One of the most forgotten story concepts in wrestling that works in many other story media is the ‘master vs. student’ concept. In many films, comics, books and so forth, a skilled fighter takes on a pupil and eventually the student surpasses the teacher.
That has been a staple of martial arts stories for many years, and since pro-wrestling sometimes incorporates martial arts or those that practice them, it would make sense to see that kind of story play out in a wrestling ring.
Today we look back at one of the best examples of this story in action. It featured one of the greatest professional wrestlers to ever live taking on his first protégé in singles competition. This was the end result of many years of build and teasing, so let’s look back to see if it paid off.
Let’s revisit the singles match between the wrestling master Kenta Kobashi and his pupil KENTA from March 5th, 2006.
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.
This is a ‘master vs. protégé’ match between the veteran Kobashi and his student KENTA. In a hilarious coincidence, these two men also share almost identical names: Kenta Kobashi and Kenta KobaYAshi. This is like if you had a team composed of Jim Johnson and Jim Johnston. To avoid such confusion (especially since KENTA’s name would be pronounced almost identically to Kobashi’s, even with the extra ‘YA’ syllable in there), he shortened it to KENTA. He also had his name spelled with Roman letters instead of Japanese script, because apparently, that made him a heel in the fans’ eyes.
Anyway, KENTA had spent many years as Kobashi’s protégé. He teamed with his mentor for many years, and they faced off in singles competition only once before back in 2004. At that point, NOAH had something called a ‘Trial Series’ in which a prospective future star is put through the ringer against several veterans. KENTA lost that match and hoped to get revenge here. At this point, Kobashi was in the position of NOAH’s elder statesman and had done his job as the company’s ace and world champion. Here, he looked to see if his top student was able to surpass him and become an even bigger star. Of course, that was an enormous task for KENTA, simply because of how godly of a wrestler Kobashi was, even after multiple knee surgeries.
This match originally took place on March 5th, 2006. It was rated **** out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back now, let’s see how well the match holds up.
They lock-up and KENTA ducks a big discus chop against the ropes. KENTA rushes in with some hard strikes and Kobashi chops back. KENTA walks forward tanking some chops like a boss and then lands some yakuza kicks. He ducks one chop but not a second and then boots Kobashi down. Then KENTA soccer kicks Kobashi right in the side of the head. Wow. He basically lands a full-contact version of Randy Orton’s punt kick. The referee checks on Kobashi as KENTA lands mocking kicks. But these only serve to anger Kobashi and fire him up. He gets to his feet and lands more chops. He goes for another signature discus chop. KENTA blocks it and lands an enzuigiri, followed by a bridging Tiger suplex for a two-count. Right after, KENTA lands his martial arts rush and charges for the Busaiku knee. But Kobashi catches him and launches him with a Half-Nelson suplex. Both men collapse. Hot start to the match.
Both men get up slowly and KENTA strikes first with some big boots and soccer kicks to Kobashi’s spine and chest for a two-count. Another boot sends Kobashi to the floor and then KENTA boots him over the barricade. He drags Kobashi onto the apron and goes for a Falcon Arrow but Kobashi fights out. He teases a Half-Nelson but KENTA holds onto the ropes so Kobashi chops his neck. KENTA blocks a subsequent chop and lands a rope-aided Frankensteiner, sending Kobashi to the floor. Kobashi lands hard on his arm. KENTA sees that opening and targets that arm immediately. He smashes it into the barricade and then kicks it several times as hard as he can. Then, just to be a d**k, he teases a head kick stops, and does a mocking backward heel kick instead. Man, KENTA was so great at being a heel without ever having to cut a promo.
Kobashi kicks out of a pin so KENTA kicks his arm some more. KENTA applies a grounded armbar (like Becky Lynch’s Dis-Arm-Her) to further weaken Kobashi’s main striking weapon. Kobashi gets a ropebreak and manages to power through more kicks and attempt a chop, but KENTA blocks and goes for another armbar. Kobashi gets to the ropes so KENTA applies a camel clutch. Kobashi tries to escape so KENTA elbows his arm some more. KENTA lands some standing armbreakers but Kobashi manages to counter into a sleeper hold. KENTA responds with a Stunner. Kobashi powers through and lands a sleeper suplex. Another great counter.
Kobashi pulls KENTA onto the elevated apron and DDTs him onto it. Then he pulls KENTA over the top rope and lands a downward chop to KENTA’s neck. KENTA goes down like a sack of bricks. Kobashi lands chops with his right arm (not entirely sure why, he has a perfectly good left arm he can chop with) that eventually drop KENTA to the mat. Kobashi lands a Burning Sword to KENTA’s neck, and then, does another one, but this time chops him right in the nose between the eyes. Even with a weakened arm, a Kobashi chop to that part of the face must be excruciatingly painful.
Kobashi applies an abdominal stretch, but can’t keep it in for long due to the pain in his arm. KENTA attempts a sudden comeback with slaps but Kobashi overpowers him and smacks him around instead. Kobashi lands a big corner chop and whips KENTA into another corner but KERNTA blocks his charge and lands a diving kick to Kobashi’s face. KENTA begins his comeback with roundhouse kicks. That’s followed by a springboard dropkick to the back of Kobashi’s head. KENTA pins but Kobashi kicks out. KENTA lands more kicks to Kobashi’s chest as the fans start chanting along. Kobashi goes for a chop. KENTA blocks and kicks that arm, then lands a vaulting kick to Kobashi’s face in the corner. He follows with a vicious corner dropkick and then lands more roundhouse kicks. But Kobashi starts hulking up. He tanks those kicks and then catches KENTA’s leg. KENTA lands some forearms but Kobashi no-sells and pushes him hard into a corner. It’s machine gun chop time. 49 chops to the chest. Followed by a double-hand chop for good measure. Kobashi follows with a Bucklebomb and then a jackknife powerbomb, all of which only get a two-count.
Kobashi goes for a Half-Nelson. KERNTA reverses into a cradle for two. Kobashi blocks another running kick and attempts the suplex again. KENTA elbows out and tries for a German. Kobashi elbows out but gets enzuigiri’d in the head. Release German by KENTA. Half-Nelson by Kobashi. Busaiku nee by KENTA both men collapse as the fans applaud loudly.
KENTA gets up first and goes for a boot buy Kobashi catches his leg and chops it hard. He goes for a discus chop but KENTA ducks and dropkicks Kobashi’s knee. KENTA goes to the top rope. Kobashi cuts him off and attempts a superplex. But KENTA resists that and counters. He flips over Kobashi, lands on his feet and drops him with a Ligerbomb for two. Martial arts rush/Busaiku knee combo. Kobashi kicks out. KENTA goes for Go To Sleep. Kobashi counters and teases a Brainbuster. KENTA counters and gets Kobashi onto his shoulders. Kobashi counters at the last second and rolls off. KENTA lands some desperation roundhouse kicks to Kobashi’s head and pins. One, two, no, Kobashi survives. Busaiku knee to the back of Kobashi’s head. Kobashi still manages to get up. KENTA lands another knee against the ropes. KENTA signals the end and charges for the full-power knee strike. But Kobashi answers with an enormous lariat out of nowhere. One, two, thr – no, KENTA survives. Kobashi skips the rest of his finishers and goes for the jugular. Wrist-Clutch Burning Hammer! Kobashi demolishes KENTA with his tactical nuke of a super-finisher.
One, two, three! Kobashi wins!
Winner after 21:57: Kenta Kobashi
This match was awesome. It felt like a big fight and featured great wrestling action. It was a tale of David vs. Goliath and arrogance vs. humility. I loved the overall wrestling of the match. It came across as real, competitive, genuine, and exciting. KENTA was terrific as a d**khead heel and also an underdog trying to overcome a mountain. And Kobashi was tremendous as well. He sold for KENTA like a boss and made him go as far as he could to win. And yet, I still think this match, like the Kobashi-Marufuji match from a month later, had the wrong result.
Point blank, Kobashi had no business winning here when NOAH was hemorrhaging top stars. After the Rikio experiment failed and Akiyama was reduced to Kofi Kingston status, they needed credible main-eventers to lessen the load on Kobashi and Misawa’s shoulders. From every viewpoint, the most straightforward result here would’ve been for KENTA to beat his mentor and gain a massive amount of momentum needed to carry NOAH into the future. Instead, Kobashi put him in his place and made him look strong, but that decision when against NOAH’s long-term booking.
When I saw that finish, the first thing that came to mind was an interview CM Punk did in which he discussed how The Shield was booked against him. In many of their matches, on-screen and at live events, Punk would face them one-on-three and win. But Punk would also be told to make them – and especially Reigns – look strong. So Punk was booked to win but had to make his opponents look strong in defeat. And Punk, being a smart man when it came to wrestling, asked, ‘if they want to look strong, why don’t they just beat me?’ I couldn’t help but ask that question as Kobashi’s hand was raised here. Sure, the fans wanted to see Kobashi win again, but that short-term result came at the expense of long-term booking.
That said, I really enjoyed the action and story in this match. KENTA needed to be as d**kish as possible to win so he hit Kobashi exceptionally hard and landed a punt so vicious it looked way worse than anything Randy Orton ever landed. And when Kobashi fought through that, KENTA did the next best thing: he attacked his lariat arm to weaken the effectiveness of that move. And since Kobashi relied on that right arm more than ever at this point in his career, his inability to maintain control for a long time allowed KENTA to out-play him for most of the match.
Then there was the ending, which I think was great. Instead of doing what he had done many times before and landed one finisher after another only for KENTA to kick out, Kobashi went for his Burning Hammer right away. He knew KENTA was such a threat at that point in the match that going for his other moves – the Orange Crush, the Brainbuster, the moonsault, or another lariat – would be pointless. So he went for his ultimate move, the move that downed his biggest and most credible opponents in the past. And once again, it did its job. Kobashi’s Burning Hammer remains one of the few, if not the only, wrestling moves to have 100% effectiveness in ending matches. KENTA, like everyone else, could not kick out of such a devastating finisher. But that loss also made him look incredibly strong as well. It was the best compliment that Kobashi could’ve given him at that moment (aside from, you know, taking the fall).
Final Rating: ****1/2
While I think this match was better than Kobashi’s match with Marufuji from a month later, it would’ve still been better with the opposite result. The action and the story here were all about this David vs. Goliath encounter that should’ve concluded with KENTA winning. KENTA showcased his determination, adaptability and brutality in a way that made him stand almost on equal footing with his mentor.
All in all, this is a fun heavyweight vs. cruiserweight match filled with intense action, brutal striking, and excitement from bell to bell. Even with a slightly deflating ending, it’s still a worthwhile match, especially since these two wrestlers only faced off in singles competition twice in history.