5-Star Match Reviews: Kenta Kobashi vs. ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams – AJPW, August 31st, 1993
This is what Steve Williams could have been in WWE if the Brawl For All tournament never happened.
‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams was arguably the top gaijin/foreign worker in Japan during the 1990s. He had an aura of badassery about him, and he backed that up with incredible toughness and a devastating arsenal of match-ending moves. He was the kind of menacing monster you could pit against any smaller babyface and you’d have the crowd cheering wildly for that smaller wrestler in a matter of no time.
And that’s what happened here, as Williams took on the ultimate babyface, Kenta Kobashi.
In this match from August 31st, 1993, you had two of All Japan’s most powerful wrestlers going at it in the hopes of becoming the #1 contender for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Williams had already established himself as a world-title-level athlete, while Kobashi was still below that level yet was trying to reach it. Kobashi was clearly the underdog against the bigger and stronger Williams, but he had the crowd on his side and was known for never giving up, no matter how much punishment he absorbed.
This match also took place during the famous King’s Road era of All Japan, which means that it would feature head spikes and dangerous moves galore. So be prepared to witness one of the craziest matches in a decade already filled to the brim with such savage contests.
Fans chant for Kobashi as Williams paces about like a tiger. The bell rings and they lock up right away (no slow stare down). They jockey for control around the ring and Williams hits a judo hip throw to start things off. Kobashi headlocks Williams and gets whipped, and he tries to hit a shoulder tackle but Williams plays the immovable object and doesn’t budge. He tries again and Williams doesn’t move once more. A third running shoulder tackle attempt ends in a spinebuster from Williams. Williams hits a surfboard-like arm hold that stretches Kobashi’s back and arms, weakening them for later.
We get a power struggle as Kobashi tries to reverse the hold but Williams is firmly in control. Kobashi struggles and struggles and looks like he might finally reverse the hold on Williams, but Williams reverses that and regains control again. Kobashi gets a sudden reversal and hits a snap German suplex dropping Williams on his head. Williams gets up slowly but Kobashi hits a huge lariat that echoes through the building and sends Williams out the ring at the 5-minute mark.
Kobashi hits a DDT on the ringside mats and is firmly in control. He climbs the top turnbuckle and hits a diving lariat onto Williams. Kobashi hits a guillotine leg drop, sending Williams throat-first into the steel ring barricade. Back in the ring, Kobashi stomps away and then starts chopping Williams’ chest. He whips Williams into the opposite turnbuckle and hits another stiff clothesline followed by a single-knee backbreaker. Kobashi then applies the facelock in the middle of the ring. Williams tries to fight out but Kobashi continues with kicks and stomps. They’re both vertical as Kobashi hits a vertical suplex that gets the first two-count of the match. The facelock continues but Williams throws Kobashi over himself to break the hold. That was clever.
Kobashi continues to stomp away and hits a guillotine version of Undertaker’s apron leg drop. Williams tries to fight some more, but Kobashi keeps hitting hard kicks to keep him down. Kobashi chops Williams hard and whips him into the opposite corner but Williams reverses it. Now Williams returns the favor and chops Kobashi’s chest, but Kobashi fires back with kicks. He whips Williams again and hits a jumping knee attack to Williams. Kobashi continues to chop Williams hard, but now Williams is no-selling Kobashi’s strikes. He gets a sudden second wind and starts hulking up Oklahoma-style.
Williams whips Kobashi, Kobashi ducks a clothesline, but Williams shows ridiculous power by military pressing Kobashi over his head as the crowd gasps. He literally presses Kobashi a few times before dropping him straight down to the ringside mats below. This is why Dr. Death was considered the strongest wrestler in the world at the time.
We’re at the ten-minute mark as Williams hits a handspring elbow to Kobashi into the ring barricade. Williams picks Kobashi up and smashes him back-first into the ringpost twice and slams him hard into the ringside mats. Back in the ring, Williams tosses Kobashi into a nearby corner and Kobashi groans loudly. That’s one of the best things about Kobashi: his selling and reactions were so great he made even the simplest of actions feel more painful than they really were.
Williams hits a vertical suplex of his own and starts kicking Kobashi as revenge for earlier. Williams applies a double-arm submission hold and then transitions into a nice release tiger suplex that gets a two-count. Williams stomps again but Kobashi summons his BURNING SPIRIT and starts to gain momentum. He no-sells a few hard strikes and responds to a hard kick with an elbow smash to Williams. But Williams wants none of this and hits a hard shoulder tackle that sends Kobashi down for another two-count. They’re both supine as Williams hits a cradle of sorts but Kobashi literally kicks out.
Williams goes for the doctor bomb but Kobashi reaches the ropes. Then Williams starts to tease the Dangerous Backdrop and suddenly the commentator’s tone shifts. Because he knows the Dangerous Backdrop is an utterly terrifying move, so he’d worried what will happen to Kobashi if Williams lands that move. Kobashi holds onto the top rope for dear life, forcing Williams to let go, and hits a dropkick to Williams. Williams hits multiple chops and Kobashi responds with another shoulder tackle at the 15-minute mark.
They both start slapping each other hard and Kobashi wins that exchange with a spinning kick they start brawling ringside and Kobashi whips Williams into the barricade. Then Kobashi does a clever move by hooking Williams’ head, jumping onto the barricade and sends Williams face-first into the ringside floor (not the mats, the actual floor) with a huge DDT. Kobashi charges Williams as he gets up, but Williams catches Kobashi and plants him on the ringside mats with a huge powerslam. Williams teases the Dangerous Backdrop again but Kobashi gets to the barricade as quick as he can to protect himself. You can tell from Kobashi’s reaction that he was in imminent danger, so he went and grabbed the nearest heavy object he could to escape the Dangerous Backdrop.
They both get back into the ring and Williams chops away. But Kobashi reverses an Irish whip into the corner and then hits a bulldog on Williams. Kobashi is in control as he hits machine gun chops on Williams’ chest followed by another jumping kick. He whips Williams again and charges but Williams answers with a running dropkick that sends them both down.
The crowd chants for Kobashi as they both get up slowly. Williams attempts a three-point stance football tackle but Kobashi answers with a sleeper hold. Williams struggles hard and tries to break the hold by falling backwards with Kobashi still on his back, but Kobashi refuses to let go and locks in the bodyscissors to keep the pressure on. Kobashi shows unusual aggression by not breaking the hold right away when Williams reaches the ropes. Because he knows he has to do whatever he can to beat Williams.
Both of them are struggling as the 20-minute mark passes. Williams hits a huge stinger splash into the corner and climbs the turnbuckle with Kobashi still sitting there. But Kobashi suddenly gets another burst of strength and hits a second rope superplex for a 2.5-count. He hits another DDT and goes for another, but Williams tries to reverse that, but Kobashi reverses the reversal and succeeds with that DDT, planting Williams yet only gets a two-count. Williams looks completely out of it as Kobashi hits three Hogan style leg drops. Kobashi hits a perfect bridging German suplex but it only gets 2.5. The crowd is really waking up now.
Kobashi scoop slams Williams and hits a perfect moonsault, but Williams kicks out at 2.8. Wow, people are screaming loudly at that. This crowd suddenly became unglued. Kobashi continues with the Hogan leg drops and tries another moonsault but Williams gets his knees up at the last second. Williams is up first and hits the football tackle. He goes for the doctor bomb but doesn’t land it perfectly, which allows Kobashi to capitalize with a pin attempt but only gets a two-count. Kobashi hits a luge lariat but it too only gets 2.5 at the 25-minute mark.
Kobashi tries the jumping knee into the corner but Williams dodges, allowing him to hit the Oklahoma Stampede but Kobashi kicks out at 2.9. Williams is in full control as he hits a lariat of his own but again Kobashi kicks out. Kobashi tries to fight back with chops to Williams’s head and tries a roll-up, but Williams kicks out. They charge each other and Kobashi tries to lock in a sleeper hold, but Williams hits an enormous Dangerous Backdrop. Good God Almighty! Kobashi got dropped straight on his head. He’s completely motionless in the middle of the ring. He looks like he’s dead.
Williams crawls and pins Kobashi, but Kobashi miraculously kicks out at 2.9999. Incredible. How could he kick out of that? His neck must be made of iron. Williams tries goes for a second one but Kobashi tries to fight out of it desperately. So Williams decks him in the head and hits an even more brutal Dangerous Backdrop than the first one. WOW, that was savage. Kobashi landed straight on his head yet again. If you listen closely, you can hear two distinct ‘thuds’, one when his head hits the mat, and the second moments later when the rest of his body lands.
Astonishingly, Kobashi is up and moving around on auto-pilot, completely out of it. He has no idea where he is and can’t even hold himself up. Williams hoists him up and hits a third Dangerous Backdrop (this time with a pinning bridge) and the ref counts one…two…three.
Winner after 27:19: ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams
This was a fantastic match. It was a crazy fight between two of the toughest wrestlers on the planet. I loved how the match gradually built up on itself, getting more dramatic as it progressed. They told an excellent story of the gutsy Kobashi taking on the aptly named Dr. Death in the hopes of becoming the #1 contender to AJPW’s top title. It was as even a fight as possible, with both Kobashi and Williams having good chances of winning. That helped the match fly by; there was barely and slow periods in it and there was the right pacing that allowed the viewer to absorb what had just happened before the next big sequence.
Special consideration should be given to the lead commentator (I don’t know his name) for selling the danger of Williams’ Dangerous Backdrop. As soon as Williams teased it, his tone shifted from one of professional analysis to one of caution and concern. Forget about needing to understand Japanese; he sold the danger of that move with his tone alone, and the match suddenly had a far more serious edge. Suddenly there was a sense of urgency and the drama became far greater. Kobashi had to win as soon as possible because if he got worn down enough, he’d become vulnerable to Williams’s Dangerous Backdrop, which was more or less an insta-kill move.
The final two minutes were insane. Kobashi took three vicious head drops and sold them perfectly. He was completely motionless after the first one, and Williams had to work very hard to roll Kobashi onto his back to pin him. The second was even more vicious than the first, and Kobashi’s ‘auto-pilot’ selling was magical. He genuinely looked like he was moving around on pure instinct and without knowing what his body was doing. It sold just how powerful the Dangerous Backdrop really is.
Final Rating: *****
Even if most people only remember the final two minutes of the match, this contest kicked so much ass. The crowd was electric, the action was intense, and the suspense was unbelievably palpable. Both wrestlers showed great psychology and perfect sense of timing when hitting their big moves. There is no English commentary, but that isn’t even needed. This story is told through outstanding wrestling action and verbal tone.
This match has withstood the test of time. Steve Williams left this match the #1 contender for arguably the most prestigious wrestling title in the world. And Kobashi left this match looking like the toughest man alive for surviving three of the most vicious head drops ever. All in all, this is a solid and highly-recommended wrestling classic.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.