(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kawada and Taue vs. Hayabusa and Shinzaki – AJPW, November 28th, 1997

kawada taue 1997 ajpw

It’s been said that tag team wrestling is currently undergoing a renaissance. Ever since AEW opened, its owners’ intentions were to give more emphasis on tag team wrestling after decades of that style falling by the wayside in North America.

They’ve been largely successful so far, but if you ask me, AEW and other companies pushing tag teams are still a long way off. They all still have lots of work to do before their tag matches reach the same level of greatness that was on display during the 1990s. And today we look back at another highly-praised tag match to see if it still holds up.

It’s time to revisit the tag match between Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue and Hayabusa & Jinsei Shinzaki from All Japan’s 1997 tag team tournament.

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

All Japan’s annual two-man tag tournament was the highlight of the year for many fans. In 1997, the company managed to get a bit more outside talent than before. Though they often got gaijins from the US, it was rare for wrestler from other Japanese companies to compete in the WSTDL. But there were two guys that Baba considered big enough stars to share the ring with his wrestlers: Hayabusa and Shinzaki. Shinzaki was ‘Hakushi’ in WWF/E and is remembered for having some great matches with other in-ring workhorses like Bret Hart. As for Hayabusa, he never competed in WWE or WCW but he still became highly influential. He worked ECW at least once and was a pioneer in the hardcore style that preceded ECW becoming what it was. Hayabusa was also an innovative wrestler for coming up with some crazy spots and amazing moves. Specifically, the 450 Splash, the Phoenix Splash, and the Falcon Arrow, were all created by Hayabusa. And many wrestlers still active today – including PAC, Chris Jericho, and Seth Rollins –tribute, borrow, or have stolen from Hayabusa in some way.

In this match, Hayabusa and Shinzaki were taking on the best team in All Japan: the Holy Demon Army. Since forming in 1993, the HDA were absolute masters in tag matches. They won the tournament in 1996, were runners-up in both 1993 and 1995, and were the favorites to win this one. To this day, tag matches involving Kawada and Taue still stand as some of the best matches ever (you can check out some of those matches here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Kawada and Taue were used to the King’s Road style of match and fighting against heavyweight brawlers.

But how would they fare against two lighter, high-flying outsiders? Would they continue their dominance over the tag team division or would these outsiders be too much for them to handle?

The match

This match originally took place on November 28th, 1997, one night after this great tag match in which Hayabusa & Shinzaki fought Misawa & Akiyama. This match was rated ****1/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.

Kawada and Hayabusa start as the crowd chants for Kawada. Hayabusa lands some elbows but Kawada this back with the same plus some knee lifts. Kawada knocks Hayabusa down with a shoulder tackle but Hayabusa kips up and hits a dropkick. Hayabusa hits a corner spinkick followed by a springboard dropkick to the back of Kawada’s neck. Kawada blocks a scoop slam and then lands a slam of his own plus a soccer kick to Hayabusa’s spine. Taue tags in and so does Shinzaki. Taue applies a headlock but Shinzaki escapes, only to get tackled down. Shinzaki does some acrobatic dodging as Taue charges and lands a big thrust kick that gets a huge pop from the crowd. Shinzaki goes for his ropewalk chop but Taue cuts him off and suddenly the crowd is booing Taue loudly. They really wanted to see that spot from Shinzaki. Taue gets a one-count off a lariat and tags Kawada. HDA land stereo big boots that send Shinzaki to the floor. Shinzaki makes it to the apron but Kawada cheap-shots him with a kick to the head. Kawada tries again but Shinzaki catches him and tries the ropewalk again. But this time Kawada escapes to prevent the move from happening.

Hayabusa tags in Kawada lands some nasty kicks plus a vertical suplex for a one-count. Hayabusa escapes a facelock with a jawbreaker and hits an underhook suplex for a one-count of his own and Kawada rolls him over for yet another one-count. Kawada carries Hayabusa to his corner, tags Taue, places Hayabusa on the top rope, and holds him in place so that Taue can land a high kick to Hayabusa’s chin. Taue sends Hayabusa into a corner but Hayabusa dodges a charge and hits a jumping spinkick and a DDT for a two-count. Hayabusa applies a facelock and then tags Shinzaki, who hits a scoop slam/delayed vaderbomb splash for a two-count. After applying a shoulder nerve hold, Shinzaki tags Hayabusa who lands a springboard leg drop for another two-count. Taue rushes Hayabusa into his corner and tags Taue, who mauls Hayabusa with vicious corner chops. Suddenly, Hayabusa starts hulking up All Japan-style. He fights through the immense pain and trades high kicks with Kawada. but Kawada’s the stronger kicker (always) and Hayabusa staggers into a front facelock. Kawada gets a two-count off a kneedrop and dumps Hayabusa to ringside. Taue tags and sends Hayabusa into the steel barricade. He pulls apart the ringside mats and DDT’s Hayabusa onto the exposed floor. Nasty landing for Hayabusa.

Taue tosses Hayabusa into the ring and covers for another two-count. Taue does a snake eyes into Kawada’s boot and covers but Shinzaki makes the save. Kawada tags in and locks in a deep Boston crab and when Shinzaki kicks Kawada to stop it, Kawada sinks down and reapplies the hold even tighter. That’s how you make a wrestler look tough: let them take a full-contact shot without blocking and they don’t even loosen their grip. Hayabusa does manage to get a ropebreak so Kawada tags Taue.

Taue hits a delayed vertical suplex for a two-count, and then gets another two-count off a tossing back suplex. Kawada tags in and hits more kicks and then goes for his powerbomb finisher. He sees Shinzaki coming in so he releases Hayabusa and kicks Shinzaki Kawada lands his patented stepkicks to Hayabusa and goes for the powerbomb again. He gets Hayabusa up…but Hayabusa counters with a Frankensteiner. Shinzaki lands a quick kick to Kawada to keep him down and then tags in as the legal man. A top-rope diving shoulder tackle gets Shinzaki a two-count. He goes to the top rope and Taue tries to cut him off but Hayabusa takes out Taue. Hayabusa leg drops Kawada so that Shinzaki can land a diving head-butt. One, two, Kawada kicks out.

Shinzaki goes for his own powerbomb but Taue boots him and then Kawada spinkicks him. Taue tags in and hits a running high kick and two short-range lariats for another two-count. Taue goes for his chokeslam finisher but Shinzaki sinks down to block it. Taue fights back and gets Shinzaki up but Shinzaki flips over to counter. Taue goes for a boot but Shinzaki catches his foot. Taue tries to counter with an enzuigiri but Shinzaki counters that by following the motion with an inverted dragon screw leg whip. Hayabusa tags in and he and Shinzaki hit double facecrushers to Taue. Hayabusa knocks Kawada to the floor as Shinzaki slams Taue. They hit a springboard swanton bomb/springboard kneedrop combo followed by a quebrada by Hayabusa. One, two, Taue kicks out.

Taue resists a German suplex at first but Shinzaki kicks him so that Hayabusa can connect with a bridging German that only gets two. 450 splash by Hayabusa. Kawada breaks up the pin. Shinzaki tags in and Taue tries fighting back with chops but Shinzaki catches his hand. Taue knows what’s coming and tries resisting but Hayabusa hits a forearm to break Taue’s resolve. Shinzaki climbs the ropes and starts his ropewalk but he sees Kawada coming and breaks it early to attack Kawada. he goes for Taue but Taue blocks and lands a punch followed by a throat-first snake eyes onto the top rope that gets a torrent of boos for Taue. Taue tags in and hits some running kicks to Shinzaki. He goes for a German but Hayabusa kicks him from behind and Shinzaki hits a backflip enzuigiri. Shinzaki crawls over for a cover but Taue breaks it up.

Shinzaki tries a powerbomb but Kawada powers out. Hayabusa attacks Kawada and Taue, and then lands another high kick to Kawada’s head. He dives onto Taue on the floor as Shinzaki powerbombs Kawada. One, two, and Kawada kicks out again. Kawada breaks free and hits more stiff elbows. He and Shinzaki brawl until Kawada hits three consecutive enzuigiris. Kawada lands one more running kick and then locks in the Stretch Plum submission hold. Hayabusa breaks it up so Taue tosses him to the floor. Kawada winds up and lands a massive LARIATO! One, two, Shinzaki survives. Taue grabs Hayabusa and keeps him against the ropes. Folding powerbomb by Kawada. One, two, and three! There’s the match!

Winners after 18:05: The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue)


Anytime you want to see simple yet entertaining wrestling without any silliness or BS, watch some 1990s All Japan. Once again this was pro wrestling at its purest. It was a back-and-forth athletic contest between two highly skilled teams. It had a great crowd. The wrestling was smooth and solid. There were great near-falls. The tension built up and up until it reached a fever pitch during the final few minutes. This was a throwaway match that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously yet it was still an excellent throwaway match all the same.

First off, it had perfect pacing. There wasn’t this sense of back-and-forth between blistering speed and slow and plodding restholds. The match moved at a singular solid pace that made it feel exciting from bell to bell. Hayabusa and Shinzaki did their high-flying daredevilry and all of it was smooth. They got to show the All Japan crowd what they were capable of without any of their work coming across as excessive. Each move of theirs was given breathing room so that the fans could digest what they just saw. That’s something of a lost art in more recent times: there’s too much of this attitude of ‘getting all your s**t in’ in one match and landing everything in quick bursts that make viewers ask ‘what just happened?’ That’s not always a good thing; it’s better to strike a balance between hitting lots of moves and spacing things out so that viewers aren’t bombarded with so much in so little time as though they’re staring at a strobe light. In this match, every move had a purpose and the key spots were all justified; there was nothing superfluous or wasted here, which is why this match went under twenty minutes and not over thirty, like some later matches involving similarly-styled wrestlers would.

Story-wise, the match had its interesting moments. Shinzaki showed the benefit of teasing a move and building it up instead of hitting it right away. The audience was desperate to see his ropewalks chop and both Kawada and Taue knew this. Even though they were the local heroes, the fans REALLY wanted to see Shinzaki do that move. So to keep Shinzaki from getting any momentum, and to remind the All Japan crowd who the tag aces were, Kawada and Taue resisted, blocked, and avoided that move as much as possible. It took several attempts, with each one getting closer and closer to getting done. But once Shinzaki started walking the top rope, he, the outsider, was getting bigger reactions than the local AJPW wrestlers. Since wrestling involved controlling the crowd and their reactions, it’s better and more satisfying for the crowd to build a spot up and struggle to complete it instead of landing it perfectly all the time. That gives the wrestler something extra to fight for and gives the fans additional reason to want to see that particular wrestler succeed.

There was also an interesting story with Taue. He was amazing at going from babyface to heel in seconds. He was cheered at first because he was teaming with Kawada. But as soon as he started wrestling dirty the crowd let him have it. He got booed loudly and went with that. He did exactly what was necessary to get the crowd behind Shinzaki and Hayabusa, only for his partner to take the victory away from those outsiders.

As for Hayabusa and Kawada, they were great as the face-in-peril and the bullying heel, respectively. Kawada just demolished both opponents but especially Hayabusa with his brutal kicks and other punishing moves. He looked like a tough bastard for taking a full-contact strike to the head while applying the Boston crab and refusing to let go. Small details like that help sell the idea that these guys are not only convincing as tough guys but determined competitors. He was so determined to win that he ignored the pain from that headshot and kept doing what he was doing.

Meanwhile, Hayabusa took an absolute shitkicking and fought back like a valiant underdog. I know it’s ironic to call him a great babyFACE, but that’s what he was here. He got the crowd to rally behind him and he strung together an impressive comeback alongside Shinzaki towards the end. It was a daunting challenge for these two MPW flippy guys to compete in an All Japan ring alongside the best wrestlers in the world at the time. And yet, neither Hayabusa nor Shinzaki looked out of place. Yes, they did more flips and dives, but other than that they paced their match and competed in a King’s Road sort of way. They didn’t do anything wrong here. For an early tournament match, this was pretty damn solid.

Final Rating: ****1/2

The match never really reached that higher level simply because Kawada and Taue never took their gloves off. There wasn’t this sense that Hayabusa and Shinzaki could win, despite their best efforts. Kawada and Taue were simply a more cohesive unit and superior wrestlers overall. They had more experience in tag matches and knew when and how to help each other most.

And yet, this is another really fun match. If you want simple wrestling without angles, gimmicks, promos, or storylines, this ought to satisfy you. It’s almost twenty minutes of straightforward action, plain and simple. You don’t need any more than that.

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.