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[1995-01-19-AJPW-New Year's Giant Series] Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi

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I think this is solidly behind their '96 draw, and the '95 tag draws. That said, I'll take it over Jumbo vs Choshu from ten years earlier. First 40-50 minutes are quality. Last ten... it sorta breaks down.

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As great of a match as this is, I don't think it was the right match to work in this setting. This is Kawada's first defense with the Triple Crown, and he's going to a draw against Kobashi. Kobashi, a guy who doesn't win big matches very often.

 

When writing this, my initial plan was to get that gripe out of the way, then move on to the match itself, but they aren't mutually exclusive points. This reminds me in many ways of a classic world title match with Kobashi cast as the local hero. He's clearly the crowd favorite and Kawada is happy to give them what they want. He puts Kobashi over in pretty much every sequence in the early going.

 

They start with an extended, old-style collar-and-elbow tie up, which, when done right is always awesome. And it's definitely done right here. A shoving match follows this, along with a dramatic staredown. They make it clear pretty early that they're working big, but again, this is about putting over Kobashi. He's the challenger. He's the crowd favorite. He's getting in Kawada's face.

 

In some ways, this is Kawada working Kawada's version of The Flair Formula:

 

* He overly celebrates a small victory -- a shoulderblock -- and Kobashi quickly responds with a backhand and a great lariat.

* They lock hands and have a great struggle for control, which Kobashi wins.

* Kawada goes after Kobashi's knee for the first time awfully early in the match, putting over his desperation.

* Kawada can't hold his own against Kobashi when they work holds early and pulls out a desperate release German just to get out of a test of strength.

* Every time Kawada strings a few things together, Kobashi comes back quickly.

 

But where he's different is that as much as he puts over Kobashi, he also gets in his own time to shine. Kobashi tries some chops, and Kawada does his best Hulk Up. And through all of this, he gives the crowd exactly what they want -- heeling it up big time when he mounts Kobashi and starts slapping the back of his head.

 

In terms of the ability to work holds in compelling fashion, these two are phenomenal. The staredowns, dramatic collar-and-elbow and test of strength stuff is huge and would play well in a dome setting.

 

When Kawada gets the chance, he goes after Kobashi's taped up knee, which might as well have a big bulls-eye on it. Kawada bends it over the guardrail and grinds it into the mat. Kobashi responds at first by going after Kawada's neck and upper back, but shifts focus at some point and starts going after Kawada's knee too. But before that, he's working headlocks and what I can only call a figure four necklock. Maybe it's because Kawada kept being such an asshole. Case in point -- did he really need to counter a chinlock with a kick to the face? Kobashi goes into a stretch plum, maybe to make a point, but Kawada goes to the ropes. More champion desperation. Kobashi locks in a sleeper and Kawada frantically starts backing up into the corner in an attempt to break the hold. Even more champion desperation.

 

Everything is a struggle. Fighting over who gets to land a vertical suplex takes nearly a minute with Kobashi finally winning out. Kobashi starts using all the same tactics against Kawada that were being used against him just a few minutes earlier, but Kawada cuts him off with his version of the Ric Flair Thumb To The Eye -- a chop to the throat. Kobashi sells it like death and Kawada gets a warning from the referee.

 

Kawada lands a couple of double stomps from the apron as this match continues to go into Best Possible Starrcade '88 Main Event territory. Kawada gets his own sleeper and Kobashi quickly reaches the ropes, so Kawada pulls him to the middle and locks him in a bodyscissors.

 

There's a fight over the powerbomb. Kawada is the first to pull one off, but he barely hits it. He tries again, and this time Kobashi fights back a little more. He drops to one knee and finally backdrops him over the top rope. For the second time in the match, Kawada does an Irish whip into the guardrail, but this time, Kobashi comes back with a clothesline. This really is a super high-end Ric Flair-Lex Luger match!

 

Kawada is back in the ring first, having taken less of a beating at this point. When Kobashi tries to come in, Kawada tries to clothesline him back out. But Kobashi sees it coming and blocks it. In a big turning point for the match, Kobashi jumps off the top rope, but Kawada kicks him coming down. It hurt Kobashi, but Kawada grabs his ankle and starts screaming in pain, so he seemed to have taken the worst of it. Kobashi wastes no time in going after Kawada's knee. He gets in a figure four and I love all the scooting back and forth. I WILL REACH THE ROPES. YOU WILL NOT REACH THE ROPES. I WILL REACH THE ROPES. You get the idea.

 

At this point, both guys have bad wheels, so they're both going after each other in an attempt to create space. Kawada tries the powerbomb a few more times, but still can't pull it off. Kobashi isn't worn down enough yet. In fact, even when Kawada is in control, he seems lucky, while Kobashi seems to have inevitability on his side. To demonstrate this, Kawada can't even stand up when he's Irish whipped.

 

Now they're nearing the final stretch. I don't know if I agree with Ditch that the match fell apart at this point, but it wasn't consistent with what led up to it. The match was built around a back-to-basics approach, working a Fuchi style where they cranked holds and told a really basic, easy-to-follow story. But then, we get a bunch of nearfalls that seem a little out of place, even if they are well-worked -- the best of which is Kobashi's two count after a rolling cradle.

 

In the last few minutes, after working even up until about 55 minutes, suddenly they change the flow of the match. We're supposed to think Kobashi has taken the worst of everything and that Kawada has been the one in control. Kobashi suddenly gets really defensive, trying to run down the clock and keep his distance -- he knows he can't win, but he's just trying not to lose. And that's what he does.

 

As a way to spend an hour, this was mostly awesome, and when I say awesome, I mean REALLY awesome. In spite of any flaws toward the end, I think everyone currently in wrestling should watch this if only to see how well they work holds, get simple gestures over and time spots to get a massive crowd reaction. It's also notable that they keep things really basic and don't do very many crazy highspots, yet still keep the crowd engaged the whole time. So those are major positives.

 

Rating Kawada/Kobashi matches, I'd probably put this a little ahead of their 60-minute draw the following year, but it falls behind their match in October of '93 for me. We'll see about the others as time goes on. Ultimately, the things in this match that didn't work well were self-contained at the very end of the match, and the things that did work well worked really, really well. All in all, a classic.

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As great of a match as this is, I don't think it was the right match to work in this setting. This is Kawada's first defense with the Triple Crown, and he's going to a draw against Kobashi. Kobashi, a guy who doesn't win big matches very often.

According to legend, this originally was going to be the expected Kawada successful defense over Kobashi before the titles headed off in their direction back to Misawa. Instead, this happened two days before:

 

Great Hanshin Earthquake

 

According to legend, Baba changed the result to a draw to give the region something "special" in the aftermath.

 

Take the legend for whatever it's worth. There is a level of believability to it as the result in inconsistent with pretty much all other Baba booking of TC matches in the era. The flip side is that it's not like Baba was very vocal in telling other people his reasons for making booking decisions. :)

 

John

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I feel like I need to watch this a couple times to really get a feel of it. On the first viewing, the first 30 minutes were real good and I liked them kicking each other while in the leg lock. After that, My interest starts to wain. I just see no reason why this had to be a 60 minute draw?

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I just see no reason why this had to be a 60 minute draw?

Kobashi gets to show 'progress' in that he took the champ to a draw; Kawada still looks like the stronger of the two and keeps the title.

 

Would have made more sense if Kawada wins in like 45-50 minutes here, then Kobashi takes *Misawa* to a broadway in October, followed by Kobashi winning in his next title shot in '96. Though a 60 minute version of the October TC match... eww.

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I prefer Hash/Sasaki to this as my working MOTY, but that's because I'm predisposed to loving shorter matches where two beefies smash the shit out of each other more than hour long matches with less clubbering and so forth. Breaking this down into 6 10 minute blocks, I thought the first and last blocks were the weakest while the four in between them were really great. They sort of have a parity theme going on until the last ten minutes where Kawada looks to pull away. Similar "strategies" by both guys at points in the middle -- both use the powerbomb, both work the leg. Kawada gives Kobashi a ton and has to chop him dead in the throat a few times to slow his momentum, which fucking ruled. Thought it started to teeter into overkill territory a bit at the end, but Kobashi knowing he's fucked and just trying to crawl around the ring to get away from Kawada, while kind of goofy, was a cool bit of selling. Loss basically covered everything already. Definite MOTYC.

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I dont know too much about the All-Japan booking politics, but just from a fan perspective it seems like Baba was building Kobashi as the next babyface ace, whereas Kawada was going to be a perpetual heel interim champion. You really get the feeling that Kawada and Kobashi are equals after this match even though a scant year ago Kawada was clearly the superior wrestler in the kayfabe world.

 

On the Flair/Luger comparison, I think it is pretty apt especially with crowd so solidly behind Kobashi it was a sensible template to use. Flair/Luger is one of my favorite series ever and I would put Wrestlewar '90 definitely ahead of this and it is close with Starrcade '88.

 

It is a pretty good story of Kobashi's power, fighting spirit and general manliness against Kawada's ruthlessness. The chop to the throat around the 22 minute mark is what finally woke me up to this match. I would say from there until just before the final stretch they has me ensnared. I used to think Savage was the undisputed King of Selling the Knee and Flair the King of Selling Fatigue, but after all this All-Japan gorging Kawada has totally closed the gap and may have overtaken the both of them. His selling was beautiful in this. Kobashi paced his offense really well in this match. Kawada avoided the trap of dick-waving that Dr. Death seems to always indulge Kobashi in.

 

There is a lot of fun spots in the lead up that keep this entertaining like Kawada sudden burst of chops and kicks around 40 minutes while Kobashi is sitting down or the figure-four spot or the rolling cradle. I think they were kinda booked into a corned insofar no one was going to buy into a false finish if they did not start busting out the big bombs. I actually think they did that tastefully and did not have them kicking out of a million different finishes. Also, I think they were booked into a corner concerning who should be in the lead at the sound of the final bell. Common sense dictates it should have been Kobashi attempting a million different near-falls in a race against the clock. However that makes Kawada look weak in his title defense, which why I think they ended with the Kawada in control and Kobashi running the clock looking for a draw so he can have grounds for a rematch.

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I dont know too much about the All-Japan booking politics, but just from a fan perspective it seems like Baba was building Kobashi as the next babyface ace, whereas Kawada was going to be a perpetual heel interim champion. You really get the feeling that Kawada and Kobashi are equals after this match even though a scant year ago Kawada was clearly the superior wrestler in the kayfabe world.

You mean like 1993 where the finish to the last match was Kobashi pinning Kawada?

 

:)

 

Kobashi was competitive with Kawada by mid '89 and slooooowly caught up. Didn't beat him in a singles match until '98!

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Really interesting match which I thought had one huge flaw. The first third, until Kawada's german, was incredibly well worked given how long they were going. The pacing and facials even in this early stretch did a great job telling the story of how both were approaching the match. The next third or so saw them trade control spots pretty evenly, probably too evenly given this was Kawada's first defense and not against the former champ or Misawa.

 

I could be wrong, but seem to recall reading in the WON what's mentioned above about Baba calling an audible following the earthquake. Whatever the reason, the booking here just felt all wrong. Kobashi probably looks just as strong holding on for as long as he does, withstanding the throat chops and blocking a couple power bombs before dropping the fall to the one Kawada hits, at which point the crowd lost it. It wouldn't exactly bury him to lose after 40+ minutes.

 

Leaving that and the backwards psychology of the challenger killing the clock, this was nearly flawless execution for 60 minutes. Even the near falls at the end, from Kobashi's power bomb to Kawada dialing back to his '93 win with a pin attempt following the stretch plum were hot. They just felt a little out of place after the first 40 minutes.

 

I think I prefer the 10/93 match to this one as its tighter and has a better finish, but its tough to argue against 2 of the best in the world doing their thing for 60 minutes.

 

That huge flaw? The announcing. I don't speak a word of Japanese. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate Akira Fukuzawa walking me through a match and imparting energy and emotion where its appropriate. Baba & whomever were calling this sounded like they didn't want to wake a sleeping child and were hoping to make it through the hour without disturbing anyone. A match like this deserves better.

 

Still no worse than ****1/4.

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Really odd watching this match as going in I had no idea they were going 60 but after 20 or so it felt like they were going all the way. I honestly don't remember a point in the match where I actually believed it was going to end and my interest really evaporated quickly. Still looking forward to seeing more of them throughout the yearbooks though.

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I don't have much to add about this, but I don't quite think Kawada was dominant enough for my liking. I get the relatively last-minute changing of the booking and the work and counters and mirror spots are all really great, but at times this felt like Kawada as traveling heel world champion being pushed to the limit by a challenger, when I think he would have been better off establishing himself as the dominant force. Kobashi still could have gotten over by taking all of Kawada's shots and repeatedly kicking out. That said, Kobashi's crawling around the ring in a desperate attempt to stay away from Kawada after being repeatedly Germaned was pretty great selling, and is now something I wish John Cena had tried last night. This is probably a 3rd straight AJPW Triple Crown match whose reach exceeded its grasp, but it was still much better than the two fall matches and the circumstances behind it were more understandable.

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I thought this was really disappointing. I guess it is difficult because I knew of this match before I watched it, so I knew it was going the hour. I just couldn't forget that while watching it so I never got wrapped up in the near falls like I usually do in these AJPW matches. There was a lot of great wrestling in here, it just felt to me like the match really wanted to be something different and every time it started to get going and become something awesome, they kept having to reign it in. I'd liken it to them taking a champion stallion racehorse on a long track over the mountains, so every time the racehorse started to gallop, they had to slow it back down and have it act like slow donkey.

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The first Broadway of the year, and it did feel like an hour. They set out their stall with a sensibly paced opening. Credit to the fans who were with them from start to finish. It would've been tough going without them. The lack of matwork in the Kings Road style was a definite drawback when going this length. Both did a fair bit of damage to the others knee, but it's never going to lead to a submission. There were surprisingly few near falls. The first close call wasn't until the final quarter. I felt like it needed a more sharply focused theme and segmentation, a clearer plan of what was going to happen when. It drifted a fair bit. I appreciated the physical effort and it was a good match. Were it a one off idea I'd probably be more positive towards it. I've never been able to make it through the rematch in '96.

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