(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Misawa and Kobashi vs. Kawada and Taue – AJPW, November 25th, 1994

ajpw kawada taue misawa kobashi

There’s a lot of talk in pro-wrestling these days about “four pillars” like it’s some trendy new term. There are the Four Pillars of AEW, the Four Pillars of NXT 2.0, and so on. But in truth, that term is borrowed from the most famous quartet to be called ‘Four Pillars: the legendary AJPW wrestlers Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, and Taue.

Although AJPW enjoyed incredible critical and commercial success during the entire 1990s, the best of the best they had to offer took place between 1993 and the end of 1995. That was the true era of All Japan’s Four Pillars. It was the era that was defined by the tag team rivalry between Misawa & Kobashi on one side and Kawada & Taue on the other.

During that period, these wrestlers had nine two-on-two tag team encounters. Almost thirty years later, most of those matches are considered not only some of the greatest tag team matches ever, but also the best wrestling matches ever, period. And today we look back at one of their lesser-known encounters to see how it compares to their more famous ones and to see if it holds up to time just as well.

With that, let’s look back at the tag match between Misawa & Kobashi and Kawada & Taue from November 25th, 1994.

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

By late 1994, things between Misawa & Kobashi and Kawada & Taue had reached a fever pitch. Kobashi and Taue were largely support characters in the main feud between Misawa and Kawada, which was still white-hot since it started back in March 1993. Misawa beat Kawada in the mythical ‘6-3-94’ singles match five months earlier; and even though Kawada lost, both men left that match less as men and more as gods. A month later, Misawa lost the title to ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams, who in turn lost it to Kawada a month before this match.

So going into this match, Kawada was Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion and wanted to maintain his positive momentum with a big win over his bitter archrival Misawa. And since it was time for All Japan’s annual illustrious tag team tournament, he wanted to have as much success two-on-two as he had on-on-one.

In terms of their two-on-two tag match history, this was the fourth ‘Four Pillars’ Tag match. Kawada and Taue won the first one on June 1st, 1993, while Misawa and Kobashi evened the score that December. Then on May 21st, 1994, Misawa & Kobashi scored another victory in their best tag match to date. With the Holy Demon Army down on wins, they were desperate to even the score and start the WSTDL on a high note. But could they?

The match

This match originally took place on November 25th, 1994, during All Japan’s annual World’s Strongest Tag Determination League tournament. It was originally rated **** out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Melzer. It’s one of the lesser-known Four Pillars tag matches, so let’s take a closer at it.

Misawa and Kawada start things off, which gets a huge reaction from the crowd. Kawada gets a clean break on the ropes and then lands a stiff chop and Misawa fires back with an elbow. They start brawling until; Taue comes in and knocks Misawa down. Kawada lands a running yakuza kick. Kobashi comes in to even the odds. We have a standoff.

Kawada kicks Misawa into his corner and tags Taue. Misawa immediately unloads a barrage of elbows but Taue chokeslams him down over and over and stomps him. Kobashi comes in to help Misawa and Misawa drops Taue with a running elbow smash. Kobashi tags in and shoulder tackles Taue to the mat for a two-count and applies a surfboard stretch. Taue tries to power out but Kobashi’s too strong for him so he gets to the ropes for a break. Kobashi lands more chops and even some punches, but Taue rakes his eyes and tags Kawada.

Kobashi tries to go chop-for-chop with Kawada but fails and eats a massive spinkick for his efforts. Kawada applies a surfboard on Kobashi and the crowd starts chanting for him as he tries to power out of Kawada’s hold. He eventually escapes and tags Misawa, who lands some jump kicks to Kawada’s gut. He goes for an elbow suicida but Kawada avoids it and gets back into the ring. Misawa fires back with more elbows. Kawada answers with turnbuckle smashes. Misawa counters with a huge elbow smash. Kawada fires back with a massive kick. Both men go down. Kobashi and Taue tag in.

Taue takes Kobashi down with a big boot and a clothesline for a one-count and then lands a Kevin Nash-style throwing suplex for two. He lands some corner chops and whips Kobashi into the opposite corner but Kobashi boots him and drops a leg across Taue’s neck. Misawa tags in and lands a running crossbody for two, and then lands an overhead suplex for another two-count. Kobashi tags back in and lands a vertical suplex for yet another two-count and applies a chinlock. Taue kicks out and head-butts Kobashi right in the nose. The crowd boos as Taue rubs his foot in Kobashi’s face and tags Kawada.

Kawada lands a ton of chops and kicks and then gets a two-count off a suplex. Taue tags in and smashes Kobashi into a corner and then starts slapping him in the mouth. But Kobashi starts firing up by no-selling. He lands a big kick and tags Misawa, who charges in but gets booted by Taue. A DDT by Taue gets two and he tags Kawada. Kawada lands a flurry of wrist control chops to Misawa’s neck and gets another two-count. Kawada tosses Misawa out of the ring and Taue tosses him into the barricade and then back into the ring. He kicks Misawa into a corner and goes to whip him out of it but Misawa holds onto the ropes. Kawada lands some chops in retaliation and succeeds in pulling Misawa out of the corner, but Misawa counters the Irish whip with a diving back elbow. In comes Kobashi with a barrage of knee lifts. Kawada no-sells them and then does the same and punctuates them with a kick to the nose.

Taue tags in and continues to press his foot into Kobashi’s face. He lands more stiff strikes but Kobashi answers with a brutal discus knife edge-chop. He tries making a comeback but Taue tanks his strikes and bounces back up from the mat. Kobashi lands a ton of neck chops and a big boot. Taue gets up again. They crisscross, Kobashi lands a massive chop, Taue answers with a boot. He then drops Kobashi throat-first on the top rope and tags Kawada again.

Kawada applies a single leg crab while standing on Kobashi’s head. Kobashi uses his free leg to kick Kawada, so Kawada presses down on him and tags Taue again. Taue slams Kobashi and lands a near elbow drop for two and then Kobashi kicks out following more short-range clotheslines. Kawada tags in and lands both a standing and a diving kneedrop to Kobashi’s face for two. More quick tags as Taue tags in and hits a piledriver for yet another two-count. He lands a tossing back suplex and tags Kawada, who lands a backdrop, gets a two-count, and tags Taue again. This match is just filled with quick tags.

Taue and Kawada double shoulder tackle Kobashi and set up some double-team moves. Taue whips Kobashi into Kawada but Kobashi dropkicks Kawada first. Kobashi escapes a backdrop from Taue and goes for a German suplex but Kawada rushes him, only to get side kicked on a charge. Taue rushes Kobashi but walks into a powerslam. Kobashi crawls over and tags Misawa. Misawa goes for a diving spinning lariat but Taue ducks it and goes for a boot. Misawa blocks and fires back with kicks and elbows and then locks in a sleeper hold. Then he switches into a facelock. But Kawada boots him in the face. Misawa fires back with elbows. He and Kawada go at it. Kawada blocks an elbow and goes for a Backdrop. Taue comes in and tries to add a Chokeslam to make it a combo move but Kobashi stops Taue. Misawa elbows both Kawada and Taue and then tries to monkey flip Taue out of a corner. But Taue counters and tosses Misawa into the corner and tags Kawada.

Kawada rushes into the corner and kicks Misawa as hard as he can. Kobashi tries to save his partner but gets chopped in the face for his efforts. Kawada goes for a powerbomb. Misawa fights to resists. Taue comes in to help. Holy Demon Special! Backdrop Driver/Chokeslam combination. Taue dropkicks Kobashi away from the ring. Kawada goes for the pin. One, two, no, Misawa kicks out. Kawada applies a Stretch Plum submission hold as Taue dives through the ropes onto Kobashi. Misawa reaches the ropes and Kawada pulls him back to the middle of the ring and reapplies the hold. Kobashi comes in and punches Kawada right in the head. But Kawada doesn’t let go. So Kobashi charges at him and Kawada lets go but only to kick Kobashi hard. Taue puts Kobashi in an abdominal stretch as Kawada reapplies the Stretch Plum on Misawa. Kawada wrenches the hold as tightly as he can. Kobashi powers out of Taue’s hold and chops Kawada’s neck.

Kawada tags Taue who goes for a suplex but Misawa holds onto the ropes for dear life. Kobashi tags in and lands machine gun chops to Taue in the corner. He sends Taue into another corner and keeps charging, but Taue keeps hitting him to stop his advance. But Kobashi is very much like a runaway freight train and just keeps charging over and over and lands a big running lariat. Kobashi lands a standing leg drop to Taue’s neck and goes for a powerbomb. But here comes Kawada who chops Kobashi to stop the move. Kobashi tanks those chops, so Kawada charges. Kobashi ducks while still preparing the powerbomb and Kawada goes into the ropes and gets caught in a sleeper by Misawa. Great counter sequence. Kobashi lands a powerbomb and rolls into a jackknife cover. One, two, no, somehow Taue kicks out at 2.9.

Misawa tags in and lands a frog splash on Taue as Kobashi planchas over the rope, out of the ring, and onto Kawada. Taue kicks out so Misawa applies a facelock as Kobashi sends Kawada into the barricade and applies a sleeper at ringside. Kawada gets Kobashi off his back by driving him into the same barricade and rushes into the ring to save Taue. Misawa sees him coming, blocks a punch and lands a big elbow smash. Kobashi reapplies a sleeper on the ropes as Misawa puts the facelock back on Taue. Taue starts fading so Misawa pins. One, two, Taue kicks out. Tiger Driver by Misawa. Taue kicks out again.

Five minutes left in the match.

Kawada breaks up another Tiger Driver attempt so Kobashi comes in and locks Kawada in a full nelson. Taue resists Misawa so Misawa flips over and goes for a Tiger suplex. Taue resists with all his might. Kawada escapes Kobashi and gamengiri kicks Misawa in the head. Taue rolls over and tags Kawada in. Now he’s the legal man and he rushes Misawa for another gamengiri kick, only for Misawa to block it. Big elbow smash by Misawa. He goes for a spinkick but Kawada catches his leg. Misawa responds by going for a kick with his free leg but Kawada ducks it and yakuza kicks Misawa down. Folding power—no, Misawa counters into a picture-perfect Frankensteiner. One, two, Kawada kicks out.

Kobashi tags in and lands vicious chops to Kawada’s neck. That’s followed by a rolling chop, a Misawa elbow, and a bridging German suplex. Misawa elbows Taue off the apron as Kobashi pins. One, two, no, Kawada kicks out again. Kobashi slams Kawada and goes for the moonsault. Kawada cuts him off so Kobashi lands another scoop slam followed by some leg drops. Diving moonsault connects. One, two, no, Kawada survives yet again. Kobashi goes for another moonsault but this time Taue cuts him off and lands a corner chokeslam. He drags Kawada onto Kobashi for a pin. One, two, no, Kobashi kicks out this time.

Two minutes left.

Taue choke tosses Kobashi into a corner several times, driving him neck-first into the turnbuckle. Misawa tries to break a standing chokeslam but Kawada kicks him off the turnbuckle. Folding Powerbomb/Chokeslam combo by Kawada and Taue. The referee counts one, two, no, Misawa saves Kobashi. Amazingly close call there.

Taue goes for a powerbomb. Kobashi powers out and goes for a desperation pin but only gets two. Misawa tags in and lands a diving dropkick.

Thirty seconds left.

Misawa pins but Taue kicks out and then lands a desperation enzuiguri to keep Misawa down. Kawada tags in and lands a Dangerous Backdrop. Misawa gets spiked. But Kawada isn’t finished. He lands a second Dangerous Backdrop. One, two, Kobashi makes the save. The bell rings. Time has run out.

Match result: 30-minute DRAW


This was another one of those classic tag matches that aged well. if virtually any other quartet of wrestlers were to put on this match, they’d call it one of the best matches of their careers. But this is Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi and Taue we’re talking about. They’re the fabled Four Pillars of Heaven, the guys that inspired a whole generation of indy wrestlers, the guys whose style set the gold standard for historic matches. By their own lofty standards, this match was…acceptable.

It was as straightforward and logical when it came to tag team matches, mainly because Kawada and Taue were a bit more successful in terms of making hot tags to control the match. They got tremendous heat when they worked Kobashi over and he did his usual amazing job as the babyface in peril. With Misawa isolated in the corner, Kawada and Taue were able to take turns dismantling Kobashi by attacking one body part or another. Taue attacked his eye, which got major heat from the crowd, while Kawada started working over Kobashi’s legs. But when he started showing his real fighting spirit and pushed forward in the face of so much damage, Kawada and Taue shifted gears and started hitting bombs. But that strategy backfired once Kobashi found the right opening. Their mistakes, coupled with Kobashi’s never-ending perseverance, built up perfectly to Misawa’s hot tag at the end, which then changed the complexion of the match into a desperation sprint for the finish line.

The last ten minutes were fantastic and more than made up for the relatively bland and subdued first twenty minutes. All four wrestlers experimented with different ideas and creative new spots that added new twists to their larger intertwined story. As I’ve said in other reviews, no two King’s Road matches were the same. Even though all four of these wrestlers had their finishers and key moves, they managed to craft new tales with all of them. Would a move hit, or would it be countered? Or blocked? Or ducked? And if a big move was avoided, what would happen next? Would a new move be hit? Would there be a double-team segment? Would big strikes be repeated and hit harder next time? These four wrestlers knew how to make the most out of so little, so whatever they did hit – especially during the final third act of the match – meant a lot.

Although the overall action was only passable – there was nothing truly eye-catching or out-of-this-world crazy – it was the little things that meant the most. Kobashi tried to break up Kawada’s Stretch Plum and punched him right in the head, but Kawada didn’t let go after one hit, which is what always seems to happen today. He was so tough and so determined to try and make Misawa give up that he took a direct hit to his exposed head and fought through it. Then, when he saw that Kobashi wasn’t going to relent, he adapted on the spot to boot Kobashi and reapply his hold. And funny enough, the same thing happened to Kobashi minutes later. He tried to powerbomb Taue but Kawada kept chopping his chest. But Kobashi absorbed those hits and then ducked a running one, which sent Kawada flying into a Misawa elbow. It’s refreshing to see wrestlers show on-the-spot adaptability and common sense in their matches. Kobashi didn’t just tank those stiff hits because ‘that was the planned spot’. he made himself look smart by ducking the next hit, which allowed him to maintain control and finish his move when it was safe to do so, instead of risking getting double-teamed.

Finally, a special point on Taue. He was much better here than I expected him to be. For the longest time, Taue was his side’s whipping boy and was largely seen as a step beneath Misawa, Kawada, and Kobashi. Yet he came across as their equal here. What he lacked in pure strength or stiffness he made up with creativity and underhandedness. He was the one that got the most heat for his side when he attacked Kobashi’s nose. He was the one that took the fight to Kobashi and matches Kobashi’s penchant for fighting spirit with his own twist on the trope. And he was the one that weakened both Misawa and Kobashi by spamming chokeslams. He wasn’t just the ultimate sidekick that set things up only for Kawada to come in and finish the job. He stood on his own two feet here and actually looked like a serious threat. Not by channeling fighting spirit, or by hitting super hard, or by spamming head spikes, but by exploiting weaknesses and being crafty.

But for all this match’s great points it isn’t without its flaws. As I said earlier, the first 2/3 of the match was pretty bland by 1990s All Japan standards. All four wrestlers mostly played the hits and did the bare minimum at the beginning, leading to little of note happening until Kobashi’s time as FIP began. And the stories they did tell and the psychology that was applied weren’t as deep or as convincing as in their previous three tag matches. All three of those matches had significantly better action, more tension and amazing heat. This match came across as subdued and never quite reached those heights. Even though it had a fantastic ending that underscored the evenness of both wrestlers, the match’s lack of similar features as their previous bouts forces this one into the shadow of better contests.

Final Rating: ****1/4

Even though I’ve sung the Four Pillars’ praises before and have recommended their matches a lot, I can’t really do that here. This is a great match, but not amazing or historic. It does have some great moments, but nothing is truly special or unique about it. The only thing it does tremendously well is create a sense of unpredictability and evenness during the final sprint that makes it anyone’s game until the final bell rings. That’s important for match quality, but a match needs more than that to be truly special.

And yet, there’s a silver lining here. After this match, these four wrestlers would go on to have five more two-on-two tag matches in 1995 alone. Eachoneof them is outstanding, and their sixth encounter in June 1995 is, in my opinion, the greatest tag team match of all time. So clearly they were onto something here and improved on what they had in this match, even if it isn’t as good as their tag matches before it and after it.

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.