ALL JAPAN ANTHOLOGY #2
THE TAG FEUD OF 1996, review by Mike Campbell
Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive reaction to my first All Japan Anthology, regarding the feud and matches leading up to June 9, 1995. A sequel only seems like a fitting idea. It just so happens that after the classic 6/9/95 tag match, the story continues. I’ve reviewed some of these matches before, but everything in here is going to be fresh, no cut and paste. This chapter takes us to the year 1996, and the battles over the World Tag Titles, and will climax at the end of the year, with the finals of the Real World Tag League. The key players are three tag teams:
Mitsuharu Misawa/Jun Akiyama: The top star and young gun. Misawa is the undisputed top guy in the federation, while Akiyama only has three years under his belt. Misawa’s partnership with Kenta Kobashi was a big reason why Kobashi was able to be elevated as high as he was, Kobashi was eventually elevated to the point that he’s not a fit partner for Misawa anymore. In need of a new partner, Misawa chose Akiyama. Akiyama is developing at a very fast rate though. Akiyama’s peers like Masao Inoue, Jun Izumida, and his other tag partner Takao Omori (Akiyama and Omori are currently the All Asia Tag champions) are stuck jerking the curtain and teaming with over the hill wrestlers like Stan Hansen, Giant Baba, and Rusher Kimura. Akiyama is putting on excellent matches with other top wrestlers. Looking at history, when Misawa was three years in, he was stuck under a mask, and Kawada was stuck in Canada.
Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue: 1996 has made these two yin and yang. Taue is having a great year, while Kawada’s is sucking. Kawada had a horrible showing in the Champions Carnival, coming in sixth place, out of twelve wrestlers. Taue, on the other hand came in first place and won the tournament by defeating Steve Williams in the finals. Kawada beat Williams to win the 1994 tournament, and again to win his first Triple Crown. Even with Doc having a year off due to a run in with the law, Kawada couldn’t get by him. As a team, their title victory may have been an epic, but their reign was anything but. They were challenged four months later by Misawa and Kobashi, and were held to a draw, then Misawa and Kobashi defeated them to win the 1995 Real World Tag League to end the year on a bad note for the Holy Demon Army. 1996 didn’t start much better, as they lost the titles to Stan Hansen and Gary Albright, but were able to quickly reclaim the titles to save a little face.
Steve Williams/Johnny Ace: The top foreign team in the company, returning after a year long layoff, when Williams ran into some legal problems. Williams came back with a bang though, and shot right up into the finals of the Champions Carnival. During Williams’ time away, Johnny Ace floundered, going absolutely nowhere. Before Williams left last year, they came close to winning the AJPW World Tag Titles, and now with Williams back, they hope to pick up where they left off.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/JUN AKIYAMA vs. TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE (AJPW World Tag Titles 5/23/96)
Misawa is able to handle Akira Taue just fine, using his elbows, and connecting the Tiger suplex. But when Kawada makes a save and Misawa finds himself on the wrong end of a backdrop/nodowa, he’s in trouble. Kawada takes full advantage as well, using the soccer kicks, and hitting his power bomb for two. Misawa has enough left in the tank though, that he can reverse a second power bomb into a rana and hit an elbow, to make a tag. The tag is a big risky here, as Akiyama took a hell of a beating, and Misawa is known for his superhuman comebacks. Akiyama and Kawada trade a few suplex attempts, before Kawada’s frustration gets the better of him and he gets hurt on a ganmengiri. Akiyama takes advantage of the hurt leg, and finally scores his German suplex. Misawa sees the door open for a repeat of 12/3/93, Kawada's leg is hurt and it’s a chance for the young guy to get the pin. The favor Misawa did for Kobashi was a hand in helping elevate him, and make him what he is now. Misawa intercepts Taue’s run into save Kawada and disposes of him on the floor. Then Misawa drops Kawada with a German suplex, telling Akiyama “He’s yours, let’s get out of here.” Akiyama hits his Exploder, but Kawada gets right up. A second Exploder and Kawada has to hold the ropes to get up. The camera pans back and we see that Misawa is holding Taue. Taue remembers when this happened before, Taue knows that Tosh can’t take much more of this, and Misawa knows that Taue knows, so he’s holding him back. Akiyama hits a jumping knee and then a final Exploder to pick up the win. The year of hell continues for Kawada, as he just jobbed the tag titles to a three-year pro. Kawada has nobody to blame but himself though. He took the kid too lightly and it just cost the Holy Demon Army the World Tag Titles. Akiyama is on cloud nine. He started out great, but let his courage and fire get the better of him, lucky for him he had Misawa there, to keep an eye on him. ****1/4
One night after this, the Kawada/Taue yin and yang metaphor continued, when Taue defeated Misawa for the Triple Crown, attaining success without any help from his partner. Kawada got another singles win over Kenta Kobashi, but he'd already turned him back many times before. Taue was supposed to be Kawada’s #2, but now the supporting role, had surpassed the lead role. Misawa and Akiyama are the tag champions, a big step up for young Jun, and although he’s lost the Triple Crown, Misawa still has something going for him. However, now that they’re champions, they have a bullseye on their chest. Winning them was one thing, now they have to defend them, and waiting in the wings, was a tag team that felt they were robbed of the titles over a year ago, and are ready to pick up where they left off.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/JUN AKIYAMA © vs STEVE WILLIAMS/JOHNNY ACE (AJPW World Tag Titles 6/7/96)
Akiyama needs Misawa and is just riding along, he does pull his weight at various points. Akiyama is right there to save Misawa from both another Doctor Bomb and a Backdrop Driver. He then avoids Williams’ swings and remembers from last time, to not even try to do any swings of his own, so he uses dropkicks to send him back. Akiyama also holds off Ace just fine. Akiyama tries for the Exploder again and opens himself up to the Backdrop Driver. Once again, the camera pans out and we see Misawa is just getting up, so he’s missed Akiyama’s fighting off the challengers two on one, and he only sees Akiyama, flat on his back. So Misawa has to run in and break up the pin or they kiss the titles goodbye.
Once again, left two on one, because Akiyama is out cold, Misawa keeps on trekking. The challengers hit their Doomsday Device and Misawa is forced to roll outside. It dawns on Williams that Akiyama is the legal man though, so he gets rolled in and kicks out at 2 9/10. Once again trying to pull his weight instead of just having the champion save him, Akiyama attempts to fight back, but its still two on one and after getting drilled by the backdrop, there isn’t much left in the tank. Ace hits an Ace Crusher and a power bomb and Misawa drags himself into the ring to save the titles. Akiyama gets behind Williams and surprises everyone in the ring by hitting him with a German suplex and taking him out. Now it's Ace who’s left two on one. Without Misawa playing any sort of big role, Akiyama has just changed the whole complexion of the match. Which shows that there are certain situations where Akiyama can hold his own.
Ace gets double teamed with an elbow to an Akiyama German suplex, and then Misawa tries to simply set up Akiyama for the pin, only Williams grabs Jun’s leg and makes sure they don’t end the match that way. Misawa takes care of Williams and Akiyama finishes off Ace with the Exploder. It's funny because the only thing that will be recorded about the match will be the time and the fact that Akiyama pinned Ace. No mention of how Akiyama was in serious trouble for a good portion and Misawa had to keep bailing him out. Nothing about how the only reason that Ace got pinned was that Williams couldn’t help him. It only shows that on June 7, 1996 Jun Akiyama and Mitsuharu Misawa defeated Steve Williams and Johnny Ace, when Akiyama pinned Ace. It’s an interesting parallel that Ace and Akiyama have, neither is really trusted in tag action. Williams keeps having to save Ace and Misawa keeps having to save Akiyama. ****½
The champions probably looked at that match very differently. They agree that Akiyama got himself in trouble, needing Misawa’s help to survive and that Misawa had gift wrapped that win for Akiyama. However, Misawa looks at it as “I’m always saving the boy. It’s keeping me on my toes though." Akiyama looks at it as “Yeah, I’m getting in trouble and I’m probably way over my head. But I’m doing what I can, and I’m pulling my weight when I can.” They managed to survive that match, but now they have to deal with the former champions. Kawada, already angry over being pinned, and Taue, the new Triple Crown Champion.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/JUN AKIYAMA © vs TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE (AJPW World Tag Titles 7/9/96)
Akiyama gets tagged in, and once again tries to be the spunky kid like in their previous match, only this time Kawada and Taue have none of it, and try to make this a replay of the beginning of this match. Akiyama does his best to suck it up and survive. Misawa lets him too, and doesn’t make an appearance inside the ring, until Taue has Akiyama by the throat, while they’re standing on the ring apron. Kawada’s attempt to prevent the tag to Misawa is actually the perfect set up to the tag. Kawada hurts his foot on a ganmengiri, just like he did when they lost the titles in the first place. Had Kawada not been in such a hurry to stop the tag, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, and thus, the tag wouldn’t have been made. The final stretch to this match is good, but nothing to get too excited over. Misawa has a total of one loss to Taue, and one loss to Kawada, while he’s beaten the both of them many times. No matter what Misawa has to take, it’s always possible he'll overcome it, and get the win. Akiyama, once again shows Kawada that he may be taking him too lightly, as the Exploder keeps him at bay, just like it put him away before. Misawa drops the Tiger suplex for the win, and the crowd pops, but it's more for Misawa avenging his Triple Crown loss, than it is for Misawa and Akiyama keeping the gold. It was a fun match, with some good stuff; it just never clicked like the last one did. ***3/4
In a shining example of what was wrong with All Japan during the mid 1990's, Misawa and Akiyama were running dry of teams to defend against. You had the former champions, and the top foreign team, and that was really it. Stan Hansen, who would have made a credible challenger, was off teaming with Takao Omori, who wasn’t even in Akiyama’s league. Kenta Kobashi was the Triple Crown champion, and had no need for the tag titles. So what does All Japan do? Book the champions to defend against the top gaijin team again.
MITSUHARU MISAWA/JUN AKIYAMA © vs STEVE WILLIAMS/JOHNNY ACE (AJPW World Tag Titles 9/5/96)
The second occurrence of the backdrop driver, is the first hit of the hammer, to pound the nail into the coffin. Misawa learned from his mistake before and just sticks to regular elbows, leaving Williams to surprise him by charging right in with the backdrop. Akiyama is on his own once again, and just for some payback from last time, Williams does the Oklahoma Stampede to set up the pin by Ace, but it’s not successful. The second hammer hit, is the Doomsday Device on Misawa, because he goes down and hurts his knee, like Williams hurt his knee trying to save Ace back in March of 1995, and the title stayed with the champions. The final hit of the hammer comes in the form of Williams simply blocking Misawa’s path. Akiyama is thoroughly worn down and beaten, and it’s only a matter of time before Ace finds the right stuff to use. Ace initially tries for the Doctor Bomb, since it works so well for his partner. He finally decides to not try to be Terry Gordy, or Steve Williams lite, just be Johnny Ace, and do what works for him. Ace drops his Cobra Clutch suplex, and avenges his pin from June. It’s not quite the classic that they had three months earlier, but it was still very good, even with the clip. ****
The end of the year is coming close and in All Japan that only means one thing. The Real World Tag League. The titles are not up for grabs, for the second year in a row, which had been a long tradition of the tournament. It’s just the tag teams of All Japan battling for supremacy. Naturally, the three teams that AJPW had built the summer around are part of the tournament. You’ve got Kawada and Taue, who’ve never won the tag league before, coming in 2nd place in 1993 and 1995. Misawa and Akiyama. Akiyama is trying to keep going up the All Japan ladder, and Misawa is going for five Tag League victories in a row. Even though he’s got no titles, he’s still the top guy in the promotion, and winning with a partner like Akiyama will only make him look better. The World Tag Team Champions are shooting for their nice form to carry over and win them the tag league.
STEVE WILLIAMS/JOHNNY ACE vs TOSHIAKI KAWADA/AKIRA TAUE (11/22/96)
Despite being the World Tag Team Champions, Williams and Ace weren’t able to make it to the finals; they finished in 4th place with a respectable score of sixteen. The finals came down the two expected teams to go all the way, and there are no titles at stake this time. It’s about pride, revenge, honor, ascension, solidification, and being the best. Misawa and Akiyama have the big psychological advantage. During the league portion, they went to a draw with Ace and Williams, but were able to defeat them in a later match. Kawada and Taue got a win over Misawa and Akiyama, when Kawada pinned Akiyama, avenging his humiliating loss in May, but then suffered a defeat later on when Misawa pinned Kawada, a reminder that despite the great pin on 6/9/95, Misawa is still above Kawada. Kawada has only conquered the Real World Tag League once before. In 1992, and he had to share the glory with the man he hates the most, Mitsuharu Misawa. Misawa has been part of the winning team every year since 1992.
The outcome of this match is foreseen with the fact that Akiyama can have Taue and Kawada selling and bumping all over for him, much like in May. Akiyama, the underneath guy, is having the two bad ass heels bouncing all over for him. Akiyama is able to level Taue, with snake eyes, one of Taue’s own moves. Then connects an exploder, Kawada tries to save, and he eats a twisting lariat, and Akiyama hits Taue with one too. Misawa, the top dog in the federation, isn’t extended the same courtesy. He gets himself mauled when he’s in the ring. Six months previously, it was Misawa who was handing Akiyama pinfall wins on a silver platter. Now Akiyama is holding his own, and Misawa can’t even keep up with him. Being Misawa though, he can eventually make the comeback, and with Kawada in such a slump, it's no surprise that’s who he does it against. Misawa scores his first near fall with the Tiger driver, which had beaten Kawada in the league match previously. When that isn’t successful, Misawa breaks out the mother of all German suplexes, and follows that up with Misawa and Akiyama doing their double German suplex routine. Kawada is all but dead. He’s limp, glassily eyed and literally falls onto the floor. Misawa has to bring him in and Kawada barely gets a shoulder up to stop the pin on the second Tiger driver.
Taue has sat back and watched enough though. In 1996 he was a tag team champion, Triple Crown champion, and he won the big Champions Carnival. The win here will solidify 1996 as “The Year of Taue.” But not if Kawada is going to get killed by Misawa for the forty-seventh time, Taue steps in and saves Kawada, and Akiyama gets right in to help his partner, and then Taue changes the complexion of the whole match. Taue brings out his ultimate killer, the Nodowa Otoshi: Murder, Death, Kill. The NOMDK claims another victim in Jun Akiyama. Misawa does what he’s always done, and just keeps on trekking along, he escapes the Dynamic Bomb, and decides to let Akiyama keep pushing his luck, with the good form he’s had so far. Misawa looks in the corner, but Jun isn’t there. Misawa looks around and sees the kid is KO on the floor. After all the times that Misawa has risked his hide to save Akiyama. Misawa needs him the most right now. The key word in that sentence is that Misawa *NEEDS* him right now and he’s not there. The NOMDK is also effective for being the sign that Taue has saved the day for the Holy Demon Army. Kawada was striking out, and Taue just stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam. Afterwards, when it would be apparent that Misawa was done and all Kawada needed to do was cover, he still can’t handle Misawa very well, getting into trouble from the elbows. Only after Taue assists with a kick, can Kawada connect the Dangerous Backdrop. Taue goes for a second grand slam when he tries spiking Misawa with NOMDK, but Taue has trouble executing the move. The camera pans back to show us that a barely conscious Jun Akiyama is holding Taue's leg. Akiyama also saves Misawa from a Taue nodowa and sacrifices himself to a Backdrop/Nodowa combination. Kawada seals his fate with a ganmengiri, and the uses the Dangerous backdrop just for good measure. Unlike previous matches, they didn’t take out Akiyama and say “Misawa can’t help you now.” This time around its “You can’t help Misawa now.”
A conclusion isn’t even needed, as the body of great matches, speak for themselves. The tag league final on its own is a great match, the psychology and such only adds to an already great match, making it an all time classic.
To read Mike Campbell's puroresu reviews, visit his site at http://splashmountain.150m.com