think that comes through in all my reviews. I think what makes this match so special is how much hate there is in it. In 6/3/94, I saw the desire to win consume both men and the competitive spirit was very high. This is different this is anger and hate; it is translating into something really special.
So every previous time I have watched this match, I cry at the end. I thought I was prepared. I knew what was going to happen. I just stopped crying and now I am thinking about it again. But man when they pull Kobashi off Misawa, it is too much man. Fuck Kawada and Fuck Taue! Man I cant believe the fucking bad guys won. I need to compose myself. I will finish this. But yeah this is the Greatest Match of All Time.
I got some sleep and I am back to review the last 15 minutes. Kawada drills Misawa with a Dangerous Backdrop Driver after he pulled him off the Facelock. Kobashi charges across the ring and knocks Kawada off the ring apron to stop Taue from making the tag. Kobashi scores a German for two, but cant get the moonsault but Kawada attacks the leg and chokeslams him off the top. Kawada/Kobashi struggle for control and Kobashi shifts his weight on the Backdrop Driver. I have no clue how Kobashi and Misawa are still in this match. Back suplex by Kobashi but his leg is shot. I think that thats another thing that adds so much drama to this match is that Misawa/Kobashi's "lead" or "control" is tenuous at best and it is so fragile that any moment you know they could lose control, it builds a lot of tension in the viewer. Kobashi tries for the mooonsault two more times. First time Taue detains him, but Misawa says "Fuck this" and just Crashes down with all his body weight on Kawada from the top rope. Kobashi breaks free of Taue. Tries again. Again is detained so Misawa hits a Senton on Kawada. Kobashi lands the Moonsault but lands hard on his knee and he is in a lot of pain and he cant hold Kawada down. Great job by Kobashi selling and Misawa is in full fuck you mode. Kobashi tags out.
Misawa comes in with assured look that he is going to end Kawada. Tiger Suplex, Kawada steps into the ropes. So Misawa folds him in half with German and SLUGS Taue with an Elbow. TIGER SUPLEX~! 1-2-NO! Big Time heat at the 35 minute mark. Taue breaks up the pin on the Tiger Driver.
TAUE CHOPS THE EYE! NODOWA~! SUPER NODOWA...KOBASHI SAVES...KAWADA SLIDING KICK TO THE BAD LEG...SUPER NODOWA~! Taue is the game change. The Chop to the Eye is very reminiscent to the Carnival Final. Kawada Clubs Misawa with a right to the bad eye, KOPPOU KICK~! Misawa rolls to apron. Oh shit that can only mean one thing NODOWA OF DEATH! Kobashi tries to save. Kawada SWEEPS THE BAD LEG! Kawada clubs Misawa in the back and it is the NODOWA OF DEATH~! We get out first instance of Kobashi crawling to place his body over Misawa to protect his friend. Taue clubs him and pulls him off and then throws him down. It is all just entertainment, Martin, it is just entertainment. Misawa log rolls out of the ring to avoid being pinned. Kawada cant wrangle him. He gets him back in and its only 2. The crowd didnt bite on that one. Then Kobashi crawls in and holds Misawa's leg in order to avoid him being Powerbombed. What a great moment! It is getting dusty in here. I do have a dust allergy. Iconic moment the stereo NODOWA and Powerbomb. Misawa backdrops out of the powerbomb...theres life in the Ace. Kawada is stomping mericlessly in the bad eye. Kobashi crawls and puts his body on Misawa. They yank him off and Kobashi is struggling against their will to cover Misawa again. Fuck I am crying again. How the fuck does Chad watch this every year? DANGEROUS NODOWA/Back Drop Driver COMBO on Kobashi! ROARING ELBOW~! ON TAUE! GO MISAWA GO! KICK THEIR ASSES! Jumping High Kick by Kawada for 2! Things look bad for our heroes. Elbow to Kawada...cmon...DANGEROUS BACK DROP DRIVER! 1-2-NO! Kobashi is dead to the world. Misawa is on his own. Jumping High Kick to the bad eye! POWERBOMB~! Taue holding Kobashi back 1-2-3!
Fuck I cant believe the bad guys won. Baba, why did you have to do me dirty like that. I like being unique and I like being original. I really want to hold up a different match and say that is the Best of All Time. But no, this is the Greatest Match of All Time and I am not even sure it is close. Three things stand out to me that take the normal All Japan epic ***** baseline to a whole new level. 1. They ratcheted up the hate to pretty much as close as they could to shoot levels. The credit here goes to Kawada and Misawa. Kawada was the instigator, but the key was Misawa sold it very subtlety but if you watch enough Misawa you know he is fucking pissed. Misawa doesnt take cheapshots to opponent on the apron, he is focused on the win. Kawada had gotten under his skin. Kawada kept it going with the Maeda Shoot Kick to Eye and pummeling him in the corner. Kawada's obsession reached a fever pitch here and Misawa played his role perfectly. 2. Akira Taue's exponential improvement during the 1995 Carnival. This match would not be as good in 1993 or 1994 because Taue needed to find himself. He is best Henchman of All Time. Loyal, despicable, shameless. He will do anything for the cause which is to ensure victory for his team. In addition, the NODOWA Of Death (off the apron) is so critical and it was developed as a game-changer during Carny '95. It was Taue's Chop to the Eye that was the Point of No Return for Misawa/Kobashi. 3. Kenta Kobashi's emotional performance. Kobashi has amazing facial expression. The beauty of Kobashi is he is such a natural, organic actor. Nothing feels wooden, forced or hollow with him like it would with Shawn Michaels let's say. You truly believe that his only instinct is to get to his friend/mentor and put his body on top to stop the beating. I am getting choked up again just thinking about it. Four men with four distinctly different performances that come together to create the Greatest Pro Wrestling Match of All Time! It is 6/9/95.