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PeteF3

[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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Holy Demon Army vs Kenta Kobashi & Jun Akiyama - AJPW 3/2/96

Kawada & Taue do not bring the tag team titles with them to the ring so I think this is non-titles. The Holy Demon Army had just regained the titles after losing them to Stan Hansen & Gary Albright, a forgotten team and reign (I want to check out at least one of their matches). This is on the Budokan main evented by Misawa vs Albright and this is Akiyama's first major Budokan match. Fellow PWO poster, PeteF3 does such a great job explaining the context to this story that I am just going to quote him,

"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."

The first five minutes of this match is Kawada & Taue beating the tar out of Akiyama and telling him, "Know Your Role & Shut Your Mouth". All of the usual great Taue spots as he gets it started with Kawada peppering in his stuff. As much as this is all about Akiyama, Kobashi does not take a backseat like Misawa would. He is an active participant. Kobashi never puts the spotlight on himself either. He walks a delicate tightrope between disappearing and taking too much. Kobashi saves on a Powerbomb attempt but eats a Nodowa for his troubles. That's the story is Kobashi is strong but not strong enough when he ends up in 2-on-1 situations. Akiyama eats the Powerbomb but it is not Dynamic so it is not the end. At the five minute mark, Akiyama hits his first offensive move, after tirelessly getting kicked in the face, Akiyama levels Kawada with a lariat. 

Kobashi comes in a house afire but then he and Kawada do a nice amatuer exchange with lots of struggle. On a rope break, Kawada slaps Akiyama. Akiyama reaches over the ropes and slaps him back. Kobashi realizes this is the perfect time for a tag. The resulting Kawada vs Akiyama exchange is the highlight of the match with Akiyama showing he has balls and slugs Kawada with a right before hitting the Exploder. When Taue comes in to run interference, he slugs Taue and Exploders him! Akiyama is a one man wrecking crew!

Stereo Germans! Akiyama is the legal man and gets a nearfall on Kawada. It is Kobashi enabling Akiyama to get over. Kawada goes for his classic Fujiwara armbar takedown, but Akiyama goes for the punch but Kawada blocks and slugs Akiyama. Akiyama is smart enough to realize he needs to tag and Kobashi goes to work on Kawada, who does not tag. Kobashi wants the moonsault. He tells Akiyama to block Taue, which shows Kobashi's leadership that he wouldnt do with Misawa. Taue breaks through and breaks it up. A second moonsault misses and Taue pulls Kawada to their corner to tag out. Taue always the best henchman, he takes advantage of Kobashi with the NODOWA for two. Taue wants the apron Nodowa and Akiyama saves. Kobashi wisely tags out. 

Akiyama knocks Taue off the apron. Northern Lights Suplex as the young Akiyama gets another nearfall to show he belongs. Taue elbows out of the Exploder and Kawada saves on the German. Kobashi comes in and eats a Kawada Jumping High Kick. Things look very bleak for Akiyama as Holy Demon Army pours on the double teams. Taue is owning Akiyama, powerbomb, big slap, and Snake eyes. Akiyama does Kawada-style collapse on the Irish Whip to show he is done. This is a signal for Kobashi to save on the Powerbomb. He tries valiantly but when he eats a Kawada Dangerous Back Drop Driver you know the end is nigh because it leaves Akiyama to the Wolves. Akiyama shows Fighting Spirit but is overwhelmed. DANGEROUS NODOWA/BACK DROP DRIVER COMBO! Should have been the finish. It takes two Dynamic Bombs and Kawada holding Kobashi at bay with the Stretch Plum for the Veteran Tag Team Champions to win. 

Kawada & Taue get their heat back and put Akiyama in his place. Akiyama overcame a poor start to really kick ass in the middle. The point of this match was to introduce Akiayma as the Fifth Pillar and it was successful as he proved he could hang with the big boys. I think an important story was that Kobashi showed generalship that he could not show as Misawa's junior tag partner. He took a leadership position and was bold in his moves. He was ready for promotion and for the weight of the Triple Crown. Kawada & Taue are probably the greatest Tag Team of All Time, they were perfect on offense and when they needed to be very giving to Akiyama to shine him and make him, but when it comes time to be ruthless there is no one better. ****

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