As a wrestling fan, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Ric Flair/Shawn Michaels can have a great match with a broom.” Well, the only reason those two names are used for this expression is because few people can pronounce the name ‘Mitsuharu Misawa’ properly.
A true example of a wrestler’s skill and mettle is their ability to have great matches with as many different opponents as possible. And this is Misawa’s test, because he’s in a singles match against Akira Taue.
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.
Of AJPW’s fabled Four Pillars of Heaven, Taue was easily the least-impressive. Let’s use WWE’s SmackDown Six to compare them. Misawa would be Chris Benoit, Kobashi would be Kurt Angle, Kawada would be either Edge or Eddy Guerrero, and Akira Taue would be…Chavo Guerrero. That’s not saying either Taue or Chavo are bad wrestlers; merely ones that, based on how they performed, were at a level lower relative to the others with which they surrounded themselves.
In fact, Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi were all capable of having five-star epics with each other in both singles and tag team action multiple times. But Taue? All but one of his five-star matches were tag matches, and his only 5-star singles match was this one.
And the reason for that was because he was wrestling against Misawa.
This match originally took place on April 15th, 1995, during AJPW’s annual Champion Carnival tournament (their version of NJPW’s G1). This was the final match, and it was considered a huge deal for Taue. He had beaten both Misawa’s partner Kobashi and his archrival Kawada to reach the finals. Taue had long been considered beneath Kobashi, Misawa and Kawada as a singles performer. So this was his chance to prove himself as an individual.
The bell rings and the crowd is exceptionally loud, even by 1990s AJPW standards. Taue knocks Misawa down with a shoulder tackle and goes for his trademark snake eyes. But Misawa blocks it and goes for an elbow but Taue blocks. They exchange strikes in the corner and Taue reverses an Irish whip from Misawa, but Misawa blocks Taue’s charge with an elbow and tries a diving dropkick, but Taue blocks that as well. Misawa blocks a Taue kick, Taue blocks a Misawa elbow and teases the chokeslam, but Misawa escapes. He charges with a flying clothesline but Taue dodges and plants Misawa face-first in the ring canvas. Misawa leaves the ring to recover, but seconds later Taue dives through the ropes Daniel Bryan-style. Damn, that’s a 260-pound man with no physique flying like a cruiserweight. Even the fans appreciate this as they chant Taue’s name, and this is usually a highly pro-Misawa crowd.
Back in the ring, Taue lands a trio of short-range clotheslines for the first two-count of the match as the crowd chants Misawa’s name now. Taue teases the chokeslam again but Misawa avoids it by reaching the ropes. He’s doing a great job discouraging Taue for relying on that big move of his. Taue whips Misawa and goes for a big boot, but Misawa both that and a clothesline and lands his diving spinning lariat. Misawa goes for a facelock (which was almost a finisher of his during the 1980s) but Taue immediately gets out of by thumbing Misawa’s eye, then reverses the facelock onto Misawa. Great counter.
Misawa reaches the ropes with his foot, so Taue drags him back to the middle of the ring and reapplies a facelock. He rubs his forearm right in Misawa’s face, putting more pressure on Misawa’s eye. Misawa escapes the hold but Taue maintains control with a throat-first snake eyes onto the top rope. Taue repeats that move a second time as the crowd starts to turn on him at the five-minute mark.
Taue applies a dragon sleeper on Misawa in the middle of the ring and makes sure to wrap his arm not around the neck, but over the eyes. After releasing it, Taue goes for a vertical suplex but Misawa lands on his feet and attempts a German suplex. Taue blocks that and lands a DDT for a two-count. Taue goes for a powerbomb but Misawa reverses into a frankensteiner for two. Then Taue tries to predict Misawa’s next action and raises his foot for a kick but Misawa stays on the ropes. And as soon as Taue’s foot is on the ground, he charges with a huge elbow smash.
Misawa starts firing back with had kicks and elbows, but can’t capitalize right away because his eye’s causing him problems. Despite that, Misawa still lands another elbow smash and big kick to send Taue out of the ring. Elbow suicida by Misawa! That move is always awesome.
Misawa lands a diving elbow splash in the ring for a two-count. He hits several HARD elbow smashes to Taue followed by teasing the Tiger Driver, but Taue blocks the latter. Taue reaches the ropes, so Misawa answers with even more hard elbow smashes. Damn, one of them looked like it knocked Taue out legit. Misawa’s elbows were straight up lethal. Even the ref recognizes this as he forces Misawa away to check to see if Taue’s even still conscious. Misawa drags Taue away from the ropes and pins, but Taue kicks out at 2.8. Wow, those elbows must’ve been exceptionally hard, even by Misawa’s standards.
Taue escapes the ring to recover at the ten-minute mark. The fans chant Taue’s name. They want to see more of this intense action and I don’t blame them. Misawa gives his opponent the chance to get back into the ring. He wants to win fair and square. A spinning back suplex on Taue gets Misawa a two-count. He teases the Tiger Suplex but Taue escapes by reaching the ropes.
Misawa lands more hard elbows, but this time Taue answers by raking Misawa’s eyes. Excellent ring psychology. This sequence happens a second time, and Taue follows that by rubbing his boot in Misawa’s face. Still not done, Taue drops Misawa face (and therefore eye)-first into the turnbuckle. Damn, the usually-stoic Misawa’s selling the pain in his eye like he’s been blinded.
Taue lands a dropkick that sends Misawa out of the ring. He whips Misawa into the steel barricade but Misawa fires back with an elbow strike. Misawa tries to return to the ring but Taue cuts him off. Then Taue lands a backdrop suplex from the apron to the floor. Everyone’s going nuts, chanting for Misawa. Taue drags Misawa to the apron and teases an apron chokeslam. But Misawa blocks and resists as much as he can. Taue tries and tries, but Misawa escapes with another elbow and makes it into the ring to safely.
In the ring, Misawa goes for a kick and Taue grabs the leg, so Misawa hits an enzuigiri with the free leg. He follows with a standing senton and a frog splash, which gets him a two-count. At the fifteen-minute mark, Misawa lands more elbows and goes for a rolling elbow, but Taue ducks that last one and goes for a back suplex. But wait, Misawa lands on his feet. Bridging German suplex. The referee counts one, two, no, Taue kicks out. That was a close call. The crowd’s becoming unglued.
Misawa lands a Tiger Driver for a close 2.75-count and still seems to be having trouble keeping his left eye open. The crowd’s firmly split between Misawa and Taue, despite Taue’s constant underhandedness. Taue blocks another Tiger Driver, so Misawa attempts a vertical suplex but Taue reverse that sending Misawa over his head. But Misawa lands feet-first on the apron, but Taue responds by chopping him in the eye. Great strategy. Sensing an opening, Taue catches up to Misawa, and grabs his throat. Chokeslam from the apron to the floor! Good God that’s just crazy.
It takes Taue forever to drag Misawa back into the ring. From the looks of it, he’s trying to lift a carcass and not a living human being. Taue goes for a pin and makes sure to hold both of Misawa’s arms, but Misawa reaches the rope with his free foot. Great ring awareness there. Taue uses all of his strength to pull Misawa up to his feet, but Misawa lands one more elbow smash to escape the ring again to recover.
We’re at the twenty-minute mark as Taue lands a German suplex for a 2.8-count. Taue teases a chokeslam but Misawa reaches the ropes again, so Taue DDTs him. Followed by a leg drop for good measure. Taue signals the end and lifts Misawa up. Dynamic Bomb (Batista Bomb)! The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Misawa kicks out at 2.9. Another incredibly close call.
Misawa can barely stand as he hits some desperation elbow smashes to keep Taue at bay. He manages to drop Taue with a rolling elbow and escapes to recover once more. He’s still reeling from that apron chokeslam from earlier. Again Taue drags Misawa back into the ring, and this time he attempts a chokeslam from the top turnbuckle. He lifts Misawa up, but Misawa reverses it into an arm drag in mid-air. What an excellent counter. Running elbow smash. Taue goes down. And the crowd erupts.
Misawa teases the Tiger Driver again but Taue powers out. Taue teases another chokeslam but ends up tossing Misawa into the corner instead. Misawa blocks a kick, Taue ducks another elbow smash and teases a suplex, Misawa escapes that with elbows, and hits another massive rolling elbow, dropping Taue. Another fantastic sequence. Misawa pins but Taue kicks out again.
Misawa lands another German suplex at the twenty-five-minute mark followed by another Tiger Driver for a 2.8-count. He elbows Taue again, but Taue rakes the eyes big time, getting an enormous reaction out of the crowd. Taue goes for the eye again, but this time Misawa’s had enough and throws him aside. He’s getting really mad now. Another elbow smash and a bridging Tiger Suplex. But Taue still kicks out at 2.5. This is absolutely crazy. Misawa gets up and lands another picture-perfect bridging Tiger suplex. The referee counts one, two, three! That it! The match is over!
Winner of the 1995 AJPW Champion Carnival after 27:03: Mitsuharu Misawa
That was just fantastic. It was way better than it had any right to be. I was a bit skeptical at first given that it was Taue in a singles match, but he and Misawa more than delivered here. This was an awesome wrestling match with great in-ring action and a wild crowd that loved Misawa and both loved and hated Taue at the same time.
What made this match so great was how much it differed from the other epics of its day. Almost everyone agreed that Taue wasn’t anywhere near the worker either Kawada or Kobashi was, which made him a harder sell as a credible threat to Misawa. But Taue had one key asset: he was crafty, and was more than comfortable resorting to underhanded tactics to gain an advantage. So his entire strategy in this match was to attack Misawa’s eye over and over again until Misawa was vulnerable enough to be caught by one of Taue’s bigger moves. That’s why he was so great here. He didn’t try and turn this into a war of attrition like Kobashi or Kawada were wont to do; he didn’t need to. He found a strategy that worked and he stuck to it with laser focus, and it almost won him the match.
And Misawa did something unusual in this match; he sold something very deeply and made it look real. Misawa’s entire gimmick (if you could call it that) is that he’s the stoic. Much like the Undertaker, Misawa rarely, if ever, shows the slightest hint of emotion, good or bad, in a match. No flashes of anger, no disagreements with the referee, not even a grin when he wins. He’s almost always stone-faced, to show he’s in complete control of each and every situation he finds himself in. Yet he had to betray that mantra here for Taue. Taue attacked Misawa’s eye so much that he spent much of the match winking or wrestling with only one eye open. Taue’s unique strategy meant something because it got Misawa to forego his normal approach to wrestling.
And the eye attack wasn’t the only thing that Misawa sold greatly here. Misawa also made Taue’s chokeslam seem like the most dangerous move in the world. Unlike most wrestlers, Taue’s chokeslam isn’t about getting the most height; it’s about him planting someone neck-first into the ring canvas as quickly as possible. Each time Taue went for it, Misawa went to the ropes as quickly as he could. And when Taue landed it off the apron, Misawa was so out of it he had to escape the ring several times just to recover. Not only did that make that move look way more dangerous (and therefore credible) than it was before, but it also made Misawa’s comeback even more satisfying. He made Taue into a real threat, and still mustered (almost) everything he had in him to beat Taue and win the tournament.
Final Rating: *****
This is an absolute classic from All Japan Pro Wrestling, and hands down Akira Taue’s best match as a singles wrestler. He wrestled against AJPW’s ace with a unique strategy and managed to take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute he’d pull off unexpected athletic sequences to get them to cheer him, and the next he’d gouge Misawa’s eyes to make them despise him. And Misawa brought his A-game to make Taue look great, which he did by selling for this tall, lanky and otherwise unimposing wrestler in ways that no-one had done before.
Although the in-ring action isn’t as mind-blowingly-epic as other AJPW classics, this is still a five-star performance from these two wrestlers. They demonstrated how adopting a unique, novel strategy can really make a match better. Taue took the concept of ‘less is more’ and ran with it. He knew he couldn’t win a strike exchange with Misawa like Kawada could, nor did he have the stamina and raw power to outlast Misawa like Kobashi could. So he relied on something simple yet unique, and made that the crux of his offensive strategy. And boy did it ever work. Thanks to that approach’s novelty and Misawa going out of his way to sell it, the audience here got treated to a true gem of a wrestling match without the wrestlers having to go overboard with crazy stuff and high peaks.
If that isn’t a prime example of why these wrestlers deserve so much praise, I don’t know what is.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.