Just finished watching Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada/Akira Taue (6/9/95 - World Tag Titles) . I've had it on my hard drive for a while now, but it's 43 minutes long and AJPW matches tend to take lots of motivation to watch (not that they're bad, they just take a different mindset and I've been in my "shoot style" mode for a while now and I have to adjust it to "get into" such kind of matches). And. Um. Best match I've ever seen. I don't think I have ever said that about any match on the first viewing, but there it is. This is the new standard for excellence. I never thought a tag match would take the top spot, cause, well, here's the list of some of my favourite matches:
Benoit/Ohtani vs. Sasuke/Tiger
... ONE tag match. They usually aren't done as well as singles matches, but this was just perfect. So much has already been said by many others, there is no need to get into the specifics. Justin Baisden has a more in-depth recap/review at Review #1 that is more PBP and Chris Coey has one at Review #2 that is more about the story of the match. However, I will comment on what stood out to me.
1. Payback spots. I love'em, and this was full of em. From Kawada's initial dick-ass kick to Misawa while he was on the apron, to Kobashi doing a dropkick to Taues leg, almost every action had a similar reaction which made for a nice, self-contained story. You don't see a lot of that stuff nowadays, and they did it so naturally. Kobashis attempts at the moonsault were particularly great and made for an effective nearfall.
2. The Story. I've seen Kandori/Hokuto, and I've seen Misawa/Kawada, and I enjoyed them both. But not enough to rank them in my top 10. This has been said by others, and those who _would_ rank the matches in their top ten would say "you don't know the whole story". Which is true enough. The call-back spots in those matches may be over my head, I may not look at it the same way as those others.
This tag match has that sort of depth, BUT, it is also very easy to follow for any unfamiliar viewer. Kawada HATES Misawa. Misawa, knowing Kawada hates him and will do anything to beat him, and since he is the top guy -in turn- does not like Kawada. Taue, Kawada's running buddy, is there to kick ass and help his friend out, but isn't really involved in the spat. He has a stoic look on his face throughout, and just likes to hurt people. Kobashi, on the other hand, wears his heart on his sleave. The match is not only about Kawada and Misawa, it's also about the outsiders caught up in it.
Kobashi is like Misawa's dog. Fiercely loyal, willing to risk his life to save his master. His leg is injured, and Kawada/Taue continually go after it. At the start of the match, Kobashi is game. Despite the injury, he still believes he is a vital member of the team. Slowly, as Kawada/Taue pick him apart, he becomes less and less useful, and almost becomes a detriment. The spot which changes his role in the match is when he is unable to save Misawa from a chokeslam off the apron from Taue. After that, the best Kobashi can do is take the brunt of the assault on himself in hopes that Misawa can muster enough energy for the comeback. I. Love. That.
I went into this match cheering Kawada/Taue. But as the match went on, as Kobashi sacrificed himself and as Kawada/Taue acted like total bastards, at the end I was behind Kobashi/Misawa. The spot at the end where Kobashi tries to protect Misawa and both Kawada and Taue try to pull him off and he's just fighting with everything he has and they finally get him off and then MURDER him with an Backdrop/Nodawa combo... I was like "NOOOO!!! STOP! STOP! THIS IS UNFAIR!!". It was Kawada/Taue going too far, IMO. Great stuff.
3. The build. They paced it amazingly well. The match was primarily strikes, but when they used their moves every single one had an impact and was necessary. The tags and heat spots were done to perfection. The match went on for 43 minutes and they went through several stages which made those minutes fly by. The final 10-15 minutes were particularly well done. Kawada/Taue having the advantage, then Misawa/Kobashi having it, and finally back to Kawada/Taue. It's hard to describe how effective it was done, because each time one team had control it seemed like they were going to win it. The team that was in control were in full control and the turn of the tide was logical. When Misawa did the German Suplex to Kawada for the near fall. Then the Tiger Suplex for the nearer fall. Then the Tiger Driver. I said "Taue HAS TO make the save here" because the way they built it, there was no way Kawada could have kicked out. And guess what? Taue made the save. PERFECT! Misawas ill-fated comeback at the end was so beautiful, because the way they built it, even though you knew he was climbing a mountain, you wanted to believe he could win.
I'll finish it up with one more review, from DVDVR 100 Issue:
MITSUHARA MISAWA/KENTA KOBASHI vs. AKIRA TAUE/ TOSHIAKI KAWADA- ALL JAPAN- 6/11/95
The best tag match ever, take it to the bank. What seperates this match from the other six million five star classics in All Japan is the good old fashinioned rudoism. This wasn't a stoic battle of athletes warring for greatness this was Toshiaki hates Mitsiharu. The match really gets cooking in the first minute while in the midst of a lockup with Kobashi, Kawada runs over and kicks Misawa right in the face, then he gives him a look like "Fuck you and everything you stand for." Kawada was feeling it tonight, every kick was as sharp and stiff as it gets, every suplex was more forceful, every facial expression stoically hate filled. The psychology of this match was perfect. Kawada and Taue decide to take out weak link pussboy Kobashi who has a bandaged thigh, so they lay waste to it, with kicks, kneedrops, kneebars and even Nodawizing Misawa on it. Then when Kobashi can't walk, they focus on Misawa, Taue nodowa's him off the ring apron to the floor, the crippled Kobashi covers Misawa up, but they drag his crying ass off. Then Kawada throws Misawa back into the ring, but Misawa rolls all the way to the floor, Kawada is steamed but he gets Misawa in and hits a powerbomb, 1..2.. kick out. Then Kobashi covers him up again but gets layed out with a nodowa-dangerous backdrop combo. But Misawa is up again laying out Taue with some elbows, but just as he shakes off the attack, Kawada catches him with a jump kick, in a perfect moment. Now the black and yellow shark smells blood he covers him but Misawa kicks out, Misawa then hits a last ditch elbow, but Kawada responds with jump kick ... cover ... two count, then he hits a brutal backdrop driver and a big powerbomb for Kawada's first ever pin on Misawa. Then the best part the post match interview, Kawada just got the biggest win of his career, and he sounds like an NFL coach who just lost the first pre-season game "Well we have a couple weeks to the season starts and we have to work on our execution". That is stoicism baby, that is what makes Kawada the king.