Toshiaki Kawada vs. Kenta Kobashi on 1/19/95
review by Luke M.

Date: January 19th, 1995
Location: Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (New Year Giant Series)

The Match

At the bell, a massive staredown ensues, heavy and menacing from both champion and challenger. The spectator can almost see the electricity of the battle auras dancing between the two, as though any moment an explosion of cosmic proportion would result solely from one's focus upon the other. At last, some fifty seconds in, first contact is made: a collar-elbow tie up. Kawada manages to win the leverage, pushing his opponent against the ropes. He allows a clean break, but cautiously. Kobashi returns the caution, clearly expecting a strike. But none comes, and shortly the collar-elbow jockeying resumes in the center of the ring.

Kawada once again shows his strength, forcing the challenger back near the ropes. But with a mighty groan and herculean effort, Kobashi turns the tables and forces the champion around. Another clean but cautious, slow break from Kobashi despite his current hold of high ground. Kawada, more impetuous, shoves his opponent away, then repeats, rudely forcing Kobashi to the center of the ring. Kobashi shoves back but replies more forcefully with a steely glare.

Kawada arrogantly shrugs off the glare by turning his back and walking away. A perculation of anger appears in Kobashi, but his response is sportsmanlike: circle his man and seek another contact. He receives it.

A third collar-elbow tie up now results in a headlock from the smaller champion. The challenger grinds forward toward the boundary, adding elbow shots to the kidneys, prefacing a shove into the ropes. Kawada springs from them and hits the opposite side. Kobashi plants for a shoulder tackle and receives one, but the result is not what he had hoped for. Kawada draws first blood in the preliminary skirmish, his orange-clad challenger hitting the mat.

As though shocked at the result of the shoulder tackle, Kobashi slowly regains his vertical base, an objective the rope-springing Kawada takes no issue with as his yellow boot strikes the side of the challenger's head, a solid but non-toppling blow. Thirsty, he returns to the well, but Kobashi catches the leg on this second attempt, countering with a hard rolling back chop to the side of Kawada's neck, then concluding the return engagement with a hard right armed lariat off the ropes.

Perhaps in reply to the earlier disrespect, Kobashi brings the champion to his feet by the hair. He whips him into the ropes, presently springing from the opposite boundary. Both men running, Kobashi launches a diving shoulder tackle, but Kawada sees it coming and sidesteps, shoving the challenger inelegantly to the mat. Kobashi regains his feet quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid a running boot to the head- this one, too, not being enough to fell the larger man, thus requiring a second strike.

Once again, two is too many, and Kobashi replies with a side kick, striking Kawada in the chin. The champion reeling slightly, Kobashi fires one of his famous chops to the chest, perhaps demanding Kawada open up and engage him on equal footing, but the arrogant champion replies with a roar and a flex of his pectorals, followed by an almost bored stare.

Kobashi glares as the stalking resumes. A loud chant for Kobashi rises from the crowd which clearly irritates the champion, who disengages from the slow dance to stall, annoyed, in the neutral corner. Referee Wada gives him a largely ignored warning, but eventually Kawada returns his attention to the challenger he seems to think so little of.

In the center of the ring, a mutual knucklelock is ponderously applied. After much exertion, the might of Kobashi prevails, Kawada forced by the wrists to one knee. Referee Wada asks for a statement of surrender at 5'30", which Kawada replies to with a hard low kick to Kobashi's braced right knee, instantly breaking the hold. In an image of potentially prophetic irony, Kawada rolls to the blue corner to recover some feeling in his wrists, while Kobashi, feeling the advantage is currently his, withdraws to the red, standing tall.

Upon meeting once again in the center of the ring, Kobashi raises his left arm, seeking another knucklelock. Kawada suggests an offer, even making hand to hand contact, but its a feint, and he quickly shoots in on Kobashi's right leg. Despite his preference for standing impact, Kobashi is not lacking in ground knowledge, and parries the shoot, following quickly with an amateur-style back switch. Thus on his hands and knees, the champion is made to suffer a chinlock from the rear. He drops closer to the mat, plotting strategy. Unwilling to wait for the champion to dictate the match, Kobashi spins from the chinlock to a front chancery, but Kawada, wily on the ground when required, ducks and escapes under the locking arm, reversing the chancery elegantly into a Fujiwara armbar- but only for a split second as the challenger rolls forward, relieving the pressure on his arm and also requiring a full break, as his legs come in contact with the bottom rope. 6'12" in, Kawada gives a fully clean break and both men return to their feet unimpeded, applauded by the crowd for their efforts.

They resume the slow dance, meeting once again with a cautious knucklelock attempt. This time, Kobashi immediately and successfully applies a rear waist lock. Before any suplex or takedown can even be pondered, however, Kawada puts his weight forward and- after some seconds- is able to muscle free from the hold. The warriors glare once again.

Kobashi attempts the same maneuver on the successive contact. Kawada this time counters and breaks the grip with a drop toe hold- sending the challenger stomach-first to the mat- and quickly transitioning into a full body ride. Thus exerted, he proceeds to shove Kobashi's face into the mat via forearms to the back of the head, repeating such shoving motions with both arms in a show of as much disrespect as offense.

Now grasping the challenger's arms, Kawada smoothly pulls his man into a sitting position, and- with a knee pointedly against the spine- yanks the arms backwards into a submission. The "bow and arrow"- a technique with little escape recourse- thus applied, Kobashi screams- not in pain, but in might and in effort as he flexes his large shoulders in an attempt to break the hold. Kawada holds firm, pulling the bowstring back any time its taughtness slacks. Perhaps in an error of judgment, Kawada presently stands, placing his foot to the back and extending his leg full, feeling greater torque can thus be applied. In reality, though, standing allowed Kobashi a measure of influence and more importantly to regain his vertical base, from which greater force can be applied to breaking the hold. Thus outsmarting himself, Kawada settles to holding his challenger's arms as he had, but whilst standing behind, the strength of his own arms supplying the submissive force in its entirety.

Having gained this measure of advantage, or at least affecting the match more towards the direction of stalemate, Kobashi fully exerts his strength, seeking to reverse the hold in full. Kawada replies with strength of his own, and also a headbutt between the shoulder blades, but it is his own force which Kobashi exploits for leverage, in doing so twisting the champion's arms behind, a bow and arrow of his own now applied, the reversal a success.

This excruciating dance continuing, Kawada seeks a rope break, but does not receive one as the challenger gracelessly pulls him backwards. Requiring a different strategy, then, Kawada attempts to reverse the hold as Kobashi had done to him, eventually doing just that- but for the sake not of submission, but brutality, as he releases the hold and opens the first true salvo of the battle an even ten minutes in with a German suplex.

Both men down, Wada checks first on Kobashi (who had crawled to the ropes nearest the blue corner and was presently struggling to his feet), then Kawada, the former obviously the worse for ware and quite stunned. The latter, predictably to his feet and bearings first, lashes out with a left kick to his dazed opponent's knee. In obvious pain from this egregious yet undeniably intelligent strike, Kobashi immediately rolls out of the ring, seeking some measure of solace. He receives none.

Kawada pursues the hobbled challenger, zeroing in on the injured knee. Wrapping it around the metal guardrail dividing the crowd from the ring area, he stomps it hard, then returns to the ring, perhaps feeling a ring out victory not beneath him. But Kobashi returns to the ring very quickly after the attack, just as quickly suffering renewed assault as Kawada grabs the leg immediately and, while holding the ankle, stomps down hard on the leg, driving the knee into the mat. The second identical attack goes unanswered, as does the third. Kawada then grabs the leg in full, seeking a knee lock, but now Kobashi retaliates, blocking the attempted lock as best he can, then firing chops to the champion's neck. Kawada goes down, but not for long, almost immediately kicking again at the knee and resuming his previous operation.

With Kobashi now prone on his stomach, Kawada, gripping the leg, grinds his knee down hard on the challenger's injury, eliciting groans of pain and a desperate scramble to the ropes. Kawada breaks just long enough to grab the leg once more and resume the siege. He hooks the waist and the ankle, seeking a kneebreaker, but Kobashi launches a counter-offensive with elbows to the back of the champion's head, breaking the hold; a rolling solebutt kick to the midsection, crumpling him over; then, finally, slashing him down with a guillotine drop, aided by velocity from the spring of the ropes. The guillotine was a gamble: Kobashi had used the injured leg. His only hope would be that the damage inflicted to Kawada would be greater than the damage inflicted to himself. It was.

Though clutching the injury while in great pain, Kobashi is nonetheless the first to his feet. Meeting Kawada at the ropes, where the champion had been trying to pull himself to his feet, the challenger strikes hard with overhand chops to the back of the neck and head, sprawling Kawada across the middle rope, head and shoulders out of the ring. Unrelenting, caring little for his own health, Kobashi takes to the apron and hit a second, mightier guillotine, this one assisted by the ropes and greater downward force. Now outside the ring, Kobashi forcibly encourages his opponent to join him there, continuing the assault with an immediate whip into the guardrail followed by the third in this series of increasingly more violent guillotine drops, crushing Kawada across the rail. To a smattering of applause, Kobashi rolls the champion into the ring and covers him- not hooking a leg and likely not even believing victory possible at this juncture of the match. Indeed, Kawada kicks out before Wada's hand touched the mat for "two". The momentum currently going his way, Kobashi stays on his opponent with a chinlock, though this is quickly stymied with upward ranging knee strikes. Angrily, Kobashi replies with a sharp kick to the fallen champion's spine.

Visibly limping, Kobashi yanks his opponent to his feet by the ears, then body slams him back down. In spite of his knee once again, Kobashi follows up with a running guillotine drop sprung off the ropes. Another cover attempt prefaces another rear chinlock at 15'15". Though torquing Kawada's neck backwards against his knee, the challenger does not receive a submission, and indeed allows a rope escape while attempting to transition to a dragon sleeper. Kobashi breaks clean but lays in with stomps and- after picking the champion off the mat- a face first check into the neutral corner turnbuckle, followed by a hard chop to the back of the neck. Thus dropping to the mat, Kobashi attempts another pin, this time hooking the leg, but they're too close to the ropes, and the pin is broken up at two.

Kobashi once again drags his opponent up, then snap-mares him over and engages a figure-four leg sleeper, adding insult to injury with hair pulling. Kawada, far from depleted despite reeling, rolls to the ropes. Kobashi breaks the hold but once more connects with a kick to the spine. While trying to pull Kawada to his feet, the champion lashes out with a hard chop, but in doing so drops to a knee. Kobashi, fired up, hits the ropes and connects with a running boot to the side of his man's head. Kawada goes down near the ropes, dazed.

The challenger stalks over to the fallen champion, but when he tries to pull Kawada back to his feet, the champion- from his back- punts upwards, connecting with Kobashi's head. Undaunted, Kobashi replies with a hard stomp to the back, then accomplishes his original objective; Kawada now up, Kobashi latches on a hard rear chancery headlock, clearly designed as a blood choke and hopeful submission or stop victory. Kawada attempts to lesson the pressure with weak crossfaces followed by a sling into the ropes, but Kobashi will have none of it. Squeezing the hold tighter, he refuses to bounce off the ropes, instead dragging the champion in a circular path around the center of the ring, eventually bringing him to his knees. After agonizing seconds, Kawada struggles to his feet and looks for a waistlock and perhaps a backdrop suplex, but Kobashi's too strong and his base too wide. Fortunately, the ropes are within reach and the champion is able to get the break.

Unfortunately, where the side choke ends so begins the Kobashi specialty. Four hard chops prelude a whip into the ropes and a successful diving shoulder tackle. Having been assaulting the neck of his opponent all match, the challenger pulls the champion to a sitting position and continues the assault with a fierce sleeper. Kawada struggles to his feet and shoves backwards, attempting to break the hold via collision with the neutral corner, but this strategy proves momentarily foolhardy, as not only does Kobashi not loosen the iron vise of a hold, his base is now wider and the pressure now from directly above. Fortunately for Kawada, it seems the shock of impact did, after all, rattle the challenger, as the hold is shattered with a second such impact.

Kawada at first cannot retaliate, having slumped over the ropes, nor can Kobashi redouble his attack, remaining in the corner which had neutralized his submission attempt. Both men straggle, stunned. But Kawada is first back to his senses, launching a barrage of chops and elbow strikes- some lessened in effectiveness due to his neck being attacked. Pressing on, though, he attempts a whip to the opposite corner. Kobashi reverses it and sends the champion in back first, following with a jumping knee, which is presently repulsed with a slight sidestep and forward shove, sending the challenger back first to the mat. Kawada strikes, sending Kobashi head first into the neural corner, then the blue corner, then in the center of the ring seeks a brainbuster- but his opponent will not give in to it. Indeed, Kobashi's greater strength prevails once again, and he plants Kawada in the mat with a brainbuster of his own- a slow, deliberate suplex which he allowed Kawada to meditate upon for a second or two before falling back to complete the technique. Kobashi covers- another skirmishing move designed to maintain control in the match more than attempt a victory- and indeed, does not receive one as Kawada kicks out at one.

The strategic pin accomplished its purpose, however, as the scales remained tipped in the challenger's favor. Picking the fallen champion up by his hair, Kobashi locks in a reverse double chickenwing, seeking a Tiger suplex. Knowing such a maneuver would be for more than strategy, Kawada quickly and almost blindly rushes for the ropes and the hold is broken.

Kobashi stays on the champion with hard signature chops against the ropes, then whips his opponent into the opposite side of them and slashes another chop. Kawada stops running upon the strike, flexing and roaring. He turns to his challenger and glares, telling him with the eyes that this ring belongs to Kawada Toshiaki. Another chop, and another show of battle aura. The challenger slams him into the red corner for no effect. Then the blue, also for no effect, each attack replied to with glares and attitude. In the blue corner, Kobashi attempts another whip, but Kawada hooks the rope with his arm and in so blocking, strikes with a high straight kick followed by a precision dropkick, both to the challenger's face.

The tide having turned, Kawada returns to his feet and pulls his opponent up by the hair, laying into the swooned challenger with hard chops of his own, backing him into the ropes. But Kobashi is far from done. When Kawada plays tit-for-tat with a whip and a chop, Kobashi reacts as the champion had, with a flex and a battle cry, demanding another chop. He receives one, and, it having no effect other than to fire him up, desires another! Kawada has no interest in playing such games, figuring Kobashi would win an exchange of chops (and likely also having no desire to placate the annoying challenger), so he provides another chop- but as a nerve strike to the neck! His battle aura shattered, Kobashi crumples to the mat, clutching his neck Kawada gracelessly stomps the fallen challenger, then drapes him throat first across the lowest rope. There, the champion uses his boot to choke the fallen man, then, using the top rope for leverage, crashes down with a double foot stomp to the upper back. Though glancing, it was enough to force a retreat, and Kobashi rolls out of the ring as the match enters its 23rd minute.

Kawada follows and hits a bodyslam on the floor mat, punctuating with a double stomp from the apron to Kobashi's chest. Rolling the challenger back into the ring, Kawada continues his assault with another bodyslam and another double stomp- this one from the second rope of the neutral corner. Kobashi reels and clutches his chest, winded. The champion darts in and hooks the leg for a pin, but the challenger kicks out at two. Kawada immediately attempts a crossface but Kobashi reaches the ropes before the technique can be fully applied. The champion breaks the hold, but angrily fires a kick to the spine, following with a bodyslam and an additional spine kick. Kawada continues the attack with a sleeper hold, and, when Kobashi reaches the ropes, does not break, rather pulling backwards and cinching in in full a rear naked choke.

The seconds tick by, Kobashi draining. But through incredible resolve, the challenger is able to roll sideways to reach the ropes. Kawada breaks the hold and unleashes another kick to the back. Pulling his man up, Kawada locks in an inverted stomach lock. Kobashi drops to a knee in defense, only to receive a snap kick to the forehead and a reengaged lock. Sufficiently dazed, Kobashi this time has no defense, and Kawada heaves him up and throws him down with an abrasive-looking powerbomb. Clearly depleted, Kobashi rolls to the ropes before Kawada even follows up on the maneuver, trying to block a pinning attempt before it happens.

Alas, such maneuvering does the challenger no good, as Kawada soon pulls the limp man to his feet, then drops him head first back down with a backdrop suplex! Kobashi once again rolls to the ropes, and Kawada once again stalks him, laying in more snap kicks as precursor to a second powerbomb attempt. Though depleted, Kobashi has excellent ring sense, and presses against his attacker, forcing them closer to the ropes, then managing to turn, placing himself between the ropes and Kawada, thus diminishing the chances of a powerbomb being accomplished. Thus situated, Kobashi exerts demidivine strength to bring Kawada up and back-drop him over the ropes to the floor! Where he got the energy is irrelevant, as it is spent, and Kobashi drops to the mat. Referee Wada does not implement the 20-count on Kawada, instead checking to see if Kobashi can continue.

Whether he can or not is soon a moot point, as Kawada returns to his feet and pulls the challenger out of the ring, presently whipping him into the guardrail. Kobashi takes the impact for a split second, then- mysterious energy returning- darts from the rail as though springing off ropes and barrels the champion over with a shoulder tackle! Kawada escapes into the ring, and once again Wada does not initiate the 20-count, allowing Kobashi the opportunity to recover and enter the ring.

Slowly, the challenger climbs shakily to his feet on the apron. Kawada meets him with an elbow smash and a running lariat! The challenger hits the apron and tumbles back to the floor. Kawada withdraws to the red corner to catch his breath, but when Kobashi at last climbs back to the apron, the champion hits the opposite ropes and rushes in with a lariat. Kobashi blocks and replies with a right cross to the champion's head! Seeing his opponent reeling, Kobashi draws unbelievable resolve from dimensions unknown and climbs to the top rope of the blue corner, launching forth with a diving shoulder tackle. But the champion has reached his feet, and snaps a kick to Kobashi's midsection while the challenger is in mid-air! Both men go down, Kobashi shocked and barely conscious, Kawada clutching his left knee in pain- the strike to the flying challenger taking more of a toll than anticipated.

Still, Kawada is first to his feet. He stalks to the fallen Kyotoan and pulls him up by the hair, but Kobashi shoves him off and connects with a dropkick directly to the injured knee! Once again, both men are down, stalemated, their offense against each other perhaps too brutal to even allow for pinning attempts.

The champion now maimed, Kobashi is first to his feet. With his right foot- just as Kawada had done to him early in the match- he drives his opponent's damaged knee down hard to the mat once, then a second time. Kobashi doesn't relent on the knee, twisting his man's legs into a figure four. Kawada struggles, trying to prevent Kobashi's leg from coming all the way down to complete the lock, but the pain is too great, and Kobashi succeeds. The champion attempts and succeeds to roll sideways and over to his stomach, reversing the pressure towards Kobashi's less than intact knee, but the success is fleeting as the stronger man forces the hold back over to its starting point. Furthermore, Kobashi pulls backwards, keeping Kawada from the ropes and adding additional grind to the champion's knee. But Kawada replies, and a tug-of-war ensues. Eventually, the champion scoots backwards to the ropes, and Kobashi is forced to break the hold at 32'38".

The scales once more tipped in the challenger's favor, he pulls his opponent up and throws him head first between the top and middle ropes and out of the ring, following him out in almost the same motion. There, Kobashi hits practically at will a brutal kneebreaker through a table just beyond the guardrail, causing some dissent towards him in the crowd. The applaud, however, when Kobashi follows the crude action by pulling the champion to his feet and rolling him back into the ring. For there, and only there, is where royal road of All Japan Pro-Wrestling matches begin and end.

In the center of this ring, Kobashi grips a standing knee lock, quickly adding insult to it as he steps hard on Kawada's head while torquing the knee. Despite this, Kawada's right leg is free, and uses it to strike wildly at Kobashi, hitting his oppressor's shoulder twice and head once- sufficient efforts to break the hold, but not return to his vertical base. Taking advantage of this, Kobashi pulls his opponent's leg upwards and irefully fires both straight and overhand chops directly at the knee. The fourth time is not a charm, however, and Kawada kicks the challenger away with his free leg, sending him back against the ropes. Kobashi lightly springs from them and stomps the champion's knee, the leans in and arranges the legs for a Texas cloverleaf. Kawada rudely attempts to prevent the hold with slaps and hair pulling. Angered, Kobashi responds with a flurry of slaps of his own, with both hands, then grabs the legs again and forces the petulant champion over, the cloverleaf applied but fleetingly as Kawada reaches the ropes. Annoyed, Kobashi pulls him back and reapplies the hold in the center of the ring. With equal parts strength of upper body and strength of will, Kawada manages to push himself up and reach the ropes once again, the hold having been locked for but a few seconds in total.

The champion still down, Kobashi stays on him, pulling and kicking the injured leg. Kawada attempts to get to his feet, but Kobashi wrenches the leg violently, twisting the entire leg below the knee to his right. In a seated position, the assaulted man once more goes for the hair. Finally reaching a precarious vertical base, Kawada slashes an enzigieri! The strike doesn't bring Kobashi down, nor does the following dropkick to the knee. The action pauses as both men remain on their feet, though maimed with knee injuries.

Kawada fires a kick to the knee. Kobashi roars in pain, but returns tit-for-tat. Kawada wails and hits the mat, clutching his knee, while Kobashi drops to his own. Both men return to their feet simultaneously, though Kawada gets the advantage and hits a bodyslam. Kobashi now in a seated position, the champion unleashes a flurry of alternating chops to the chest and kicks to the spine, followed at last by a pinning attempt- but the challenger kicks out at two, the match reaching 37 minutes!

Kawada pulls his man up by the arm, then, still gripping, chops him down to the mat, only to yank him back up. After repeating this some four-odd times, Dangerous K hooks the leg and goes for another pin, but Kobashi kicks out once again- a mere 28 seconds after the previous attempt at victory.

First two his feet, Kawada hooks another inverted stomach lock, wanting a powerbomb. Power there is, but from Kobashi, as he lefts his opponent up and back-drops him over his head, nullifying any powerbomb hopes. Kawada, quickly to his feet, makes a second attempt and gets stymied a second time. Fed up, he fires two kicks to the challenger's face, backing him into the neutral corner. But, in seeking an enzigieri from the second rope, receives instead a punch to the jaw! He rushes back in with a hard high kick, but it has no effect until after Kobashi slams the champion down with a huge lariat!

Slowly, both men rise to their feet. Kobashi is the first to re-establish contact, grabbing Kawada's arm and firing a series of chops to his neck! The challenger then follows this by chopping the champion down and pulling him back up- just as Kawada had done minutes earlier. Unlike Kawada, though, Kobashi manages a solid powerbomb, the champion going down hard. But the challenger cannot attempt a pin right away, and when he does, eventually, he is met with a kick to the head from the mat. Exhausted, Kawada cannot follow up, the kick serving merely to keep the challenger away from him. Both men struggle to return to their feet, Kobashi up first, Kawada sprawled across the ropes.

Limping, Kobashi engages his opponent with chops against the ropes. He whips Kawada towards the opposite boundary, but the champion does not even reach it, falling flat on his face from exhaustion and battery. Now a full 40 minutes into the match, Kobashi slowly- almost subconsciously- limps over and makes a cover, but somehow, Kawada kicks out! Kobashi, himself down, hooks his near-unconscious opponent's arm around his shoulders, pulling the limp body to its feet as Kobashi himself regains his base- but not for long, as he drives the champion back down with a backdrop suplex!

Kawada pulls himself up on the ropes. Before fully finding his feet, however, Kobashi has him and seeks a second backdrop- one that will likely end Kawada's reign as Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion. Knowing this, the current champion desperately unleashes downward elbow strikes to the back of the current challenger's head, followed by a rolling backward chop! Kobashi staggers, but hits a hard dropkick, sending Kawada back down to the mat! He cannot follow up the big move, though, and finds himself crawling to the ropes.

Kobashi pulls himself up, finding his feet. He waits for Kawada to do the same, and charges with a hopefully game-breaking lariat, but Kawada ducks it! Stopping his forward momentum, Kobashi twirls around after the missed lariat and hits a bulldog drop, followed by a guillotine drop off the ropes, then another! Unrelenting, Kobashi bodyslams the champion in front of the neutral corner, and- 42 minutes in- signals for the moonsault! But alas, Kawada rolls as far as he can out of its range. Seeing this, Kobashi ceases his climb up top and charges his opponent with a big boot, two DDTs, and another bodyslam, now seeking the moonsault in the opposite corner. He goes up top and launches, but crashes hard as Kawada rolls forward out of the way and out of the ring, but only for a moment. Returning, he engages his challenger.

Both men barely keeping a vertical base, they exchange chops. Kobashi finally gets the advantage with a side kick, knocking his opponent into the neutral corner, where he unloads a burst of machine-gun chops! Kawada replies by roaring- hiding any damage he may have taken- and connecting with two chops, one to the chest, one to the neck, sending the challenger down to his back.

The battle now having eclipsed 44 minutes, Kawada hits the ropes for a running lariat, but Kobashi blocks and hits a right hook! Kawada replies with an enzigieri and both men go down! The champion is first to his feet. He pulls the challenger up by the hair, only to bring him back down with a second enzigieri Demanding his first defense since the brutal war against Steve Williams in which he won the three belts- less than two months prior- Kawada hooks the leg and goes for the win. But Kobashi refuses to lose, even 45 minutes in! The crowd begins loudly chanting his name, but he draws nothing from it, as Kawada cinches in and hits a hard powerbomb, leaning forward in a pin directly from its impact... but again only for two!

Kawada kicks the prone challenger twice in the head, then hefts him up and drops him with a backdrop suplex. Near the ropes, Kawada hooks both the arm and the leg nearest them and goes for the win at 46'19" but Kobashi kicks out again! Kawada shows visible frustration as he tries pulling his opponent back up. Eventually, he gets him up and- running out of tricks- attempts to lock in the Stretch Plum, but Kobashi blocks it and goes back to his roots, flinging the champion over his shoulder with a judo throw. Kawada comes back with a low kick to the left leg, and this time gets the Plum stretched in! Wrenching savagely back and forth, Kawada feels his challenger go limp and lets him drop to the mat, looking for a pinfall... but Kobashi rolls his shoulder at 47'35"!! Frustrated, Kawada goes back to the Stretch Plum, wrenching his opponent still again, and again- at 48'19"- going for a pinfall victory from the submission. But to no avail!!

Kobashi, prone on his stomach, now seems out of the match, able to only, perhaps, kick out of pinfalls, as he's demonstrated. Kawada returns to his feet, his frustration giving him constitution. He pulls the challenger to his shaky vertical base and launches an enzigieri Kobashi blocks! Kawada connects with an elbow smash and a low kick- the challenger staggers but does not topple. The champion then launches another enzigieri Kobashi ducks, hits the ropes, and connects with an improbable diving elbow smash! He goes down with his opponent, and cannot make a cover.

Likely not realizing fifty minutes have elapsed, Kobashi is first to his feet. He pulls the champion to his feet and kicks him in the head twice, then locks a full nelson, attempting a dragon suplex. Kawada struggles against it, Kobashi impatiently replying with an enzigieri, followed by a side waistlock in hopes of a backdrop suplex. Kawada blocks with a headlock, followed by elbow strikes to break the hold, then moves to engage the Stretch Plum, but Kobashi reverses it into the rolling cradle, taking the champion around the world and finally ending with a pin! The crowd counts along with Wada's slaps, but they cannot voice "three", as Kawada kicks out at 51'05"!!!

Both back up, Kobashi attacks the champion with chops against the ropes, setting him up for a whip. Kawada stops the whip and spins around for a reverse high kick, but Kobashi

catches the leg and shoves him down! The challenger waits for the champion to return to his feet, then nails him with a diving neckbreaker drop and makes another cover, but Kawada kicks out at the 52 minute mark!

Still in control, Kobashi hits a powerbomb followed immediately by a jackknife hold for the pin! Once more the crowd thunderously chants the count, but only for two! Kobashi struggles to pull the limp champion to his feet, only to bodyslam him in front of the neutral corner. The daring challenger goes up, then comes down, perfectly hitting the moonsault press!! He hooks the leg for the win at 53'23" but Kawada kicks out!!!

Kawada cannot return to his feet. Exhausted, Kobashi crawls the length of the ring to reach the fallen champion, attempting yet another cover. Still, Kawada will not be defeated Kobashi refuses to give up, bodyslamming the champion and climbing to the second rope. He launches a diving guillotine drop, but Kawada rolls toward the center of the ring and the persistent against all logic challenger collides hard, tailbone-first, with the mat.

Prone on his stomach, Kawada is still unable or unwilling to mount an retaliatory offense. Kobashi crawls to his opponent and hooks a full nelson, pulling the champion to his feet. Kawada gropes towards the ropes, but Kobashi pulls him away, struggling for a dragon suplex. The champion finally unleashes, breaking the hold and hitting a rolling back chop, followed by a koppou-abise-giri! Kobashi drops backwards, swooned. Slowly, Kawada returns to his feet and pulls his opponent up to hit a second such kick, connecting right in the head. He drops down, hooks the leg, and goes for the win... but Kobashi kicks out at 55'41"!!!

Time running out, Kawada goes for broke. He pulls his opponent up- once again by the hair- and nails a release dragon suplex! Kobashi crumples on the mat, flailing like kelp as Kawada hooks the leg for another pin and another kickout!!! Kawada stays on the reeling challenger, rushing now. He hits a series of face kicks and hits a backdrop suplex... but no! Kobashi twists into a body press, nullifying the move! Both men are down, but neither can attempt a cover!

Both men return to their feet. Kawada hits the ropes, looking for a running high kick. Kobashi grabs the leg and spins around for a rolling back chop, but Kawada ducks and grabs a waistlock for a German, getting Kobashi off his feet! But the challenger struggles valiantly, gets the backswitch and drops Kawada for a German of his own, bridging back for the win at 57'11"..... but it is not to be! Kawada kicks out, but is down, nearly unconscious. The crowd chants loud for Kobashi.

The challenger grasps another waistlock, seeking a second German, but Kawada hits an enzigieri, knocking Kobashi to his hands and knees. The champion follows with an axe kick to the back of the challenger's head and finally a brutal high angle German suplex, dropping Kobashi on his head! Less than two minutes remain!

Kobashi retreats to the ropes, crawling along them as Kawada pursues.

Knowing the bell has about tolled on him, all the challenger can do is flee, hoping he can avoid a loss.

A minute remains in the match.

Kawada pulls his tights, yanking him from the ropes, and hits another brutal German!

Kobashi desperately returns to the ropes and resumes his crawling flight, hoping to avoid a loss.

Kawada, tasting his opponent's defeat more than his own victory, yanks the finished challenger from the ropes and attempts a final powerbomb to seal the match...

Kobashi holds firm, using every last bit of his reserves to prevent the powerbomb.

Kawada attempts one final herculean effort to unleash the finisher, but the bell rings! The sixty minute time limit has at last expired!

Kawada Toshiaki successfully defends the Triple Crown from his first challenger, the two battling to a sixty minute time limit draw. What a battle!


The sixty minute time limit draw is something of a problem, especially if the match is a one fall contest. In the olden days, when every title match was best of three falls, a draw made a little bit more intuitive sense, especially if it were in the form of each competitor winning a fall, then the time expiring during the third. Single fall 60 minute matches tend to be more difficult to work, and such seem to fall into three possible categories:

1) The wrestlers work a 20-30 minute match's worth of spots, but slowly and sparsely, with lots of rest holds in between, casually sauntering towards the hour mark;

2) The wrestlers insert a bunch of nonsense- jawing with the crowd, trash talking, stalling outside the ring, berating the referee- to prolong the match as long as possible while conserving energy over the course of the hour; or- most rarely-

3) The wrestlers go all out for sixty minutes, going at each other as though the match were booked for twenty or thirty, but neither being able to get the advantage and put the other away.

This match was a mighty effort from two of the best of all time, and given the content of previous singles matches, they had a wire to walk. They had to make it seem, foremost, like they weren't deliberately fighting for a draw- like this was another astounding, blitzkrieging oudou match that everyone has come to expect; and just as importantly, they needed to make it appear believable when that draw appeared imminent.

So, did they succeed? On a thoroughly technical, point-by-point level, only sort of. An astute fan could probably hypothesize that- judging from the way slow, deliberate way the match began as well as the submission sequences dashed throughout- that the match was going the distance. Especially considering the personnel involved and the aggression always shown in other matches, something definitely appears askew when the staredowns go a little longer, the submission sequences a little more drawn out, the head dropping non-existent until well into the match. Indeed, Kobashi did not hit nor even attempt a single half-nelson suplex, nor were the strike exchanges as intense as they would usually be in a Four Kings match.

In what perhaps was an attempt to justify the pacing of the bout, Kobashi and Kawada both sought to wear away at the other's knee, utilizing old school psychological aspects of pro-wrestling. However, by the latter third of the match, these elements were largely forgotten. One could argue that because the two demonstrated such superhuman endurance and effort over the course of the match, the effects were still there, but irrelevant. Certainly, both men were limping during the match, but its just as likely that the limps were real as it is that they were worked.

As much as the pace of this match was slowed versus other Four Kings matches, it was still very hard hitting and active. Kawada and Kobashi sought to give the rest sequences actual credence within the context of the match, and in that regard their hearts were in the right place. The only real black mark comes when comparing this to the pace and impact of their other matches. However, the story that they wanted to tell was told in this match: Kobashi and Kawada are equals, and Kawada's hold on the title is precarious. Another day, another place, it could have been Kawada crawling along the ropes for his life.

While this match put Kobashi over huge, the story was all about Kawada. He did an absolutely spectacular job of showing that, while he finally won the title, his confidence may not be genuine. That the coarse, arrogant attitude is as much a cover to hide behind as it is a reflection of his ability, and that he'll never be comfortable with himself until he gets Misawa in the ring one on one and drops his arch-rival directly on his head for a victory. It wasn't Misawa he beat for the title, it was Steve Williams. In three attempts in 1992 and 1993, Kawada had his chance, but couldn't beat Misawa. Yet the Westerner could. Winning the championship from him instead of Misawa had to have left a foul taste in Dangerous K's mouth, thus on a subconscious (if racialist) level making him question his own abilities. Surely, now that he couldn't even beat Kobashi in an hour, that confidence may be shaken even more. Would the World Tag Team Championship match- mere days away, and an opportunity to get Misawa in the ring and at least get a doubles title from him- allow Kawada solace? Or would he enter that match less sure than ever, knowing that in addition to less than rousing success against Misawa & Kobashi in the past, that in big singles matches Misawa beat him soundly three times and- knowing now- that he can't put Kobashi away in a full hour?

Such was the state and intrigue of mid-90s All Japan, an era missed by every true fan of the sport. In the final analysis, in a year in which virtually every All Japan main event was a match of the year candidate, this match was probably the least of the lot, but that doesn't mean it was bad. Indeed, it butresses one of- if not the- best year in the history of professional wrestling in any part of the world, and in telling the story of that year, this match was mandatory.

--LCM, 7/26/06

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