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All Japan 6/9/95 Review
Digable James Cobo

(I should warn you: I go a little overboard with the drama on this one. It's not like my usual snickery review. But that's because this isn't like the usual match.)

I've been guilty of calling 1995 a shitty year for professional wrestling. I mean, the WWF was in the shitter, WCW wasn't exactly hot shit, ECW had some great matches here and there, but weren't what I'd call consistent by ANY stretch of the word, and indies... well, you probably won't see tapes of any 1995 indies other than SMW, which is an acquired taste if ever there was one, going around.

It wasn't until I started getting into puro that I realized that there was some non-shitty stuff going on in 1995. New Japan still had the market cornered as far as the juniors went, and allegedly had a pretty FUCKING great G-1, which I haven't been able to find footage of. Michinoku Pro was finally getting off the ground in a big way, running the good-as-fuck Mask Tournament. WAR was essentially simultaneously prefiguring the lucharesu style that would exPLODE with MPro in '96 and attempting to bring something new - if not necessarily GOOD - to the table in their heavyweight matchups.

And then there was All Japan.

All Japan, fresh off the greatest two-year run that a fed ever had, was still VERY awesome around this time. They had successfully elevated Akira Taue to the point where although he wasn't widely perceived as being an equal of Misawa and Kawada, he was still a threat (think Chris Jericho of today). They had played their cards PRECISELY right with Kenta Kobashi, who had spent the better part of three years impressing the fans with his voluminous moveset and bordering-on-excessive amounts of "fighting spirit", not to mention his more-than-firm grasp of in-match storytelling and willingness to die for a good match. In the same vein as Taue playing the role of Jericho, Kobashi was playing the role of Benoit - you could tell that he was making entirely too much sense in the uppercard scheme of things to not be included - and SOON. But the biggest thing All Japan had going on was the still-bubbling feud between Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada.

The pair had been feuding ever since breaking up as a team in the early '90s, having ****1/2 matches on their bad days. But whereas in an American tag team breakup, there would be a clear end in sight, the Kawada/Misawa feud had been constructed on a platform of emerging hatred. As the matches went on, they became more and more intense, and it became obvious that the feud wouldn't be over until Kawada's intense hatred had been satiated.

But Misawa, by this time one of the most popular wrestlers in Japan, had thus far gotten a win over Kawada in every single match they'd had. Most notably, he'd gotten a win over Kawada in their epic 6/3/94 match, which is called the greatest men's singles match of all time by roughly everyone. And to most people, winning the most highly praised men's singles match in history in emphatic fashion (Misawa put Kawada away with the famous Tiger Driver '91) SHOULD be the blowoff to the feud.

And yet, here we are. 6/9/95 - Kawada and Taue, teaming up to face the champs Kobashi and Misawa for their AJ World Tag Titles.

Match 1: Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (World Tag Title match)

Pre-match, we get a LOT of streamers, as in probably double the normal amount. We also get a closeup on Kobashi's heavily-taped thigh. And we get the image of Kawada and Taue, who somehow manage to be both Continents of Blankness and Universes of Hatred all at once. Especially Kawada. ESPECIALLY KAWADA.

And then, the match gets underway.

Ordinarily, the feeling-out process between two people - especially when one of them is Taue, who ain't bad, but in the AJPW scheme of things, ain't good either - is typically pretty slow-moving and loose. Not here. Taue goes RIGHT after Kobashi's injured leg like a moth to a flame, whipping a few short kicks at it, just like you or I would. Kobashi, like the Young Punk that he is, hops gamely on it for a second, then recovers and wags his finger like "Not in my house", thus guaranteeing his utter destruction. In away, that finger wag solidifies the first part of the match - the part where Taue and Kawada BOMB his leg. A lot of it's done really subtly - there's a lot of rope-running done by Kobashi, which undoubtedly wears down his leg - but there's plenty of overt leg work done too. The culmination, of course, is when Taue nodowas (a sort of chokeshove) Misawa onto Kobashi's injured leg, putting him out of long-term commission essentially for the rest of the match. And when does that happen? About fifteen - twenty minutes after Kobashi wags his finger.

But because this is AJPW and not a WCW main event, there's plenty of other stuff going on as well. Primarily, as the match goes on, it becomes incredibly obvious that the Misawa/Kawada feud is going to play into this bigtime - it is, in fact, going to end up being the central issue of the whole match. For illustration's sake: when Kawada tags in against Kobashi early on - like maybe three or four minutes in - he gets Irish Whipped to the corner, but counters it... by booting Misawa in the face with a High Kick. It makes sense in the match, of course (by putting Misawa out of commission for a second, he's free to savage Kobashi), but more importantly, it's all about the HATE.

Meanwhile, the Kobashi/Taue undercurrent manages to not get TOTALLY smoked by making ordinary moves look about eight billion times as painful. Winess Kobashi's chinlock on Taue; watch how he wrenches Taue's head in directions that the human head was not meant to be wrenched. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that they know where their sections lie in the Big Picture of the match: their sections are usually rich in wear-down submissions like Kobashi's abdominal stretch that work in the story, but also make the more action-packed Misawa & Kawada sections seem more special.

Now ordinarily, if someone gets locked in an ab stretch for about a minute, the crowd's going to start chanting "BORING" or the match is going to slow to a crawl. But that isn't a problem here, because of the fifth participant in the match: the crowd. They're absoLUTEly MOLTEN, bell-to-bell, and it really does make the whole match that much more spectacular. More importantly, they're a divided crowd - about half cheer frantically for Misawa/Kobashi, about half cheer frantically for Kawada/Taue, which means that no matter who has the advantage, there's going to be a LOT of noise made by the team's supporters. As a result, even when Taue's in an ab stretch for 45 seconds, it's still exciting.

Meanwhile, on the Misawa/Kawada stage, things are starting to get a little more interesting. Kawada, you see, has been established in the match as near-invincible - only Misawa can get through at all, and even then not very much, or for very long. Kawada's kicks are being put over as born in hell; they turn the tide of a babyface comeback and break holds in the blink of an eye. It's compounded by the fact that he's friggin' RUTHLESS; he's either targeting Misawa's face or Kobashi's injured leg. Nothing else.

And he kicks HARD, because this is ALL JAPAN and moves were meant to be DONE RIGHT. It's so great to see four workers who know each others limits, and recognize that they can ram each others' faces with their feet at top speed and they'll get up the next day. But this match goes above and beyond, really; everything's being executed with that little-extra-something that makes an ordinarily crisp-looking move look TOTALLY legit. Misawa, for instance, gets as much air on his jumping elbow as I've ever seen anyone in Toryumon get. In a way, it's almost an epitaph for these four guys; soon after this the first hints of the head-dropping phase of AJPW would start setting in, and with them, crispness and execution would take a back seat to HORRIFIC neck death. This match has huge bumps, sure - but it's not primarily about them. It's about pacing, and selling, and meaning - it's about the good stuff that makes up wrestling.

It's paced so well that in 21 minutes, all we see are strikes and a few submission holds - nothing else. But everything's totally credible; since the simple moves look so damned DEADLY, there wouldn't be a reason NOT to use them instead of going for a more complex move that might get countered. The big moves, however, start coming in when Misawa gets nodowa'd on Kobashi's leg; with that, Kobashi's out of commission, and the match all of a sudden becomes overwhelmingly skewed in favor of Kawada and Taue. Misawa starts taking these subtly huge bumps, like taking a turnbuckle to the face like a MAN, and starts selling more subtly (i.e. whereas before he was nearly as impenetrable as Kawada, now he's selling Taue's lariats like he got a truck dropped on him). But it doesn't really drive home how deep a hole Team Misawa/Kobashi's in until Misawa gets planted with a HUGE Kawada powerbomb, and Kobashi doesn't have enough energy to break away from Taue and break up the pin. Mitsuharu Misawa - The Man in AJPW, former dominant Triple-Crown champ - is on his own against two other former champs. It's looking bleak.

In particular, it's looking incredibly bleak due to one Toshiaki Kawada's overwhelming presence in the match. In one particular segment of the match, maybe two minutes after the powerbomb, Misawa's finally able to make a little headway against Kawada, and, like the smart man that he is, tags the warily-ready Kobashi in. Kobashi, of course, heads STRAIGHT after Kawada, NAILING him with WICKEDLY stiff chops AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN... and Kawada's just shaking them off like nothing's happening. The man is a machine, and he's GOING to make Misawa dead, no matter what Kobashi has to say about it. It's fucking BEAUTIFUL.

It's around this time that I started to look at precisely what kind of moves the guys were doing, and it's pretty interesting. Kobashi, for example, is widely known for his nearly-bottomless moveset, but all of his moves are very showy and conspicuous - very pro wrestling. This, of course, is a stark contrast from Kawada, for whom a powerbomb is an enormous personal statement, as he's consciously deviating from his brawl-y moveset. So when Kobashi starts unloading his ridiculous-looking Barnum & Bailey neck chops on Taue in the corner - chops, incidentally, which REALLY FUCKING HURT IN REAL LIFE; swing a medium-speed chop at your neck and tell me how it feels - and Taue no-sells them... that's a statement right there. That's Taue and Kawada, the two guys in control of the destiny of this match, saying "This is SERIOUS. All your fancy-lad offense isn't going to do DICK here; we're going to slug this one out in the mud." And how about Misawa, who himself has a bunch of deadly moves, finding himself unable to hit anything more powerful than the Tiger Driver, which is roughly along the same lines of Ric Flair's Figure Four (i.e. a credible finisher, but one which gets kicked out of nine times out of ten)? He's helpless. He's taking such a beating, trying to weather the storm, that he can't hit anything above his B-level finisher. He is, in a word, fucked.

So Kobashi, realizing that he's the weak link, decides to start gutting it out for the team. First, he rolls Misawa out of the ring after taking a WICKED Dangerous Backdrop, then he starts going for the only move that could feasibl win them the match: his moonsault. It'd be hell on his legs, of course, but that's the price you pay for victory: intense, intense pain. THIS is why I LOVE AJPW - because they're able to make wrestling NOBLE. Kobashi's seeing that everything's his fault, and now he's got to make it all better, no matter what the cost. THAT'S how important the titles are there. So he starts trying for the moonsault, again...and again...and again. He just can't keep the legal man down and the partner out of the ring long enough to even go for it. He's trying everything, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Taue and Kawada, and finally he gets KAWADA in position. He goes up. The fans are going fucking NUCLEAR. He's standing clear. HE'S IN THE AIR! HE LANDS THE MOONSAULT! ONE...TWO...


That moment right there is the end of the match. Or it is as far as Misawa and Kobashi are concerned. Once Kawada kicks out of the moonsault, there's nothing left that they can conceivably throw at the other team that would keap them down. Well...not nothing. There's always the Tiger Driver '91.

But now there's a new problem.

Kobashi, with his last weapon proving to be insufficient, has no choice but to tag out to the badly-beaten Misawa, in the hopes that maybe the stars will align and he'll be able to hit the Tiger Driver '91, the move that pinned Kawada in the 6/3/94 match. He catches a break temporarily, as Misawa goes in against Taue, the weaker of the two. But all that goes down the drain the moment Taue nodowas Misawa off the apron to the floor in a HUGE bump. The writing's on the wall at this point. All that's left to do is roll him back in the ring and pin him. So Taue rolls him back in the ring, and starts laying the boots to him...

And Kobashi drapes himself over Misawa in a last-ditch effort to protect him. It's an amazing sight; it's movie-dramatic. It also doesn't work. They pull him off, dispatch him, and now it's Misawa and Kawada with the former ready to fall, and the latter hungry for the win.

But Kobashi finally proved himself to be of use! His covering Misawa bought him just enough time to nail Kawada a few times. And just when he's starting to mount a comeback...Kawada High Kicks him in the face.

Game over. But Kawada, who hates Misawa with all his heart, picks him up, BREAKS HIS BRAIN with a wicked Dangerous Backdrop, then nails the coffin shut with a powerbomb. And Kobashi, desperately trying to get back in to break up the count, is again too weak to break free of Taue.

One. Two. Three.

The fans go NUTS.

Toshiaki Kawada has pinned Mitsuharu Misawa.

Kawada and Taue have just won the World Tag Titles.

It's the greatest match I've ever seen, and likely ever will. *****

Is It Worth It?

Almost anticlimactic, isn't it? Trust me; this is the best match I've ever seen in my life. It SMOKES the 6/3/94 match; it SMOKES the EMLL torneo cibernetico; it SORTA SMOKES Hokuto/Kandori; it SMOKES...everything else in the world, as far as I can tell. Everyone in this match put on the performance of their lives, and told a STORY. There may not have been any of the Infamous Murder Moves - the Burning Hammer, or the Ganso Bomb, or the Tiger Driver '91 - but it didn't need 'em. This match couldn't be more perfect. I've watched it four times now, and every time I've found something new.

So yes, yes it's worth it. Worth it like a mother's love.

Digably Yours,
Digable James Cobo
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