Taped 3/29/98


Yoshinari Ogawa . . . doesn’t look like someone who belongs in main events with Misawa or Kobashi; but he shows that he’s perfectly serviceable as a slimy junior heel.

Satoru Asako . . . along with Johnny Smith, do their damnedest to keep the tradition of great trios matches in All Japan alive, despite not getting much support.

Toshiaki Kawada . . .  gets one last crack at Misawa before their showdown in the Tokyo Dome for the Triple Crown.



Seeing Morishima at this point in his career is wild, he and Shiga are virtually identical save for the fact that Morishima is slightly bulkier. When I use the term “slightly” it’s without a trace of irony or sarcasm. This is a fun match, even if it’s a bit predictable. Shiga and Ogawa work a nice opening stretch, and then Ogawa and Kanemaru take to picking on Morishima for a bit. It’s fun to watch, even if it’s only filler. Nothing that they do really means anything, but it’s fun to see them work him over and put the boots to him. Morishima making his comeback by back dropping Ogawa out of the piledriver was a good enough way to set up the hot tag, although the match doesn’t really go too far afterwards. Ogawa’s DDT puts the halt on Shiga’s fired up comeback, and when he tags Morishima back in, it’s only a matter of time until Ogawa and Kanemaru put him away. In a way, it’s sort of sad that an Ogawa/Kanemaru junior tag team never really caught on. Granted, All Japan never really pushed the juniors all that much, and Ogawa (and Kanemaru after the NOAH split) wound up being much more successful than he probably would have otherwise. But matches like this are a good example of how watchable the All Japan juniors could be.



Out of all the All Japan midcard trios matches that I’ve seen from the late 90’s . . . this is one of them. The Smith/Asako exchanges are the best things to see here by a freaking kilometer, and it was even better to see them work the finish, even though Smith got some assistance before he could put Asako away. The less said about the Kimala/Hawkfield segment the better. I think it’d have been better if it was Warrior and WWF Kamala circa 1992. There’s not much from Ace or Albright, although they do have one cool sequence where Ace escapes a Dragon suplex and then rolls himself back into position for another one, although Ace’s sloppy Ace Crusher counter ends it on a sour note. But it’s Smith and Asako who make this worth watching, between their chain wrestling, and seeing Asako work from underneath against both Smith and Hawkfield. Hell, the comedy spot where Asako tries the sunset flip to Hawkfield and then avoids his punch is Hawfield’s best moment. The only real downer was seeing Smith take an Ace Crusher over the ropes and then completely no sell it and keep working over Asako. It was the perfect opening to let Asako rattle off three or four spots to try to win the match, before Smith’s partners intervened and then took it home for real. But, even with that blown off spot, they were still far ahead of the other four, and their efforts certainly make this worth watching. ***


Champion Carnival: MITSUHARU MISAWA (3) vs. TOSHIAKI KAWADA (4)

These two going to a thirty-minute draw during the league portion of the tournament was essentially a time honored tradition by this point. But, even with the predictable outcome, this is still head and shoulders above their Triple Crown match from the year before. The match itself isn’t very deep, but it doesn’t need to be. With how often these two had worked together, including this being their fourth consecutive carnival broadway, it’s not like they have any issues with filling time. In short, the match layout is as follows: Each man gets an extended control segment to look dominant and show that he is perfectly capable of winning, and the final stretch is something of a sprint, with each of them trying to cross the finish line first. But, of course, neither of them is able to do it. But, despite having a rather simplistic layout, the match itself has boatloads of great selling and smart work; and it’s as good an example as just about anything you can find of exactly why Misawa and Kawada were still two of the best in the world, even during a time when All Japan was on the downswing.


Kawada gets the first control segment after Misawa does a shoulder block off the apron and seems to hurt his shoulder/neck area, and Kawada is every bit as heelish as one would expect from him. He doesn’t dig out anything especially innovative or new with how he works over Misawa, in fact a lot of his offense is stuff that you’d typically see from him, such as the axe kick to the upper back, but it gets a renewed purpose with Misawa’s weak spot. The only really surprising thing from Kawada on that front is that he waits so long before he goes for the stretch plum, and it’s so late in the match when he finally does that it doesn’t draw much of a reaction. The other big surprise with this portion of the match is how well Misawa sells. Whilst Misawa was never a poor seller, he was never really in the same league as the likes of Kawada, Ohtani, Yamazaki, etc. but the way he puts over the weakened shoulder/neck is easily as good as pretty much anything I can recall seeing from him. Misawa takes over when Kawada wants to crank on a headlock and gets countered into a backdrop suplex, and Misawa’s method of attack is to just blast Kawada with elbows and kicks. It may not seem as clearly focused as what Kawada did. but between Misawa’s stiffness and Kawada’s selling, it more than gets across the intended message. It’s also not just stiffness for the sake of it. Yes, these two are longstanding rivals, but it even goes deeper than that. Misawa may be The Man, but deep down he knows that Kawada is capable of beating him. And so, every kick and elbow that Misawa throws isn’t simply to help him win this singular match, but he’s showing that he’s still worthy of being The Man, despite Kawada’s recent bouts of success against him and Misawa already having lost to Kawada’s partner.


The other thing that stands out here are the smart touches from both men. They seem to understand that their prior Triple Crown match fell short of their usual standards, so they come in here with a concerted effort to do better. One of the smarter moments is after Misawa’s Tiger driver, which had long since ceased to be a finisher for Misawa in bigger matches. Misawa plants Kawada, and Kawada is already rolling toward the ropes and trying to get up, even before the ref can get down to count a pinfall. It may not be considered one of Misawa’s big moves anymore, but Kawada’s selling shows just how effective it still is. And with Kawada trying to get up, it makes perfect sense for Misawa to go right back to it and it gets him a good near fall. Both men make nice use of learned spots, where they realize that the other man is doing something he’d done earlier and coming up with a counter, in order to take control of the match. Misawa gets whipped into the corner and comes off the second turnbuckle with a back elbow that takes Kawada by surprise. They repeat the sequence later, and Kawada catches Misawa with a kick to the back as he’s coming off the turnbuckle. But it’s Misawa who has the best one; he catches one of Kawada’s kicks and before he can do anything, Kawada levels him with a reverse ganmengiri. A little bit later, Misawa catches another kick and before Kawada can do anything, Misawa takes him down with a leg sweep and wears him down with a legbar. It looks more in line with something you’d expect from Takada or Yamazaki instead of Misawa.


Even in the last few minutes, as they sprint to the finish, they don’t fall into the routine of throwing out bombs and wasting them. When the Tiger driver and his elbows aren’t enough, Misawa goes to the top and dusts off the diving neckbreaker drop for a decent near fall. When Kawada blocks the Tiger suplex, Misawa finds a cleverer way to hit it by doing an O’Connor roll and using the momentum and Kawada’s disorientation to do the move. Just when the announcer gives the final time cue and it seems like Kawada’s only hope is to be saved by the bell, he hits one more ganmengiri just as the time runs out. Despite Misawa’s apparent dominance down the stretch, the final image of the match is Kawada showing that Misawa didn’t have it in him to finish the job. Again, the match going to a draw was obvious, not only given their history of matches in the Champion Carnival,  but also to put that much more doubt about their upcoming Triple Crown match at the Dome. ****


Conclusion:  This one was a definite surprise. Not only does it give us one of the last great Misawa/Kawada matches, but there’s a lot of fun with the two undercard matches.