With Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada at odds during the peak of their rivalry, All Japan did something rare -- they produced a memorable six-man tag.
July 2, 1993
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
In classic All Japan Pro Wrestling, six-man tags were likely the most interesting matches the company produced. There were so many of them that it took something remarkable for the match to stand out as great (even when it was), but in such a hierarchy-based company, it was a great peek at the pecking order, a flashlight into the back of All Japan’s booking office that resolved most questions about card positioning. Because the layout was usually geared to ensure that everyone involved had something notable to contribute, six-mans were also an effective showcase of All Japan’s top shelf at a given point in time, letting everyone demonstrate what they could do before, generally speaking, getting out of dodge. This resulted in offense-heavy, action packed matches that doubled as a great introduction to the style for novices.
This time around, the setting alone solved at least part of the difficulty standing out. Just six weeks earlier, Toshiaki Kawada, the long-time second lieutenant to Mitsuharu Misawa in these types of matches, announced in understated fashion that he was leaving Misawa’s side; nine months earlier, Misawa bested Kawada in his first Triple Crown defense and their team was clearly drowning in debt from massively-borrowed time. In becoming Misawa’s top rival, Kawada quickly moved from tag-along to top rival and peer.
Jun Akiyama and Yoshinari Ogawa were there to represent the undercard; in Akiyama’s case, a wrestler who would only close out his rookie year two months after this but had gotten off to an incredible start with one of the best rookie years in history. Kenta Kobashi and Akira Taue took a mostly background role by design. They impressed when they were in the ring, but it was clear they were sandwiched between the top two priorities of the match -- get over the younger Akiyama-Ogawa pairing and get over the Misawa-Kawada rivalry, which would headline the next tour when Kawada would challenge for the Triple Crown one more time.
Much like Kobashi and Taue before them, as the least experienced person on his side, Akiyama would now work the lion’s share of the match. As awesome as Akiyama was, Ogawa was serviceable but not really spectacular, someone who was still about five years away from finding himself. The spectacular belonged to Misawa and Kawada, to the point their intensity swallowed the match whole.
If the goal was to get Misawa-Kawada over as a deeply personal rivalry, which was not really a huge stretch, the match wildly succeeded. Some have debated whether the right person was the ace of All Japan during these years; Kawada and Kobashi had huge positives, but it’s clear watching this match that neither could have assumed the mantle quite like Misawa, who alternated between stoic and fiery with seemingly near the same ease that most of us put on our shoes. The end result does less to advance the plot than continue it, which is the biggest part of what makes All Japan six-mans the most disposable great matches of all time. This one wasn’t disposable, but it doesn’t quite earn all of the shelf space it takes either, landing in a spot where you know a match is great and can’t deny its virtues, but find it hard to care. The match’s greatest drawback is the lack of emotional hook or importance, meaning that it’s easier to admire than love.