Match Reviews: Former WWE Wrestlers in Japan (Ken Shamrock, Eddie Guerrero, The Patriot, more)
For decades now, one of WWE’s policies has been to sign big stars from other companies, strip them of what makes them special, simplify them in many ways, and then wonder why said wrestler couldn’t get over to WWE’s fans.
Long before WWE created its own developmental program, it was a revolving door of people coming from elsewhere, being signed for big money, and not being used properly.
Case in point, today I’ve found five more matches involving former WWE superstars wrestling in Japan either before, during, or after their WWE runs. In most if not all cases, these wrestlers showcased far more than what was seen on WWE programming. So if you ever wondered just how good some guys could’ve been in WWE, hopefully these matches will show you just how much missed potential there was with all of them.
5. John ‘the Barbarian’ Nord vs. Stan Hansen – AJPW 1994 Champion Carnival – March 19th, 1994
Background: Nord wrestled in WWF/E as ‘the Barbatian’ and achieved middling fame during that run. He feuded with the likes of the British Bulldog, Jimmy Snuka, and the Undertaker. He even earned a world title shot against Bret Hart at a house show but lost in under five minutes. After that stint ended, Nord came to All Japan, where he spent a lot of time teaming with his opponent in this match, Stan Hansen.
The match: Things start off with both guys avoiding running attacks from each other. Hansen gets a clean break on the ropes and then gets an armlock but Nord gets a ropebreak of his own and hits a chop. Hansen starts pummeling Nord with stiff shots and then does an elbow drop into a chinlock. Nord counters into an armlock but Hansen gets a ropebreak. He goes after Hansen’s lariat arm a second time and kicks it while it’s wrapped around the top rope. Nord grabs a chair and smashes Hansen’s arm with it (DQs are extremely rare in All Japan AFAIK) but Hansen hits back with kicks and a back elbow using his right arm. Nord goes for an armbar on the bad arm but Hansen escapes with head-butts. Hansen tries pulling Nord back up but Nord hotshot Hansen’s bad left arm over the top rope. Nord even resorts to head-butting Hansen’s arm but Hansen still has fight in him. he brawls using his right arm, his legs, and his head; in short, anything but his left arm.
Hansen sends Nord into a corner and charges but Nord sidesteps and Hansen rams his left shoulder into the corner. Nord lands a big boot for a two-count followed by a Hogan leg drop for another two-count. Hansen kicks out at two following a shoulderblock and then gets his foot on the ropes to stop a pin following a piledriver. Nord goes for a second-rope splash but Hansen rolls aside. Nord hurts his knees which Hansen tries targeting but Nord kicks him away. Hansen powers out of another piledriver attempt and then holds onto the ropes as Nord attempts a dropkick. Hansen tackles Nord down and teases the lariat. looks like he has recovered enough to swing it. Hansen charges, ducks a boot, and swings for the fences. Western Lariat connects, earning Hansen the victory.
Winner after 9:03: Stan Hansen
Review: Surprisingly good match. I expected two hosses north of 300 pounds each to have nothing more than a plodding slugfest with little action. But there was an actual story here with Nord doing whatever it took to stop Hansen from using his lariat. Nord did some creative and logical moves to weaken Hansen’s arm, but it was all for nothing in the end. Hansen got just enough time to recover and cleave Nord’s head off with that lariat to score a decisive pinfall. For an under-ten-minute match it was completely fine, but nothing out of this world.
Final Rating: **1/2
4. Minoru Suzuki vs. Ken Shamrock – Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi – April 19th, 1992
Background: Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi was a shoot-style promotion that existed from 1991 to 1996. It was the precursor to Pancrase and had the same parent company (along with financing) as Tenryu’s Super World of Sports, which had a relationship with WWF/E during the early 1990s. Fujiwara Gumi boasted a strong roster of gifted grapplers and future MMA stars, including the two fighters competing here. Suzuki would go on to become a top star in Pancrase and in the early days of Japanese MMA, which was seen as ‘the wild west’ in terms of style and structure until UFC came along. Meanwhile, Shamrock would go on to become ‘the World’s Most Dangerous Man’ for a reason, becoming one of the biggest stars in MMA before its boom in the 2000s and 2010s.
The match: Both wrestlers dodge kicks until Suzuki tries taking Shamrock down. Shamrock counters into an almost guillotine choke-like hold but Suzuki escapes. The grappling continues with both guys blocking anything that could lead to a takedown and then a stalemate ensues. Suzuki tries bridging out of a rear naked choke but Shamrock’s one step ahead and maintains control. Shamrock controls Suzuki’s head for a long time and then switches to a sort of mounted neck crank. Suzuki tries rolling over but Shamrock still has control and hooks one of his arms. Suzuki fights out of Shamrock’s guard and tries a heel hook but shamrock counters back with some lightning-fast switches into a mounted guard. After about a minute of Shamrock maintaining control again, Suzuki grapples out and tries trapping both of Shamrock’s hands. Suzuki tries a cross armbreaker but Shamrock rolls into a heel hook attempt. Suzuki escapes and tries another cross armbreaker but Shamrock blocks and both wrestlers let go, leading to another stalemate.
Shamrock catches Suzuki’s leg on a kick but Suzuki still manages to take him to the mat for another heel hook. Both wrestlers end up controlling each other’s leg until Suzuki gets a ropebreak. A long stand-off ensues with lots of teasing and a few kicks landing. Shamrock lands a sick overhead throw but Suzuki gets another ropebreak. More standing grappling ensues and Shamrock takes Suzuki down by the leg again. Shamrock has control of Suzuki’s leg so Suzuki tries striking at Shamrock’s head to no avail. Both guys attempt heel hooks. Shamrock gets a ropebreak. Suzuki chips away at Shamrock’s leg with more kicks. After another stalemate, Shamrock lands what amounts to a shoot German suplex. Shamrock traps Suzuki’s shoulder but Suzuki wrestles out and then gets a ropebreak to stop another heel hook. Shamrock lifts Suzuki into the air but Suzuki counters into a guillotine choke. He switches to a front chancery and you can hear Suzuki tighten his grasp around Shamrock’s throat. Shamrock goes limp and the ref calls for the bell!
Winner after 14:46: Minoru Suzuki
Review: It doesn’t really make sense to call the action in this match since it’s basically pure grappling and things happen so quickly. Still, this was fifteen minutes of pure grappling and it was more exciting than I thought it’d be. It was basically an MMA match but without punches. It was all about holds, transitions, counters, and control. This was the idea of a match ending at any given moment taken to the extreme while also taking that idea to its most simplistic form. If you want to see two wrestlers basically use counters, submission holds, and little else, this is right up your alley.
Final Rating: ***
3. The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue) vs. ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams & Johnny Ace – AJPW World’s Strongest Tag Determination League 1996 – November 22nd, 1996
Background: Both Steve Williams and Johnny Ace would end up in WWE after this match took place and both of their tenures would be disappointing, albeit for different reasons. Doc was brought in to be a possible main-event challenger for Stone Cold Steve Austin but his run flopped following the disastrous Brawl For All tournament. Ace, meanwhile, became a backstage figurehead and endured controversy after controversy over the decades, culminating in his ouster in August 2022.
But long before all of that, both of these guys were top gaijin stars in All Japan. Doc was a former Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion and went on a spree of amazingsinglesmatches, and together these two had two of the best Japan vs. US tag matches I’ve ever seen. Here, they took on the top team in All Japan and possibly even the world, the Holy Demon Army. Could the Americans overcome the terrifying Japanese duo, or would they succumb to Kawada and Taue’s viciousness like everyone else?
The match: Ace and Taue start off with some aggressive lock-ups and standoffs. They do a power spot to try and gain control of each other’s arms but Taue overpowers Ace into a hammerlock. Ace counters with a drop toehold and then hits a shoulderblock off a headlock but Taue doesn’t budge. The two rush each other a few more times and hit running strikes with neither man going down. Ace blocks a kick and knocks Taue down a few times and then tags Doc. Doc hits some stiff strikes but Taue catches on soon, blocks a punch and lands an enzuigiri. Kawada tags in and tries taking Doc to the mat. Doc goes for a leglock but Kawada kicks him off. Doc hits a cheap punch which angers Kawada and he hits back with even stiffer kicks and an awesome spinkick/leg lariat. Doc kicks out with authority at one so Kawada tags Taue.
The HDA hit stereo big boots for another one-count and Taue applies a front chancery. Doc overpowers Taue, carries him to his corner, and tags Ace. Ace lands different strikes for a two-count and applies a chinlock with bodyscissors. Kawada goes behind the ref’s back and lands a kneedrop on Ace to break up the hold and then Taue lands a jumping kick to create some distance. Kawada tags back in as Ace escapes to ringside. Kawada tries an Irish whip into the barricade but Ace reverses it and Kawada hits the barricade instead. The two return to the ring and Kawada lands more kicks. Ace reverses a suplex with one of his own and tags Doc. Doc applies a chinlock between forearm clubs and then lands a huge corner splash. He knocks Taue off the apron and clotheslines Kawada. Ace hits a rope-hung Ace Crusher on Taue as Doc covers Kawada for a two-count. Kawada gets dumped to the floor and then Ace whips Kawada into a lariat from Doc. Kawada kicks Ace away but Ace throws him into the ring anyway for another two-count for Doc. Kawada tries fighting back with kicks but Doc counters with a dragon screw leg whip into a single leg crab. Taue tries hitting Doc to break it up but Doc tanks it like a boss and Ace knocks Taue away. It takes a full-power big boot from Taue for Doc’s submission hold to be broken.
Ace tags in and his ace back of the knee stomp/knee crusher combo. He follows with a leglock using his legs and traps Kawada’s free leg over his shoulder with his hands, leaving Kawada completely trapped. Taue interferes again so Doc tags in and smashes Kawada’s leg into the ringpost. He applies a sort of Figure-4 using the post but Kawada lands some light kicks to keep Doc at bat. That doesn’t work as Doc answers with stomps, punches, and a second dragon screw into another single leg crab. Kawada quickly grabs the ropes so Ace tags in and dropkicks the back of Kawada’s knee. Ace applies a torture crab and appears to ignore the ropebreak altogether, just so he can dismantle Kawada’s leg and render his kicks useless. Kawada gets sent hobbling into a corner and eats two corner clotheslines. Ace goes for the Ace Crusher. Taue comes in and boots Ace to stop it. Kawada takes advantage with a spinkick and tags Taue. Big boots for both Ace and Doc. Taue hits two close-range lariats for a two-count. Samoan drop by Taue. Another two-count. Another boot sends Ace onto the apron. Taue goes for his off-the-apron chokeslam but Doc knocks him to the floor. But Taue takes Ace with him and chokeslams him onto the ringside mats. He sees Doc charging and drops him with a lariat.
In the ring, Taue lands a suplex for a two-count and tries another chokeslam but Doc interferes. Taue ducks a clothesline from Ace but Ace hits a DDT instead. Doc tags in and elbows out of a German suplex attempt. Taue ducks a clothesline and hits another running boot. Kawada tags in and charges but rung into a powerslam that gets a two-count. Spinebuster by Doc. Another two-count. Doc goes for a gutwrench powerbomb but lets go to punch a charging Taue. Doc blocks a lariat from Kawada and Ace comes in to help Doc. Ace suplex lifts Kawada onto Doc as Doc stands on the second rope. Diving Oklahoma Stampede. One, two, Kawada kicks out. Doomsday Device. Taue breaks up the pin and then chokeslams Ace. He rushes Doc but Doc plants him with a spinebuster. All of this mayhem gives Kawada time to recover at ringside.
Doc drags Kawada into the ring and hits a top-rope shoulder tackle for yet another two-count. Doc sends Kawada into a corner but Kawada avoids a body block and lands a German suplex. Taue comes in to help Kawada. Holy Demon Special ’95! Chokeslam/Backdrop combination attack. Taue attacks Ace as Kawada pins for a two-count. Kawada holds Doc in place so Taue can land another big boot and then hits Doc with a ruining lariat. One, two, Doc kicks out. Kawada tries the Stretch Plum but Doc throws him off. Kawada tries a sleeper. Doc goes to counter with a Dangerous Backdrop. Kawada blocks and hits an elbow. That’s followed by a gamengiri kick and a Folding powerbomb. One, two, Ace makes the save. Kawada kicks Ace’s head off and then hits an abisengiri rolling kick to Doc. That’s followed by another gamengiri and a three-count to end the match!
Winners after 20:07: The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue)
Review: Nice, fast-paced match with a great story. The HDA were usually heels but here they were babyface underdogs against the bigger and stronger Americans. Kawada shined as a sort of babyface in peril as his leg got dismantled thanks to some smart and relentless limbwork from both Doc and Ace. Taue basically played Misawa by hitting hard and making critical saves for Kawada. Doc was his usual monster self with his explosive offense and charges, but he also showed some logic by going after Kawada’s leg so much in order to make it harder for Kawada to do anything. Lastly, Ace was more than solid here as he played the role of supporting act perfectly. He wasn’t particularly charismatic but most of what he did in the ring was done well enough. Overall, this match was like a more condensed version of what both teams usually did in bigger matches. But it’s still strong, especially since all four wrestlers squeezed so much action and drama into twenty minutes without it getting excessive.
Final Rating: ****
2. Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) & Shinjiro Otani vs. The Great Sasuke & Black Tiger II (Eddy Guerrero) – NJPW Super Grade Tag League – October 18th, 1994
Background: Both Eddy and Benoit spent many years touring Japan before coming to WWE. Benoit wrestled as Wild Pegasus and won several accolades in Japan including the 1994 Super J Cup tournament. Meanwhile, Eddy wrestled under a mask as the second version of Black Tiger. Though he wasn’t as successful as Benoit, he still showed some impressive wrestling skill, enough for the bigger companies stateside to give him more time in the ring.
The match: Eddy throws his robe at Benoit causes Benoit to rush and clothesline Eddy. Otani goes after Sasuke in the ring as Benoit and eddy brawl to the floor. Eddy reverses a whip and sends Benoit into some chairs as Sasuke hits a backbreaker. The bell rings to start the match as Sasuke punches Otani and throws him to the floor. Sasuke slams Otani on the ringside mats and Eddy demolishes him with chairshots. Back in the ring, Eddy and Sasuke hit a suplex/crossbody combo for a two-count followed by a Doomsday/senton combo for another two-count. Eddy tags Sasuke and they hit a slam/double senton atomico combo and then Sasuke applies a single leg crab. Otani gets a momentary ropebrteak so Sasuke drags him from the ropes and reapplies the hold. Eddy tags in and lands what appears to be a Brainbuster for a two-count and then applies a sharpshooter but Benoit breaks it up. Otani gets a sudden second wind with a running shoulderblock, but Eddy cuts him off with a clothesline out of nowhere. Otani gets a third wind with a wheel kick and a spinkick, followed by a high angle plancha to the floor. Benoit tags in and fires off a block attack and tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for a two-count of his own. He goes for a German suplex but Eddy hits a back low blow and tags Sasuke. Sasuke goes for a cross armbar but Benoit gets a ropebreak first so Sasuke drags him to the middle of the ring and reapplies the hold. Benoit escapes and counter grapples into a double-arm stretch but Eddy rakes his eye. Undeterred, Benoit hits a back elbow on Sasuke, followed by a slam and a tag to Otani.
Otani shoulderblocks Sasuke down and they have another crisscross sequence. Sasuke blocks a hiptoss, Otani goes for a clothesline, Sasuke ducks and goes for a German and then switches to a roll-up, and Otani kicks out at one. Picture-perfect Frankensteiner by Otani. Sasuke kicks out at one and switches to a pin of his own. The two trade quick pins back-and-forth until Otani dropkicks Sasuke, leading to loud applause from the crowd. Benoit tags in and lands a bridging German suplex but Eddy breaks up the pin. He tries a bridging northern lights suplex this time but Eddy breaks up the pin again. Benoit follows with a folding powerbomb but, you guessed it, Eddy breaks it up. Furious, Benoit rushes Eddy and punches him off the apron. Otani tags in and lands a doomsday dropkick alongside Benoit and then lands a bridging German of his own. One, two, Eddy interferes yet again. Otani attacks Eddy but that momentary distraction allows Sasuke to regain control with some spinkick. Otani resists another cross armbreaker with all his might and then locks in an armbreaker of his own. Sasuke tries to float over into a pin but fails as Otani tightens the armbar. That forces Sasuke into an immediate ropebreak.
Benoit tags in and trade stiff shots with Sasuke. They struggle for control until Eddy breaks up a double wrist-lock. Sasuke fights into a Boston crab but he’s too close to Otani and Otani tags in and drops Sasuke with spinkicks. Otani locks in his own single leg crab and lets go as Eddy approaches. But when he turns around Sasuke hit his own kick and slams Otani so that the now-legal Eddy can hit a frog splash for a two-count. Eddy gets another two-count off a bridging fallaway slam and off a super hurricanrana. Eddy locks in the Gory special submission hold and Sasuke hits an ax handle to Otani while Eddy flips Benoit off. Sasuke and Otani trade leglocks but Otani gets the upper hand since he’s a superior mat wrestler. But he gets too close to the ropes and once again Eddy gets involved. Otani pulls Sasuke to his corner and tags Benoit, who hits a top-rope superplex and covers but Eddy breaks it up yet again. Benoit lands a bridging dragon suplex but Sasuke kicks out. Sasuke reverses an Irish whip and Benoit ducks one kick but can’t avoid his next two. Benoit falls to ringside and Sasuke charges or a dive. Benoit gets out of the way so Sasuke jumps onto the top turnbuckle and dives over the ringpost onto Benoit on the floor. Nice.
Otani and Eddy will their respective partners up and the two legal men make it back into the ring. Sasuke slams Benoit and goes for a moonsault but Benoit dodges. Benoit lands another folding powerbomb. Sasuke kicks out at two. Benoit goes for a super back suplex. Sasuke counters into a press pin in midair. One, two, Otani saves Benoit. Eddy tags in and goes for an Irish whip. Benoit reverses and goes for a powerbomb. Eddy wrestles out and lands a springboard arm drag into a hurricanrana. One, two, Benoit survives. Brainbuster by Eddy. Otani breaks up his pin. Now you know what that feels like, Eddy. Benoit fights out of a rear waistlock and lands a bridging dragon suplex on Eddy but only gets a two-count. Otani tags in and tries a dragon of his own but Eddy counters into a victory roll but also gets only two. Ligerbomb by Eddy. Otani kicks out. Black Tiger Bomb/Niagara Driver. Benoit kicks Eddy this time and then suplexes an interfering Sasuke to the floor. Eddy hits Otani with a tornado DDT but Benoit kicks him to stop a pin. Sasuke kicks Benoit to the floor and lands an Asai moonsault to the floor as Benoit dodges. Meanwhile, Eddy puts Otani on the top turnbuckle but Benoit comes in and lifts Eddy onto his shoulders. Doomsday headscissor combination. Otani follows with another bridging dragon suplex. One, two, and three! There’s the match!
Winners after 18:14: Shinjiro Otani & Wild Pegasus
Review: If you’re wondering where AEW got their formula for chaotic tag matches with constant interference, this is probably the main source. It was fast-paced with lots of big moves happening in quick succession and without much rhyme or reason. It came across as wild and unpredictable. And whereas a more structured match would have built towards a clear peak, this match felt like it could end at any moment. It was filled with impressive near-falls, especially from Sasuke and Otani, who probably inspired Bryan Danielson as he’d do a lot of the same during his pre-WWE days. There was also a fun little story of Benoit getting gradually angrier with Eddy’s constant pin break-ups, but the payoff for it was a little weak. The other main story was Otani shining despite being far less experienced compared to everyone else. If you like pure MOVEZ matches then you’ll enjoy this, especially since all the action is taken seriously and nothing’s played for laughs.
Final Rating: ****1/4
1. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi & The Patriot – AJPW World’s Strongest Tag Determination League 1996 – November 22nd 1996
Background: This match took place immediately after the one earlier. Kobashi broke away from being Misawa’s partner earlier in ’96 and in doing so found himself without a regular partner. He usually teamed with Johnny Ace but Ace was now teaming with ‘Dr. Death’ Steve Williams. Kobashi’s solution was to team with another gaijin, this time it was Del ‘the Patriot’ Wilkes, one of many American workhorses brought to All Japan for the promise of steady work, good pay, and respect from his boss and peers. In response to Kobashi’s decision, Misawa elevated Jun Akiyama to the position of right-hand man, just as he had done to Kobashi in 1993. Misawa and Akiyama already had at least one epic tag match in 1996 to prove they were a great team, and here Misawa hoped to elevate Akiyama even further.
The match: Kobashi and Misawa start things off with a clean break and a chop/elbow exchange. On their next lock-up Kobashi hits more chops but Misawa retaliates with elbow strikes and a running one as well. Kobashi answers with a dropkick that sends Misawa to the floor and Patriot dives onto him from the apron. Back in the ring, Kobashi gets a two-count off a shoulder tackle and tags Patriot. He gets some punches in but Misawa elbows him to his corner and tags Akiyama. He and Patriot have a technical limbwork exchange with Akiyama trapped in Patriot’s leglock and Patriot trapped in Akiyama’s armlock. Patriot powers out and tags Kobashi, who works over the same arm of Akiyama’s until Akiyama gets a ropebreak. They do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock and Kobashi overpowers Akiyama but Akiyama fights back up. Akiyama blocks a northern lights suplex and lands a double-wrist suplex to force another stalemate.
Kobashi lands a ton of chops to Akiyama’s chest but Akiyama tanks them and, hits some elbows, sends Kobashi into the ropes, and lands a jumping knee for a two-count. Misawa tags in and lands some jump kicks followed by a dropkick and a scoop slam/standing senton combo for a two-count. Kobashi resists a chinlock so Akiyama tags in and hits overhand chops. But Kobashi powers up and chops Akiyama’s neck and then tags Patriot. Patriot gets a two-count off a standing dropkick and then another one off a snap suplex. He applies a grounded double-arm lock with his knee in Akiyama’s back but Akiyama escapes via mule kick and tags Misawa. Misawa smashes Patriot with an elbow flurry but only gets a two-count. Patriot gets a ropebreak to stop a facelock from Misawa but Misawa simply turns Patriot’s body and reapplies the hold. Patriot throws him off, hits some stiff punches, tags Kobashi, and lands double flying shoulderblocks alongside his partner. Misawa kicks out so Kobashi hits a Backdrop suplex for another two-count. Kobashi applies a Boston crab but Misawa reaches the ropes. Seeing Misawa clasp his own leg, Kobashi goes after that limb with kicks and a leglock. Misawa tries countering with a facelock but Kobashi wrenches Misawa’s leg so much that he can’t counter properly. Patriot tags in and attacks that same right leg of Misawa’s until Misawa gets another ropebreak. Misawa hits some desperation elbows and hobbles to his corner and tags Akiyama. He and Patriot brawl until Akiyama hits a running forearm. Patriot hits back with a big shoulderblock but Akiyama fires up and hits more forearms. Patriot blocks a corner jumping knee, lariats Akiyama, and knocks Misawa to the floor. He lands an Alabamaslam on Akiyama but only manages a two-count. Akiyama rolls to the floor but Kobashi chases him and sends him into the barricade.
Kobashi tosses Akiyama into the ring and Patriot covers for another two-count. Kobashi tags in and lands his double running kneelift/Russian leg sweep combo for yet another two-count. Akiyama kicks out of another pin following more nasty chops and then kicks out again following a delayed vertical suplex. Patriot tags in and lands a huge hammer throw into a corner. He sends Akiyama into different turnbuckles with lots of force and then puts Akiyama in the torture rack. Patriot gets a 2.5-count and then tags Kobashi.
Kobashi and Akiyama have another chop/elbow exchange until Kobashi applies a facelock/abdominal stretch combo hold that’s quickly broken up by Misawa. Kobashi slams Akiyama and hits a Hogan leg drop for another two-count. Patriot tags in and hits a proto-Rainmaker followed by a DDT for yet another close two-count. Patriot goes for a powerbomb but tackles Misawa when he enters the ring. Akiyama tries capitalizing with a lariat but Patriot ducks. Patriot goes for a full nelson but Akiyama ducks down, kicks Patriot off, and lands an overhead throw. Finally Misawa tags in. he lands a diving spinning lariat for a two0count and sends Patriot into a corner. Patriot boots him on a carge and goes for a lariat. Misawa blocks and tries a Tiger Driver. Patriot powers out and goes for a boot. Misawa blocks and hits a back elbow. Misawa charges but runs into a swinging powerslam that gets a two-count. Kobashi tags in and we get yet another chop/elbow exchange. Misawa ducks a rolling chop and hits more elbows. Kobashi ducks a spinkick, lands one of his own to Misawa’s gut, and drops him with two DDTs for, you guessed it, a two-count. Kobashi chops Misawa in one corner and sends him into another but Misawa blocks with his foot. Kobashi expects this and kicks Misawa’s collar. Misawa hits a back elbow to block a charge and goes for a springboard back elbow. But Kobashi catches him and lands a half-nelson suplex. Patriot knocks Akiyama down as Kobashi covers Misawa. One, two, Misawa kicks out.
Misawa defiantly hits more elbows but Kobashi stops him dead in his tracks with a rolling back chop to the neck. Kobashi and Patriot hit a powerbomb/diving sholderblock combo but Akiyama breaks up the pin. Patriot tosses Akiyama aside and Kobashi covers again for yet another two-count. Kobashi charges for a lariat. Misawa ducks. Kobashi catches Misawa’s leg on a spinkick but Misawa hits an enzuigiri with his free leg. Akiyama tags in and hits a top-rope diving shoulderblock for a two-count. He goes for a northern lights suplex but Kobashi blocks with kneelifts. Akiyama retaliates with elbows and goes for a corner Irish whip but Kobashi reverses into a Giant Baba neckbreaker drop. Nice counter.
Patriot tags in and sends Akiyama into a corner. He and Kobashi go for some tandem attacks but Akiyama ducks a lariat and rushes Kobashi. Kobashi hits first with a thrust kick but Akiyama blocks another full nelson attempt from Patriot. But this time Patriot has him scouted and counters Akiyama’s counter with a wheelbarrow facebuster. One, two, Akiyama survives.
Patriot goes for a powerbomb but Misawa interferes. Kobashi dumps Misawa to ringside and those two brawl as Patriot tries another powerbomb. Patriot’s powerbomb connects as Kobashi holds Misawa under the ropes. One…two…thr – Akiyama barely kicks out. at ringside, Misawa blocks a whip into the barricade and drops Kobashi with an elbow. In the ring, Patriot locks in a full nelson but Misawa hits him from behind with a diving shotgun dropkick. Kobashi goes after Misawa on the apron but Misawa drops him with an elbow and then hits a senton to thefloor. Meanwhile, Patriot goes for another powerbomb but Akiyama escapes. Akiyama goes for a German suplex. Patriot resists and goes for a lariat. Akiyama ducks and lands his northern lights suplex. Both wrestlers collapse.
Misawa comes in and he and Akiyama start their combination attacks. Akiyama whips Patriot into a Misawa elbow. Then Akiyama hits a jumping knee to the back of Patriot’s head. Misawa lands a German…into a bridging German from Akiyama. One, two, Kobashi makes the last-second save.
Misawa and Akiyama drop him with double back elbows and a double-team double-underhook suplex. Akiyama lands another northern lights suplex on Patriot and Misawa lands a frog splash right after. Akiyama covers as Misawa elbows Kobashi off the apron. One, two, Patriot survives again. Kobashi bounces off the barricade and tackles Misawa at ringside as Akiyama hits a running elbow to Patriot. That’s followed by an Exploder suplex. Kobashi reaches the apron and is inches away as Akiyama covers Patriot. And somehow Patriot kicks out at 2.9. A second Exploder suplex connects. Misawa holds Kobashi on the ropes once more as Akiyama covers. One, two…and three!
Winners after 24:01: The Super Generation Army (Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama)
Review: What a great match! It started off decently with lots of strong wrestling but it became truly amazing during the last seven minutes or so. Once Misawa got his hot tag the match reached a fever pitch. There were so many awesome sequences here. Patriot looked outstanding as a worker here, even though he did a lot less compared to everyone else in the match. Still, despite the gulf in what was shown between Patriot and everyone else, this match was just so great. This is the kind of heavyweight tag match that has been sorely lacking stateside for decades, and is one of the reasons why All Japan tag matches rarely, if ever, fail to deliver the goods.
The story was simple: it was all about the competition, the tournament, and both teams’ will to win. The match had that all-too-familiar 1990s All Japan unpredictability that I’ve raved out many times before. The reason I cover these matches move-for-move is because every minor detail matters in these sorts of matches. No two sequences/encounters within the same match were alike. A move that was successful early on was blocked or countered later. It was impossible to predict when a big move will be countered, blocked, avoided, reversed, absorbed, or will hit and do damage. All those tiny details made each second exciting and worth paying close attention to. These guys kept viewers guessing down to the last minute. Everything during the first 2/3 was done to build up to an outstanding finishing stretch during which any move had the potential to end the match. The match had amazing near-falls that sometimes came out of nowhere and sometimes came after lots of intense yet logical build. And in both sorts of cases the crowd went nuts for them because they were believable. The action outside the ring didn’t distract from what was happening in the ring; if anything, it complemented it and added to the drama and tension.
This tag match had the same sort of awesome finishing sequence as New Japan’s big singles matches over the last ten years have had. It really is such an astonishingly-great random match, but that speaks volumes to how talented these wrestlers were. An absolute must-watch and genuine hidden gem of a match.
Final Rating: ****3/4
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