You know a match is great when ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin recommends that people watch it.
In these trying times, with pro wrestling almost completely on hold and most shows taking place without fans, it’s important to understand just how critical those people really are to the medium of professional wrestling. Without a live crowd, wrestling just isn’t the same. There’s something about a great crowd that makes a good match great and a great match epic.
In this series, I’ve already looked at one such a match. In that ROH match, Samoa Joe took on Kenta Kobashi in a singles match in front of a rabid New York crowd. The match was great from an in-ring perspective, but the biggest selling point is the crowd’s reaction. They went absolutely nuts for everything in that match, turning a crowd of maybe 1,000 people into a stadium filled with many times that number. Of course, that wasn’t the first time Kobashi was in a wrestling epic that took place in front of an awesome crowd.
This match we’re revisiting today is legendary because it has one of the best crowds ever in all of wrestling history. They make an absolute shit ton of noise, sounding like an indy crowd during the peak ROH years. Even the gaijin champions, who are clearly wresting as heels, get loud cheers as the match is officially announced.
There’s no real story here. There’s the team of champions and the team of challengers. The champions are bigger and stronger, while the champions have something of a home field advantage. And one of the biggest, most longstanding tropes in Japanese wrestling is/was the local hero overcoming the outside invader. And the people in Sendai hope their boy Kikuchi would live up to that on this night.
As the titles are shown, Furnas wags his fingers to the Japanese duo to say ‘you’re not getting these’. That small gesture is enough to get this crowd to react in a big way and sets the tone for the rest of the match.
This match originally took place on May 25th, 1992 and was voted Wrestling Match of the Year by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter along with a five star rating from Dave Meltzer of the Observer. It was also Kenta Kobashi’s first Match of the Year out of six, a record that stands to this day.
Kikuchi and Kroffat start things off as the fans are chanting ‘Kikuchi’ very loudly. Kikuchi dodges some moves and Kroffat bitchslaps him in the face. Seconds later, Kikuchi starts elbow smashing the ever-loving shit out of Kroffat, even as Kroffat falls into the corner. Kikuchi continues his strikes and the crowd is already on their feet. The Japanese commentator even notes the ‘standing ovation’ this crowd is giving their hometown hero. This guy has an entire arena on their feet chanting his name within less than a minute of actual wrestling. I can tell this is going to be a fun match.
Back in the ring, Kikuchi and Kroffat lock up and Kikuchi tags in Kobashi. The crowd chants loudly for him as well. Kroffat lands a kick and some chops in the corner, but Kobashi absorbs them and fires back with a volley of chops of his own. Kroffat fires back again and whips Kobashi into the opposite corner, but Kobashi reverses it and Kroffat does the Bret Hart bump and hits it sternum-first. A high kick by Kobashi sends Kroffat down.
Kroffat tries to whip Kobashi but Kobashi answers with a huge shoulder block. They lock up again and Kroffat tags in Furnas. They whip Kobashi and hit double shoulder tackles on him. Furnas goes for a pin but gets a one-count. Furnas kicks Kobashi in the back like a jerk and the crowd boos. He scoops slams Kobashi and kicks him in the face. Furnas thinks he’s in control until Kobashi reverses an Irish whip and dropkicks Furnas. Then he kicks Furnas in the back to send a message and tags in Kikuchi. The crowd explodes into a furor of cheers.
Kikuchi whips Furnas and hits a dropkick that sends the crowd into a frenzy. Then Kroffat enters illegally whips Kikuchi, making the fans boo. But Kikuchi reverses the whip and dropkicks Kroffat and they cheer loudly. This guy made the audience go nuts over a dropkick. I bet somewhere a three-year-old Kazuchika Okada watched this and thought ‘that’s gonna be me someday’.
The gaijins leave the ring as Kikuchi stands in the ring to soak in the ridiculously loud fans chanting his name. Furnas gets Kikuchi in a headlock and Kikuchi tries to whip him off but Furnas holds on tight. Kikuchi manages to whip Furnas off but Furnas hits a massive shoulder tackle. Kroffat gets a few fans to applaud while most of them boo. Furnas stomps on Kikuchi and nails some hard chops in the corner. But Kikuchi won’t take those lying down. He starts firing back out of the corner with elbows, but Furnas sees one coming, ducks it, and drops Kikuchi with a big double leg slam.
Furnas tags in Kroffat, who drills Kikuchi with a Kawada-style hook kick. Kroffat attempts a vertical suplex but Kikuchi tries to block it. He succeeds, and lands a perfect Dynamite Kid-style snap suplex to escape. The crowd loves that. Kikuchi approaches Kroffat but Kroffats boots him in the head. Kroffat goes for a back body drop, but Kikuchi sees it coming, kicks Kroffat, and tags in Kobashi.
Irish whip and a shoulder tackle by Kobashi, but that only gets a two-count. Kobashi scoop slams Kroffat and hits a running leg drop Hulk Hogan wishes he could do. Kobashi cinches in a facelock while driving the point of his elbow into Kroffat’s face. He tries to follow with a reverse chinlock but Kroffat kicks him in the head to break it. Kroffat karate kicks Kobashi hard in the chest and then lands a huge spinning heel kick for a two-count of his own. Kobashi blocks Kroffat’s momentum by reversing an Irish whip and hitting a big clothesline that sends them both down.
Sensing danger, Kroffat crawls to his corner and tags in Furnas, but Kobashi sees this and whips and clotheslines him as well. In comes Kikuchi again. Tag team Irish whip and double dropkicks by Kobashi and Kikuchi, which gets a two-count. Kikuchi drives his shoulder into Furnas’s gut in the corner. He whips Furnas but Furnas clotheslines a charging Kkikuchi to stop him in his tracks. That clothesline looked brutal. The referee checks on Kikuchi to make sure he’s okay to continue as the fans chant his name once more. Furnas pins Kikuchi but Kikuchi gets his hand on the ropes. Then, Furnas hoists Kikuchi over his head and press slams him over the rope and out of the ring. Wow, that was crazy.
Kroffat then jumps in and attacks a concerned Kobashi as the fans boo. As Kroffat works Kobashi over, Furnas press slams Kikuchi again, this time over the steel guardrail and onto a non-gimmicked commentary table. Damn, that was a brutal landing. Suddenly it’s basically a two-on-one handicap match. Kobashi’s in big trouble.
Kobashi tries to help his partner back into the ring but Furnas drags him away before Kobashi can tag in. I love how Furnas uses subtlety to taunt Kobashi, shaking his head at Kobashi’s attempts to save his partner. Furnas locks in a bearhug and he and Kroffat hit a diving Hart Attack on Kikuchi. Great move. Kroffat holds Kobashi on the apron as Furnas jackknife covers, but Kikuichi kicks out at two. Excellent sequence. The fans roar in approval as their hometown hero keeps fighting on.
Furnas slams Kikuchi down and tags in Kroffat, who locks in a brutal-looking Boston crab. Kikuchi’s fighting incredibly hard as the fans chant for him once more. He reaches the ropes and the fans cheer wildly. Kroffat hits three snap suplexes in quick succession and pins, but Kobashi breaks it up. Kroffat tries to take control again, but Kikuchi hits a desperation backdrop suplex.
Kikuchi tries to reach for his partner but Kroffat holds him by his hair. He drags Kikuchi to his side of the ring and tags in Furnas. Furnas whips Kikuchi and hits a big tilt-a-whirl slam for another two-count. Now it’s Furnas’s turn to lock in a Boston crab of his own, but this one looks even more torturous than the first. Kobashi tries to kick Furnas to break the hold, but Furnas keeps it locked in. That’s what you call toughness. He doesn’t release the hold no matter what, so Kobashi resorts to chopping the hell out of Furnas’s face to break it. Another great sequence.
Kroffat comes in and hits a rolling fireman’s carry slam that gets a 2.5-count. He hits a move that looks like Wade Barrett’s Wasteland, and transitions into a modified bow-and-arrow hold to further destroy Kikuchi’s weakened back. Great psychology. Kikuchi looks like he’s being contorted like a pretzel. Kroffat continues the pressure with another bow-and-arrow hold, putting even more pressure on Kikuchi’s back. Kobashi breaks the hold by dropping his leg across Kroffat’s throat.
Furnas tags in and whips Kikuchi, but he ducks and starts firing back with forearms. As the crowd gets louder and louder, Kikuchi tags in Kobashi and the roof explodes off the place. Kobashi lands a big savate kick to each of his opponents and then a scoop slam for each as well. He starts chopping Furnas in the corner but they double team him. The crowd boos as they clubber him and Irish whip him, but he ducks their double team attack and hits double clotheslines on both of them. The crowd’s going absolutely insane.
Backdrop by Kobashi, but it only gets 2.5. Kobashi whips Furnas into a corner and clotheslines him, but as he prepares some follow-up Kroffat comes in and they double team him again. Kroffat drops Kobashi one-handed-powerbomb style and the fans boo loudly as Kroffat’s all smiles and gloating. Furnas hits a big clothesline, but that also gets a two-count. Furnas scoop slams Kobashi and tags in Kroffat, who goes for a diving splash. But no, Kobashi gets his knees up at the last second.
Both guys are down in the middle of the ring as the fans chant Kobashi’s name. Out of desperation, Kroffat grabs both of Kobashi’s legs to prevent him from tagging in Kikuchi. He fails as Kobashi hobbles on one leg to tags his partner in and enzuigiri’s Kroffat. Diving headbutt by Kikuchi gets a 2.5-count. Then Kikuchi lands a bridging Perfectplex but Kroffat kicks out again. Kikuchi whips Kroffat but he reverses it and hits a high kick to Kikuchi’s chin. Kroffat teases a tiger driver but Kobashi comes in for the save, so Kroffat hits him hard and tosses him out of the ring. Kroffat walks over arrogantly and teases the tiger driver, but Kikuchi’s fighting back. The crowd sees him struggling and roars in cheers for him.
Furnas comes in and kicks Kikuchi and hoists him onto his shoulders. A vicious-looking doomsday clothesline sends Kikuchi down hard. The ref (along with Furnas) counts one…two…thr—NO, Kikuchi kicked out! He kicked out! Furnas can’t believe it. The crowd’s going crazy.
The gaijins both argue with the ref who stands his ground. Kroffat elbows Kobashi as soon as he gets to his corner and cinches in a cobra clutch onto Kikuchi. He’s swinging the poor guy around like a rag doll. Kikuchi looks like he’s barely conscious. Kroffat takes Kikuchi to the mat as Furnas charges Kobashi to keep him out of the ring. The fans are going nuts over Kikuchi and Kobashi fighting to stay in this.
Kobashi manages to escape from Furnas and breaks Kroffat’s hold, but only for a second as Furnas tackles him again. Outside the ring, Kobashi reverses Furnas’s whip and sends him into the steel ring barricade and drops him with a big DDT. Meanwhile, Kroffat puts Kikuchi on the top turnbuckle for a superplex but Kobashi charges in to save the day. Then the Japanese duo gets their revenge for before by nailing Kroffat with a doomsday dropkick. Crazy move. Then Kobashi picks up his own partner for a back suplex and drops him onto Kroffat. There’s another great tag team move. The referee counts one…two…thr—NO, Kroffat kicked out. This has been spectacular thus far.
Kikuchi tags in Kobashi, who charges with a jumping shoulder tackle but Kroffat has it scouted and faceplants Kobashi. He tags in Furnas who signals the end. They double whip Kobashi. Furnas goes down so Kobashi steps over him…only to run into a frankensteiner by Furnas. Furnas goes for a pin…but Kikuchi jumps in to make the save. What a fantastic near-fall. The fans are chanting loudly for Kobashi. Kroffat gets tagged in, gets his whip reversed by Kobashi, but then kicks Kobashi hard in the face. He charges, but Kobashi kicks him back. He charges again, but Kobashi drops him with a huge powerslam that gets a 2.75-count. Kobashi signals to the crowd and scoop slams Kroffat. It’s moonsault time. People are literally jumping out of their seats for this. Kroffat grabs Kobashi’s leg to stop him, but Kikuchi makes the save. Kobashi dives…but Kroffat escapes at the last second. Wow, what drama, what excitement.
Kroffat goes for a European clutch pin, but Kikuchi breaks the pin at the last second. Kroffat whips Kobashi. He goes for a back body drop. No! Kobashi reverses into a sunset flip. No, Kroffat tries to reverse that! Another reversal by Kobashi! Kobashi blocks a clothesline. DOUBLE ARM DEE-DEE -TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Kobashi pins, but Kroffar kicks out at 2.99! DAMN!
Kobashi scoop slams Kroffat again! Furnas and Kikuchi are outside the ring. Kobashi climbs the turnbuckle. People are losing their minds in the stands. DIVING MOONSAULT PRESS!! The referee counts one…two…THREE!! WE HAVE NEW CHAMPIONS! WE HAVE NEW CHAMPIONS!
Winners and NEW AJPW All Asia Tag Team Champions after 22:11: Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi
Post-match: everyone’s screaming with joy at Kobashi and Kikuchi’s victory. The crowd and the commentators are cheering wildly. They’ve just witnessed their hometown hero achieve a huge victory.
As the new champions celebrate their victory, Kroffat and Furnas shake the champions’ hands. Humbled, they put the championship belts on the new champions’ waists in a show of great sportsmanship.
That was absolutely fantastic! The crowd absolutely made that match. The action itself was great but man, that crowd. That was probably one of if not the best wrestling crowd ever. I know this might sounds incredibly cliché but they were electric. They lost their minds and exploded in cheers for the smallest of moves. They were so emotionally invested in the action and in wanting to see their hometown hero Kikuchi win. Everything clicked perfectly in this match: the structure, the subtleties of the heels acting villainous, the timing of the big moves, the near-falls, all of it.
But this wasn’t just a crowd happy to see one of their own succeed; this match was structured in a way that gave them something to cheer for. The heels knew how the crowd would act, so they structured the match in a way that made both Kobashi and Kikuchi look like true superheroes. Kroffat and Furnas did a wonderful job of pulling on the fans’ heartstrings, giving them a feint glimmer of hope only to tear it away from them at the last possible second. They did an awesome job of beating Kikuchi up in front of his hometown, which allowed Kobashi to come in and make the save. And even though it was Kobashi that scored the deciding fall, that didn’t hurt Kikuchi because he had been clobbered almost to the point of unconsciousness by an underhanded villain and a strongman that were too much for him to handle.
The final five minutes of this match was something else. As soon as Kobashi got tagged in for that final stretch, things went to the next level. The near-falls and reversals were simply incredible. It was impossible to predict what would happen and how a fall would be decided. Then Kobashi hit that enormous DDT that almost gave the commentator an aneurysm and I thought it was over, but it wasn’t. Then Kobashi showed how important it is to use non-verbal cues to get the crowd (even more) riled up. As soon as he scoop slammed Kroffat and raised his fist, the audience collectively lost their shit.
That whole sequence – the slam, the fist gesture, the rope climb, and the execution of the moonsault press – is one of the best examples of controlling a crowd I have ever seen. And when the match ended, people literally jumped for joy. You can see some fans cheering like this was Kofi Kingston’s or Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania victories. They were taken on a true emotional rollercoaster of a match and it ended on the highest possible note.
Final Rating: *****
If this match had an average crowd, then I’d probably give it around 4.5 stars. But this crowd was something else. You could feel the emotion in their cheers and boos without even being there. They gave this match an entirely different atmosphere. Gone was the typical feeling of an AJPW match as a sporting contest. The fans’ emotional investment in it turned it into an unbelievable masterpiece. I have watched this match many times already and will probably do so again many times in the future.
It’s something of a guilty pleasure; a random tag team title match executed so well in front of quite possibly the most rabid wrestling crowd ever seen or heard. With most promotions now either shut down or wrestling in front of ‘essential personnel’, it sucks to see otherwise great performers have their matches hamstrung by taking place in empty arenas. Matches like this one remind us of what the opposite really looks, feels and sounds like. Hopefully, when this whole mess is over, wrestling fans that do go to live events will make as much noise as was heard in this gem of a contest to make up for all the silence.
You can check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Review series right here. Thanks for reading.