(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kawada & Taue vs. Kobashi & Kikuchi – AJPW, May 14th, 1993

kenta kobashi kawada happy

First impressions matter a lot, including in professional wrestling. Very few wrestlers get more than one chance to make a good first impression. How one’s first match goes can make or break an entire career. Just ask the Shockmaster what can happen when a debut goes awry.

But this isn’t an example of a debut going badly; on the contrary, it’s one of the most important debuts of the entire 1990s. Anyone that follows this series regularly knows how much I love 1990s King’s Road All Japan. The singles and tag matches from that period were and still are amazing. And the most important tag team from that golden decade, in my opinion, is the Holy Demon Army. They were the ultimate tag team in the 1990s and they were crucial to All Japan having so many awesome multi-man matches. And while I’ve covered pretty much all of their best matches already, I figured it was important to look back at the match that started it all for them.

Thus today we revisit the tag match between Kawada & Taue and Kobashi & Kikuchi from May 14th, 1993.

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

On March 28th, 1993, Kawada lost a big singles match against his then-best friend Mitsuharu Misawa in the annual Champion Carnival tournament. It was a long and brutal match, one that saw far more aggression and intensity from Kawada towards the man he considered his close friend. It was clear that something was simmering within Kawada. Something sinister. Something that would explode at a moment’s notice. A few days later, on April 12th, Kawada faced Akira Taue in the same tournament. These two had a long and violent history together stemming from Taue leaving Misawa’s Super Generation Army in late 1990 and joining forces with Jumbo Tsuruta. As the lieutenants of their respective stables, Kawada and Taue bloodied and decimated each other many, many times. This match, while not bloody, was no less violent as most previous Kawada/Taue singles matches.

But something major happened after the match that overshadowed everything that happened during the match itself. After the match went to a 30-minute draw and the ref raised both wrestlers’ hands, Kawada extended his hand to Taue. And Taue returned the gesture. A simple handshake said more than any promo.

With that gesture, an enormous change occurred within All Japan. Kawada and Taue realized that they had more in common with each other than they initially realized. Both men struggled to achieve any singles success, their careers plateauing now that Tsuruta was sidelined with Hepatitis and the Misawa/Tsuruta feud was over. Taue failed to beat Misawa for the Triple Crown title in February and Kawada not only failed to do the same back in October 1992, but he still had to deal with being in Misawa’s shadow as his right hand man. But no longer. It was time for Kawada to leave his stablemates and break out on his own. His career would stall if he remained Misawa’s lieutenant, but there was the potential for success if he became Misawa’s archrival. And so Kawada did the unthinkable. He gave into his deeply rooted feelings of jealousy and personal desire. He turned his back on his best friend and aligned himself with a man he considered his mortal enemy.

Kawada shook hands with the devil and in doing so formed The Holy Demon Army.

News of Kawada’s betrayal shook Misawa as expected, but he had a back-up plan as always. With Kawada now AJPW’s #1 heel, Misawa needed another babyface to team with him. Luckily he found one in Kenta Kobashi. But on this night, Misawa was unavailable as he had his own match to deal with. Instead, Kobashi teamed with Kikuchi, another “lesser” member of the Super Generation Army. Kikuchi wasn’t just a great partner for Kobashi because he was a great and beloved underdog. He and Kobashi were already famous for their mythical tag title win in Sendai from May 1992 that, to this day, is regarded as one of the best matches to ever take place.

But here, almost a year to the day, Kobashi and Kikuchi had a much more dangerous threat in front of them. They were taking on the new unit of Kawada and Taue. The Holy Demon Army had never teamed before so no one knew what to expect of them. With that in mind, could Kobashi and Kikuchi still win? Since they had already teamed before and found success as a duo, could they use that experience to stop this new found threat in the Holy Demon Army before it could even get off the ground? Or would the HDA’s desire to topple Misawa and his cohorts lead them to victory?

The match

This match originally took place on May 14th, 1993. It was rated ***3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. That’s a relatively low rating given what we’re used to for this series. But let’s be real here; this was never going to be a 5-star classic from the beginning. Instead, let’s look back at this tag team debut to see how well it went.

Kawada and Kobashi start things off with a headlock into a shoulderblock from Kawada. Kobashi dodges a running yakuza kick and boots Kawada in his face. A furious Kobashi unloads on Kawada with stiff chops in a corner but Kawada hits back with the same. The two go back-and-forth trading chops and then both block kicks to the face. Kawada catches Kobashi’s leg and throws him down with malice, leading to a tense standoff.

The two wrestlers trade kicks to the back of their left knees and then Kawada hits chops against the ropes. Taue tags in and hits a lariat for a one-count. He applies a chinlock but Kobashi counters with a backdrop suplex and tags Kikuchi. Taue hits some overhead chops in a corner but Kikuchi reverses a corner whip and hits a clothesline/snap suplex combo. He charges at Taue but Taue boots his face. Kikuchi keeps fighting but Taue blocks and tanks his attacks and then avoids a suplex. Kobashi tags in and hits a jumping shoulderblock for a one-count. Taue blocks a suplex from Kobashi so Kobashi pulls him to a corner and lands more chops. Taue reverses a corner whip and hits a running bulldog. Kawada tags in, kicks Kobashi’s head and lands a big spinkick off the ropes for a two-count. He follows with a delayed vertical suplex that gets another two-count and tags Taue again. Taue hits a knee but Kobashi fires back with kicks and chops and then tags Kikuchi. Kikuchi hits a dropkick and fires off more forearms but Taue throws him off with ease, boots his head, and tags Kawada. Sensing the need for urgent action, Kikuchi attacks Kawada with the same moves but Kawada tanks them effortlessly and drops Kikuchi with an elbow. Taue tags in and hits a Manhattan drop that sends Kikuchi to the opposite side of the ring, allowing for a Kobashi tag.

They lock-up and Taue hits some nasty forearms against the ropes before tagging Kawada. Kawada hits more chops but Kobashi fires back with kicks. Then Kobashi lands corner chops of his own. But Kawada doesn’t just tank them this time. He starts getting annoyed. Kobashi hits a corner jumping knee but Kawada hits back right away with a big boot. Then he sends Kobashi into a corner and hits a jumping kick to the face. He goes for a second one but Kobashi punches him first. Kobashi pulls Kawada into another corner and hits the same sort of kick to Kawada’s face. Kobashi hits his machine gun chops but Kawada stops him with a single punch to the face. Kawada follows with a malicious soccerball kick to Kobashi’s back and tags Taue, who stands on Kobashi’s head and neck until Kobashi rolls to the floor.

Taue whips Kobashi into the steel ring barricade and then lands Snake Eyes in the ring. Kawada tags in and slaps the taste out of Kobashi’s mouth. Then he drags Kobashi to the middle of the ring. Sheerdrop Brainbuster! Kawada pins but Kikuchi breaks up the pin. Taue tags in and hits a DDT. One, two, Kobashi kicks out. Taue follows with a throwing suplex and then tags Kawada again. Taue whips Kobashi into Kawada as Kawada lands a running lariat. Then Kawada whips Kobashi into Taue and Taue lands a chokeslam. Folding powerbomb by Kawada. One, two, and Kobashi kicks out. Stretch Plum by Kawada. Kikuchi tries stopping Kawada but Taue comes in and puts Kikuchi in the Stretch Plum as well. Kobashi makes it to the ropes so Kawada kicks his head mockingly and tags Taue. Taue hits a big boot and goes for a suplex but Kobashi lands behind him. Kobashi lands a kick and a bulldog out of nowhere and tags Kikuchi. Kikuchi goes after Taue with forearms like a small dog attacking a much bigger one but Taue manhandles him with ease. Taue hits another hotshot on the ropes and then lands a Folding powerbomb. That’s Kawada’s finisher. Taue pins but Kobashi saves his partner. Kawada hits Kobashi with stepkicks and step-knees and then Taue joins in on the mugging. Then Kawada chokeslams Kobashi, using Taue’s finisher. Taue does the same on Kikuchi. Kawada holds Kobashi down as Taue covers Kikuchi, one, two, three! There’s the match.

Winners after 13:01: The Holy Demon Army (Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue)



For an under-fifteen-minute match, this kicked ass. This is how to establish a new team as a credible threat. It’s also a prime example of doing more with less. There was no need for this to go twenty, thirty or forty minutes. The goal here was to establish the duo of Kawada and Taue as a legit and monstrous threat, and it succeeded and then some.

This match was pure aggression, malice, and brutality. There was no need for it to go any longer as it wasn’t really a competitive match to begin with. It was a mugging, a thrashing, an absolute shitkicking by Kawada and Taue. They made on hell of a statement in their first match as a team and set the tone for what was to come from them over the next six years.

Kobashi and Kikuchi were the perfect opponents (read: victims) for the HDA to face in their debut match. Kikuchi has this unyielding quality of a sympathetic underdog that knows how to take a brutal beating and still keep going no matter how risky it was for him. And Kobashi has this incredible fire that makes him come across as determined as a competitor and passionate as a storyteller. Kobashi gave the impression that he was genuinely furious towards Kawada and wanted to not only get justice but also prove Misawa right for elevating him. To that end, Kobashi put on an emotional and captivating performance here as he took the fans on a journey. He took the fight to the HDA and did his absolute best to try and overcome them. I know the term ‘fighting spirit’ is clichéd when discussing Japanese pro-wrestling but Kobashi truly embodied that concept here.

But those positive qualities of theirs were no match for the well-oiled machine that was Kawada & Taue. Even though Kobashi and Kikuchi had much more experience teaming together, Kawada and Taue wrestled so well together that you’d think it was them that were the more tenured team and not Kobashi & Kikuchi. Kawada and Taue had perfect timing. They interfered to help each other at the right moments. They pulled off some great tandem moves to showcase that they were acting with one mind. They complemented each other and used each other’s signature and finishing moves. It was blatant a message as any: these two were no longer enemies but close allies with a common goal.

All it took was one match for Kawada and Taue to jump to the top of the list of tag team threats.

Final Rating: ****

This is another match that can be used as instructional material for modern wrestling matchmakers. It was a short match but accomplished everything it set out to do. Not only was the action exciting and wild as befitting of 1990s All Japan, but the story was executed to perfection. Kawada and Taue needed to show the world that they were on the same page and they were willing to work together to accomplish shared goals. They did exactly that here and gave viewers the added benefit of seeing them maul two of the best underdog babyfaces in the entire company.

In doing so, the Holy Demon Army created one hell of a first impression.

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.