5-Star Match Reviews: Kuniaki Kobayashi vs. Tiger Mask II - March 9th, 1985, by Alex Podgorski

5-Star Match Reviews: Kuniaki Kobayashi vs. Tiger Mask II - March 9th, 1985, by Alex Podgorski

We’re going very far back in time for this one. In fact, this is only the fourth-ever match to be rated five stars by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It happened in Japan in 1985, and was important because one of the men involved would have a record 24 more 5-star matches over the course of the following twenty years.

Today we look back at what’s considered to be a cruiserweight classic. It’s a high-profile encounter between Kuniaki Kobayashi and the second-version of Tiger Mask (better known as Mitsuharu Misawa) from March 1985.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Earlier in 1985, AJPW booker Giant Baba purchased the rights to the Tiger Mask gimmick from rival New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Baba needed someone to become the new Tiger Mask, and chose Misawa for the role since Misawa had been training Mexico at that point and had become comfortable doing aerial maneuvers in the same vein as the original Tiger Mask.

Baba’s original plan was for his Tiger Mask to feud with the same people that made the original, NJPW-version Tiger Mask popular. One of those names was Dynamite Kid, but Dynamite Kid had signed with the then-WWF, making this goal impossible. So Baba made Kuniaki Kobayashi Tiger Mask II’s primary rival. Together, they had many heated confrontations, including one in which Kobayashi ripped off the mask and busted him open. Thus, Tiger Mask II was out for revenge on this night.

The match

This match originally took place on March 9th, 1985. I’ll be calling Tiger Mask II ‘Misawa’ from here on out since most people differentiate the first two Tiger Masks so much.

Kobayashi attacks Misawa before the match even begins. Then when the bell rings, they circle each other as if that didn’t happen. Kobayashi hits a spinning heel kick then they lock up. He shoulder tackles Misawa, but Misawa answers with a dropkick and a vertical suplex for a one-count. Some chain grappling ensues and Kobayashi takes control with some elbows and a Tombstone piledriver. A running neckbreaker gets Kobayashi a two-count. He then applies a chickenwing facelock and fires away with martial arts strikes when Misawa reaches the ropes.

Misawa fires back with some strikes of his own and lands a running attack for a one-count. A piledriver gets him a one-count so he applies a headlock, but Kobayashi reverses it into a backdrop suplex. They both get back up and Misawa kips up and flips Kobayashi over with an arm drag. Both of them spin kick each other and Kobayashi takes control with a vertical suplex and a triangle hold. The crowd is firmly in Kobayashi’s corner, even though Misawa/Tiger Mask is meant to be the hero.

Misawa reverses into a leglock/surfboard, which in turn transitions into the double-arm test of strength. Kobayashi gains control but Misawa kicks his way out of it, so Kobayashi escapes the ring. He returns and they whip each other, and Misawa lands on his feet from a back body drop. He monkey flips and dropkicks Kobayashi, sending him out of the ring. Corkscrew plancha by Misawa. Kobayashi dodges, so Misawa lands on his knees and returns to the ring.

Kobayashi applies a Boston crab, Misawa reverses into a pin, and then Kobayashi reverses into a pin of his own. Misawa lands a double-arm suplex and a flying crossbody which gets a one-count. Misawa goes for a dropkick but Kobayashi holds onto the ropes. Misawa whips Kobayashi into the corner and kicks him, and then Kobayashi answers with a lariat. Kobayashi reverses another Irish whip with a kick that sends Misawa out of the ring, and then he dives through the ropes. But Misawa ducks. Kobayashi goes flying. Then Misawa flies through the ropes and hits Kobayashi.

Misawa suplexes Kobayashi over the rope and into the ring for a two-count. He teases a tiger suplex but Kobayashi blocks it. Then Kobayashi lands another backdrop suplex. Kobayashi slams him and ascends the top rope, but Misawa cuts him off. He lands a superplex for a two-count, and then it’s his turn to climb the turnbuckle. A diving elbow drop also gets him a two-count. He climbs again, but Kobayashi cuts him off. Avalanche electric chair suplex. Kobayashi lands a perfectplex but Misawa’s foot reaches the ropes.

Misawa reverses a standing suplex into a rolling clutch, which too gets reversed by Kobayashi. Then Misawa suplexes Kobayashi out of the ring. Misawa tries to maintain control but Kobayashi smashes him into the steel ringpost. Back suplex on the ringside mats. Misawa tries to get back into the ring, but the referee has reached the count of ten. The match is over.

Match result: Draw/Double count-out

Review

This match did not age well at all. I understand that this was 1985 and the real high-flyers hadn’t really reached a national stage at that point. But to call this a 5-star epic is really stretching it. The athleticism shown here was pretty cool, sure. But the match structure itself left a lot to be desired.

There was no logical flow to the match, only move after move after move. Nothing had any meaning, nor did any big move build onto something else later on. Neither man really sold that much either in terms of damage or pain. I get that the junior heavyweight style was all about speed back then. And while they followed that philosophy perfectly here, the match was all style and no substance. They were innovative with their daredevil acrobatics, to be sure.

But none of that felt like it mattered. And then there was the ending, which really dragged the match down. It just didn’t make any sense. This was before AJPW adopted a 20-count instead of a 10-count for ring count-outs. It just seemed like a really stupid finish to do given how Tiger Mask II (Misawa) was supposed to be the herald of a new age in AJPW.

Final Rating: **3/4

The stuff they did do was pretty good, but the match as a whole just doesn’t hold up well. And that isn’t because in 2020 wrestlers are doing a hundred dives in one match. The junior heavyweight style has simply evolved to such a degree that something like this looks unbelievably oversimplified by today’s standards. Yes, the wrestlers landed crazy moves and showed off their athleticism.

But that was at the expense of telling any real story. There just wasn’t any real drama here or anything for the viewer to really sink their teeth into. No real face vs. heel drama, no high-tension staredown, no obstacle for either wrestler to overcome, nothing.   If this match happened today, it would be the opening match on a PPV, and not even a good one at that. The double count-out finish just sucked. It wasn’t even that logical, and was likely done to protect both wrestlers at the same time.

Ultimately, this was a rapid sprint of match that featured some cool moves that didn’t play into a larger story. It’s very disappointing, especially since there were wrestlers in other parts of the world that were putting on better matches than this at the time. How this got both a 5-star rating is a mystery. Thankfully, things would change for Misawa for the better in the coming years, so at least this disappointing match would lead to something good.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.