Takao Omori . . . somehow puts on a better performance in a title match than both Kobashi and Misawa.

Johnny Ace . . . also puts on a surprisingly good show against his former tag team partner.

Toshiaki Kawada . . . proves that he’s still a world class worker, even when given the task of making someone else look good.



The first twenty minutes of the match looks like it deserves to be the 1999 match of the year. While the early wrestling and strike exchanges aren’t meaningful as far as overall work goes, the fact that Kobashi is able to win these exchanges, shows that he is capable of beating Misawa. But, Misawa just doesn’t seem to be willing to go all the way to make Kobashi look like a threat to his throne. Kobashi gets a nice run of offense that targets the midsection, but after a few minutes Misawa pops up after dodging a kitchen sink knee strike, and drops Kobashi with an elbow, drops him again with his lariat, and then does a senton, just in case anyone thought the last few minutes of Kobashi targeting the body was supposed to mean anything. Even worse, is that Kobashi counters Misawa’s dive off the apron into a powerslam on the floor, just to get them right back where they started.


Kobashi working over Misawa’s arm winds up being the high point of the match. The chances of Misawa tapping out are practically zero, but it seems plausible between Kobashi’s intensity and Misawa’s selling. There’s two really smart moments where Kobashi works back to it. The first comes after an exchange that ends with Kobashi unsuccessfully trying a suplex. Misawa blocks the suplex, but Kobashi transitions to a juji-gatame to keep the pressure on. A few minutes later, Kobashi is able to do the suplex, but instead of it being a wasted spot for a near fall, Kobashi uses Misawa’s stunned state to get him in another armbar.


But, once Misawa counters Kobashi into a DDT, and the arm focus fades away, so does the smart work. Misawa will occasionally shake out the arm, such as after the frog splash near fall. But, he doesn’t do anything to show that it had any lasting effect, and it wasn’t like he didn’t have chances to do so. The most glaring is his inability to do the Tiger driver. Much like Kobashi’s Half nelson suplex, it’s a familiar spot, but it’s long cased to be a genuine finisher for him, unless he’s doing it in a trios match to someone ranked far lower, so it’s not like the move needs protecting against Kobashi. But, instead of Misawa’s hurt arm preventing it, it’s because Kobashi is shifting his weight to block it. Kobashi isn’t much better. He joins Misawa in playing the game to see how many of his old finishers can be trotted out for a crowd pop. The one nice touch is his callback to his famous 7/93 match with Hansen. When he can’t get Misawa in position for the Burning Hammer, he takes a different route and lariats him off the turnbuckle.


Some will hate the TD ‘91 near fall, but, that’s pretty much the only near fall that didn’t seem like a big deal. They’d already set the precedent two years before. But, the difference is that the first time Kobashi used the last of his strength to kick out, and it led to Misawa beating him right afterwards. This time, Kobashi kicks out and gets to his feet, ducks the rolling elbow and gives Misawa a Tiger Suplex ‘85 and then hits his lariat for a near fall of his own. Again, they had the chance to make the arm work pay off. Kobashi could have kicked out of the TD ‘91 and, Misawa, remembering what happened the last time, does the running elbow, but can’t cover right away because of Kobashi working the arm. They get to play off the previous match, and make the earlier work matter. But, instead of working smart, they just take turns dropping each other with bombs, until Misawa pins Kobashi with the Emerald Frozion. The first half is proof positive that both of them clearly had the knowledge and ability to put on a smart and engaging match, without the unnecessary bumps. Maybe if they’d stuck to working like that, instead of going down the road they did, Misawa would still be with us, and Kobashi wouldn’t have broken down the way that he did.



With how many tag matches these four worked against each other from 1993-95, you’d think that they could pair off in any combination and have a good match. They do that here, but this isn’t much more than just good. The stiffness is off the charts, with Misawa defending the Triple Crown against Kobashi in a week, that isn’t much of a surprise that they’d be taking the fight to each other, but, the Misawa/Kawada exchanges are also noticeably stiff and intense. Kawada appears to have some sort of corrupting influence on his partners, because, much like Taue has done for years, Kobashi joins Kawada in trying to beat the tar out of Misawa. It’s more than a bit surprising to see the top guy in the promotion, and the current champion, being on the receiving end of the heel control segment, but that’s what happens. There’s an especially great moment when Kobashi and Kawada take turns dropping knees and elbows on Misawa’s face followed by Kobashi putting Misawa in his own facelock submission.


There are a few smart touches, mostly from the Kawada/Kobashi side of things. The best one is during a Misawa/Kawada elbow exchange, when Kawada wins the exchange and favors his arm afterwards, a reminder of his recent injury as well as the fact that he’d gotten the injury while wrestling Misawa. Kobashi’s lariat is put over as strongly as possible. Kobashi escapes Taue’s Nodowa and catches a charging Misawa with the lariat, and takes him out of the match completely. With Misawa gone, Taue gets the tables turned on him and eats a ganmengiri from Kawada followed by a lariat from Kobashi and gets pinned. Misawa has never been an especially strong seller, and this is par for the course for him. He takes the extended punishment from Kawada and Kobashi, and makes his own comeback by escaping a full nelson, hitting a few elbows, and then casually rolling over to Taue to make the tag. Oddly enough, one of the few times that Misawa does go all out to sell is for a spot that didn’t really deserve it. Kobashi’s Half nelson suplex, while certainly looking deadly, has never been treated like a lethal move from Kobashi. But, Misawa takes the suplex and then rolls to the floor, as though he needed to get out of the ring to avoid getting pinned. Kobashi does a second Half nelson suplex on the floor, and Kawada rolls Misawa in for a near fall when Taue breaks up the pin. Kobashi tries for a pin right afterwards and Misawa kicks out under his own power. If he can recover that quickly from getting dumped on his head on the floor, why would a regular one in the ring be of any worse consequence?


However, the odd little moments like that don’t detract too much from the match. It does its primary job of building up to the Misawa/Kobashi showdown, and the work is good enough to make this worth watching beyond the novelty of seeing these four wrestlers working a tag match with these specific pairings. ***½



This has something of a slow build, but, when one sees the payoff, with how hot the crowd is for the near falls at the end, it’s worth the effort. Each team has specific strength that they bring to the table, No Fear has size and strength on their side, while the outsiders have speed and agility. The story of the match is how each team is able to use their own strengths to cancel out that of their opponents. A good example is when Shinzaki attempts the praying powerbomb, Omori easily pushes him off, and then runs himself right into a rana. Takayama tries to intervene, but he charges into a drop toe hold and it allows Shinzaki to cinch up the Gokuraku-gatame. Where Shinzaki and Hayabusa, mostly Shinzaki though, go wrong is that they try for too much. Both times that Shinzaki wants to do his ropewalk, it works against him. The first time he tries, Takayama hits him from the apron to knock him down. He does it a minute later, and sees Takayama coming, so he hits him with the chop, and the opening allows Omori to hit a kick to the gut and a DDT, to allow the heavyweights to take over.


After twenty minutes or so, the story starts to resonate with the crowd. Even though the teams look anything but equal, the various strengths they have over each other create a sense of parity between them, and, as a result, they both seem equally capable of winning. Even seemingly inconsequential moments, like Takayama charging in with a kick and getting countered by the Mandala Hineri, show how easily that the juniors can make the size difference a nonissue, and Takayama hitting a single kick while Shinzaki attempts the diving shoulder block, shows that the heavyweights can counteract the champions’ flying. The only altogether odd moment is the finish, with two spots that should have been legit finishers being sacrificed at the altar of putting over the Axe bomber. Omori had already gotten a near fall from it, and both the diving knee to the back of the head and Dragon Suplex looked a lot nastier. But, Shinzaki takes them both and climbs to his feet selling drunkenly, so that Omori can hit the Axe bomber and get the pin. But, even with the goofy finish, this is still an excellent example of substance over style, and the crowd reactions show the benefit of taking time to let things develop, rather than rushing to work in the big spots in order to get the crowd to react. ***1/4



I’m sure that this match was included on the video tapes that Big Johnny showed Michael Cole. All kidding aside, this is surprisingly watchable due to Ace. He works a rather nice sequence with Kobashi, which allows him to hit the Ace Crusher, and he also does a decent job of working the heel control segment on Akiyama. Gunn doesn’t really bring much to the table other than his tough man reputation, and that only comes into play toward the end, when he hits a body punch on Akiyama to let Johnny take over, and also hits one on Kobashi to send him to the floor, Bart keeps him occupied while Ace puts Akiyama through the ringer and finishes him off with the Cobra clutch suplex. Kobashi and Akiyama certainly weren’t bad, but, Ace was the only one who really seemed to step up for the match.



The only reason this is worth watching is Shiga. He brings all kinds of fired up spunky babyface spots, while Ogawa does the same old stuff, save for the Tiger driver, which only serves to set up his backdrop finisher. As I watched Shiga work, I started wondering if jumping to NOAH with everyone else derailed his career. If Shiga stayed behind, he’d have fit right in as Kawada’s partner, and he’d certainly be more suited for the role than Fuchi. Whether he stayed a junior or bulked up to heavyweight, if he didn’t join the Kobashi/Akiyama ranks of unnecessary head and neck bumps, maybe his neck injury could have been prevented, and he wouldn’t have needed to develop the silly character of being obsessed with his hair. Shiga looks good, and gets the crowd behind him, but loses in the end.



While this is fun, it’s not quite as good as it is heated. Neither team holds back when it comes to bringing the intensity, although it’s easy to see why. Omori had spent years getting smacked around by the older generation, like Kawada and Taue. Takayama has history with Kawada, having been beaten by him both in UWFI as well as All Japan. Kawada and Taue ultimately know what their job is, and they do it like professionals. But, they’re still the Holy Demon Army. They’re not just a tag team. They’re the five time holders of the World Tag Titles, they’re the two time winners of the annual Tag League. They’re an institution within All Japan! Misawa may see something in Omori and Takayama, but, that doesn’t mean that Kawada and Taue are going to just let them go into a sacred place like Budokan and give them some half-assed win. No, if Misawa is going to push these young guys, then Kawada and Taue will see to it that they earn it. There’s only one altogether odd moment of the match, and all things considered, it probably could have been worse. Kawada and Omori struggled over a vertical suplex, and wound up walking to Omori’s corner, where Takayama was able to tag himself in. It’s something that looked a little too exposing, especially compared with how the rest of the match played out. But, it’s still better than Omori taking a German or eating a Ganmengiri, and then having to blow it off so that he can tag out.


Again, the main takeaway from this is the intensity that all four of them show. Kawada, to no surprise, does a fine job of making them look good when he gets the chance to. He does an especially good job at putting over Takayama’s strikes. The turning point of the match comes when Takayama eats a few slaps, gets his hands up to block, and catches Kawada with a surprise knee to the gut. With Kawada stunned, Takayama waits for him to get up and then does a second one that drops him for good. Taue, realizing how much trouble Kawada is in, and also remembering that Kawada’s recent Triple Crown reign was ended due to an injury, runs in before permanent damage can be done, and drags Kawada to the corner to tag himself in. Taue holds his own for a bit, but, he can only do so much to hold them off, especially with how determined they are to win. Taue doesn’t go down easy though. He takes the same knee that put Kawada out of commission, the Axe bomber, a knee from Omori, and two legdrops from Takayama before he stays down for good. Omori and Takayama didn’t just win a meaningless midcard match on a Budokan card. They already held the All Asia Tag Titles, but what they won here was more valuable than any title belt they could ever hold. They won respect. And they won it by giving, and taking, a major league ass whipping, by the undisputed kings of whipping ass. ***


Conclusion: My disdain for the Triple Crown match is obviously noted, and I think that the three really fun tag team matches are enough to consider this a decent pick up.