(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue – NOAH, September 10, 2004

kenta kobashi akira tuae pro wrestling noah

Kenta Kobashi’s world title reign is an excellent case study in wrestling companies failing to follow-up on something big and then suffering for it.

Kobashi’s two-year world title reign was, by almost every metric, incredibly successful. He sold out big venues left and right. He had excellent matches, many of which are still remembered to this day. He brought attention to his promotion. And even though he put himself through some truly horrid bumps leading to some fans calling him “deathwish Kobashi”, he created a legacy for himself that will live on forever.

But there’s one flaw in his reign: it was so good that it was impossible for NOAH to follow it with something just as good. Kobashi was a once-in-a-lifetime wrestler who managed to make average matches great and great matches excellent.

But which category does this match fall into? Read on to find out.

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

This was Kenta Kobashi’s tenth consecutive title defense. He was fresh of the heels of his legendary Tokyo Dome match with Jun Akiyama at Departure in July that put that feud to bed once and for all. With Akiyama firmly beneath Kobashi and not in a position to challenge him anytime soon, Kobashi needed a new and believable challenger. Few people fit those requirements at the time, but NOAH’s audience was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see Kobashi take on Akira Taue.

There was plenty of history between these two men going back years. They were on opposing sides of the ring as far back as 1990. Taue was the first to split from Misawa’s side and align with Jumbo Tsuruta. He was the one Kawada aligned with in 1993 to form the Holy Demon Army. And he was the guy Kobashi beat to win his first Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship in 1996.

After that, Taue found himself unable to beat Kobashi in big matches. By the time they both joined NOAH, Taue became a peripheral character that spent most of his time in multi-man matches and rarely won any #1 contenders’ matches. But something happened in 2004 that saw the fans rally behind Taue and want him to have one last big shot.

But despite that strong sense of nostalgia, few people believed Taue stood a chance of beating Kobashi. To change that, Taue revealed a new super-finisher that he was saving for big matches: the Chichibu Cement, a vertical suplex into a chokeslam.

This was cool and all, but could Taue use that cool move to beat Kobashi? Could he do what Tamon Honda, Masahiro Chono, Bison Smith, Yuji Nagata, Yoshinari Ogawa, Takuma Sano, Takeshi Rikio, Yoshihiro Takayama, and Jun Akiyama all failed to do? There was only one way to find out.

The match

This match originally took place on September 10 2004. It was rated ***1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. That’s a pretty average rating; and yet many fans have thought much more of this match than he did. Let’s see how well this match holds up.

This is for Kobashi’s GHC Heavyweight Championship. The two trade chops and headlocks for the first minute or so until both men stand firm on a double shoulderblock spot. Another chop exchange ends with Taue hitting Kobashi with Kobashi’s patented rolling chop to the neck. Taue follows with an enzuigiri and a dropkick to send Kobashi to the floor. Then the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Taue hits a suicide dive through the ropes onto Kobashi below.

Taue drops Kobashi chest-first onto the steel barricade and onto the elevated entrance ramp. Back in the ring, Taue lands a barrage of chops and a corner clothesline, followed by Snake Eyes onto the top rope. Taue follows with a grounded sleeper and a DDT for a two-count. Kobashi tries fighting back with chops but Taue shuts him down with a high kick to the side of the head. He hits more chops and sends Kobashi into the ropes but Kobashi knocks him down with a flying shoulderblock. Kobashi chops Taue so hard he falls through the ropes and then, despite having surgically-repaired knees, flies over the ropes and to the floor with a pescado.

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Kobashi whips Taue into the barricade and covers him in the ring for a two-count. He out-chops Taue and follows with a double kneelift/Russian leg sweep/grounded octopus hold combo. Taue starts slipping out so Kobashi traps Taue’s arm with his arm and Taue’s neck with his legs. After escaping a headlock, Taue starts another chops battle with Kobashi but Kobashi wins this one and locks in an abdominal stretch. Taue tries escaping by going after Kobashi’s leg but Kobashi only tightens his grip. Then Taue lands a Kawada-style hook kick to escape and then dropkicks Kobashi’s knee. That’s followed by a big dragon screw leg whip and locks in first a single leg crab and then an STF. Kobashi gets a ropebreak so Taue kicks the weakened leg. Kobashi blocks another dragon screw so Taue kicks it again and then lands a standing knee crusher.

Taue applies a type of leglock and chops Kobashi down as he tries to escape. Kobashi fights back again and counters with a guillotine choke. Taue gets a ropebreak and the two wrestlers end up on the entrance ramp. Taue elbows out of a backdrop attempt and then ducks a big discus chop. Taue teases a chokeslam on the ramp but Kobashi resists and goes to the ropes. But Taue kicks off the ropes and lands the chokeslam.

Back in the ring, Taue hits a corner yakuza kick followed by a nasty German suplex. Kobashi fights up but Taue boots him and lands a second German. Kobashi ends up on the apron and Taue goes for his famous apron chokeslam. Kobashi chops his way out of it. Taue tries again. More chops from Kobashi. Taue hits an enzuigiri…and then lands a back suplex chokeslam from the apron to the floor!

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Taue shoves Kobashi into the ring and covers for a 2.9-count. He prepares some other move but Kobashi slumps down, so the ref checks to see if Kobashi can continue. He starts a ten-count but Taue stops him, pulls Kobashi up and lands a Dynamic/Batista Bomb. One, two, and – Kobashi kicks out. Taue tries another chokeslam. Kobashi chops his way out and lands a close-range lariat. Both men collapse.

Taue gets up first and lands some head-butts. Kobashi blocks an overhead chops and chokeslams Taue. He follows with a powerbomb of his own but can’t cover right away. Eventually, Kobashi hits a Burning Sword downward chop and goes for a moonsault. Taue rolls out of the way and capitalizes with both a standard chokeslam and an Ore Ga Taue back suplex chokeslam. One, two, and Kobashi kicks out again. Taue teases a super chokeslam. Kobashi fights out and tries a powerbomb. Taue counters with a Frankensteiner and a high kick. And here comes Taue’s new super-finisher. Chichibu Cement! The referee counts one…two…thr – no, Kobashi survives yet again!

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Taue dives off the top rope with a splash but only gets a two-count. He goes for an Irish whip but Kobashi counters with another lariat. Kobashi follows with a running lariat into a corner and goes for a suplex but Taue counters with a small package for a two-count. Kobashi hits first with a half-nelson suplex for a two-count of his own. Then Kobashi hits five stiff discus chops to Taue’s neck followed by a Burning Lariat. One, two, Taue kicks out. Kobashi decides to skip one or two finishers and go straight for the tactical nuke. Wrist-clutch Burning Hammer! One, two, and three! Kobashi retains his title!

Winner and STILL GHC Heavyweight Champion after 28:05: Kenta Kobashi


Another excellent match from peak Pro Wrestling NOAH. But this time, it was Taue, not Kobashi, who made the match into something special. Though Kobashi was defying reality and surpassing expectations throughout his reign, in this match it was Taue to did the heavy lifting. Even though he was 43 and WAY past his prime, he still put on an excellent little nostalgia match that brought the 16,000 or so in the arena to their feet.

The story here was simple: Kobashi was the babyface that always moved forward and Taue was the one that had to try and stop that from happening. He tried everything: explosive agility early on to catch Kobashi off guard, going for Kobashi’s surgically-repaired knees, throwing bombs, and wrestling like the clever and underhanded villain he was in his prime. But none of it worked. No matter what smart or hard-hitting decision Taue made, Kobashi still pulled through. He was a classic babyface overcoming a dominant heel that looked like he might win at any moment.

But what was most important was how far both Kobashi and Taue had to go to win. Taue hit Kobashi with all of his biggest moves, including a sick chokeslam to the floor and his new super-finisher, but none of it worked. He came across as desperate and determined to win, but Kobashi was one step ahead. Kobashi just kept going and survived until he was down to 5% and made a short but emphatic turnaround. He targeted Taue’s neck from the beginning and it paid off with an exciting conclusion. Kobashi destroyed Taue with neck-targeting finishers and then went straight to the jugular with his new take on the Burning Hammer. Taue lost but he left the match looking like a big deal. He came across as more of a credible threat because Kobashi had to go to that next level to finally beat him. If Kobashi applied this sort of booking to younger guys as well, then maybe NOAH would’ve had more believable rising stars than the ones they did at this point in time.

That said, the match would’ve been a bit better if Taue went a bit further with his ‘attack from different angles’ strategy. He hit big moves early to catch Kobashi off guard, he hit big bombs, and he went for Kobashi’s knees. But he neglected to attack Kobashi’s arm and that proved fatal. All Kobashi had to do to turn the match around was hit a single close-range lariat. After that, there was no turning back for Taue. Had he softened up Kobashi’s arm even a little bit then it would’ve made him even more believable a potential winner and it would’ve hindered Kobashi’s offense even more. Since Kobashi wasn’t a wrestler that ignored or forgot limbwork often, he would’ve incorporated selling into his movements and offense to make his comeback more difficult to achieve and to get Taue more over as a credible threat.

Final Rating: ****1/4

Although the opening minutes and part of the middle were average, this match had an awesome conclusion. It was fun seeing Taue, a guy that no one believed stood a chance, come so incredibly close to beating the legendary Kobashi. He took fans on a journey here as he made this into a last hurrah of sorts. It was a mix of nostalgia for the old days of All Japan and some new stuff from two guys that have wrestled each other many times over the decades.

This is definitely a strong match. It’s a bit slow and deliberate but it has its fair share of drama, big moves, and tense near-falls. It really peaks during the last ten minutes and that closing stretch makes up for a relatively average start. But it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. This match had a fantastic ending that really sold the idea that these two weren’t just wrestlers but incredibly tough wrestlers that were willing to go the extra mile to win.

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.