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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 18-21, PART FOUR

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2019 FOUR PILLARS BIO: CHAPTERS 18-21, PART FOUR

After the Holy Demon Army successfully defended their tag titles on June 1, Kawada grabbed the microphone from Ryu Nakata to reveal his secret ambition: "I really wanted to take the win from Misawa-san, but I'm going to take it in a singles match! I'm going to take it in a singles match!" 

The Summer Action Series tour spanned 22 dates, beginning at Korakuen on July 2 and ending in the Budokan on July 29. This would be the retirement tour of the Destroyer, but more relevant to this story, Cagematch claims that this is when the Tsurutagun branding ended and the Seikigun/Holy Demon Army branding begun (in their records of the previous tour’s six-man tags wherein Kawada teamed with them, they list him as an unaffiliated partner); Ichinose does not give me any information that confirms this. Akiyama was “traded” to Chosedaigun to even things out, and both factions got an extra member in Misawa & Kawada’s respective attendants, Satoru Asako & Masao Inoue.

With his & Kikuchi’s All Asia tag title reign ending to the Patriot & the Eagle on June 2, Kobashi could concentrate on the main event. For all his fan support, though, Kobashi was insecure about whether he had done enough to merit being grouped with the other three. The two Summer Action Series tours would famously hold two major Kobashi matches.

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Hansen hits an avalanche lariat on Kobashi. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #567, dated August 17, 1993 (photo included in free preview of archived copy)]

The first was against Hansen, in the semi-main event of the July 29, 1993 Budokan show. Since their July 1992 match, the two had had one singles encounter: an untelevised Champion Carnival match on April 16, which ended with a Western Lariat hit as Kobashi came down in a flying shoulder block. (Ichinose openly acknowledges a well-circulated handheld recording of the match.) Like in September 1991, these two wrestled in a Budokan semi-main, but this time, it was “upgraded” from a 45-minute time limit to a full hour. At the end of the match, Kobashi would go for another moonsault, only to come crashing down by an “avalanche lariat” as he climbed: “Kobashi made Hansen, who never sells his family's treasured sword cheaply, perform such an irregular lariat. And he did it twice in three and a half months.”

After this, Misawa wrestled Kawada in the fourth defense of his reign. Ichinose frames this as the conclusion of Misawa and Kawada’s story together, even if it would be far from their final battle. He also ascribes further significance to it. See, as the four wrestlers have developed their identities, Ichinose has described the matches of the Shitenno as expressing four different approaches to wrestling. Kawada sought to convey the pain of a wrestler while not allowing techniques to get in the way of his expression. Kobashi drew explicitly from the heat of the crowd while performing to maximum exertion. Taue would become a successor to Baba. But Ichinose ends chapter 19 on a question: what, then, was Misawa’s ethos?

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Kawada hits an enzu lariat on the champion. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #567, dated August 17, 1993 (photo included in free preview of archived copy)]

On July 29, 1993, he answered. This match has been called the birth of Shitenno puroresu as a distinct style, particularly for the ruthlessness of its finish. In the June 1 tag title match, there had been a moment where Kawada finally aroused Misawa’s anger, with the stoic ace showing “the face of a demon god”. When they again clashed in the Budokan, Kawada brought this face from him again. Misawa performed two “throwaway Germans” (which had been introduced to Japan by Rick Steiner in 1991), before dragging a limp Kawada back up to hit a tiger suplex and get the pinfall. Their October 1992 match had led Misawa to express disappointment that he had not cleanly executed his final suplex, a tiger suplex which he had lost his grip on and clumsily turned into a German bridge; this time, though, he stated that this match had been “all about winning”, and that he couldn’t have won had he not “crossed the line”. With this victory, Misawa became the first Triple Crown champion to successfully defend four times in one reign. However, Ichinose recalls that the brutality of the conclusion, combined with the stoic remorse Misawa expressed in his postmatch comments,1 deflated what should have been one of his iconic moments.

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During a six-man tag at the start of the tour, Kawada hits a head-dropping back suplex in revenge. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #570, dated September 7, 1993 (photo included in free preview of archived copy)]

The Summer Action Series II tour began on August 20 in Korakuen, headlined by a Chosedaigun/Seikigun six-man. A strong Kawada performance was marked by a body slam off the apron to Akiyama and a revenge head drop on Misawa pictured above. Three days later, at a Shizuoka show where he won his junior title back from Kroffat, Fuchi attempted to curb this development; now that Misawa had also experienced the move, this was their last chance to take a step back. Neither would be deterred, though, as Misawa said that such things just happen in the flow of a match, and Kawada stated there should be no forbidden techniques in wrestling. Besides, somebody else that night in Shizuoka would make their presence known in the arms race.

Steve Williams had worked the previous tour, so it’s more than plausible that he saw the finish of Misawa vs. Kawada and was inspired to bring back a move he had phased out of his arsenal. In one of his very first All Japan matches, Williams had countered a Yoshiaki Yatsu bulldogging headlock with a “carry-up” back suplex, injuring his opponent. He had not used the maneuver since, and had not even finished any of his Champion Carnival matches with a backdrop. On a Shizuoka six-man, though, he would debut an even more dangerous variation than that which had broken two of Yatsu’s ribs. The recipient was Kobashi, who he was set to face in eight days.

As originally announced, the tour’s September 3 Budokan show would have ended with Misawa defending his belts against Terry Gordy, but Gordy entered what would be a five-day coma during his flight into the country. Returning home to Chattanooga upon his recovery, he would never be the same. This development led to an emergency #1 contenders match between Kobashi & Williams, on a show that would also see the Patriot & Eagle retain the All Asia titles against Akiyama & Kikuchi, as well as what Ichinose describes as a stiff display from Kawada against Tracy Smothers, after which Kawada claimed Smothers had “underestimated Japan”. (Meltzer wrote in the August 23 Observer that Tracy Smothers, the top singles babyface of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, seemed to be getting a regular gig with All Japan, but after a RWTL entry alongside Richard Slinger he would switch to IWA Japan. Ichinose believes that if he had wrestled that match against Kobashi instead, he might have fared better in the company.) Finally, there was Kobashi vs. Williams. The second of the summer’s two landmark Kobashi matches, Williams would win with three “backdrop drivers”—a name coined by commentator Kei Sato, who is so proud of his performance during this match that he carries a digital copy on a flash drive for study and motivational purposes—in one of 90s puroresu’s most famous finishes. After the match, Kobashi went to the foreigners’ locker room with a sluggish step. Williams opened the door, and in a moment reminiscent of Hansen’s symbolic gesture towards Kawada after their June 1992 match, the two embraced.

Three days later, the tour’s climactic show was held at the Budokan. Don Leo Jonathan, who had first come to Japan thirty-five years before to challenge for Rikidozan’s NWA International Heavyweight title, was the guest of honor. Kobashi went ahead with his originally scheduled Budokan match, defeating the Patriot in the antepenultimate match. Alongside Ted DiBiase for the first time in six years, Hansen won the tag titles from the Holy Demon Army. Finally, Misawa would retain against Williams.

The 1993 Fan Appreciation Day event was moved to September, taking place across two nights in Korakuen. The only televised match (which I don’t think was contemporaneously broadcast) was the semi-main event of the second night (September 24), a Kobashi/Akiyama rematch which featured the debut of Kobashi’s Orange Crush. This show also saw Jumbo Tsuruta step into the ring for the first time since his hospitalization to greet the fans.

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Ichinose doesn’t write much about the following tour until we get to the Budokan show on October 23, so I’m filling this out a bit with contemporaneous Observer coverage. This was the first of two consecutive tours to see the Big Boss Man replace Gordy as Williams’ partner, and Ichinose does mention his October 14 singles match against Kenta Kobashi as an achievement for the latter. That date also saw Hansen & DiBiase successfully defend the tag titles in a champions’ rematch. Six days earlier, trainee Tamon Honda made his official debut with a loss to DiBiase.

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The highs and lows of AJPW's October 23, 1993 Budokan show. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #583, dated November 9, 1993 (photos included in free preview of archived copy)]

The Budokan show featured Fritz von Erich as the guest of honor. Jumbo Tsuruta returned in the fourth match, a six-man tag alongside Baba & Kimura against Fuchi, Haruka Eigen, and the young Ryukazu Izumida. Ichinose was not privy to the conditions that Dr. Kijuro Nomura had set for Tsuruta’s return to wrestling (no strikes, no overexertion, tag only), and would not learn until after he had passed. (This element of the story became public knowledge with a posthumously published book by Tsuruta’s widow Yasuko. In reality, Ichinose ghostwrote the book from an extended interview, taking a compositional credit.) Ichinose would try to book a dream match with Tsuruta in a couple years, but I’ve decided to hold off on telling that story until the narrative reaches that point in the timeline. He also expresses regret that he never interviewed Jumbo while he had the chance to get his thoughts on the stylistic direction that his successors had taken. According to Fuchi, though, Tsuruta was concerned about the excesses of his juniors. As someone who prided himself on the control with which he showed his strength, he believed that wrestling should not be a sport where a single mistake can be deadly, and found the full-throttle direction of Shitenno puroresu “harrowing to watch”.

In the semi-main event, Kawada and Kobashi would clash for the #1 contendership. As mentioned earlier, Ichinose has framed the Shitenno as embodying four different approaches to wrestling. Ichinose’s background is showing here; Weekly Pro was not a dirtsheet, and Ichinose admits a lifelong disinterest in the unprintable backstage elements of puroresu, instead focusing on “stories he could write”. Weekly Pro’s reportage was controversial in some corners of the industry. Earlier in the book, Ichinose recalled Akira Maeda’s dismissal of the creative writing elements that Weekly Pro match reports incorporated in order to find something distinct to say about b-shows (“Who cares what the weather was that day?”). Riki Choshu was famously hostile towards the wrestling press as a whole (whom he considered marks), only showing respect to journalists from television or general publications such as Tokyo Sports. However, Weekly Pro was perfect for All Japan. The Jumbo/Tenryu rivalry might not have been rooted in genuine enmity, but it was a great feud to cover because the differences between the two, from their wrestling philosophies to their general ways of life, created a rich dialectical tension. Ichinose maintained this approach after Tenryu’s departure, and one example is the conflict between Kawada and Kobashi around this time. 

Kawada was critical of Kobashi’s approach; the exertion that made the former so beloved by smarks out West ran counter to the former’s sensibilities. Kobashi, as Kawada saw it, did not adapt his approach to his opponent, and relied far too much on techniques. He stated his goal to “drag Kobashi into his view of wrestling”, and after a match that was widely considered (Meltzer’s quarter-star downgrade from their 1993 Carnival match, which had aired JIP, notwithstanding) to have been the strongest between the two to that point, Kawada said that Kobashi had shown him what he’d wanted to see. In one of his books, Kobashi would later recall how Kawada’s criticisms took root amongst a certain group of fans, but he never wavered, as dialectical clashes like this were what made wrestling great. As great as the match was, its submission finish leads Ichinose to point out that this was just one month after Pancrase’s first show, in which Ken Shamrock, whose 1989 stint for AJPW had been unpopular, had made Masakatsu Funaki submit in a fifth of the time Kawada had taken.

In the main event, Misawa retained the Triple Crown against Hansen with a small package, reportedly suffering a broken breastbone. Ichinose doesn’t go into detail on the match or the injury.

The 1993 RWTL was already a mess. According to Observer coverage back around the Summer Action Series II tour, Williams had vouched for Gordy to keep his job, but as the year-end tour approached it became clear that the Miracle Violence Connection would not make the league. Giant Baba had originally intended not to enter the tournament; despite being urged to reconsider by Ichinose during a subsequent meeting, Baba had held firm that the new generation needed to have the spotlight to themselves. Under this original plan, Baba would have been relegated to midcard tag matches which were also to feature his peers Dory Funk Jr. and Abdullah the Butcher. However, Ted DiBiase suffered an injury on the second night of the tour which would lead him not only to leave, but to retire altogether. This meant that the champions going into the tournament would not be able to continue, which would be disastrous for sales. After the Korakuen show ended, an emergency meeting took place at the Capitol Tokyu Hotel. Dory, Butcher, and Akiyama were all possibilities; Ichinose states that he brought up the possibility of Baba entering the tournament, and that he believes Baba was originally considering Akiyama, but he also writes that he doesn’t know whether he was the one who made Baba change his mind about bowing out of the tournament. If Ichinose did indeed change Baba’s mind, though, he writes that he is very proud that his proposal led to the March 5, 1994 “dream match” at Budokan where Baba tagged with Hansen against Misawa & Kobashi.

Three days later, on the tour’s second televised date in Niigata, Hansen had his first league match with Baba as fill-in partner. Ichinose points out that Hansen and not Baba was billed first, which leads into a digression on how Baba was very careful not to hurt the pride of foreign talent.2 The newly configured team defeated the Patriot & the Eagle, and would be one of the best-performing in the tournament, with winning all but two time-limit draws against Misawa/Kobashi & Kawada/Taue.

The RWTL decision match (I’m using that verbiage because, as NintendoLogic has pointed out, there weren’t “final” matches yet) on December 3 would be between the aforementioned. Ichinose states that the story of Kawada’s knee in that match was based on a real injury he had suffered (partial tear of the medial ligament) during the main event of the November 15 show, a Holy Demon Army vs. Williams/Bubba/Slinger six-man. Ultimately it was Kobashi, who had been so insecure that year over his worthiness to be deemed one of the Shitenno, who won the match. In the last issue of 1993, Weekly Pro published a set of Pro Wrestling Awards as chosen by its editor-in-chief, its five main reporters, and three freelancers. Six out of nine, including Ichinose, chose Kobashi as MVP, and the RWTL decision match as the MOTY. 

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The champions embrace. [Source: Weekly Pro Wrestling Issue #590, dated December 21, 1993 (photo included in free preview of archived copy)]

Spoiler

1. A rough translation: “I really hated that last part. I told myself. ‘I have to do it here.’ At that moment, the question of whether or not to take another shot was inside me. It made me sad, for a moment. I was throwing him, but I could see Kawada falling onto the back of his head. I was a little too cruel."

2. Ichinose skips ahead a bit to tell an anecdote about this. During the 1994 Champion Carnival, he suggested that a board of tournament results be hung in the lobby. Motoko liked the idea and made the board, but Baba ordered it taken down the same day it was put up. As Ryu Nakata later explained, Baba did not want the sight of the results to discourage that tour’s designated jobbers.

 

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