Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi are an all-time great babyface tag team, but because of Kobashi's subsequent singles superstardom, they aren't really talked about much at that level. This match -- and frankly, all of their 1992 matches that have made tape -- show much of an oversight that is.
July 5, 1992
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Summer Action Series
All-Asia Tag Team Titles
The most rewarding part of navigating Kenta Kobashi's extensive body of work is the number of "Ohhh yeah, THAT match!" moments that we open ourselves up to when going back to look at his best matches. Kobashi's career was appropriately documented and appreciated, so it's not that he has a career full of hidden gems (even though those exist too) as much as it is that he has produced so many great matches at so many different phases of his career that it's difficult to remember all of them. It would be another decade before he finally had the definitive run as a world champion that his talent and popularity demanded, but in 2003, 1992 was more than ancient history -- Kobashi wasn't even in the same company anymore; nor was Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, whose career had followed a radically different trajectory than his own.
Here, Kobashi and Kikuchi defended the All-Asia Tag Team Titles. The duo was unique because in virtually every other partnership at this time, Kobashi was the subordinate junior wrestler, a status that would follow him until he was paired with Jun Akiyama in 1996. The All-Asia tag titles had their own interesting history in the company because they were usually assigned to smaller and faster-paced tag teams, while the top singles stars paired up and controlled the World Tag Team Title picture. This team might have been the only place where Kobashi exerted any authority at all in relation to his more seasoned teammates. A list of Kikuchi's strengths -- likability, fire, great offense and selling, expert charisma -- would read very similar to those of Kobashi, which made them a natural fit for each other.
The most famous match the duo had (and the one that I considered the best match of the 1990s when I did a nutso ranking at Place To Be Nation a few years ago) was against Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat about six weeks before this one. Like Kobashi and Kikuchi, the Can-Ams were great offensive wrestlers, so pitting the teams against each other made for a stellar matchup, just as it earned one of the best crowd reactions for any match -- especially a midcard one -- in AJPW history. Like the May match, this match was joined in progress when it aired on Nippon TV, but unlike that match, this never came out in full. My initial thoughts when I watched this were that it was better than the May 22 tag, although at that time I had only seen the twelve minutes or so of it that aired back in 1992. I've since reversed that opinion, but only because the tag was finally aired in full on television. If we also had this in full, I think a full comparison would be both interesting and unpredictable, because Masa Fuchi adds so many interesting touches to his performance that it's not out of the realm of possibility that they topped themselves here. This was also the type of match that has more staying power because it's more classically worked -- the May tag was an incredible spectacle of offense while this was more substantive outing focused on limb selling and mat details, joined in progress right as Kobashi was starting to masterfully sell a knee injury. I'm also not sure I'd trust Furnas and Kroffat, whom I love, to pull off the finish the way Kikuchi and Fuchi did here, with Kikuchi reversing Fuchi's rolling reverse cradle, almost like an unlucky game of Wrestling Uno.
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This also spotlights something that AJPW did exceptionally well in the early 90s that they became less expert at doing with time. Kikuchi was embroiled in a six-year chase of Fuchi (a six-year chase to win a junior heavyweight championship!) and pins in tag matches were an effective way to keep hope alive for their next meeting. This shows that the same booking philosophy and respect for the story was applied to the undercards as it was the main events, an idea that seems unimaginable in most companies with weight classes.
Most of all, this match acts as a crusader for the midcard cause, a case study in the value of promoters not treating those who aren't current headliners as afterthoughts. Kobashi and Kikuchi owned the crowd as much as anyone owned their crowd in wrestling at the time, even while taking on a subordinate role when they did participate in All Japan's hierarchy-centered main event tags and six-mans, showing that with a little forethought, wrestling really can have it both ways.