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(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi – October 25th, 1995, by Alex Podgorski

Pro wrestling history is filled with some truly great feuds that have produced some amazing wrestling matches. Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat. Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.

But there is one feud that stands above all of them. It’s a legendary feud between mentor and student, partner turned rival. It was always centered on mutual respect, while also being about one man’s desire to beat the best wrestler in the company and surpass him.

I’m talking about the legendary rivalry between Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi. And today, we revisit one of their less-well-known matches from October 25th, 1995.

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

Misawa and Kobashi were tag team partners around this time, and had been since 1990. They had spent most of their time since then teaming together, but also had a few singles encounters. Up to this point, Misawa had beat Kobashi in four of their previous five encounters. The only exception was a fluke win in the 1994 Champion Carnival tournament.

Going into this match, Misawa was in his second reign as AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion. For Kobashi, this was his third-ever shot at that title. His first won was a loss to ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams and his second was a 60-minute draw with Toshiaki Kawada. But this was his first title match against company ace Misawa. It was the biggest and most important match of his career thus far. Very few people believed that he had a chance to beat Misawa at this point in his career, but he hoped to convince them otherwise.

But to do that, he had to survive Mitsuharu Misawa in his prime. The question was, could he?

The match

This match originally took place on October 25th, 1995 and is for the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. It was originally only rated 4-stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer (shocking, I know).

They shake hands and the bell rings. Kobashi gets a clean break then knocks Misawa down with a shoulder tackle. Running Lariat by Kobashi. He goes for a vertical suplex. Misawa counters into a Tiger Suplex, but Kobashi throws him away. Technical exchange. A stalemate. Great action so far. Thunderous applause from the crowd.

Misawa headlocks Kobashi and runs into a shoulder tackle. Neither man goes down. He ducks a lariat and goes for the flying lariat but Kobashi dodges sending Misawa down face-first. Clearly, he learned how to dodge that from watching Akira Taue do the same so much. Kobashi with a vertical suplex…No. Orange Crush Bomb! Suplex into a Powerbomb. Wow. All of Misawa’s weight lands on Kobashi’s leg, yet he continues as if it’s nothing. What a freaking TANK.

Kobashi pins but Misawa kicks out at two and escapes the ring. At ringside, Kobashi tries a suplex but Misawa resists, so Kobashi transitions into a powerbomb, sending Misawa down hard. There’s some interesting storytelling there given Misawa’s history with that move.

The fans chant Misawa’s name, encouraging him to get back up. Kobashi gets another two-count back in the ring, and then teases a dragon suplex. But Misawa survives by grabbing the ropes. But not for long. Undeterred, Kobashi chops the hell out of Misawa’s neck and then lands the bridging dragon suplex for another close two-count. More damage to Misawa’s neck from the get-go. Kobashi slams Misawa for the Moonsault but Misawa rolls away to safety. He tries to maintain control but Misawa starts firing back with elbows. But Kobashi refuses to go down and blasts Misawa with chops as we pass the five-minute mark.

Misawa blocks a vertical suplex so Kobashi answers with some guillotine leg drops. He goes for a diving one but Misawa rolls out of the way. Kobashi seems to hurt his leg and back as Misawa escapes the ring again. Back in the ring, Kobashi lands more chops and goes for a rolling chop but Misawa ducks it and goes for an elbow, Kobashi blocks one but not a second. Misawa charges, Kobashi ducks him and judo throws Misawa into a cross armbreaker. Misawa reaches the ropes quickly and the hold is broken. Great psychology as usual with Kobashi trying to weaken Misawa’s main striking arm.

Kobashi continues his focused assault with standing armbreakers and chops to the elbow. Suddenly, Misawa elbows Kobashi so hard in the arm is forces him to back off. That doesn’t stop Kobashi for long as he fires back with multiple chops with the right (healthy) arm and a big DDT for a two-count. With his arms slightly weakened, Kobashi resorts to hitting multiple knee strikes to Misawa’s head. But Misawa stands up and no-sells them.

A second flurry of knees ends in the same result: Misawa tanking everything. Another chop/elbow exchange ends in Misawa’s favor for the first time in the match. Kobashi staggers then charges with a lariat, Misawa ducks, and Kobashi transitions into a front chancery, only for Misawa to counter into a backdrop suplex.

Misawa drops Kobashi with a running elbow smash at the ten-minute mark. Then he hits Kobashi with some extremely stiff elbows to the side of the head. Damn, you can hear the impact. Apparently, that’s enough to make Kobashi mad because he tosses the referee away and the two legends go back at it. Kobashi wins another exchange and locks in a double arm submission hold. They do the test of strength spot and Misawa reverses the hold on Kobashi. He reverses it back onto Misawa, who then kicks his way out of it.

Misawa ducks a lariat but walks into a sleeper hold from Kobashi. He throws Kobashi off and goes for the facelock but Kobashi counters into the sleeper again. Misawa reaches the ropes, so Kobashi answers with a big Half-Nelson suplex for a two-count. Another sleeper hold, but this time Kobashi wrenches it as hard as he can. After a long time, Misawa rolls out of the ring to break the hold at the fifteen-minute mark.

As Misawa tries to return to the ring, Kobashi chops the hell out of his neck some more. Then he teases a backdrop suplex from the apron but Misawa fights out. A big elbow smash to the face sends Kobashi down. He charges at Misawa but runs into a diving spinning lariat. Misawa lands some kicks and teases a Tiger Driver. Kobashi resists, so Misawa kicks him in the neck.

The Tiger Driver connects. Kobashi kicks out at 2.5. Misawa lands more elbows and forearms, followed by a diving dropkick and a diving elbow smash. Kobashi escapes the ring again, which allows Misawa to land the always-gorgeous elbow suicida dive. A frog splash gets Misawa a two-count, as does a bridging Tiger Suplex.

Kobashi fights out of a German suplex attempt as the twenty-minute mark passes. He keeps fighting but Misawa transitions into another Tiger Suplex that drops Kobashi hard. Kobashi rolls out of the ring to safety. The camera zooms in on him and he has this perplexed look on his face. It’s as if he has no idea where he is. That’s how brutal that second Tiger Suplex was. Another pin by Misawa gets a two-count.

Misawa fires back with more elbows, including a BIG rolling elbow smash. Kobashi goes down like a tree being felled. One, two, no, Kobashi kicks out at 2.9. Twice. Kobashi tries to fire back but can barely stand. Misawa charges with a running elbow but Kobashi counters with a drop toehold and a guillotine leg drop. Misawa charges but Kobashi kicks him away. Misawa blocks a kick and Kobashi ducks one. German suplex by Kobashi. He pins but Misawa kicks out at 2.8.

Both men get up slowly and Kobashi hits an explosive tackle that sends Misawa into the corner. Misawa goes down clutching his neck. Maybe that charge gave him whiplash? Well it IS Kobashi, after all. When he charges it’s like a runaway freight train.

We’re at the twenty-five-minute mark as Kobashi head-butts and then powerbombs Misawa. But he doesn’t pin right away because of how exhausted he is. He dropkicks Misawa in the back of the head for another two-count, then lands more head-butts and a second powerbomb for yet another close two-count. More guillotine leg drops by Kobashi to further weaken the neck. Diving Moonsault press. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Misawa kicks out. A second Moonsault. But Kobashi hurts himself in the process.

Both men get up slowly. Misawa enzuigiris Kobashi but eats a LARIATOO for his efforts. A second LARIATO. He’s still not done. Running elbow smash by Kobashi. Followed by a German suplex. But Misawa gets up right away. Elbow smash from Misawa! Dropkick by Kobashi! He pins. Misawa kicks out at 2.9! Amazing sequence of moves there.

Thirty minutes have passed as Kobashi teases another powerbomb. Yet each time he tries Misawa keeps resisting. Kobashi eventually hoists him up for it, but Misawa reverses into a Frankensteiner. Kobashi charges but walks into more strikes from Misawa. Rolling elbow to the back of the head. Misawa pushes a seemingly-unconscious Kobashi onto his back for the pin. One, two, no, Kobashi kicks out. How did he survive that vicious elbow smash? The crowd explodes in Kobashi chants.

Another Tiger Suplex by Misawa. Kobashi kicks out. More elbow smashes. Kobashi keeps falling but won’t lie down and die. He’s moving around on auto-pilot. He has no idea where he is. He fires back in vain with chops and Misawa makes him stagger with elbows. He refuses to quit, even with his mind basically gone. He even goes for a Backdrop Driver but just keeps getting elbowed. Then he blocks one and lands a hard chop. The crowd is firmly behind Kobashi now. He flips Misawa over in a desperation body drop. Misawa’s un-phased. Rolling Elbow Smash!

But Misawa’s not done. He knows that’s not enough to keep this beast down. There’s only one thing left for Misawa to do. He hooks the arms. TIGER DRIVER ’91! Kobashi gets necked with the TD’91! The referee counts one, two, three! There’s the match.

Winner and STILL AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion after 35:51: Mitsuharu Misawa

 

Review

It is impossible for Misawa and Kobashi to have anything less than a fantastic match together. Once again these two legendary wrestlers put on an incredible rollercoaster of a wrestling match that never dragged and kept you guessing as to what would happen. It was typical 1990s AJPW top-tier greatness here, and it was fun as hell.

There were multiple overlapping stories told here that made it into such a great match. This was Kobashi’s first world title match against Misawa, who was his regular tag partner at the time. So Kobashi wanted to prove to his partner he could hang with him and be respectful while also showing him how much he had grown as a wrestler.

That’s why the match began with a handshake and soon transitioned to Kobashi dominating with tons of big moves. Kobashi was confident and in control early on. But once Misawa landed his first Tiger Suplex (of many), Kobashi’s days were numbered and he knew it. While he started the match all explosive and confident, he ended barely able to stand on his own two feet, selling his pain like he had just been knocked loopy several times over.

There was also a smart reason why Kobashi kept going for a powerbomb: because Kawada had beaten Misawa with the same move back in June. Misawa rarely lost clean, so naturally, any move that downs him long enough for the three-count would be seen as a powerful and effective move. And he did the same towards the end with the Dangerous Backdrop. He tried to land it even though he was basically moving on auto-pilot. Yet despite taking such a monumental beating that he looked like he had no idea where he was, he still knew enough to go for another big move that had beaten Misawa before.

Those small subtleties are a big part of the beauty of the King’s Road style. Kobashi’s exhaustion looked real and his selling and auto-pilot movements were so convincing that it looked like a real fight was taking place and he was trying to survive. And for him to be in that state of mind yet still have the limited wherewithal to go for a move he knew had beaten Misawa before was nothing short of dramatic genius.

My only issue with this match is the lack of arm selling in the later parts of the match. Both wrestlers, especially Kobashi, put quite a bit of work into attacking the arm early. Yet even before the final stretch, both men had stopped selling that damage. That made some of those near-falls a bit less dramatic, especially when Misawa would go for his elbow smashes. Had he sold those more, any kickout from Kobashi would be more exciting and would also protect that move because Misawa’s arm was weakened anyway.

Final Rating: ****3/4

With a little more focus and consistency in following up on the earlier armwork, this would be a 100% perfect 5-star match. But even though it isn’t a perfect match, it’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s quite long, which is typical of 1990s AJPW title matches. But it never drags, nor does the drama ever diminish. This match packed with the same raw intensity and unpredictability as these two wresters’ more famous 5-star epics, while still standing out on its own because of its unique story.

Unlike those later, better matches, which were legendary wars between two equals, this was a special opportunity for the younger Kobashi to prove himself. He wasn’t Misawa’s equal yet but he needed to show everyone he could be. And to do that, he started out explosively and tried to wrest control from the mythic Misawa. but that just proved too tall a task here, yet Kobashi went down fighting all the same. He didn’t beat Misawa here, but damn did he ever show everyone that he was on Misawa’s level.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.