One of the most common stories you see in pro wrestling is “young rookie desperate to prove themselves against established veteran”. This is one of those matches.
Here, rookie Kenta Kobashi was looking to elevate himself by facing and defeating established veterans in All Japan Pro-Wrestling. Unfortunately for Kobashi, one of the legends he had to face was none other than Stan ‘the Lariat’ Hansen’, a famous American brawler notorious for his hard-hitting offense and his vicious Southern Lariat finisher.
As a reminder, I am reviewing 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.
This match took place in All Japan Pro-Wrestling on July 29, 1993.
Hansen begins with classic heel antics by attacking the ring announcer as he leaves the ring, and Kobashi intervenes like a hero. Hansen rolls out of the ring and Kobashi chops him ringside and hits a DDT on the ringside mats. As Hansen gets up, Kobashi hits a diving shoulder tackle from the apron and maintains control. Hansen tried to fight back with hard slaps, but Kobashi chops him hard in return. A struggle ensues and Kobashi throws Hansen into the ring rope. The young hero is in full control here.
Kobashi strikes Hansen hard each time Hansen tries to fight back. He kicks Hansen hard in the back and then starts targeting Hansen’s lariat arm. Hansen headbutts Kobashi, but Kobashi returns with a huge lariat and a Hogan style leg-drop for a two-count. Fans chant Kobashi’s name as he cinches in a facelock. This goes on for a long time until Hansen tries to break the hold with a backdrop suplex, but Kobashi still keeps the head locked in. Hansen rolls out of the ring again and Kobashi knocks him into the ring barricade. He tosses Hansen back in once more and gets another two-count as we pass the five-minute mark.
Kobashi hits a heaving vertical suplex for another two-count and goes back to the facelock. Hansen again tries to roll out of the ring and Kobashi targets the neck with more leg drops. He hits a baseball slide dropkick and some more strikes and sends Hansen back in again and gets yet another two-count. Kobashi is firmly in control as he returns to the headlock. This goes on for a long time and Hansen tries to fight out, but Kobashi answers with a bulldog that gets a one-count. Hansen gets his foot on the ropes and Kobashi stomps away.
Kobashi continues with more various strikes and charges Hansen in the turnbuckle, but Hansen gets his foot up and Kobashi eats that instead. Hansen gets out and hits a splash from the apron to the floor, and then powerbombs Kobashi onto the exposed floor. Ouch. The crowd chants ‘ko-ba-shi’ loudly, but Hansen dives back out of the ring onto Kobashi at the ten-minute mark.
Hansen pins Kobashi but only gets 2.5. The camera zooms on Kobashi’s face and it looks like he’s struggling to breathe. Another pin attempt gets a two-count and Hansen returns the favor from earlier by stomping on and striking a downed Kobashi. Two consecutive pin attempts each get a two-count. Kobashi tries to fight back but Hansen slaps him so hard it knocks him back down. Hansen pins yet again but only gets two.
Kobashi keeps trying to fight back and the crowd reacts loudly with each little thing Kobashi does. He hits a running kick that sends them both down and this crowd gets really loud. Kobashi only gets a two-count from his pin and tries a missile dropkick but Hansen rolls out of the way. Hansen pins but gets two. Hansen climbs the turnbuckle and hits a second-rope splash for another two-count. This crowd has really woken up now and again they chant Kobashi’s name.
Kobashi reverses a back body drop attempt with three kicks that send Hansen into the corner. Kobashi hits multiple kicks and chops onto Hansen in the corner, including his patented machine gun chops that gets a huge pop. Kobashi goes for some move but Hansen tosses him away and kicks him hard in the back twice. After the second kick, Kobashi yells in anguish, and his anguish turns to anger as he gets up and stared Hansen dead in the eyes. They have a slap fight and Hansen throws him down, but Kobashi is back up seconds later to the crowd’s delight. Hansen head-butts Kobashi, but Kobashi answers with a huge lariat that sends Hansen down at the fifteen-minute mark.
Kobashi hits another DDT but it only gets two. They both get up slowly but Hansen goes for his trademark western lariat, but Kobashi ducks that and locks in a sleeper hold until Hansen reaches the ropes. Kobashi hits a running knee but Hansen gets out at two again. Kobashi goes for a springboard bulldog (think Trish Stratus’ Stratusfaction) but Hansen reverses that into a back suplex and pins but Kobashi gets out at 2.8.
Hansen hits a running shoulder tackle and signals it’s time for the lariat, which gets an enormous pop from the crowd. Hansen charges but Kobashi hits a drop toehold and two leg drops to the back of Hansen’s neck. He follows that up with one rope-assisted leg drop and another one from the top rope, but Hansen kicks out at 2.5 twice.
Kobashi scoop slams Hansen and hits another leg drop and the crowd goes nuts as he climbs the top rope and hits a beautiful moonsault, but that only gets 2.8. Hansen gets up and hits two hard strikes followed by a huge enzuigiri. Both of them struggle on the mat as we reach the 20-minute mark.
Kobashi hits a Giant Baba-style running neckbreaker drop but it gets a two. He tries a sunset flip but that also gets two. Then he tries a ROLL-UP OF DEATH but again Hansen kicks out. And then he tries a small package but Hansen kicks out again. Kobashi is really getting desperate now. Another small package is kicked out of and Kobashi hits a strong lariat but Hansen kicks out of that as well. Kobashi scoop slams Hansen again and goes for the moonsault, but Hansen gets up and starts clubbing Kobashi’s back.
Hansen tries to pull Kobashi off the turnbuckle by the hair but Kobashi won’t let go. They exchange strikes with Hansen on the apron and Kobashi still straddling the top turnbuckle. Hansen chops while Kobashi elbows Hansen in the face. Apparently, Hansen didn’t like that last part because he hits three head-butts and a decapitating western lariat. Good God! That was insanely stiff.
Kobashi is lying dead on the mat, barely moving. Hansen crawls back into the ring and gets the three-count.
Your winner after 22:35: Stan Hansen
Post-match, the fans chant ‘Han-sen’. The clip ends with some highlights of the match and shows a photo of Kobashi’s face afterwards. He has such a huge bruise on his cheek it looked like he got hit in the face with an anvil and not a lariat.
Man, what a fantastic brawl. That was twenty minutes of nonstop action, All Japan-style. The story of the match was that Kobashi wanted to break into the main event level, and Hansen was the perfect person for him to beat. Hansen was part of the old guard and an established veteran. Kobashi wanted to beat him to prove he was capable of wrestling at the top level, and he thought he could handle Hansen.
Kobashi worked his ass off to try and out-wrestle Hansen, but ultimately, the gruff old brute was too much for him. It was one of those great stories where you wanted to see the underdog win, but he didn’t, yet in losing you still wanted to see him succeed down the road. The match was done in a way to make Kobashi look like a main-event-level player, and it succeed in that goal.
However, the match wasn’t perfect. From a structural standpoint, I didn’t like the constant going out of the ring for one or two quick moves and then going back in. it felt like stalling and that action could’ve been done in the ring.
I also felt like Hansen didn’t do that much in this match to really sell himself as the top threat he had been. Hansen was feared for his brutality, but he didn’t show much of that apart from his ringside powerbomb and match-ending lariat. He spent 95% of the match on defense, kicking out of Kobashi’s attacks.
If Hansen was supposed to be this incredibly challenging mountain for Kobashi to climb, he didn’t get enough offense to really convince us that was the case. While the western lariat was ridiculously over as a finisher, Hansen should’ve done more throughout the match to sell Kobashi as a tough guy. Instead, the ending came out of nowhere and proved that while Kobashi was good, he still wasn’t good enough to survive the dreaded Stan Hansen.
Final Rating: ****1/2
This was an exciting match. The crowd was hot, the pin-falls were exciting, and the athleticism was fantastic. But as a story, it didn’t feel as unpredictable as other classic 5-star matches. Kobashi was on offense for most of the match, and Hansen only hit a few moves and it was enough to pin Kobashi.
This felt like one of those John Cena matches when he was doing his US Title Open Challenge. The challengers controlled most of the matches and got way more offense that Cena, but Cena still managed to hit his signature moves and win in the end. This match felt like one of those contests, with Hansen playing the role of Cena and Kobashi playing the role of, for example, Cesaro. The challenger (Kobashi/Cesaro) showcased their offense the most, but the top star (Hansen/Cena) was too powerful, and managed to win by hitting only a handful of their big moves despite taking the majority of the damage dealt in the match.
So while the match told its story perfectly, the superficial issue of how Hansen told that story prevents this match from reaching an all-time great match level. Still, it’s worth watching nonetheless, especially if you’re into the living definition of ‘stiff’ wrestling.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.