149. Toshiaki Kawada (c) vs Kenta Kobashi (Triple Crown Championship Match, AJPW Super Power Series 12/6/1998)

It appears I missed an AJPW match on ‘BURNING: The Greatness of Kenta Kobashi’ (click here for the list). So, before I continue with Kenta Kobashi’s NOAH career, let’s have a look at the match I missed out. From 1998, it’s between Triple Crown Champion Toshiaki Kawada and Kobashi for the championship. Like all of the Four Pillars of AJPW, Kobashi and Kawada had fought each other countless times, from the late ‘80s to the end of Kobashi’s tenure in AJPW (Kawada was the only Pillar to refuse to defect to NOAH in 2000). Dave Meltzer hailed their 1995 bout the best 60 minute match he’d ever seen. I may return to that one, but for now I’m following the list!

Prior to this match, Kawada had defeated Mitsuharu Misawa for the Triple Crown Championship. The rivalry between these two was legendary, producing one of the best bouts of all time (click here for my review of their 3/6/94 match). During that rivalry, Kawada was always the secondary player. So when Kawada finally defeated Misawa for the World Championship, it meant something to Kawada. But Kawada wasn’t merely satisfied by merely beating Misawa; he wanted to have a lengthier title reign than Misawa ever did (a tall order, as Misawa’s longest reign was 705 days). Kobashi was Kawada’s first opponent for the championship…and Kobashi had only pinned Kawada once in 26 matches. (a few of their bouts had reached a time limit draw, but Kawada had many victories over Kobashi). Would Kobashi prove a pushover, a mere bump on Kawada’s road to surmounting Misawa’s epic title reigns? Or would Kawada fall at his first hurdle?

For two familiar opponents, they start off with a slow feeling out process. There’s a bit of chain wrestling, a ‘test of strength’ spot, and it all feels a little unnecessary. These two had fought plenty of times before (both in singles matches and tag matches), so why do they need to feel each other out? They fought against each other that very year! Maybe I have a short attention span, but this only served to drag out the match.

However, as soon as Kobashi (literally) knocks Kawada out of the ring after a spinning chop, this is vintage AJPW. Hard-hitting, head-spiking, full-on logical action. Kawada, the cocky and arrogant heel, dominates much of the bout. That suits Kobashi’s style of wrestling. He is the archetypal underdog, fighting from beneath to overcome adversity. Kawada keeps it simple, kicking the crap out of Kobashi and assaulting him with high-impact moves, hoping to hammer Kobashi into oblivion. He knows Kobashi has plenty of fighting spirit, so his best option is to keep Kobashi on the mat. Kobashi, on the other hand, focuses on Kawada’s neck, preparing Kawada for a variety of classic Kobashi finishers.

Strangely, both neglect to target each other’s greatest weakness: the knees. They both had a storied history of knee injuries, and in their previous matches the knees have been the central focus for both wrestlers. Why, in a bout with the championship on the line, do they not consider this weakness? I’m thinking more about the heel Kawada than Kobashi…but even so, I felt it was a glaring omission. But I did try to explain it to myself within the context of the match. Both had oodles to prove, and perhaps wanted to prove they were the better wrestler without targeting their opponents’ greatest weakness. Kawada felt that he could beat Kobashi without battering his knees. He wanted Kobashi at this strongest, so when he defeated Kenta there’d be not question about the victory. Indeed, halfway through the bout, Kawada locks in an armbar, in an attempt to neuter Kobashi’s LARIOT finisher. He targets a strength rather than a weakness.

On Kobashi’s part, with only one victory over Kawada, he wanted to prove he could beat Kawada whilst absorbing Kawada’s famed and brutal kicks at their strongest. It made me think of Kobashi’s relentless assault on Kawada’s knees in that famed 1993 tag bout featuring Akira Taue and Kawada against Misawa and Kobashi (click here for my review). Kawada shows grit and determination, overcoming Kobashi’s relentless assault…but he was the heel, absorbing a beating in a babyface fashion! Even the crowd started to boo Kobashi and cheer Kawada. Perhaps Kobashi didn’t want a repeat of that!

This, and the opening section, were the only real complaints I have about this bout. Right from that first spinning chop, everything was nigh-on perfect. You’ll hear more about Misawa vs Kawada and Misawa vs Kobashi whilst talking about AJPW best bouts, but Kobashi and Kawada had bucketloads of chemistry together. Apart from the opening drawl, I never felt like they were purposefully dragging out the bout to make it feel epic. There’s little superfluous here. Instead, the work they put into the bout made it feel epic, even though it’s only a little over half an hour long. There’s the typical raucous crowd reaction that helps proceedings, but these two give the crowd something to cheer. Kobashi, one of the most convincing sellers of all time, bleeds sympathy as he absorbs Kawada’s greatest hits. Kawada, master of delayed selling, attempts to keep his exhaustion and pain at bay. But every now and again, his stony persona breaks, and he’ll fall to the floor. And that’s when Kobashi strikes.

Kobashi here looks tougher than ever, absorbing everything Kawada throws at him and yet always moving forward. This isn’t the art of ‘no-selling moves just to get to the next sequence,’ but the art of ‘selling and looking like a tough son of a gun.’ The same applies to Kawada.

It all drives towards the finish, as each wrestlers’ exhaustion is so realistic that anything could end the bout. Nowadays, I find myself predicting the end of WWE bouts (to be fair, I’ve been watching it for over twenty years and am familiar with he typical WWE match layout). Here, you feel the match could end at any point after twenty minutes.

And that’s part of what makes the final ten minutes of the bout soar. Yes, I do have a few nitpicks, because nitpicking is what I do. The slow opening is but a prelude to a thrilling and brutal war. These two warriors, who have battled each over again and again, attempt to outdo each other for thirty minutes. But that slow opening, and the lack of focus on weak knees, prevent me from rating this as a 5* classic. It’s an easy 4* bout, and may even reach 5* upon a rewatch…but for now, I have to rate it as 4*. I shall have to watch some of their other, more famous singles bout now!

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘Reviews of Wrestling Matches‘)

My Other Reviews of ‘Burning: The Greatness of Kenta Kobashi’ (in date order)

And here are some other reviews of Kobashi’s matches:


10 thoughts on “149. Toshiaki Kawada (c) vs Kenta Kobashi (Triple Crown Championship Match, AJPW Super Power Series 12/6/1998)

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