ALL JAPAN ANTHOLOGY #1
MISAWA/KOBASHI vs. KAWADA/TAUE: A RIVALRY DEFINED, review by Mike Campbell
Quite possibly the best tag team match of all time took place on 6/09/95. Casual fans hear praise like that, and they tend to expect a big spotfest, or some kind of gimmick match, no doubt that those can be exciting to watch. In my opinion however, what separates a good match from a great match are those dirty words like “psychology” and “storytelling.” Shohei “Giant” Baba booked All Japan Pro Wrestling in this manner and that is why pre split AJPW is looked at as the best promotion of all time. Now it’s not enough for me to just review 6/9/95 and tell you “this is the best tag match ever” and rate it *****. So what I’m doing is reviewing all of the matches that play into 6/9/95 so that you, the reader can actually grasp what I’m saying. In between each match I’ll try to fill you in on what’s happened between the last one and the current one.
We start by going back nearly seven years, to when a young wrestler with only about six years under his belt, named Toshiaki Kawada was elevated to team up with one of the top wrestlers, Genichiro Tenryu. It’s the final night of the Real World Tag League and Kawada is in there with three big names. This was always a staple of Giant Baba’s booking. Put the younger guy in there with the big stars and help make him look great.
STAN HANSEN/TERRY GORDY vs GENICHIRO TENRYU/TOSHIAKI KAWADA (12/16/88)
Kawada keeps up his offense with a beautiful German suplex with bridge on Terry Gordy, but Hansen saves by kicking Kawada’s knee from underneath him. Tenryu is right there to tag in, but Hansen keeps working over Kawada’s knee. Gordy dishes out more punishment to Tenryu, who is now in a two on one situation here. Anytime Tenryu gets any sort of upper hand he’s got to deal with the other one running in and saving. The odds are just too much and Terry Gordy finally hits his big power bomb, but Kawada pulls himself into the ring and saves. Hansen is right on top of Kawada again going after his knee, and then Gordy tags out, so Hansen beats on Tenryu while Gordy works the knee over using the guardrail. An interesting twist of fate here, it’s the big brother who needs the little brother’s help.
Tenryu trips Hansen and hooks a leg bar, only for Gordy to save, Tenryu then withstands Hansen slapping him around and returns the favor. Tenryu does the elbow off the top and Gordy jumps in and makes a save. Gordy does the power bomb and then Hansen hits the Western Lariat, Kawada can’t get into the ring to save and the gaijin win the match. However it wasn’t so much that Kawada dropped the ball for his team, he was actually looking great until he got hurt and he simply couldn’t get in there in time, not for lack of effort. ***½. Kawada may not have won, but by not being pinned he still looks strong.
Unfortunately, the Kawada/Tenryu team wasn’t too successful. In 1990 Tenryu left AJPW and Kawada was paired off with Mitsuharu Misawa, who was being groomed as the next big superstar. Misawa formed a group called “The Over Generation Army” consisting of four young wrestlers trying to become superstars (Misawa, Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi). For the last half of 1990 all the way up to the end of 1992, the Over Generation Army waged war with the top gaijin as well as with top star Jumbo Tsuruta and his group. Kawada and Misawa did fairly well for themselves as a team, winning the AJPW World Tag Titles twice. It was made clear though that Misawa was the top dog and not Kawada. Misawa won the Triple Crown in August of 1992 and made his first defense against his tag team partner Kawada in October. Misawa and Kawada won the 1992 Real World Tag League and with that win they were awarded the AJPW World Tag Team Titles. Their reign wouldn’t last long though, as Terry Gordy and Steve Williams defeated them on 1/31/93.
By 1993 Jumbo Tsuruta was out of the picture, and Misawa was the Triple Crown Champion. There was really no more need for the Over Generation Army. Misawa was the #1 man in the federation and Kawada was right behind him at #2. After a thirty minute draw between Kawada and Akira Taue, Giant Baba told Kawada and Taue to form their own union, and The Holy Demon Army was born. The idea behind them was simple, Kawada was an excellent wrestler who could really work stiff, and Taue could just really work stiff. Now that Kawada was gone, Misawa moved up Kenta Kobashi to be his regular partner, just like Tenryu had moved up Kawada. The Holy Demon Army almost immediately won the World Tag Titles from Gordy and Williams and their first challenge came in the form of . . . Misawa and Kobashi.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/KENTA KOBASHI vs TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE © (AJPW World Tag Team Titles 6/01/93)
While Kawada is making sure Kobashi knows the proper pecking order, Misawa does the same to Kawada. At first the former tag partners show off their knowledge of each other, Kawada was hit with a couple elbows, but dodged most of them, in the same exchange, Misawa was hit with a few kicks but he dodged most of them too. After Kobashi got his near fall, he tagged in Misawa, and Kawada went right after his knee, and applied his half crab to it. Kawada brings in Taue and he foolishly doesn’t keep up on the leg work and Misawa fights him off and tags in Kobashi, he can’t handle Kawada, but he should be able to survive Taue. Kobashi strings some nice moves together and has Taue reeling, but he opts to use a sleeper too early in the match and Taue escapes with a jaw breaker and then brings in Kawada. The Holy Demon Army double team Kobashi and Kawada hooks on a Stretch Plum, but it’s too close to the corner and Kobashi tags Misawa. Kawada has treated Kobashi like he was nothing, but Misawa is a far cry from Kobashi.
Misawa treats Kawada, the same way Kawada has treated Kobashi, not really selling his moves and toying with him more than wearing him down. Misawa puts on a face lock and Kobashi races in and intercepts Taue. Misawa sends Taue to the floor and Kobashi does a baseball slide and Misawa hits the elbow suicida. Misawa gives Kobashi another tag in, after all, a win here could seriously help the guy elevate up. Misawa has beaten both of these two already. Kobashi is too reckless and charges right into the Nodowa Otoshi, Kobashi is down and he’s hurt, and in comes Kawada to take Kobashi back to school. Kawada sticks with the chops and kicks, but this time Kobashi is trying to suck it up and continue. Kobashi takes the pain and starts to dish it out himself, Kobashi gets hit with a brutal shot to the face and then hits a big lariat. Kobashi goes up and hits the moonsault for two. Kobashi quits while he’s ahead though and tags in Misawa, who comes flying off the top with a diving elbow and knocking Kawada senseless. Misawa measures and charges, but Kawada sees him coming and levels him with the Ganmengiri. Taue gets in and he still doesn’t follow up on the opening Kawada gave him, and he’s quickly double teamed by Misawa and Kobashi, when he gets hit with a double shoulder block sending him into Kawada, who tags back in. Kobashi is ready for Kawada though and hits him with a DDT, and then a second one gets turned into a Northern Lights suplex, but Kobashi comes up and hits a lariat and goes up for the moonsault. Kawada rolls and Misawa goes to inform Kobashi, but Kawada knocks Misawa to the floor and Taue gives Kobashi a Nodowa Otoshi. Kawada hits a power bomb for two, and a second power bomb to show Kobashi that’s he’s still not in Kawada’s league. Awesome match, with the story being Kobashi wanting to be where Kawada is, but ultimately he just couldn’t step up. Conversely, Kawada couldn’t really handle Misawa that well either. ****
Kawada and Taue may have kept the belts, but their title reign would be ended by Stan Hansen and Ted DiBiase. But December rolled around and the titles were vacated for the Real World Tag League. The league match between Misawa/Kobashi and Kawada/Taue was scheduled for the final night of the tournament, and both teams were tied for first place with eleven points, whoever won the match, was taking home the gold. Kawada had a bad wheel going into the tournament though, and it had been viciously attacked all the way up to the match.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/KENTA KOBASHI vs TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE (12/03/93)
Taue unloads a couple of his bigger moves on Kobashi like the tossing backdrop and the Nodowa Otoshi, but tags really quick to Kawada who toys with Kobashi some more, and then Kobashi takes a kick at the knee of Kawada, Dangerous K obviously didn’t see it coming because his knee is in some pain, and he goes nuts slapping around Kobashi, but Kawada’s knee is obviously in big trouble. From his position on the apron Taue knows that Kawada is in trouble and attempts to thwart Kobashi’s tag, by knocking Misawa off the apron. Kobashi holds onto Taue and Misawa jumps back in and sends Taue reeling with an elbow smash. Misawa drops Kawada in the Tiger driver for two, and Kawada can finally tag and walk off the pain, Taue is able to hold his own against Misawa, avoiding the elbows and hitting the throat drop across the rope, Kobashi runs in and Taue is able to hold them both off. Kobashi is sent to the floor and Kawada and Taue try a running kick to Nodowa that doesn’t work and a backdrop to Nodowa that does work. Taue gets hit with two big elbows and then Kobashi gets in and hits a big lariat on Taue, then does the bodyslam and the guillotine leg drop, then comes off with the moonsault for two.
Taue is hurt and has no choice but to tag in Kawada, Kawada attempts to hit the Backdrop on Kobashi but his knee buckles u underneath him. Kawada tries to suck up the pain and do a second, but Kobashi blocks the backdrop and brings in Misawa. Kawada ducks a running elbow and hits a spin kick, which only hurts his knee more. Kawada puts on the Stretch Plum to wear down Misawa and protect his bad knee, but Kobashi fights off Taue and saves. Kawada tries to accomplish his goal of pinning Misawa by going for the High Angle Power Bomb, but his knee buckles again and Misawa falls on top. Kobashi tags in dropkicks Kawada in the knee and then puts on a half crab, and switches up to a Texas Cloverleaf. Kobashi sees his opening and does his bridging power bomb for two, and then the moonsault for two. Kawada tries to tag, but Kobashi knocks Taue off the apron. Misawa gets some payback for Kobashi by trying to use his lesser moves to put away Kawada, like the senton and frog splash. Kobashi goes for a power bomb and Kawada back drops him (which further aggravates his knee). Misawa hits a big German suplex, but knows that he’s already beaten Kawada when he’s not clutching at a hurt knee. So he tells Kobashi to take the glory. Kobashi hits a backdrop, while Misawa holds back Taue from breaking the pinfall, and Misawa and Kobashi take home the World Tag Team Titles. Kobashi finally got his pin, but it’s still very tainted because he didn’t earn it himself. Misawa did the work and just told Kobashi “Finish him off.” Unlike five years ago, when Kawada’s knee stopped him from saving Tenryu, this time his knee stopped him from tagging in Taue. The end result is still the same though. Thanks to a knee problem on Kawada, he’s lost the Real World Tag League. An excellent match and a must see ****½
Misawa and Kobashi were now tag champions, and Kobashi had gotten his pin over Kawada. Due to the circumstances surrounding the pin, Kobashi really wasn’t elevated up the food chain at all. In the Champions Carnival just three months later, Kawada defeated Kobashi to show him exactly where each of them stood. Misawa and Kobashi were the first challengers to Kawada and Taue back in June of 1993. The first challengers for Misawa and Kobashi are of course, Kawada and Taue.
The beginning shows that Kobashi’s win over Kawada back in December has given him some confidence. Kobashi avoids most of Kawada’s kicks and even takes him by surprise with a shoulder block. Kawada quickly tags Taue and he has as much luck as Kawada did, until he hits an enzuigiri and brings in Kawada who puts on the half crab, too early for submission though. Kobashi’s Irish whip lets Kawada cheap shot Misawa on the apron, and Kawada sends him a message about their match coming up on June 3. Kobashi is caught in a Stretch Plum and its Misawa to the rescue, Kobashi tags and Misawa takes three Kawada kicks and drops him with a single elbow. Misawa goes for the spinning head butt off the second rope and Kawada counters with a kick and Taue gets tagged. Taue with a Dynamic kick and an abdominal stretch, Kawada takes over on Misawa and hits Kobashi with a lariat to stop him from making the save.
The fun begins for Kawada, when he and Taue work over Kobashi’s knee. Five months ago Kawada had his leg destroyed and its time for some payback. They do all sorts of nasty things to it, including using the guardrail. Kobashi gets put in the tree of woe and Taue Dynamic kicks the knee. Kawada goes back to his Half crab and Misawa has to save, because now a submission is possible. Taue attempts a knee buster and Kobashi sucks it up and hits some chops and tries to tag, but Taue holds on and Kawada running kicks Misawa. Kobashi finally is able to tag and Misawa does the proverbial “house cleaning.” Kawada stuns Misawa with a kick to the face and then hits the Ganmengiri. Taue uses some bigger wear down moves like the snake eyes, and the face crusher, and Kawada locks on the Stretch Plum, and Kobashi gets to make the save for a change. Kawada and Misawa stand nose to nose and try to trade off shots only for Kawada to go down to the elbow. With Kawada down, Misawa brings in Kobashi. With the way Misawa is able to handle Kawada tonight, maybe Kobashi will get another pin.
Kawada and Kobashi trade off chops, and Kobashi cheap shots Kawada’s knee that he hurt in December and then hits a DDT. Kobashi goes up for the moonsault, he hits the moonsault but hurts his own knee. Both men are hurt and tag, Misawa has no trouble with Taue of course, but Kawada cuts off the Frog splash and Taue uses a superplex. Kawada and Taue do an Irish whip to Nodowa Otoshi, but Misawa counters the Nodowa. Kawada hits Misawa with a backdrop to set up Taue, and give Misawa a taste of his own medicine, but Kobashi’s knee isn’t hurt enough to prevent him from helping out. Kobashi gets in and hits a dropkick to Kawada’s knee, and hits a backdrop on Kawada, but this time it only gets two for him. Taue tries a Samoan drop but Misawa stops it, and then cheap shots Kawada off the apron and Kobashi hits a German suplex for two. Misawa hits a Tiger driver and Kobashi hits the moonsault for another two count. They’re really throwing out big moves here, its almost like no selling with all the viable killers getting used here. Kawada hits Kobashi with a backdrop for some revenge from December to set up Taue. Taue tries a Nodowa and Misawa makes the save, which lets Kobashi hit a neckbreaker drop. Misawa takes care of Kawada and Kobashi hits a powerbomb for two, and then hits the moonsault for three. Kobashi didn’t get the satisfaction of once again pinning Kawada, but he was able to win the match on his own.
A small measure of revenge for Kawada here, his team may have lost, but Kawada got to get some revenge on both Misawa and Kobashi. Kobashi showed that he doesn’t need to rely on Misawa to score wins. Kobashi may not be at Kawada’s level yet, but he’s getting there. The ending still leaves a bad taste in my mouth because they didn’t need to break out as many big moves as they did. ****
Misawa defeated Kawada on 6/3/94 in what many call the best match of all time. The match sealed Kawada’s fate at #2 and he still had zero wins over Misawa. Misawa and Kobashi held the titles for the rest of the year, and then vacated them for the Real World Tag League, which they won for the second year in a row. Misawa and Kobashi held Kawada and Taue to a one hour draw in January of 1995. However, something happened with Taue both Taue and Kobashi during that year. First off, Akira Taue had always been a sort of weak link because he just wasn’t as good as Kawada, however starting in 1995, Taue stepped up and had turned into a fantastic wrestler. He wasn’t as agile or graceful as the other three, so Taue compensated by being even more stiff and brutal than he already was. Kobashi on the other hand, began having more knee problems. After a severe beating from Kawada in the 1995 Champions Carnival, Kobashi’s leg was taped from the knee up to the hip, and a match with Johnny Ace made it that much worse. Also, Misawa suffered a broke orbital bone during the Champions Carnival. Kobashi and Misawa are both hurt, and now Taue as well as Kawada are both serious threats, if The Holy Demon Army ever had a chance, it’s on this night. June 9, 1995.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/KENTA KOBASHI © vs TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE (AJPW World Tag Team Titles 6/09/95)
Kenta Kobashi’s leg is all bandaged up and it may as well have a big target on it because Taue and Kawada tear it to shreds. Kawada fires off his kicks at it for some payback from December of ‘93, and Taue even puts on a Scorpion to wear it down. Taue attempts the knee buster and Kobashi blocks it, and this time wastes no time in making a tag. Misawa holds off Taue very well and sends him to the floor. Kawada tries to ambush, but he telegraphs and hesitates, so Misawa drops him with an elbow smash. Misawa unloads on Taue and Kawada sees Misawa coming and drops to avoid the payback cheap shot, but Misawa hits another one a minute later. Misawa puts on a crab and Kawada hits a kick to the orbital bone to break it up. Just like Kobashi’s leg, Kawada goes after Misawa’s eye. The shin kicks which are usually minor strikes are aimed right at the orbital bone, and then starts to use the knee smashes on the eye. It’s not just Kawada attacking an injured area to win the match. This is Kawada’s way of taking out more than two years of frustration. He hasn’t beaten Misawa in any way, Kawada and Taue can’t regain the belts, Misawa basically handed him to Kobashi on a silver plate. Every kick, knee, and elbow aimed for that eye is Kawada’s way of telling Misawa that its payback time.
Kobashi’s leg may be all taped up, but he’s got to save his partner, Misawa has generously stepped aside to give Kobashi lots of glory and now he has a chance to repay him. The problem though is that every time Kobashi tries to save, Kawada and Taue attack the leg. Taue is dropping Misawa with the Snake Eyes and then using Baba’s old coconut crusher, but if Kobashi so much as gets on the apron, then he gets kicked right off. Kawada with a big power bomb and puts on the Stretch Plum. Kobashi crawls in and sucks up the pain to lariat Taue and then break the hold. Taue keeps kicking at his bad leg, but Kobashi can’t afford to go down, Misawa always was there for him, so he needs to be there for Misawa. Misawa tags and Kobashi gets dropped by a Kawada kick to the leg, but he gets back up and fights back. Kobashi hits a lariat and then cheap shots Taue off the apron. Kobashi tries to do a power bomb, but he can’t lift him up, so Misawa assists and they do a double Tiger driver. Kobashi tries to go up the moonsault and Kawada cuts him off. Misawa gets back in and he can fend them both off no problem. Misawa catches Taue in a facelock and Kobashi prevents Kawada from making the save. Kawada gets free and saves Taue, then hits a backdrop on Misawa. Kobashi knows what’s on Kawada’s mind though, and knocks him off the apron.
Kawada tags in Kobashi ducks a lariat and hits a backdrop and goes up for the moonsault only Kawada isn’t nearly as worn down as Taue. Misawa once again attempts to hand him to Kobashi and drops a frog splash, and a senton, so Kobashi can hit the moonsault, but it still isn’t enough. Misawa gets in and hits a German suplex and then a Tiger suplex for two, when Taue breaks it up. Then hits a Nodowa Otoshi and a Nodowa Otoshi off the top. Taue knows that this is the win Kawada wants so he’ll do what he can to help it along. Kawada with a koppo kick and Misawa rolls to the apron and Taue goes for the Nodowa off the apron. First Kobashi tries to save, but Kawada stops him, then Misawa blocks, and Kawada stops that too. Misawa is helpless and Taue drops him, and Misawa is dead. He gets thrown back in and rolls back out. Kawada gets him in and tries for the High Angle Power bomb, only Kobashi prevents it. Kawada hits one, and Kobashi gave Misawa enough time to barely kick out. Kobashi tries to cover Misawa just to prevent any more damage. The Holy Demon Army hit the Backdrop/Nodowa and then Kawada hits a Ganmengiri on Misawa. Kawada hits a Dangerous backdrop for two, and then does the High Angle Power Bomb, and Kobashi is just inches away, but Misawa is helpless. The referee counts to three and Kawada and Taue reclaim there titles and Kawada gets the pin he wanted so badly.
They say it’s the best tag team match of all time for a very good reason. Kawada’s quest, and the playing off past matches. Even though Kawada and Taue were the heels, you almost can’t help but cheer for them. *****. Now although this rant ends here, the magic of the feud did not. Because this is the world of pro wrestling, where payoffs of long feuds are negated within weeks. So this is the end, for now.
I won’t even attempt to do a formal conclusion for this, quite simply put. This is AJPW at its best. Highest recommendation possible.
To read Mike Campbell's puroresu reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com