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[1994-04-16-AJPW-Championship Carnival] Steve Williams vs Toshiaki Kawada

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What a great match! If Steve Williams has a better match and performance in his life, I have never seen it. I have liked him in other matches he has had on yearbooks, but he is really so far above his normal level that it really makes even the good matches in other years seem like they are missing something. I said this in the previous Kawada match, and I'll reiterate it -- I'm pretty sure he was the best American born wrestler in the world at this time.

 

But more than that, Kawada is really brilliant here. He comes across as a guy who has studied Doc and knows what he can do well and what's over with the crowd, and the match really plays to his strengths. He gets so much milage out of backdrop driver and Oklahoma Stampede teases, getting himself over as the underdog at the same time. Kawada's lucky last-minute counters to Doc's signature move attempts are awesome and when you see the match down the final stretch, you really admire all the table setting they were doing in the first 20+ minutes of the match even more.

 

Kawada has probably had more dynamic performances, but in terms of laying out a match, knowing his opponent, getting over the key storyline points and teasing specific things to set them up for a big pop later, this is one of the best things he ever did. Put it against the backdrop of Doc having a stellar start to the year and stepping up his game, and Kawada's chase being so prominent in All Japan, and you have a classic.

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I've seen this match at least a half-dozen times and it never loses its appeal. It's the classic match-up of guy with the biggest knockout punch vs. great counterpuncher. All the spots showcasing Williams' brute strength are awesome, and you really don't know if Kawada can break him down. But Kawada is always able to duck the one left hook to the chin, aka the backdrop driver. And he's so precise with his kicks that you feel Williams is taking real damage when Kawada finds an opening. By the last minutes of the match, Williams has taken enough accumulated punishment that Kawada slides fluidly into the role of finisher. I'm talking about the match in boxing terms, because that's the rhythm it evokes for me. Great shit -- one of the top two singles matches of Doc's career and top 5 for Kawada.

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Fantastic match. Kawada hangs in there as long as possible dodging the backdrop driver and other big moves. I love when Wiliams goes for the big move and the crowd just freaks out each time. Kawada's kicks allow him to take over the match and he gives Williams quite the beating at the end. Williams comes off looking great in this match and tournament. Kawada had to give him everything to put him away at the end. Rewarding match to see from beginning to end.

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Tremendous match with equally tremendous performances. Doc is untouchable in this with his performance. His mannerisms, facial expressions, and the way he mocks Kawada are all exceptional traits he has in this. Kawada knows every move Doc is going for and calculates when and where he might strike with them. The match has brilliant structure and excellent build. Each one of Doc's finishers is taken seriously and built up magnificently. Kawada weathers the storm and successfully avoids the second storm. In the end it takes him three powerbombs to put away Doc to win the CC. Absolutely fabulous match!

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One my favorite matches of all time. Always a match that starts out kind of slow with some table setting and then Williams hits the tiger suplex and BOOM there you go with the story of the match and show why we had such a careful beginning because when Williams is able to hit a big move, Kawada is in serious danger. Kawada logically and barely avoiding the big moves is one of the best examples in wrestling where his defense became offense as the match progressed. The finish is so rewarding and feels like a crowning achievement for Kawada.

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Kawada is officially "back" after threatening to outright fall behind Kobashi as the #3 native in the company, getting a badly needed major win en route to a tournament victory. And he won it in a classic. AJPW isn't really a place known for great punches or punch-based psychology, so Doc's blows here in addition to looking good really stand out in comparison to what else was going on in the company at the time, and get over his desperation to put this fucker Kawada away. Kawada plays one of the best hit-and-run strategies ever, tiring Doc out with kicks to set up submissions and eventually his big bombs. He's the guy who gets the lion's share of credit for this match layout, but Doc's selling is for once just as good as his offense. Masterful performance from both guys, and the #2 MOTY. I don't think this CC quite reached the highs or particularly the variety of the '91 G1 Climax but it's unquestionably one of the better round-robins ever put on by a wrestling company.

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The 1994 Carnival final is a great match. I don't know if I've fully appreciated it up until now. Again, there's a noticeable lift in intensity from Kawada. Every move is sold as though as it means something, and not in a self-conscious way, but because the stakes are so high and the jeopardy increases as the match progresses. I realise he was working against a bigger American, but again I was surprised by how much Kawada worked from underneath. He's nowhere near as aggressive as I imagined, or recollected, even when he's working from the top. Not compared with Tenryu. He was working as a total babyface, which is to be expected under the circumstances, but he strikes me as a bit more cerebral than the likes of Hashimoto or Tenryu whereas before I would have paired them as naturally aggressive workers. Williams also sold well. He had good chemistry with Kawada despite, or perhaps because of, them not getting along outside the ring, but something clicked with him in '94 and he realised how he could use his size and strength to full effect. It reminds me of watching a football player (whether it be rugby or American football) who's a pretty good player and then finally discovers beast mode.

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This was a breakthrough victory for Kawada as he wins his first (of 2) Champion Carnival's. They battled back and forth in the early stages as neither man could gain offensive domination for a long period. A bit of repetition from Williams with the lariats and I wasn't crazy about the no selling. Business picked up big time once the Dangerous Backdrop was unleashed. Plenty of excitement down the stretch in a rousing finale. Kawada hit 2 Powerbombs which didn't 100% connect, allowing Doc to survive. The 3rd time was a charm, and it's fair to say the fans wholeheartedly approved of his victory. I've watched this a few times now and am still seeing it as VG+ rather than a classic. The tournament as a whole was outstanding. I'll have to rewatch '95 before declaring it the greatest Carnival.

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http://placetobenation.com/countdown-top-500-matches-of-the-90s-100-51/

 

#79

 

I agree with and had very similar thoughts as PeteF3. I've seen this one a few times recently, so I didn't revisit it today. I just loved the chemistry of these two in this match, and as Pete said, how Williams just seemed to make it different or standout from some of the other great Kawada matches. Great match ****3/4

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Easily the best match of the Carnival, imo. Just amazing performances from both, probably Dr. Death's career best. I really loved Kawada's attempts to get away from the Backdrop Driver and Oklahoma Stampedes, especially how he mixed it up in the finishing run.

It's pretty much a cliche at this point, but William's has gotten so much better in these last few months. It's really, really impressive.

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Toshiaki Kawada vs Steve Williams - AJPW 4/16/94

The match that is a part of the classic core of the All Japan canon that I never really got. I always saw this match  as a great match but never quite at the level of the other vaunted All Japan matches. Let's see what fresh eyes and having really enjoyed the 3/29/94 lead-in does for this match. 

This is the final for the 1994 Champions Carnival, which is difference than the previous year's #1 Native vs #1 Gaijin in Misawa vs Hansen. Here they go with #2 Native vs #2 Gaijin, I think thats a conscious decision to build up two challengers for Misawa and the fact that Hansen was slowing down. The 3/29 lead-in round robin match between the two went to a draw. Doc showed his power but did not hit his Oklahoma Stampede or his Back Drop Driver. Kawada hit his best shots: lots of head kicks, powerbomb, Stretch Plum even threw in a Fujiwara Armbar but couldnt get the job done. Lets see what happens here. 

They stick in the first 15 minutes to the story I really liked in the first match, it is Williams' power advantage against Kawada's Dangerous Head Kicks. Doc steamrolls Kawada early with some tackle. He is feeling confident and goes for the Back Drop Driver early. This always elicits a good crowd reaction and announcer reaction. I love early finisher teases makes believe that the wrestler wants to win. Kawada scrambles and punches/slaps Williams in the head and then hits his own Back Drop Driver. Great combination of a head shot and head drop from Kawada. Thats what it comes down to. Is Kawada needs to contain Williams' explosiveness by constantly rocking the head. Once Doc gets a head of steam on Kawada it is over for him. We see a lot of counter punching from Kawada that is focused on head kicks. What I didnt like about this is that Kawada seems to like set up transitions to Doc by taking his foot off the gas pedal. I dont know if this is supposed to be a kayfabe character flaw or if this is just not having a good transition but I didnt like it. 

The match definitely picks up when the powerful Doc traps Kawada in a double chickenwing and hoists him over in a Tiger Suplex. Great sell by Kawada they get the nearfall and then further milk it by having Kawada powder. Doc misses a top rope splash. Kawada hits his famous Spinning Heel Kick to the head. Nice middle rope kneedrop. I liked that when Doc struggled against the suplex Kawada quickly changed gears into a Fujiwara Armabr takedown and a nice callback to the 3/29 match. The transition back to Doc was a little too telegraphed again with Kawada seemingly letting up for no reason and Doc hitting a Spinebuster. Great stuff from Williams here. I liked the scramble on the Oklahoma Stampede with Kawada going for the ropes immediately. So Doc switches gears, hits his BIG Splash in the corner and then SNATCHES Kawada into an explosive Powerslam in a way he completed the Oklahoma Stampede for two. The way he snatched Kawada and took him over in that Powerslam was Brock Lesnar-esque and it was explosive! 

Again it is the combination of two head-kicks that rock Dr. Death enough for Kawada to command with a Stretch Plum which I think is smart. A hold like this will do a better job containing the explosive power of Doc and also sap his energy than head kicks. Kawada Kicks! Doc No Sells them because he is all man. Kawada is pissed about this and goes for an illegal Closed Fist, but Doc blocks and tees off on him with his own! Epic Kawada fall on his ass sell! The ref admonishes him but Doc throws a couple right jabs and a looping left knocks Kawada out. Where was that against Bart? Big Press Slam onto the top rope and the crowd is solidly behind Kawada chanting his name. Williams applies the Octopus Stretch. 

The match gets really, really good here. Doc has had the momentum ever since he punched Kawada's lights out and has built up enough momentum to go for the Back Drop Driver. Kawada furiously fights out and Kawada hits a Jumping High Kick to the head. Doc sells this like he is out cold. Total limp, dead man's float sell. Really puts over the kick. Kawada winds up like he is going to deliver his Mack Truck Lariat. Doc ducks and BACK DROP DRIVER! Only Doc cant capitalize because of the head kick and Kawada wisely rolls out of the ring. Very effective way to pop the crowd but also protect the move. Now because they took the starch out of the nearfall by milking all the damage they wisely have Doc hit the Doctor Bomb for a hot nearfall. Now you have gotten a little bit of everything. You explain why Doc couldnt capitalize the head kick. You explain why Kawada still has a shot, the head kick. You still get the Back Drop Driver because instantly the fans are like Oh Fuck. The realize both men need to sell. You get the great visual of Kawada rolling out of the ring. You protect the Back Drop Driver. You still get the hot nearfall from the Doctor Bomb. Really genius. 

Now of course Dr. Death wants to hit the Back Drop Driver again, big scramble to the ropes. Williams rips him off the ropes. There's this great drama is he going to hit it or not. Kawada has his leg grapevine and then all of sudden Kawada breaks free, Spinning Back Hand Chop to the head and then ROLLING KAPPO KICK TO THE HEAD! I marked out so hard for this. They do all the necessary nearfalls but for all intents and purposes it was over. A Stretch Plum, some more head kicks and Three Powerbombs (last Powerbomb was the best from a power stand point). 

I really liked the story they told. Kawada was outclassed in the power department, but he is an excellent counterpuncher and just kept kicking that head. All this only works if Doc sells. Misawa's elbow is only as powerful as his opponents make it. So it is important that Doc did NOT oversell in the beginning, but when the time was right he sold the right head kick as death. In the lone rung it protected him and his finish. The Rolling Kappo Kick was the cherry on top. It was a different style and Kawada pulling deep from his bag of tricks but it fit the theme of the match, keeping kicking the powerhouse in the head. I definitely see the appeal of this match now, excellent match. ****3/4

 

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What a day 16/04/1994 was. Not only did you have the finals of the Champion Carnival, a pivotal moment in All Japan’s yearly plans involving the elevation of Williams and Kawada. You have the Super J Cup taking place 3 miles down the road at Ryogoku, the launching pad for Junior Heavyweight wrestling of its generation. Just to follow up on the All Japan side. While Kawada wins this match, setting up the next Misawa vs Kawada title match, getting to the Finals solidifies Williams as the top gaijin of All Japan now. This is the second match between these two of the Carnival themselves, previously going 30 minutes earlier in the tournament. And this is a brilliant follow up from that. 

Kawada is on the counter defensive, actively avoiding Williams’ biggest moves (Oklahoma Stampede, Backdrop Driver) while looking to get his stiff strikes in to knock Williams loopy. Kawada hung onto the ropes for dear life when Willaims first went for the Stampede. Fantastic work by Kawada who made everything Williams was trying to do that much more dangerous by his sheer desperation to get out of those signatures. Williams worked the back with hard slams and kicks to the back early on which Kawada sold wonderfully with his screams of agony. It’s not often you hear Kawada audibly sell but he went that route in this case. Williams brought out a few out of the box offensive moves, such as the Tiger Suplex which got a close two count and some awesome punches to the jaw. Kawada had some brilliant combo strikes near the finish, hitting a spinning backfist and then a rolling kappou kick which was the turning point for Kawada’s eventual win. The mach excelled at milking the drama for all it’s worth in the near falls and submission holds. Williams did his best to make Kawada earn that finish and it made the win much more satisfying. Now give Kawada the Triple Crown, Baba! ****1/2
 

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