Some wrestling matches are great because they’re displays of unbelievable athleticism. Others are great because they’re full of insane high-spots or devastating moves that makes the viewer ask ‘how are they still alive?’
And other matches still are great because they feature insane crowds making tons of noise in appreciation of the action unfolding before them.
The match we’re looking at today is an example of that third point. Compared to most modern matches, the action here was relatively subdued and wouldn’t be considered a ‘spot-fest’ by anyone’s definition. And yet, it’s an incredible match that still holds up amazingly well after almost thirty full years. How does it manage that? Read on to find out.
Today we look back at the six-man tag team match between Tsuruta’s Army (Jumbo Tsuruta, Masanobu Fuchi and Akira Taue) and Misawa’s Army (Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi) from May 22nd, 1992.
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.
From mid-1990 to late-1992, All Japan’s main story was the rivalry between Jumbo Tsuruta’s army and Mitsuharu Misawa’s army. Tsuruta was the old guard while Misawa was the rising star looking to become the unquestioned ace. After Misawa pinned Tsuruta in one of the biggest shocks in AJPW history, so began a war for the company’s future. Tsuruta wasn’t ready to give up his coveted top spot, while Misawa was hungry to claim it for himself. As their war progressed, both of them brought more wrestlers to their respective sides. Misawa enlisted his then-best friend Toshiaki Kawada and a young Kenta Kobashi, who was only four years into his career at that point and still far less experienced than everyone else here. Meanwhile, Tsuruta brought in Akira Taue, an ex-sumo wrestler who was embroiled in a heated feud with Kawada, and Masanobu Fuchi, a devious veteran who was the closest All Japan had to an overt ‘American-style’ heel.
This was the rubber match in the three-match series between these two teams. Their first big tag match together took place on October 19th, 1990, which was won by Tsuruta’s Army. Six months later, Misawa’s Army evened the score. Now, over a year later, it’s time to settle the score once and for all. Who will win? The team composed of a wily veteran, a vicious ex-sumo guy, and the company’s giant former ace? Or the team of rising stars with something to prove?
This match originally took place on May 22nd, 1992 in Sapporo. As an aside, I want to point out that Kobashi was involved in another 5-star epic three days later in Sendai. You might have heard of it, because it had an even crazier crowd than the one for this match. The AJPW wrestlers of the 1990s were definitely another breed of special.
The video’s slightly clipped so we miss out on the first few minutes of the match. The action begins with the fans loudly chanting Kobashi’s name as he counters a vertical suplex from Fuchi with one of his own. He dropkicks Fuchi out of the ring and then lands a bulldog from the apron to the floor. Fuchi struggles back to the apron and Kobashi attempts to suplex him over the rope and into the ring but Taue attacks Kobashi first, drawing boos. Kobashi fights him off but Tsuruta tries to interfere as well. Kobashi fights both of them off as he and his team clear house with all three of their opponents. One by one, the Super Generation Army lands diving planchas onto a different opponent: Misawa onto Fuchi, Kobashi onto Taue, and Kawada onto Tsuruta. The crowd’s going crazy.
Taue looks to have hurt his knee as Kobashi lands a rolling cradle on Fuchi in the ring for a two-count. The audience screams uproariously as Misawa tags in and lands a dropkick and a flying crossbody for a two-count. But he gets too close to Tsuruta and Tsuruta hits him from behind. Misawa elbows him hard but Fuchi uses that to get him into a corner for Tsuruta to tag in. he and Misawa go blow-for-blow with stiff elbows until Misawa gets him into a corner. Tsuruta counters an Irish whip and sends Misawa into a corner but Misawa goes for a crossbody counter. Except he can’t because Fuchi holds him in place. Tsuruta capitalizes with a massive back suplex and then tosses Misawa out of the ring. He distracts the referee as his teammates double-team Misawa. Fuchi rips off the ringside mats, allowing Taue to land a chokeslam onto the exposed floor. Damn, what an impact.
Fuchi tosses Misawa into the ring and Tsuruta pins for two. Misawa kicks out of a pin following a Thesz Press and in comes Taue, who gets booed very loudly. Misawa gets triple-teamed again and then Taue drops him throat-first on the top rope. But his knee’s still giving him trouble so he tags Fuchi, who applies a sleeper hold for a bit and then tags Tsuruta. Tsuruta lands a big lariat and pins. Fuchi makes it out to guard the pin but not Taue. But it doesn’t matter because Misawa kicks out. Tsuruta applies his own sleeper and Misawa sinks to the mat. Tsuruta decides to tag Taue and he hits Snake Eyes for a two-count of his own. He still can’t move around much so he tags Fuchi, who foot chokes Misawa in his corner with Tsuruta’s help. Fuchi does an amazing job at getting heat by locking a figure-4 neck lock on Misawa using the ropes while Tsuruta pulls Misawa’s legs from the floor. Tsuruta tags in once more following a Misawa kick-out but Misawa makes a sudden attempt at a comeback with elbows. He attempts a sunset flip but Tsuruta stops him dead in his tracks with a forearm to the face. Taue tags in again and lands a piledriver for two. He goes for another move when Misawa kicks his bad leg. Taue goes down. Misawa uses that to crawl over for a tag. But he’s too far away and Taue’s holding back. Well, here comes Kawada, who drags both of them closer to his corner as the referee’s distracted with Fuchi. Hot tag to Kawada.
Kawada kicks the hell out of Taue’s bad knee and lands a running lariat for two. He tosses Taue to the floor and then lands a knee crusher onto the announcer’s table. Nasty landing for Taue. Now Kobashi tags in. he tries lifting Taue but Taue’s knee prevents him from moving. Sensing an opening, Kobashi applies a leglock. Taue tries kicking with his free leg but Kobashi toughs it out. It takes Fuchi coming in and kicking Kobashi in the head for him to break the hold. But Kobashi chases Fuchi down and knocks him to the floor, and then backdrops Taue for a two-count. Kawada tags in and locks Taue in the tree of woe and stands on his chin as Kobashi kicks Taue’s knee. Fuchi tries to cause more bedlam but Kawada puts him in the tree of woe and stomps on him as Misawa lands some kicks.
Kawada demolishes Taue with a back of the knee stomp/knee crusher combo and then locks in a bow-and-arrow hold. But it doesn’t last long because Tsuruta comes in and rubs his boot in Kawada’s face. Misawa tags in and hits some kicks and elbows but still appears to be suffering the effects of that earlier chokeslam to the floor, so he tags Kobashi. Kobashi slams Taue, lands a guillotine leg drop, and goes for a Figure-4 leg lock. Taue fights back with some chops, to Kobashi traps his arms, turning the figure-4 into a prison lock. Tsuruta comes in and distracts the referee, which allows Fuchi to rake Kobashi’s eyes. Kawada tags in and attempts a sharpshooter but Taue resists as much as he can, so Misawa springboards in and lands a splash. That’s enough to break Taue’s resolve and Kawada locks in the sharpshooter fully. He sees Fuchi coming in and breaks the hold, flipping Fuchi off all the while (just like in 1991).
Misawa tags in and lands some kicks, but can’t pin because the ref’s busy pushing an enraged Fuchi back, so he kicks Taue’s bad leg. Kobashi holds Taue’s leg against the top rope, allowing Misawa to nail more kicks to further demolish that knee. Kobashi then tags in, lands a knee crusher, and goes for a Boston crab but Taue gets to the ropes for safety. Taue keeps resisting until Kobashi’s forced to drag him to his corner and tag Kawada. Suddenly Taue elbows Kawada down and cheap-shots Kobashi, sending him to the floor. Kawada lands some stiff elbows and tries to lock in a single leg crab but Taue resists again. Kawada tries stomping on his face but Taue keeps resisting. Suddenly, Tsuruta rushes in and clotheslines Kawada from behind. That allows Taue to roll over and tag Fuchi.
Fuchi tosses Kawada out of the ring as Tsuruta removes more ringside mats. Then he drops Kawada head-first onto the exposed floor with a piledriver. Then Fuchi gets revenge by placing Kawada in the tree of woe and stands on his head while Tsuruta keeps Kawada in place for him. Tsuruta tags in and locks in an abdominal stretch and wrenches it deep while Fuchi pulls on Kawada’s arms, contorting him even further. Man, Fuchi was awesome at being the ultimate support teammate.
Tsuruta drags Kawada to his corner, allowing Taue to choke him against the ropes. they repeat that same move again but with Fuchi standing on Kawada to add extra pressure. Fuchi tags in and locks in another sleeper hold. Kawada sinks to the canvas as the fans chant his name, Fuchi pins but only gets two. Tsuruta tags back in and goes for a vertical suplex. Kawada lands behind him and locks in a sleeper with bodyscissors. Taue breaks it up by stomping on Kawada’s head and then tags in as the legal man. He lands some elbow drops for a two-count and tags Fuchi, who lands two enzuigiris for a two-count. Fuchi kicks Kawada’s head and Kawada no-sells and stares daggers back at him. Kawada starts hulking up All Japan-style. Fuchi goes for an Irish whip. Kawada counters with a short-range lariat and both men collapse. Tsuruta comes in and stomps away on Kawada, just because. Misawa runs in and attacks Tsuruta while Fuchi tags Taue.
Taue goes to attack Kawada but Kawada kicks him in the head and then in the bad knee. In comes Kobashi. He kicks Taue into a corner and unloads with chops. Kobashi lands a corner clothesline and goes for an elevated DDT. Taue fights out and chokeslams Kobashi. now Fuchi tags in and lands a pair of backdrop suplexes. Both Tsuruta and Taue come to save the pin but Kobashi kicks out at two. Kobashi counters an Irish whip and lands a shoulder tackle. Rolling cradle by Kobashi. Tsuruta breaks up the pin. Bridging German suplex. Fuchi kicks out. Kobashi follows with a scoop slam/leg drop combo and goes to the top rope. The crowd is screaming as he prepares for his moonsault. But Tsuruta stops him despite Misawa’s interference, allowing Fuchi to get up. but that doesn’t stop Kobashi. He dives and turns a moonsault into a crossbody. One, two, thr – no, Fuchi survives.
Misawa tags in and lands a diving elbow smash to Fuchi and a running one to Tsuruta. Then he applies a facelock to Fuchi but Taue breaks it up. Misawa responds with elbows so stiff you can hear them over the crowd cheering. Another facelock applied to Fuchi, but he reaches the ropes soon after. Misawa goes for a Tiger Driver. Fuchi blocks and pushes Misawa into Tsuruta’s knee and then tags Tsuruta in. Tsuruta hammers away on Misawa and hits a jumping knee. He whips Misawa into the ropes. Misawa a voids a kneelift and hits a huge elbow smash. Then he goes for another. Tsuruta blocks and lands a facecrusher. He goes for a backdrop suplex. Kobashi saves Misawa and Misawa charges. But he runs into a big boot. Tsuruta connects with the Backdrop suplex and pins. Fuchi holds Kobashi on the ropes as Taue holds Kawada back. One, two thr – no, Misawa kicks out. Thunderous ovation for that kick-out.
Tsuruta attempts another backdrop but this time Misawa resists. Fuchi lands some chops to Misawa’s head. That allows Tsuruta to lift Misawa up…but he counters into a pin in midair. Shades of their epic June 8th 1990 encounter. One, two, Tsuruta kicks out. Kawada tags in and fires away with kicks and chops. Tsuruta counters an Irish whip with a kneelift. But Kawada bounces right back up and hits stiff chops. Tsuruta soon catches on to his strategy and hits enough counters and blocks to knock Kawada down. In comes Taue who lands a DDT and pins for two. He goes for a Samoan drop but Kobashi saves his partner. Kawada lands a desperation lariat to the back of Taue’s head and goes for a powerbomb. Taue literally kicks out, blocks a running lariat, and nails a huge chokeslam. One, two, Kawada kicks out. Taue lands his own Folding Powerbomb on Kawada. One, two, Kawada kicks out again. Taue whips Kawada into the ropes and connects with another chokeslam. He pins but this time Kobashi makes the save. Fuchi tosses Kobashi out of the ring as Misawa comes in to help Kawada. But that’s short-lived as Tsuruta takes Misawa out. Taue prepares for a sumo rush. Kawada counters with a gamengiri kick to his head. Stretch Plum submission hold. Kawada locks in that hold as everyone else brawls ringside. The fans are going nuts. Fuchi escapes Kobashi’s control and breaks up Kawada’s hold. Kawada follows up with a Folding Powerbomb. One, two, thr – Tsuruta breaks it up this time. Kawada reapplies the Stretch Plum. Meanwhile, Misawa locks Tsuruta in his facelock and Kobashi locks Fuchi in a sleeper. All three members of the Super Generation Army have someone from Tsuruta’s Army trapped in submission holds. Both Fuchi and Tsuruta reach out in vain to try and save Taue. But it’s all in vain! Taue gives up! The ref calls for the bell!
Winners after 36:36: The Super Generation Army (Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi)
That was amazing. Wow, what a fantastic tag match. It was so incredibly exciting that it just flew by. I haven’t seen a six-man tag match that exciting in a long time. In fact, the only other one I’ve seen that’s this great is the six-man involving these same wrestlers from April 20th, 1991. It takes an exceptional level of talent to put on such an exciting and athletic wrestling match while keeping the fans on the edge of their seats for thirty-five minutes. These wrestlers really were something special.
The match was built on several intense rivalries working together. Misawa, the new company ace, was neutralized early on with a devastating chokeslam to the floor, yet his bitter hatred for Tsuruta kept popping up throughout the match. He did much less here compared to their earlier six-man matches and spent more time on defense. That forced Kobashi and Kawada to do most of the heavy lifting for their team, effectively turning it into a two-on-three handicap match for a while. And while Misawa and Kawada tried their best to even the odds by dismantling Taue for a long period of time, they kept getting roadblocks thrown at them courtesy of Fuchi’s constant interference.
That’s one of the things I adore about these old All Japan classics: there isn’t a hard limit on how many times the illegal men on a team can interfere and to what extent. But instead of taking that freedom and turning these matches into senseless brawls or constant gang-up segments, these wrestlers kept things as professional as they could. Both teams gave all three members opportunities to shine. Each man got time to try a different strategy, and interference came in only when it was needed. That’s where Fuchi shone as perhaps the best classic heel in Japan. Although both Taue and Tsuruta interfered plenty here, it was Fuchi that got the most mileage out of his actions. He knew exactly how to help his teammates out the most, especially with his various holds and small adjustments. I can’t remember the last time I saw Wrestler A trap Wrestler B in an abdominal stretch while Wrestler C came in and pulled one limb to give Wrestler A’s hold more power. Small stuff like that it is what made Fuchi stand out as a wrestler. He was so much smaller and less significant in terms of storyline importance, yet he did so much with his craftiness.
But let’s not pretend that Fuchi was alone in showing some great wrestling here. All six wrestlers were awesome here. Misawa, though subdued, did make the most out of what little he could do by going after Tsuruta whenever possible to keep that rivalry afloat. Kobashi, in a refreshing inversion of his usual status as face-in-peril, spent more time on offense and landed some crazy moves that brought the crowd to their feet. How many other 240-pound heavyweights could transition from a moonsault into a crossbody in midair with the skill and grace of a cruiserweight? Not many, that’s for sure. As for Tsuruta, he use his size advantage to land brutal knee strikes and bulldozed his way through his opponents whenever they seemed to be gaining the slightest advantage.
But as good as those four were, the stars here were undeniably Kawada and Taue, who, ironically, were bitter archrivals here yet within a year would become tag team champions together.
Taue suffered a leg injury earlier, which might as well have been legit, given how well he sold it. That injury became the crux of Misawa’s Army’s strategy, as they did their best to neutralize it. It was almost as if this match was a mirror of everything else in All Japan: Taue – the clear-cut villain that was booed out of the building, was being worked over by the faces and spent so much time in peril. And while normally that sort of match structure would lead to the fans rallying behind the victim being worked over – which would’ve been the case if, say, Kobashi were in that position – here the fans cheered on and on, hoping for Taue to get what he deserved. Taue was worked over by both Misawa and Kobashi, and it wasn’t until the very end that Kawada finally got his hands on him.
The match’s tension, while high from the beginning, reached its climax once those two began fighting. They hit each other with move after move, and Taue even resorted to using Kawada’s own finisher on him to try and score a pin. But it didn’t work. Kawada’s animosity towards Taue was so intense that he wouldn’t let himself be felled that way. That fire led to one of the most exciting and symbolic finishes in AJPW history, which is a lot considering how much effort these wrestlers put into, well, everything. Kawada locked Taue in his Stretch Plum submission hold as Misawa and Kobashi both did similar things to Tsuruta and Fuchi. Despite their best efforts to break up Kawada’s pins and submission holds, there was no escape once all three of the babyfaces had their respective holds on. And while the win marked another decisive victory for Misawa’s Army, it also gave Kawada a critical moment to shine. He was the one that score the decision, proving that he was just as capable of getting big wins as Misawa was.
Final Rating: *****
These old AJPW matches hold up well for many reasons. The wrestling was simple yet straightforward. There was a lot going on yet at no point did things feel chaotic or disorganized. All six wrestlers meshed so well together that all the match’s moving parts came together seamlessly into an amazing match that not only looks great today, but still surpasses a lot that came after it.
If there’s anything to be learned from this match, it’s how to use small details to tell a deeper story. From the slightest of facial expressions to small gestures, to carefully-timed actions, all the small details conveyed the larger story told here. The language barrier will likely make it hard to understand what’s going on; but luckily, these wrestlers know that and use their actions to tell the right stories perfectly. This match might seem like a random six-man tag contest, but under the surface there were multiple interwoven feuds and rivalries that exploded throughout the match.
This match was, and still is, simply great and I cannot recommend it enough.
Thanks for reading.