(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kawada & Kobashi vs. Misawa & Taue – AJPW, June 4th, 1999

misawa taue kawada kobashi

No, you’re not reading that wrong; MISAWA and TAUE are teaming up against KAWADA and KOBASHI!

It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen reviewing all these classic matches. Over time some teams and rivalries get to entrenched and go so deep that deviating in any way wouldn’t make sense at all.

Except it did make sense here. 1990s All Japan was a treasure trove of outstanding wrestling matches, thanks in part to the Four Pillars mentioned above. But something’s off here: instead of it being a return to the classic Super Generation Army vs. Holy Demon Army dynamic, the whole thing is flipped on its head. Why did this happen? And was it really as good as their older classics? Read on to find out.

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

This match took place one week before Misawa’s scheduled Triple Crown title defense against Kobashi (which was, to put it mildly, mind-numbingly epic). And to build up anticipation for that match, All Japan booked some tag matches between champion and challenger. Sounds normal, right? Where here’s where it gets interesting.

Both Misawa and Kobashi needed tag partners for this match. Kobashi’s regular tag partner Jun Akiyama was busy on this night, as was Misawa’s partner Yoshinari Ogawa. But there were two guys that, on this night, weren’t scheduled for any big match: Kawada and Taue, the Holy Demon Army.

But since the singles title was the big draw that was coming up, Misawa, being All Japan’s new booker, decided to give fans something unusual, akin to AJPW’s fan appreciation night. He pitted the Holy Demon Army against each other, with Kawada and Taue on opposite sides of the ring for more or less the first time since 1993.

This was going to make for an incredible treat with three important questions on the fans’ minds. First, would these two teams get along? Taue had annoyed Misawa many times before and their singles and tag bouts from the past were as well-wrestled as they were intense. But that paled in comparison to the oddball pairing of Kobashi and Kawada. Those two had a brutal rivalry that nearly matched the intensity of Misawa-Kawada and produced equally-awesome matches. Misawa and Kawada hated each other and, up until 1996, Kobashi stuck up for Misawa whenever he could. But now that he was on his own, could he rely on his grumpy and bitter senior to help him when he needed it?

Second, would Kawada’s injured arm screw him over? Kawada broke his ulna in a match with Misawa back in January and returned only a month prior to this match. With a bad arm, Kawada would likely struggle to maintain his brutal strike exchanges; even though he was more famous as a kicker, Kawada could throw hands when heeded and he threw a mean lariat.

Thirdly, would Kobashi be able maintain his positive momentum? He was challenging Misawa again and so far history was against him. Even though his title matches with Misawa produced sometrulygodlymatches, the result had always been the same. to convince more skeptical viewers that this time it would be different, he needed to win. But could he, under these unusual circumstances?

The match

This match originally took place on June 4th, 1999. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.

Misawa and Kobashi start things off. Kobashi escapes a headlock and doesn’t budge on a shoulderblock spot. The two trade stiff shots and follow with a chain grappling sequence that ends in a stalemate and loud applause from the audience. The two trade standing armlocks until Misawa hits some elbows that make Kobashi stagger. But then Kobashi retaliates with a chop flurry to Misawa’s neck and Misawa goes down. Kobashi hits more chops but Misawa retaliates with elbows and then dropkicks Kobashi to the floor. Kobashi dodges a suicide dive so Misawa lands on his feet and reverses an Irish whip to send Kobashi into the barricade. Kobashi bounces out and charges…only to run into an elbow smash.

Back in the ring, Misawa tags Taue who hits a running big boot. Taue goes for a suplex but Kobashi counters into a vertical suplex of his own for a one-count and then tags Kawada. The two HDA teammates trade stiff strikes until Kawada gets Taue in a corner. Kawada chops Taue but Taue sumo rushes Kawada backward and hits a rebound lariat. Misawa tags in and hits some kicks but Taue no-sells them. The two brawl for a bit trading elbows. But then as Misawa hits his elbows, Kawada slumps down clutching his right arm. As predicted, it’s still giving him problems. Then Misawa tries taking out Kawada’s other weapon in his left leg with a kick, but that angers Kawada and he fires back with a boot of his own. Misawa hits another running elbow but Kawada bounces back with an even stronger boot to down Misawa at the five-minute mark.

Another quick strike exchange ensues and then Misawa does his best to block a suplex. Kawada powers him into his corner and Kobashi tags in. Kobashi chops Misawa in a corner, but then, instead of going onto the apron, Kawada decides he wants in on this and joins Kobashi with chops of his own for a bit. Kobashi goes for a suplex but Misawa lands behind him. Misawa hits two elbows and charges for a running one, but then stops as Kobashi drops from the first two. There’s that classic All Japan unpredictability; a ‘planned spot’ gets negated from something happening in the match, which makes the action look more real.

Taue tags in and hotshots Kobashi throat-first on the top rope for a two-count. he follows with a combination corner kick and a piledriver but that gets two as well. Kobashi reverses a whip into a barricade but Taue bounces out with another boot. Taue tosses Kobashi into the ring and lands a tossing back suplex for another two-count. Misawa tags in and hits an elbow and Kobashi tries firing up but he gets dropped by a Misawa spinkick. Misawa lands a standing senton but only gets two so he applies a facelock. Then Taue tags in again and lands a scoop slam/leg drop combo for a two-count, which is followed by a neck crank and another tag to Misawa.

Misawa hits another elbow flurry followed by a spinning lariat for a two-count at the ten-minute mark. He goes for a Tiger Driver but lets go when he sees Kawada boot Taue as the two illegal guys both come in. Misawa boots both Kawada and Kobashi but then Kobashi lands a sick discus chop to Misawa’s neck. Kawada follows that with a kick and Kobashi goes for a powerbomb. But Misawa counters with a headscissor and hits a rolling elbow on Kawada. But Kawada tanks it and lands a gamengiri kick, which Kobashi follows with a half-nelson suplex. Misawa rolls to ringside but Kobashi shoots him into the barricade. Taue goes after Kobashi but Kobashi blocks a kick and lands another discus chop. Then Kobashi whips Misawa into Kawada as Kawada hits a running yakuza kick and Kobashi lands another half-nelson on the ringside mats. Kawada and Kobashi doing double-team moves together. Who would’ve thought?

Kawada lifts a nearly-dead Misawa into the ring and Kobashi covers but Taue breaks it up. Misawa kicks out again so Kobashi lands more corner neck and chest chops. Kobashi follows with a corner running kneelift and pins again but Misawa gets his foot on the ropes. He tags Kawada and Kawada kicks Misawa as hard as he can. Misawa hits back with elbows but Kawada drops him with a corner yakuza kick. Kawada tags Kobashi and the two of them have this fun little synchronized leg drop-kneedrop sequence to further destroy Misawa’s head and neck. Kobashi covers but once again Taue breaks it up.

The fans chant Misawa’s name as Kobashi applies a camel clutch at the fifteen-minute mark. Kobashi switches to a Misawa facelock on Misawa but Taue breaks that up too so Kobashi tags Kawada. Kawada hits his sitting chop/kick combo that Samoa Joe would use later on and then lands a sick kneedrop for a two-count of his own. Kawada pulls Misawa to his feet and the two trade elbows. Kawada switches to a sick spinkick but then both go down because Kawada hurts his own arm again. I guess no matter how tough he thinks he is, he can’t ignore that pain.

Kobashi tags in and goes for his double kneelift/Russian leg sweep combo. But then Misawa elbows out and charges for an elbow strike. Kobashi blocks with a spinkick to Misawa’s freshly-targeted gut and follows with a guillotine leg drop. Kobashi goes for a dragon suplex but Misawa escapes. Kobashi tanks another elbow and goes for his discus chop, but this time Misawa ducks it and hits a diving back elbow and then tags Taue.

Taue runs wild with a high kick to Kobashi and a shoulderblock to knock Kawada off the apron. He dropkicks Kobashi and hits a lariat and then goes for his chokeslam. But he lets go as Kawada rushes in and boots Kawada. Kobashi blocks a boot and goes for a discus chop. Taue blocks that and lands a chokeslam. Great sequence. One, two, Kobashi kicks out.

Taue goes for his apron chokeslam to the floor but Kobashi blocks it. Then he teases chokeslamming Kobashi from the top turnbuckle but Kawada interferes. Kobashi tries taking advantage of that distraction but Taue blocks his attack and hits a DDT onto the apron. He pins Kobashi in the ring but only manages a two-count so he tries another chokeslam. But this time Kobashi counters it into a DDT of his own and then tags Kawada.

Kawada rushes Taue and lands his patented stepkicks but Taue tanks them like a boss. He tries again and follows with a yakuza kick but Taue hits a yakuza kick of his own. They trade running kicks back and forth until both men collapse. Taue gets up first and goes for a German suplex but Kawada blocks and kicks Taue’s back. Taue fights through it and hits an enzuigiri to Kawada and then tags Misawa.

We’re at the twenty-minute mark as Misawa hits a running elbow smash. Kawada blocks a Tiger Driver so Misawa elbows him to break his resolve. Kawada tanks it and goes for a kick but Misawa blocks that, hits another elbow, and connects with the Tiger Driver. One, two, Kawada kicks out. Misawa charges but Kawada hits first with a yakuza kick. Misawa tries again but Kawada kicks his face. On the third attempt Misawa catches Kawada’s boot but Kawada retaliates with a (right-arm) lariat. The referee starts counting…and Kawada breaks up his own pin because of the pain in his arm. Hot tag to Kobashi.

Kobashi hits a running jumping knee in the corner to the back of Misawa’s head. Misawa resists a regular powerbomb so Kobashi switches it to a bucklebomb. Then Kobashi slams Misawa and goes for his moonsault but Taue cuts him off and pulls him off the turnbuckle and to the floor. Taue choke-tosses Kobashi into the barricade so that Misawa can land his patented elbow suicida.

Misawa tosses Kobashi into the ring to Taue but Kawada saves Kobashi. Kawada blocks a chokeslam but walks into a missile dropkick from Misawa. Taue chokeslams Kawada and boots Kobashi into a corner. Then he powerbombs Kobashi so that Misawa can land a frog splash. One, two…and TH – no, Kobashi narrowly kicks out.

Taue tags in and goes for his own powerbomb but Kobashi gets to the ropes. Taue tries that move again but Kobashi powers out. Seeing Kobashi fighting back, Misawa charges in at the perfect moment to hit a running elbow, which is followed by a jumping big boot from Taue. One, two, and Kawada breaks up the pin. Misawa dumps Kawada ringside and Taue hits his Dynamic Bomb/Batista Bomb. Misawa keeps Kawada against the ropes but Kobashi still kicks out of Taue’s other finisher. Taue holds Kobashi in place for a chokeslam as Misawa charges for a running elbow. But Kobashi breaks free and lariats Misawa. Taue goes for a chokeslam but Kobashi grabs the ropes. Taue kicks off the ropes to pull them both back but Kawada rushes in and hits a huge gamengiri on Taue. Kobashi charges for a lariat. Taue blocks it with a kick. Kobashi staggers back. Kawada hits another gamengiri to stun Taue…long enough for Kobashi to obliterate Taue with another lariat. One, two, and three! There’s the match!

Winners after 24:24: Kenta Kobashi & Toshiaki Kawada

Post-match, Kobashi and Kawada shake hands. There’s nothing to it there; I just think that it’s crazy to see these guys do that given how intense their own rivalry was.


This was an excellent match. There was no commentary so there wasn’t any language barrier that could make this match harder to watch. It was 25 minutes of pure action. The chemistry these four wrestlers had with each other was almost otherworldly. Even with their pairing flipped around these four wrestlers knew exactly what to do to tell a great story and put on an exciting and worthwhile match. It’s no wonder that their collective nickname – The Four Pillars of Heaven/Four Heavenly Kings – is still considered such a fitting name all these decades later.

What makes this match and other 1990s All Japan matches so great is their sense of unpredictability. These aren’t performances. You can’t just open your phone and look up periodically hoping to follow along. These four wrestlers do such an amazing job of weaving a complex and engaging tale that you can’t look away, even for a second. This match was filled with so many great counter sequences that could’ve changed the entire direction of the match. Once the hot tags began towards the end, the action became edge-of-your-seat-watching-attentively. These four wrestlers timed their moves perfectly to create this incredible sense of anticipation. They knew how to build up the action to the crescendo everyone wanted to see. But what they added were some small teases and blocking sequences that delayed that big final moment ever so slightly. Those little teases hinted at a reversal of control that never came, and they made the action much more spontaneous. There’s something to be said about the philosophy of calling it in the ring and taking advantage of small unexpected twists and adapting accordingly. To me, that approach – as seen with this match – is much better than two wrestlers having their entire match mapped out completely and sticking to ‘the plan’ even as minor unexpected hiccups occur.

But most importantly, this match was about the competition. Both Misawa & Taue and Kobashi & Kawada were able to put their differences aside in order to try and win. Kawada worked well with Kobashi and Taue did the same with Misawa. They were focused on winning and went to similar lengths here as they had in previous matches. Kawada was willing to participate in Kobashi’s tandem sequences and Taue was as annoying a foil to them as he had been when facing off against Misawa. The fact that these four wrestlers had such a great match without a deep story or any major angles and they were basically fighting people they usually teamed with shows just how talented they were as wrestlers and how winning and losing was so critical to them.

I just wish that Taue or ideally Misawa would’ve gone after Kawada’s bad arm. As soon as he started selling it, a lightbulb should’ve gone off in either of their heads to exploit that weakness to increase their chances of winning. After all, these guys have gone after such weaknessesbefore so it didn’t make sense to ignore such a thing here.

Also, while this makes for a very fun match to watch, it does get a bit chaotic when it comes to rules being enforced. There were many moments where more than the two legal men were in the ring and the referee wasn’t doing much to maintain order. There didn’t seem to be warnings or any sense of consequence for Kawada and Taue’s constant interference. If that was the case, why not just make this a tornado tag match? It was similar to some modern AEW tag matches with lots of people going in and out with inconsistent adherence to rules and established match logic. Inconsistency is worse than a hard yes or a hard no on rules, so having that sort of thing here makes the match come across as slightly less cohesive, even if it does add to the drama and tension.

Final Rating: ****1/2

Missed opportunity for deep limbwork and disregard for tag rules aside, this was great. This match is easily accessible and easy to follow along. If you like all action and no nonsense in your wrestling, you’ll enjoy this match. There’s a good story here, smooth pacing, and a sense of escalation that concludes with a very entertaining and unpredictable finishing sprint.

For most wrestlers, having a match like this would be something to be really proud of; for these Four Pillars, it was another day at the office.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.