These write-ups are designed to further explain and promote matches. If you'd like to participate yourself, by all means drop me a line.
Jumbo Tsuruta vs Billy Robinson, 3/5/77
The person who requested this match said that it was hard to enjoy the old-school stuff. I can sympathize. I got into puro for head-dumping suplexes and clean finishes. For the first couple years of watching puro I wasn't big on either Jumbo or dry technical wrestling. Eventually the flaws of psychology-free skull-spike-fests became more and more obvious, and the sound fundamentals of Jumbo kept looking better and better. But yet I still wasn't all the way over to overtly enjoying '70s All Japan. Then one day I got a set of tapes through a trade with a Canadian whose Jumbo fandom was stronger than my own, and in that set was a trio of Jumbo vs Billy matches. A few minutes in, I was hooked.
There's so much to love. The mat work is intricate and detailed as they move from one counter to another and struggle for every hold. Unlike today when chain wrestling is about doing a bunch of moves quickly leading to a standoff for applause, here the movements are deliberate enough that you can see exactly what's being done and the way it works. For instance, the full nelson escape done by lifting a leg and clasping the hands around it for added leverage and power. It looked completely new when I first watched this match, but now I realize that it had been done in various indy matches at ten times the speed and with about one-tenth the crowd effect. The way Jumbo and Billy go from one plausible-yet-nifty counter to the next is organic instead of rote. As things pick up, we get more high-impact moves than had been the norm a few years earlier. Where the double-arm suplex used to be the only impact finisher going, now we see the suplex-backbreaker come into play. And when they decide to turn up the speed, they pull off some jaw-dropping exchanges for the time let alone for men their size. One final thing to try and keep an eye on is the subtle contrasts between Billy's Euro/UK-style approach and Jumbo's more standard Japan/US trained-by-Dory-Funk-Junior methodology.
Sadly I don't have a super-great cap of this yet, nor do I have any of their other matches. Still, what I do have is more than watchable and I think the quality of the wrestling is so strong that everyone should give it a viewing.
Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu, 6/5/89
In the days of yore there were methodical technical matches, and it was good. And lo, Riki Choshu appeared and threw lariats and drove everyone around him to go really fast, and it was good. And behold, Jumbo Tsuruta and Genichiro Tenryu found a way to make Choshu's style into something greater, and it was good, and the crowds were pleased and Meltzer did sprinkle snowflakes upon it.
When one thinks of 'innovation' in today's terms, what comes to mind is contrived finishing moves and/or twisty spinny aerial maneuvers. What Jumbo and Tenryu did on June 5th, 1989 was innovative in a way that was something brand new instead of a tiny variation on something existing. Choshu-ism had sped things up and now 10-15 minute title matches were the norm. Occasionally you'd still get 25-30 minute long affairs, but those tended to have non-finishes and accordingly fell apart towards the end. The 6/5/89 match went 24 minutes, did so at a pace normally seen in 14 minute matches, and kept having one nearfall after another without suddenly dissolving into a no contest brawl as was the standard. The 'going home' part of a match with an actual finish might last a couple minutes; here they were going home from almost the halfway point. The crowd was ready for any move to end things at any time, and the heat kept building and building right to the end. You'll notice that there weren't nine powerbombs or eleven high-angle backdrops either; things like a Thesz press had people jumping out of their seats. That's how to work a crowd.
Today we judge 'epic' singles matches by the likes of Misawa vs Kawada 6/3/94 and Misawa vs Kobashi 1/20/97. Neither of those would be possible had not Jumbo and Tenryu shown how to go all-out for an extended period of time and give the crowd a satisfying finish. In the past, DQs and countouts were used regularly to protect headliners and keep them looking strong. Maeda and the UWF helped break that mindset; this match was the final nail in the coffin. Both men came out looking better than they went in due to their effort and skill, an example that would be followed throughout the history of the Triple Crown.
Kawada vs Kobashi, 6/30/90
I respect the New Japan crew, but you just didn't see them hustle like this. These two bring it right from the start, including a GIGANTIC dive by Kobashi. They wrestle with more intensity as stablemates than most wrestlers do in a feud. Granted, they don't sprint the whole way, but the opening minutes show their will to win. Kobashi stubbornly hanging onto a headlock means more than it would if it was the beginning and seen as filler. They're clearly at another level than they were 364 days earlier. Even when they seem to lose their way a bit, a well-placed blow puts them back on track. Kobashi REALLY goes the extra mile in ripping Kawada's leg apart and if it was somewhere other than All Japan the crowd would probably react more. In a way this match is from an alternate universe: Kawada with dives, Kobashi with a thunderfire powerbomb, the finish, and a match between these two with nothing on the line. But it's Kawada vs Kobashi in the way that matters most: it's GOOD.
Jumbo vs Misawa, 9/1/90
My favorite singles match of the decade. Is it flawless? Absolutely not; they meander at times early on. What it might lack in the 'perfection' department, it more than makes up for in storytelling. The story of the match is my favorite of any All Japan match ever, maybe my favorite in any match ever. The story, in turn, is driven by my favorite performance in a wrestling match. This is the match that made me absolutely certain Jumbo Tsuruta is the best wrestler of all time.
The base story is well-known: Jumbo is the top native in the company, Misawa is looking to usurp him. In their first match Misawa wrestled much more like Tiger Mask 2 than the man we all think of him as today, and he relied on agility and craft to pull out the upset win. In this match Misawa dishes out elbows more, and in general he seems more like a heavyweight main-eventer rather than a half-junior half-heavyweight. That he wrestles more like a heavyweight is important; he needs to show a lot of strength in order to attain the title of 'ace'.
Jumbo's reaction to 'heavyweight' Misawa was first seen in the 5/26 tag, where he sold Misawa's elbow smash like crazy and thus set the table for everything that followed. Here again his selling of the force behind Misawa's blows is absolutely crucial. At times Jumbo is able to win their exchanges, which physics dictates he should. At other times Jumbo sells in a way much deeper than just showing pain. He sells his own mortality, and is troubled by the youthful energy of Misawa. Late in the match Misawa keeps kicking out and getting up, and Jumbo seems to understand that this is a man who WILL be the ace. However, Jumbo does everything in his power to fend off this inevitability. The balance between showing damage and dishing it out, between showing his strength and showing his vulnerability, is absolutely masterful.
By the end of the match both wrestlers look stronger. Jumbo is a worthy ace, Misawa will be a worthy ace. Hepatitis might have denied us the eventual conclusion of the story but at least we have its dramatic beginings.
Misawa & Kawada vs Jumbo & Taue, 9/30/90
Here's a match that I consider to be somewhat of an island. It's one of the very few great All Japan '90s matches to only come out on tape, it's the longest 2-on-2 tag for years in either direction, and it's really the only instance I've seen of spunky young lion Taue. A few months later Taue had developed into a surly rule-breaker, but here he's playing the underdog and summoning up the courage to trade elbows with Misawa. Given how green Taue was and how little big match experience he had, this is really a remarkable performance for him.
They go over 40 minutes and do so very well, especially when the average 'big' tag in the recent past was about half that length. They mesh well despite this being the first time the match happened, and despite the fact that they had only just put Taue into the #2 role in Jumbo's stable. This is my favorite tag from either the Misawa & Kawada or Jumbo & Taue team, which is saying something because both were in a lot of great bouts between '90 and '92. A mix of solid tag work and dramatic moments makes this one of my top 20 from the decade.
Toshiaki Kawada vs Akira Taue, 1/15/91
You see the name 'Kawada', and you think of stiff striking but a very measured, controlled style of wrestling. You see the name 'Taue' and the date '1991' and see that it's a singles match and you think 'do I really want to be watching this'? Mr. Wuttke, a self-proclaimed Taue fanboy, doesn't see the appeal of this match. I can't say that I blame him all that much; this a far cry from what we've come to expect from the Four Corners of Heaven in the '90s. Yet that's exactly what makes this match so special.
Taue in 1991 wasn't the amiable, lovable, Baba-esque fan-favorite he is today. He was still rather green, he didn't have a ton of charisma, and he was willing to break rules to make up for his inadequacies. Fans booed him loudly and regularly. Kawada was still growing into his role after spending the entire '80s as a very low-ranked heavyweight. Kawada and Taue were the #2 men in their respective stables, and the biggest victories either could expect was against each other. This match establishes the Kawada vs Taue rivalry, one which would play out over the next 26 months. It establishes the rivalry not with complicated strike exchanges or epic nearfall trading, but with simple, hateful brawling. There's blood, there's heat, there's a clean finish, and the finish itself is one that would become a Kawada trademark for years. At first glance it doesn't even look like a convincing match-ender, but thankfully they include a slo-mo replay afterwards. I'd prefer taking a powerbomb, thank you very much.
Having just given this a once-over for the '90s project, I'd say that this is really Taue's match. Kawada does some great struggling and sells to perfection, but Taue is in control almost the whole way and does so without the match dragging very much. He doesn't just lay around with legbars for minutes at a time, for instance. As the action picks up Taue cuts Kawada off repeatedly and intelligently, which forces Kawada to get desperate. In the end Taue looks like a worthy #2 for Jumbo and proves for the first time that he can hold up his end of things in a singles match. When all is said and done you get a match that's intense, smart and important. Can't ask for much more than that.
Jumbo, Taue & Fuchi vs Misawa, Kawada & Kobashi, 4/20/91
Over the past two years I've watched what amounts to all the great All Japan 6-man tags from the '90s. It's a style of match that seems simple on the surface but in actuality requires a number of somewhat precise elements to pull off. 4/20/91 is the top 6-man of the decade, both in my opinion and in the opinion of a plurality of puro pundits. The quality doesn't come from appealing to some elitist sensibility, or from dangerous levels of stiffness and/or highspots. At its core, this is a match that's part of a feud. Jumbo and Misawa are battling over who gets to be top dog in the company, and they're just two days removed from their only Triple Crown match. Kawada and Taue touched off their own war three months earlier. Kobashi, with just three years under his belt, had been humiliated in the first iteration of this match six months previous. Fuchi, the only junior in the bout, never shied away from getting his digs in when up against the new generation.
Six highly skilled wrestlers, comfortable in the ring with one another, with a fair amount of backstory to add context to the action, and in front of the reliably hot Korakuen fans, are given fifty minutes to work with. Fifty! If I'm not mistaken, that makes it the longest match to this point for the four (relative) youngsters, and maybe even for Fuchi. We aren't talking about that length in 1977-style mat wrestling either; that style is wonderful in its own right but it was much less strenuous. The six men in this dish out dives and suplexes and trade snug blows, and the mat work is generally a far cry from anything you'd call 'resting'. They cram a lot into the time and do a stellar job of keeping things interesting. But just "keeping things interesting" really doesn't do it justice, because there are multiple times when the match builds to incredible intensity. For instance, they tease Kawada vs Taue for several minutes, which in its own right is interesting since that's the 'secondary issue' beneath Jumbo vs Misawa. When they finally square off it's fast and furious. On multiple occasions Fuchi tears it up, and while it might not mean much to say this is the best match he was ever in considering the other participants, this could very well be the best performance he's had since debuting in the first month of the Ford administration. That's saying a hell of a lot.
4/20/91 is a match that should be watched by anyone visiting this website. It helps to have seen the matches leading up to it, like Jumbo vs Misawa 1 & 2, the October '90 iteration of the match, and Kawada vs Taue... but it does stand on its own. Meltzer gave it five stars and I have yet to see the word 'overrated' attached.
Jumbo & Taue vs Misawa & Kobashi / Misawa & Kikuchi, Summer Action Series '91 #2
Misawa and Kawada had won the tag titles in July, the first major title win for the New Generation Army. Their first title defense would be against Jumbo & Taue, and it would headline the upcoming Budokan Hall event on 9/4. Misawa & Kawada would have to vindicate their worthiness as champions against the duo with the most reason to tear them down. Over the course of the tour Jumbo & Taue had several lead-in matches against Misawa and his crew. Upon re-viewing two of them I discovered a lack of description on the chron page, and they deserve better.
The first tag, with Kobashi, is the earliest Kobashi 2-on-2 tag where it felt major. It could easily have been for the tag titles. Things start out slow, but after about the halfway mark it builds momentum and maintains tension right to the finish. Jumbo & Taue, having struggled the year before, look very strong. Misawa & Kobashi don't seem that far behind, and the following year we'd see that very clearly.
The second tag, with Kikuchi, has an obvious result and could easily be a through-the-motions semi-squash. Instead there's a lot of emotion and intensity, with Kikuchi taking it to the much larger opposition, Misawa getting fired up, and Jumbo being his usual self. The definition of "it's not the destination, it's the journey". Yet at the same time you want to see the *real* destination, which is the tag title match.
One final touch is the cherry on top: several shots are taken at Misawa's shoulder, which was the focus of the 9/4 tag title bout. Thus these two matches build the challengers, establish the 'issue' (or re-establish it since the feud never ended), and set up the champions' weakness. Masterful booking executed wonderfully in the ring.
Can-Am Express vs Kobashi & Kikuchi, 5/25/92
When you're talking about the best All Japan matches of the '90s, one word tends to describe them: epic. Yet that's not a word one would associate with the company's undercard, and certainly not with the All Asia tag title. Here we have a tag that's not only epic for the undercard, but is quite likely more epic than any 2-on-2 tag in the decade to this point. We start with the Can-Ams running an absolute clinic on Kikuchi, dishing out high-end impact moves, stretching him like crazy and bending him in half on every cover. It isn't spot/rest/spot, Kikuchi is getting severe punishment almost non-stop. The crowd doesn't take long to get absolutely molten-hot, it's about as loud as you can expect a crowd to be and it's all the more so when you think about the stereotype of Japanese fans. Kikuchi needs multiple hope spots to get the big tag, at which point they've gone about the length of the average All Asia title match, but we're only getting warmed up.
Kroffat is really on top of his game between executing his offense and heeling it up, he has the crowd wrapped around his finger every second he's in the ring. You know how I know this is a hot crowd? When they pop for Kikuchi struggling against a tiger driver for about two seconds. You know how I know Kroffat rules? When he takes a cobra clutch resthold and makes it look like he's trying to rip Kikuchi's head off. You know how I know it's epic? When Kikuchi does a desperate quasi-springboard lunge just to make a save. What seals the deal is how Kobashi and Kroffat go into this stellar multi-part sequence with seconds to go, the sorta stuff that in 1992 was rarely done by 175 pounders let alone 215-230 pounders. It wraps up without going into overkill mode and without ever losing momentum. This is a match for any fan of professional wrestling, period.
UPDATE, 1/25/08: Having watched the new and improved version of the match, my opinion of its merits isn't really changed, but two things stand out. First, the heat during the introductions is absolutely crazy, you can see fans going nuts already. Second, as the match starts off with very basic action, the crowd pops for everything. It's no wonder that by the time the original cut begins they're practically ripping the stands apart.
Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue, 5/21/94
I place this as the 3rd best match to come out of All Japan in the '90s. Not many people rate it quite so highly, and unlike so many other top-tier bouts from the decade I've never seen someone call this the best match ever. As a result this isn't referenced or discussed all that much, especially in such close proximity to the match below. All that said, this is something every puro fan should see and something I believe any wrestling fan can enjoy.
The reasons why it works are pretty much the same reasons why any AJ '90s match works. I've gone on in great detail about 'exchanges' and 'technique' and 'transitions' and so on and so forth, but there's much more to it than just "it's these four and they're doing stuff". It works as a lead-in, with one moment in particular making you want to see Misawa vs Kawada right then and there. It works as a continuation of the tag feud, last seen in the Tag League '93 classic, as they work with themes seen in that match. Parts of this also harken back to Jumbo vs Misawa tags, especially the way in which limb work is done. For all that depth it still holds its own for a first-time viewer, and I can remember really enjoying it years ago when my puro fandom was still in its infancy.
What makes me hold this in such high esteem is that it raises the bar an incredible amount. They go long, they use a ton of high-impact moves, and they manage to keep things smart and involving the whole way through. A match like the 4/20/91 6-man only goes a few minutes longer, it has two extra people to share the work, and it has much more downtime. They go MUCH longer than the first iterations of the series, and longer than any tag title match in many years for that matter, meaning that to add to the scope of the match without any noticable bumps is quite a feat. This is the first epic of its kind that the new generation was responsible for, and it's a match I don't think has been topped anywhere in Japan this decade.
Misawa vs Kawada, 6/3/94
"All Japan" and "epic" conjures up images of a slew of head drops and fifteen minutes of finishing moves. This match is epic, but it isn't epic through brute force or head drops. It's epic because it's an all-out struggle punctuated by a handful of big moves. The see-saw of control between them, featuring dozens of small sequences that could go either way, keeps the audience guessing in a way that incredibly few matches do. I'd dare say that no other singles match pulls off the struggle for control quite as well as this. On top of that we have a careful build to a few big moves, resulting in a handful of incredibly dramatic nearfalls and nuclear crowd heat. Part of why the 'struggle' aspect is so well-done is that they keep going back to it even after the big moves, where in the average big match the wrestlers go from finisher to finisher and trade the advantage as an afterthought. You can see the effort exerted just to stay on top as well as the effort to get every last move, and the end result is what more people than I can count say is the best singles match of all time.
Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue, 6/9/95
I don't know if this became my favorite match after one viewing or two, but once it took that position it stayed there. Over the years my tastes in wrestling have changed, as has my attention to detail, yet here we have a match of such quality that it's still completely satisfying.
This matchup took place nine or ten times, depending on if you count the end of the 7/28/93 elimination match. One wasn't taped. Four of those matches are in my top ten for All Japan in the '90s. This being the best of the series already places it in elite company, and it is the best. Top-to-bottom better than the 6/93, 11/94 and 12/95 iterations. More epic than 12/93 while having all the things that made it great. Deeper, smarter and more consequential than 5/94. Tighter than the two broadways in '95. Some disagree but the consensus is that 6/9/95 represents the best of the bunch. So what makes it the best EVER?
They go over 40 minutes without losing focus. They play off of the recent past, as Misawa's orbital bone is targeted and Kobashi's leg (worked over on a 6-man on 4/15/95) is assaulted. Leg work played a big role in the 12/93 match and as a result became a theme of the series, so there's that bit of continuity. The Misawa/Kawada feud is very central to the match, in a way that it wasn't so much before or after, and that aspect is always compelling. They do intricate sequences, stiff strike exchanges, technical work, nifty little touches, and in the second half build to an incredible level of tension. The finish is momentous. The match is a great story by itself and a greater story in context. It contains everything I love and have ever loved about professional wrestling.
Misawa vs Kawada, 7/24/95
When you talk about a singles rivalry in Japanese wrestling, this is the first thing that comes to mind. 16 matches, 15 of them taped, 7 of them for the Triple Crown. The king of them is 6/3/94, there's not much doubt about that. But what comes next? I'm far from alone in saying that their follow-up to the 6/9/95 tag title match is something special. Getting the silver medal in one of the great series in wrestling history is nothing to scoff at, after all.
The feeling out process isn't boring, nor is it trite "standoff" sequences. It's *teasing*. The body of the match has Kawada exploiting the orbital bone injury he gave Misawa in their last encounter, and Misawa has to expend more energy than usual to mount a comeback. Although they botch a move early on, they recover and use a combination of great exchanges and great selling to draw you in. There are a few more brief lulls in the action, and thankfully when the action kicks back in it's stellar all the way.
Kawada eventually puts Misawa in a tremendous amount of jeopardy, and also manages to cut him off repeatedly after big nearfalls. That formula wound up being the way Kawada won the 5/98 and 1/99 title matches; at this point we know Kawada can pin Misawa, but we don't know if he can do it on consecutive months. If Misawa can mount his big comeback, his momentum will be almost unstoppable. If Kawada can hit one more big move, just one, the title belts are his. That's the kind of story a big heavyweight match should have, and that's why this is a worthy successor to 6/3/94.
Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue, 10/15/95
There were four hour-long matches from All Japan in the '90s. The singles matches, both Kawada vs Kobashi, were admirable but not quite up to the task of holding it together for the entire time. The 1/24/95 tag title match came closer, but was more "60 minutes of quality" than "60 minutes of greatness". THIS, this match right here, is the best hour long match of the '90s (and after).
To start with, they don't begin with half an hour of feeling-out and dry technical work. There are some big moves, and more importantly there's a sense of real full-team peril just like there was at the end of the June match. Lots of cut-offs, lots of interesting spots, and just generally high-end action rather than mediocre filler. In the second half they slow things down at times but still maintain enough energy to keep things involved, and they manage to have enough in the tank for a boatload of big moves and hot nearfalls in the closing minutes. When it's over you feel like you've seen a hotly contested tag title match rather than an exercise in filling an hour of time. You really need to see this.
Kawada & Taue vs Misawa & Akiyama, 12/6/96
For some time now this has been my second favorite tag match ever, and it's likely my second favorite match period. As time goes by the match only gets better, because I've gotten to see more and more of the extensive backstory to it. The Kawada/Akiyama storyline in '96, playing out on 3/2, 4/20, 5/23, 7/9 and 11/29; the Misawa/Kobashi vs Kawada/Taue tags; the Misawa vs Kawada and Misawa vs Taue singles battles; even matches like Hansen/Gordy vs Tenryu/Kawada from eight years previous. By itself this is a five-star match and with context added in, it surpasses even that distinction.
Coming in, Kawada beat Akiyama during the league and during the carnival with the jumping high kick, while Akiyama had shown the power of the exploder in May. We start fittingly enough with Kawada vs Akiyama, and Akiyama getting the better of things, leading quickly to a nod to the 11/29 tag. Kawada barely escapes and Taue has to come in and salvage things, playing off his growth in the last two years. The pace at the start is really something, as they don't have the usual feeling-out process and instead get right to the action. Even after the initial burst when most bouts would have a clear rest period they manage to keep things interesting. By the time they get to the last ten minutes they've reached a point where it could end at any moment.
So much of what makes this match unique is how it flows from the Misawa-as-ace formula. If you give him breathing room he'll sneak in some elbows and make a comeback. At times those comebacks seem almost inevitable; see 6/3/94 and 11/29/96. With 6/9/95 it took Misawa and Kobashi being banged up in order for Kawada and Taue to win. Here, Misawa and Akiyama were healthy and doing well during the body when Taue turned the tide. There's a moment shortly after that when Misawa makes a comeback and looks around, and it's clear he doesn't like what he sees. From there he musters up several attempts to claw his way back only to be cut off, each time things looking bleaker and bleaker until finally he has nothing left in the tank. Kawada & Taue finally win the tag league, Kawada decisively asserts himself over Akiyama, and Kawada gets his second pin ever on Misawa.
Kobashi vs Misawa, 1/20/97
This series of matches has come to be known for billions of finishers and nearfalls. The reason why this match is the best of their series isn't because it has the most big moves- it doesn't- but because it has the most STRATEGY. Rather than be a champion who lets his challenger set the pace and 'take his best shot', Kobashi is aggressive and seeks to weaken Misawa. He works over several body parts, including a very unique two-pronged assault during the middle. By the end of the match the strategy is paying dividends, as Misawa struggles far more than he ever had before in trying to put Kobashi away. Some gigantic nearfalls in the final minutes cap off one of the top singles matches in either man's career.
Kawada vs Kobashi, 6/12/98
One of the more infamous booking decisions by Baba winds up being the last all-time great contest he oversaw. In making my Top 50 list for the All Japan '90s project, Kawada vs Kobashi came up four times. No other singles match was on there more than twice. Not only was this the best of those efforts, it was the best by a comfortable margin.
That's not to say it's a perfect match. The first five minutes are dull, and the last few are somewhat goofy, but everything in-between is off the charts. Brutal strikes, intense exchanges, meaningful transitions, excellent build to several compelling nearfalls, and more than enough big moves to justify being called an epic. I enjoy this more than several other more highly-regarded matches, and I invite you to see what makes this one of the elite Triple Crown matches.
Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Akira Taue - 8.5.00 (by Steve)
When All Japan split and NOAH was formed, they not only needed to take the stars of All Japan, but also the fans. So in the main event of their first show, they put out their four top draws for a match that was not only a good move for move affair, but also one that would lay the foundations for a monumental fued that spanned nearly half a decade.
The match itself was a technically sound encounter between four guys extremely comfortable working with each other. It was somehow quite low-key, and the aftermath of the first fall was quite impactful on the viewer, especially after Misawa's death, but no match is without it's flaws. It was a 2-3 falls match, with the first coming in a matter of minutes with Akiyama choking out Misawa, showing that Jun would have a huge role in store, and also giving a nod to his development over the past couple of years.
As you'd expect from these four, there wasn't an awful lot of down-time, and the match went on at a reasonably high pace for over 20 minutes. The 'rest' holds didn't look as if they were taking time out at all, which for guys at that age (Taue was 40), is pretty impressive. Akiyama especially doing well against the veterans and eventually getting the winning pinfall over Taue was key in cleverly hinting at a big push. Heck, even the post match was eventful, with Kobashi being betrayed by his long term right hand man Akiyama, who left with Yoshinobu Kanemaru, a man that would also step up to a much bigger role than he'd ever been given in the coming months as number 2 in Akiyama's new stable.
Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama - 8.6.00 (by Steve)
Obviously, this match plays on the aftermath of the tag one day before it. In order to prove himself a world beater in NOAH, Akiyama needed to gain some big victories for himself, thus he Backdropped his long term partner and set off for himself. Kobashi was pissed. He wanted a shot at Akiyama as soon as possible, so one day after the betrayal, this match takes place.
To start off with, there is quite alot of early mat work and feeling out, but this is understandable considering the two haven't faced in over a year. But when the action gets going, it really does get going. Some nice strategery from Jun pairs nicely with Kobashi's hate-filled, full steam approach, and it has all the big moves you'd want in a match of this kind. It also does a good job of maintaining a high-profile feel over the 24 ish minutes they wrestle. The finish does a good job in further putting over the move that finished Misawa in a few seconds the night before. Saying this match is the worst of the three they had in NOAH isn't exactly a harsh comment, but it definetely was. The start up, though justifiable, was also quite boring, and the action only really picked up about 2/3 of the way in. Still, a very bright start to a new feud as well as a new promotion.
Akiyama, Takayama & Kanemaru vs Kobashi, Rikio & Kikuchi, 9/15/00
NOAH doesn't have nearly the reputation for match quality that pre-split All Japan did. I can understand why, but I think one thing gets missed. With the emergence of young heavyweights (Rikio & Morishima), young juniors who could play a role (Kanemaru, Marufuji & KENTA), and those who improved in the final years of All Japan (Takayama & Ogawa), NOAH was able to produce good 6-man tags with much more regularity than the final years of pre-split All Japan. One might say that NOAH, having more of its shows air in full, has an advantage. But I've bought plenty of late '90s All Japan shows airing in full on Samurai TV, and the 6-man tags were rarely any better than the bare minimum based on who was involved. I think this 6-man was as good or better than any to see daylight from the last 55 months or so of All Japan.
There's Akiyama, who did quite well leading the Sternness stable (something he never had in All Japan); Takayama, who was emerging as a world-class worker; Kanemaru, who in my estimation is money when in a match opposite Kobashi; Kobashi, who needs no introduction; Rikio, who was quite a bit better as a rookie than he was as a 9 year veteran; and Kikuchi, rescued from the old man comedy matches, shows his old fire. Each team has the same general components as the other, and between the pace and mix of matchups I ranked this not far behind the top ten matches from Japan in 2000. Most people don't enjoy this as much as I did, but if you're a fan of this grouping I'm certain this is worth your while.
Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama - 12.23.00 (by Steve)
Since the two last faced of in singles competition, they had met in 4 tag matches, with Akiyama's team winning 3 and Kobashi's Burning only managing one. NOAH, meanwhile, was building up support rapidly, and had booked a show set to be their biggest ever, in front of 12,000 fans at the Ariake Colosseum. They needed a big draw for a main event, so this match was born.
The match itself was a classic, in my opinion the best they had with each other in NOAH. Both guys used a clever strategy, with Akiyama working towards the Front Gulliotine that finished Kobashi 4 months earlier, and Kobashi being forced into busting out a new move, and his biggest move, in an attempt to put away his former understudy. Many references are made to not only their 8.6.00 war, but way back to their All Japan series. Plenty enough big bumps and headdrops are taken to justify this match as an epic, and they went 35 minutes, which for Kobashi and his knees is a huge achievement. All in all, this was easily the best match NOAH had put on since their emergence, and was a key factor in drawing in fans for years to come.
Shinya Hashimoto & Alexander Otsuka vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Yoshinari Ogawa - 1.13.01 (by Steve)
Not a classic, nor a main event, but what we have here is a simple story executed wonderfully in ring. Hashimoto, an ace of New Japan for most of the early 90's, was in NOAH for one reason. A burning hate for Misawa. Or at least, that's what you'd think seeing his early interaction with him. Otsuka is a talented, if unspectacular shoot worker, and a worthy opponent for Ogawa.
In the early stages, they go at it, each trying to prove a point to their partners that they were the right men for the job. After some nice exchanges, Hash steps in. Every time he nails a high impact move on Ogawa, Hashimoto taunts Misawa, daring him to step in. When he does, the war is on. Plenty of hate and fire from everyone involved, even the normally bland Ogawa has a good showing (although it mainly involves him being obliterated by Team Z-1), but really, this was the Hash show, teaming brutal move for move action with some fine acting and facials. They keep it short enough to go at a good pace too. Overall, definetly worth a viewing.
Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Naomichi Marufuji - 3.3.01 (by Steve)
Just a day after what many consider to be his 'breakout' match against Takaiwa in Zero-1, Marufuji takes on his mentor Misawa.
Under normal circumstances, Misawa would get the easy win in a couple of minutes against the rookie Marufuji. But not only is Maru on a roll, he is determined to prove himself, and throws everything he has out there. The match goes short, with a fast pace. Misawa effectively beats on Maru for a large portion of the match, working the legs and back in an attempt to null the aerial ability of his opponent, the only glaring advantage he holds over Misawa. When Marufuji gets his shots in, he doesn't mess around, taking it to his mentor. A good showing from both men results in a solid undercard showing.
Kenta Kobashi & Akihiko Ito vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Kazuchika Okada - 5.6.09 (by Steve)
The NJ/NOAH feud that raged on in 2009 produced a hell of a lot of goodness, this match included. Tenzan is an established NJ wrestler, and he brings Okada, coming off a good showing against Shiozaki in NJ. Kobashi steps up to defend his company, along with young lion Ito, eager to impress.
Ditch mentioned how Kobashi is Baba esque in this match, and I can't help but agree. He is in the match the least, but his presence is always felt, whether it be through his encouragement of Ito (who is great as the plucky underdog), or his actual wrestling. Matches like this show that guys with as much charisma as Kobashi don't need to wrestle much more than 5 minutes every night but can still remain remarkably entertaining.
Kensuke Sasaki vs Go Shiozaki, 7/24/10 (by Benedict)
This match has been building for nearly 5 years. 5 years previous to this, a young Go Shiozaki was teaming with his mentor, Kenta Kobashi, against the man seen as his mentor's equal in Kensuke Sasaki along with his protege, Katsuhiko Nakajima. Shiozaki and Nakajima were the weak links in their team but they fought harder than ever and both had the match of their career in that very tag. However, that night, Shiozaki fell to Kensuke Sasaki and Kensuke finally gained a small amount of revenge against Kobashi after his lost to him at the dome.....what was Kensuke victory lead to a young man's career who now seemed to have that one big goal, beat Kensuke. The wars between Burning and Kensuke Office would still rage and Shiozaki finally made his mark several years later.
Fast forward to 2008, Go Shiozaki is coming back full time to Pro-wrestling NOAH after a year tour in North America and his opponent is none other than GHC Champion, Kensuke Sasaki. Year, 2 years, or 3 years, nobody would even process in their minds that Go would even last 5 minutes against Kensuke Sasaki let alone if he was champion. Shiozaki not only lasted but he had Sasaki in jeopardy with one of own maneuvers. The scorecard said that Kensuke won by points but the impression was that night was that Shiozaki had Kensuke beat. Surely this would not be the last each man had seen of each other.
Fast Forward to near mid 2009,Go Shiozaki is now The Man of NOAH and with his fellow Burning peer, KENTA, are the top GHC heavyweight champions of NOAH. They, however, face the unit that none of the Burning combination have been able to beat in Kensuke Sasaki & Katsuhiko Nakajima. A hard fought battle but Go finally put the streak to a end by being apart o the first NOAH team to beat KO. Shiozaki secured the win for his team against that same youngster he stared at from across the ring in 2005, Nakajima. Nakajima, who many felt was at a higher level than Shiozaki for years, was now looking at a man that was now the Gem of Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Nakajima didn't take the loss lightly and disrespected Shiozaki after the match. He isn't about to be under a wrestler who he didn't only believe could beat Kensuke but a man who he believed couldn't even lace his own boots.
As much as it would be such a story for Nakajima to beat Shiozaki, Shiozaki took away the young man's dream. Shiozaki had now put his past behind him and he now proved that his young rival were not his equal anymore. Shiozaki had put away most of his haunted past as he finally went over Morishima, beat KENTA, and even held his own in a toe for toe battle against Kobashi. Now all he had to do for his career was defeat the man that gave him his defining moment as well as lost in his career and that man he needed to beat was Kensuke Sasaki.
2010 and the match is finally signed. Kensuke Sasaki vs. Go Shiozaki. Shiozaki is now seen as one of the aces of Pro-Wrestling NOAH and is fresh off of revenging his loss against New Japan Pro-Wrestling's ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi. If there is anytime Go Shiozaki was going to beat the man that made his career, it would be now. Kensuke Sasaki isn't any slouch and isn't exactly the guy you can just roll through. Had a strong performance in his Global Heavyweight league and even drew with the GHC Heavyweight Champion. Kensuke will not be that guy to just roll over for you. Can Shiozaki finally put that famous lost behind him or will Sasaki take the dream away from Shiozaki?
The Match : Big fight feel and they even have Kenta Kobashi doing commentary. The storytelling in this match is fantastic because it isn't the simple one subject but it's the variety that progresses and it makes segments become memorable instead of forgotten. I came into this match not having much faith in Shiozaki to deliver and in Kensuke to deliver the good but I am glad I was wrong. For my money, this is the best match in NOAH's 2010 year.
First, the match begins with Shiozaki and Kensuke ending up in collar and elbow tie up and they both FIGHT for who gets to decide the clean break. This leads to believing that the first chop is going to be thrown here and then it'll be all hell. Surprisingly though, Shiozaki gives him the clean break to which the announcers are even surprised. It's great to know that people are still great at teasing the inevitable. Match ends up being a power vs power lock up which is acceptable for so many damn reasons and it is quite a play on so many things. They start having a shoulderblock war which leads to one of the most badass moments in the match up. Shiozaki chops Kensuke, Kensuke responds, and they both just stare at each other. I mean c'mon, there is no words, no middlefingers, or anything, they both just eye each other like two cowboys ready for a duel.
The stare ends and they end up STARTING TO HEADBUTT EACH OTHER. Some really sick ones to and Kensuke clearly ends up the victor in all of this. This clearly establishes the point of who really is going to be the big boss in the match but I digress. Shiozaki gets pissed about this and takes Kensuke down. What makes this even better is that Shiozaki starts using Tanahashi's offense on the leg but that really isn't the story. It's just a nice little add in. The story here is that Go isn't going to be a idiot and start fighting like a barbarian but he picks his spots smartly and nicely. He knows if he gets aggressive Kensuke, Kensuke will not take it as lightly as his other opponents would. When he sees the chance, he takes the opportunity to do some damage. When he can't get a piledriver on the apron, he goes for a simple yet effective DDT. When Shiozaki gets chopped on the outside, he doesn't retaliate with a chop of his own but makes sure not to even get that ball rolling.
However, this plan goes all to hell when Kensuke starts giving him crap during a chinlock and Shiozaki gets aggressive. The problem with that is that you don't aggressive Kensuke because Kensuke doesn't play that aggressive crap and getting aggressive with Kensuke means you are going to aggressively get your ass beat. Even bears don't get aggressive with Kensuke because of fear. Go ends up getting the EPIC hell beat out of him The story is not now if Go can play it smart but if Go can survive this and comeback from this. There is a moment where Go tries to play it smart with elbowing Kensuke to stop the chops but Kensuke just LEVELS him with a monster elbow of his own. There is one EPIC point in which Go tries to get out of this predicament by busting out with a unique Hurcanranna but get his arm TAKEN OFF for giving Kensuke such trouble. I mean Shiozaki damn near gets his whole arm decapitated from Kensuke saying "F' YOUR LARIATS"! Badass.
What's great about Go's comeback is that it's a big signature spot from when he came back in the 05 and that spot is a struggle over a suplex. It's so great to see this and it makes Shiozaki's comeback seem so much more damn special. I marked my ass off when he DEADLIFTS a 260 pound built Kensuke the whole way around for a suplex. I would spill into more about how amazing everything was in this match but I'll get down to the one thing I want to get to the most....
Chop fest. This is one the most amazing things I've seen all year next to YAMATO's counter to his own sleeper and Shawn Michaels's rebellious reaction to his inevitable end by Taker. The chop fest here is amazing to me because it basically gives the result. It is labeled on it "Whoever wins this will win the match". While the Kensuke/Kobashi chop fest is amazing, this was it...this was for everything or nothing. A chop duel to decide who would walk out the victor. This made the match more epic than it had any right for it being. Not ever would I have imagined that a chop fest would be THIS DAMN IMPORTANT. It had such a brilliant build the whole match but this solidified why this match deserves every bit of love.
However, the moment, that I believe stands with YAMATO'S counter and the ending to the possible MOTY, was the moment Shiozaki went to the corner and told Kensuke to give him his best. Go f'ing Shiozaki MAN UP'ed and told Kensuke to give him the best damn chops he had in him. It keeps replaying in my head because it had no right happening but it did and it was a moment. What makes the moment even better is that Go survives the corner chops and gives him every bit of it back. Shiozaki is a star. That moment proved it. Let me just put it down again to put it in your skulls: Shiozaki took a chop from Kensuke F'ING Sasaki, walks over to the corner, wraps his arms around the ropes, and yells "BEAT ME"! Chuck Norris has chosen Shiozaki as his disciple after surviving 3 Roundhouse kicks to the face and replying with "Is that all?". F'ing Win.
Anyway I have spoiled enough of this match but feel free to find this match enjoy the epicness. More great things to name then just one. ****1/2+