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[1996-03-02-AJPW-Excite Series] Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue vs Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama

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As usual with notable All Japan matches, it's great by itself and great as part of a larger story. In this case it's the start of All Japan's big focal point of the year, Kawada vs Akiyama. While they had some great exchanges in the April 6-man, this has a bit more to it and really helps make Akiyama's emergence in the May tag title match that much more special.

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The story going into this was that a.) in an earlier 6-man, Akiyama had dropped Kawada with a Northern Lights bomb and "knocked him out," with Kawada doing a rare stretcher job after missing the rest of the match, and b.) in a later 6-man, Akiyama got a pin on Taue for his first victory over a top-level guy, and Baba had declared that the Big Four were now a Big Five.

 

At the start this is all about the Holy Demon Army trying to put this upstart Jun in his place, and Jun not going along with it. Taue and Kawada do as much as they can to grind him into the mat, and he keeps bouncing back up. And when they try to unleash their big bombs, he has counters for them. Unfortunately Kobashi, upon tagging in, actually drags this down a bit. There's some token psychology with Kobashi apparently having a bad leg, but for the first time in his career Kenta actually brings down the energy of a match. Things pick up again when Jun tags Kawada with a hard slap from the ring apron after Kawada slaps him, tags in, and goes nuts with Exploders. Kobashi then starts pulling his weight as a force from the outside making saves and setting up double-teams with Jun, but in the end Akiyama is double-teamed, Kobashi neutralized, and Taue gets his win back. This was non-title, but being as Taue & Kawada were the tag champs it wouldn't make a ton of sense to job them in their first big match after winning the belts. I have a feeling that I may say this a lot, but this felt like a star-making performance by Jun. For the first time in a big AJPW tag he felt like the best worker in the match.

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This was all about building an ongoing storyline and rivalry. Akiyama's ascent to the main event was a key theme in 1996 Zen Nihon. The exchanges he had with Kawada were the highlight in this one. The way the status gap appeared here it's incredible the youngster would beat him so soon afterwards. A couple of lulls, but a satisfying Budokan Hall semi-final that achieved its objective.

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