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.