Mitsuharu Misawa. Kenta Kobashi. Toshiaki Kawada. Akira Taue. Collectively, they are known as All Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Four Pillars of Heaven. They earned that name by putting on arguably the greatest collection of singles and tag team matches in wrestling history. Although there are many tag teams with more championships and accolades and have carved better legacies as teams, none of them have managed to put on same number of high-quality matches as this quartet.
Today we revisit another one of their famous tag matches, the one from the finals of the 1995 World’s Strongest Tag Determination League.
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.
Between June 1st, 1993 and this match, the Four Pillars wrestled each other in 2-on-2 tag team matches nine times. All of their other famous encounters were six-and-eight-man tag matches plus some singles matches sprinkled in here and there.
Going into this match, the scores were as follows. The Holy Demon Army (Kawada and Taue) had three wins, including in their absolutely spectacular tag team title match from June 9, 1995. There were also three draws, two of them sixty-minute and one thirty-minute. Finally, the Super Generation Army (Misawa and Kobashi) had only two wins. So they were going into this hoping to, at the very least, even the score.
In an interesting twist, these two teams had faced each other earlier in this very same tournament. That match, which took place on November 21st, 1995, saw Kawada and Taue beat Misawa and Kobashi. Unfortunately, no footage exists of that match on the internet and there was never a rating assigned to it. But given that it’s a tag match involving the Four Pillars, we can all safely assume that it, too, was fantastic.
Yet despite losing earlier in the tournament, Misawa and Kobashi still managed to reach the finals by beating every other team. So now they hoped to avenge their earlier loss while also gaining the glory of winning the most prestigious tag team tournament in wrestling history.
This is the final match of the WSTDL and it originally took place on December 9th, 1995. It was originally rated 4.75-stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It’s also the last time these four wrestlers ever faced off in 2-on-2 tag team competition, making it the final official Four Pillars-style tag match ever.
The bell rings as Kawada and Kobashi start things off. After some slow circling, they lock up and Kawada immediately drops Kobashi with a Backdrop Driver! Oh damn! Then Misawa comes in but Kawada boots him right in the face. Gamengiri to Kobashi! Kobashi’s already crawling on auto-pilot as Kawada continues his kicking onslaught and Taue kicks Misawa off the apron. An insanely hot start to the match.
Kawada & Taue tease the Holy Demon Special ’95 (Chokeslam/BackDrop combination) but Misawa makes the save. He drops both of them with a flurry of elbows as the crowd cheers in approval. Kobashi chops the crap out of Kawada’s neck and hits a boot, then lands a bridging German suplex. He pins but Kawada kicks out at two, so Kobashi lands a massive powerbomb to follow up. Kawada gets up right away but rag-dolls trying to stay on his feet. I remember meeting Bubba Ray Dudley in person and I wore a shirt with Kawada’s face on it and he looked to them and pointed to my shirt and said ‘Kawada, best sell’. This is why.
Kobashi teases a dragon suplex on Kawada but Kawada holds onto the rope for dear life. Kawada sinks to the mat as another way of escape, so Kobashi switches to a sleeperhold instead. Misawa comes in to keep Taue from breaking it up, but Taue tosses him over the rope and attacks Kobashi. Kobashi lands a few chops but Taue ducks a big spinning chop and lands a massive chokeslam. That allows Kawada to capitalize and apply a cross armbreaker as Misawa and Taue right some more. As soon as Misawa’s back is turned, Kawada drops him with a massive Gamengiri kick as well. Great move. That kick hit Misawa right in the eye, which was first targeted by Taue in their April singles match and further weakened in this quartet’s historic June 1995 match.
Kobashi and Kawada trade hard strikes as Taue teases the apron chokeslam but Misawa escapes. Kawada drops Kobashi with a massive spinkick, then he aides Taue by hitting a doomsday chokeslam from the apron to the floor. This is insanity.
Kawada and Taue maintain control as we reach the five-minute mark. Taue tags in and knees Kobashi in the face then teases an apron Chokeslam on Kobashi. Kobashi fights out of it but can’t avoid a running yakuza kick from Kawada. Taue capitalizes on this and smashes Kobashi arm-and-shoulder-first into the steel ring barricade. There goes Kobashi\s lariat arm. Kobashi tries to escape Taue but Taue gives chase and smashes Kobashi’s arm into the steel again. In the ring, Taue lands a standing armbreaker and kicks the arm as hard as he can before tagging in Kawada. Kawada lands a second-rope knee drop on Kobashi’s damaged arm and does the exact same things Taue just did. Kawada tags in Taue, who locks in an armbar, and as Kobashi tries to get to his feet, Taue pulls him back down by the hair. Then he kicks Misawa away from the ring so Kobashi can’t tag in his healthier partner.
Kawada tags in and kicks away at Kobashi’s arm, then applies a kimura lock of sorts. Kobashi tries to escape, so Kawada transitions into a triangle hold, further wrenching Kobashi’s arm. Then Kobashi summons some kind of crazy inner strength and deadlifts Kawada while his arm is still trapped and drops Kawada powerbomb-style. Well, now we know where Roman Reigns got the idea for his roll-through-one-arm powerbomb.
We’re at the ten-minute mark as Kawada kicks Misawa off the apron to further isolate a wounded Kobashi. Taue tags in and lands a release throw suplex, and Kobashi damages his arm even more by trying to brace for impact. Taue follows this with as cross armbreaker of his own and Kobashi tries to fire back with kicks to Taue’s leg, but Taue answers with a big enzuigiri. Kobashi reaches for Misawa in desperation, but Taue maintains control and even holds Kobashi’s arm up mockingly. He drops Kobashi with a DDT and tags Kawada who lands multiple kneedrops to that same damaged arm and then locks in his own cross armbreaker. How Kobashi hasn’t given up yet is beyond me
Kobashi tries to escape by pinning Kawada while clasping his own arm, but Kawada keeps applying the pressure. Then Taue comes in and they lock simultaneous armbreakers on Kobashi. Now there’s a creative double team strategy. But Misawa has had enough and attack both men. German suplex for Taue. Tiger Suplex for Kawada. A one-armed Kobashi reaches the ropes and finally tags in Misawa. The fans in Budokan Hall are going nuts.
Misawa charges in with a flurry of elbows on Kawada and drops him with a Tiger Driver. He pins but Kawada kicks out at two, then does the same after a frog splash. Misawa applies a facelock but Taue breaks it up, so Misawa punishes him with hard elbows. He reapplies the facelock as Kobashi holds Taue on the ropes with a sleeper hold, but Kawada crawls to the ropes. So Misawa pulls him away from the ropes and locks it in again but Taue escapes Kobashi’s clutch by stomping on his arm and breaks up Misawa’s submission hold.
We’re at the fifteen-minute mark as both Misawa and Kawada are down. Taue tags in and immediately starts kicking Misawa in the face, more specifically in his left eye. Misawa resists Taue’s chokeslam, so Taue tosses him hard into the corner. You can hear how hard Misawa’s body hit the turnbuckles, so his back and spine must be in quite a bit of pain. Taue teases the top-rope chokeslam, but Misawa escapes with elbows and dropkicks. Misawa attempts a Tiger Driver but Taue escapes. So Misawa teases a Tiger Suplex, but Kawada breaks it up. Taue takes advantage by trying a running clothesline, but Misawa reverses into a Tiger Driver attempt again. But Taue reverses that. Chokeslam by Taue. He pins, but Misawa kicks out at two.
Kawada tags in and drops Misawa with stiff kicks to the face. He teases a powerbomb but Kobashi breaks it up, which leads to Taue coming in and tossing Kobashi out of the ring. They continue to double-team Misawa. Holy Demon Special ’95 on Misawa! Wow, that’s such a crazy move.
The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Misawa kicks out at 2.8. Kawada gets Misawa up for the powerbomb and…no, Misawa reverses with a frankensteiner. Kawada answers with a yakuza kick. Folding Powerbomb by Kawada. Misawa kicks out once again! They tease the Doomsday Chokeslam but Kobashi blocks Taue from diving. Misawa reverses into a victory roll but Kawada kicks out at 2.5. Taue lands another chokeslam and Kawada applies the Stretch Plum submission hold. Kobashi comes in and is about to break the hold when Taue cuts him off, but Taue eats a lariat from Kobashi for his efforts. Kobashi hits Kawada in the head as hard as he can but Kawada won’t let go of Misawa. It takes three hard strikes for Kawada to release his hold, and when he does he kicks Kobashi in his weakened arm. But that only makes Kobashi angrier as he drops Kawada with a hard strike.
Kobashi tags in at the twenty-minute mark, having recovered to some degree from his opponents’ earlier arm work. He charges with a lariat but Kawada ducks it, then Kawada reverses a second one into yet another cross armbreaker. Kobashi quickly reaches the ropes, but Kawada takes his sweet time letting go. Kawada attempts a powerbomb but Kobashi powers out so Kawada lariats him in the back of the head then kicks him hard in the face with another Gamengiri.
Taue tags in and lands his Dynamic Bomb, one of his bigger finishers. He pins, but Misawa makes the eleventh hour save. Misawa and Kawada start brawling, until Kawada blocks a Misawa kick and sends him out of the ring. At the same time, Taue teases the apron chokeslam and gets an assist from Kawada to weaken Kobashi. But Kobashi keeps resisting. Misawa comes back in and drops Kawada with a rolling elbow and then smashes Taue. Elbow suicida by Misawa.
Kobashi drags Taue into the ring and gets revenge with a jackknife powerbomb of his own for two. It looks like he couldn’t keep the hold with all of his strength due to the damage to his arm. Great psychology. But he still has plenty of leg strength. He scoop slams Kobashi and lands a gorgeous diving moonsault. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Taue kicks out at 2.9. Amazing near-fall.
Kobashi slams Taue again for a second moonsault, but hits a leg drop to the throat first for good measure. But as he climbs the turnbuckle, Kawada smashes his face in with a Gamengiri, and then gives a charging Misawa one as well. Powerbomb on Kobashi by Kawada. Taue crawls over for the pin, the referee counts one, two, no, Kobashi kicks out.
Ringside, Kawada and Misawa continue fighting and Kawada smashes Misawa into the barricades, he goes for a powerbomb on the exposed floor, but Misawa fight6s out of it. He blocks Kawada’s charge and nails a Tiger Driver on the floor. Wow, that must hurt. Meanwhile, Taue and Kobashi slug it out in the ring.
Taue lands another chokeslam on Kobashi as we reach the twenty-five-minute mark. Misawa comes in to try and help Kobashi out but he too eats a chokeslam from Taue. Kobashi takes advantage of this distraction and lands a German suplex on Taue. He pins but Taue kicks out at 2.8. Taue teases another chokeslam but eats a Tiger Suplex from Misawa instead. Kobashi pins but Taue kicks out at 2.9. So Kobashi scoop slams him again. And then he climbs the turnbuckle. Moonsault press! The referee counts one, two, three! That’s it! There’s the match!
Winners of the 1995 World’s Strongest Tag Determination League after 27:04: The Super Generation Army (Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi)
This was all kinds of fun. These four wrestlers simply could not have anything less than a stellar match together. They told yet another great story while putting on a wrestling match that was both exciting and logically-sound. The opening was a much-needed change of pace from their other famous epics. They forewent the usual slow start, strike exchange and standoffs in favor of high-impact signature moves to give the faces more urgency and a need to fight from underneath.
As usual, Kobashi was the perfect underdog hero in peril against two older and more experienced foes. They knew he likes to hit like a runaway freight train with his lariat, so both Kawada and Taue went to great lengths to destroy Kobashi’s arms. In doing so, Kobashi’s go-to finisher and most of his signature moves were either rendered useless or were more difficult for him to execute. And those weaknesses opened Kobashi up to be utterly decimated by Kawada and Taue throughout the match.
But Kobashi’s opponents made one fatal error: they focused so much on his arms that they neglected to weaken his knees. In doing so, Kobashi had enough strength to fly off the top rope with his moonsault and get the win. Had they balanced their approach out to attack both his arms and his knees, then it’s likely Kobashi wouldn’t’ve been able to get a pin right away, which could’ve saved the match for Kawada and Taue.
Kobashi wasn’t the only great wrestler here. The other three played their roles perfectly. Taue was his usual underhanded self whose clever tactics got the crowd to boo him and cheer more wildly for the heroes. Kawada was the monster that decimated both Misawa and Kawada with his wide array of brutal strikes and heaving slams. He tore into Kobashi’s arm unrelentingly and weakened him almost to the point of tapping out. He and Taue just thrashed Misawa when Misawa was the legal man. They threw almost everything at him and almost won on several occasions. If it weren’t for Kobashi stopping Taue from jumping off with the Doomsday Chokeslam, the match could’ve ended then and there.
Speaking of Misawa, he was his usual fantastic self in this match. Everything he did had meaning behind it and was done with perfect timing. He knew when to interfere to save his partner and when to kick out. He took a beating yet still somehow survived. He even made references to previous big matches with his selling the eye.
That was something going back to both his April singles match with Taue and the tag match from June. In both of those matches, Misawa was weakened by Taue attacking his eye. Making connections to older stuff like that in a new match like this one is so refreshing. It adds more depth and importance to the larger story instead of having everything in a given match exist within its own contained universe.
Final Rating: *****
While this match doesn’t measure up to some of their previous matches, it’s still a five-star classic. It featured an exciting and wild start that’s unusual for Four Pillars tag matches. And from there it was a rollercoaster. One minute the wrestlers are throwing savage bombs at each other, the next they’re flying out of the ring, and the next they’re trying to destroy each other’s limbs.
Although it’s a very formulaic match, that formula works wonders for a reason. The Four Pillars formula combines repeated signature moves with unexpected yet logical twists and turns along with deep psychology and storytelling. When you take someone on an emotional journey, you want to ease them in with something they’re comfortable with, which is familiar. Then once you have them hooked in, you add the right kinds of twists and turns, while keeping those changes logical and following the larger story. That’s what makes the viewer want to come back for more.
That’s what makes these matches so exhilarating. They all look familiar but no two matches are the same. Each time the two wrestlers lock up or stare each other down, you have no idea what they’re going to do. They could do almost anything and it would still make sense in the larger story they’re telling.
So while it’s not the most epic Four Pillars tag match, it’s definitely a strong close to their unique and legendary story in pro wrestling history.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.