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5-Star Match Reviews: Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Giant Baba vs. Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi – Jan. 29th, 1994, by Alex Podgorski

Oh boy, this’ll be interesting.

Imagine if you had a high-profile tag team match between the following two teams. On one side is the team of Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero. On the other side is the team of Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels…and The Big Show. One of these things is not like the others. And that’s what Giant Baba represents here.

Today we revisit another All Japan six man tag match from the golden era of the 1990s. It involves all four of the fabled Four Pillars of Heaven, a company mainstay that wrestled all four of them at various points, and one of the biggest pro wrestlers ever. It was praised as a 5-star match, but that was over twenty-six years ago. Let’s see if it still holds up today.

It’s the six-man tag match between Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi and Giant Baba versus Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi from January 29th, 1994.

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 Pro-Wrestling is/was famous for the legendary singles and 2-on-2 tag matches that took place during its golden decade in the 1990s. But those matches were few and far between, so that the audience would see them as special encounters. For the rest of the touring schedule, the AJPW roster wrestled mostly in six-and-eight man tag matches. This was done so that the top wrestlers could save their strength and not have to work so intensely every night, and so that they could give audiences ‘previews’ of the bigger matches that would come later on.

This is one such a six-man tag match. It pitted the company ace (Misawa), his main tag partner (Kobashi) and the beloved company owner and promoter (Baba) against the ace’s bitter archrival (Kawada), his main tag partner (Taue) and a wily veteran that had been with the company since 1974 (Fuchi). There were no titles on the line and there was no special stipulation in this match.

Because of that, literally anything could happen. That was one of the biggest selling features of these old AJPW classics: the match could’ve ended with any combination of wrestlers being involved in the deciding fall and it would make sense. And since Baba (the booker) emphasized clean finishes, fans were treated to intense, dramatic matches on basically a nightly basis.

As an aside, Giant Baba really does look terrifying here. His gigantism really has taken an horrible toll on his body. He literally towers over everyone else in the ring, including Taue, who stands at 6’4. At the same time, he looks almost alien. His looks like he barely has any muscle on his body. His ribcage is disproportionately wide and flanking it on each side are skeletal arms with the skin barely clinging to his bones.

The match

Kobashi and Kawada start things off. They trade shoulder tackles ending in a standoff. Kobashi takes him down with a few more shoulder tackles but Kawada fires back with a yakuza kick. Kawada slams him then kicks him hard in the back. They whip each other some more, Kawada ducks a chop, absorbs a second one like a boss and they go nose-to-nose as the fans cheer wildly. They exchange chops and Kawada takes Kobashi down with a spinkick. He tags Fuchi, who starts working Kobashi’s left arm.

Kobashi makes it to his corner and in comes Baba. Baba gets a grounded head-and-arm lock on Fuchi until Kawada kicks Baba in the back (which gets Kawada lots of loud boos). Fuchi tags in Taue, who starts chopping Baba in the chest. Baba ‘fires back’ with some slow chops and forearms. Taue ducks a clothesline and lands one of his own. He scoop slams Baba and lands an elbow drop for a one-count. Taue goes for an abdominal stretch but Baba reverses it into his own until Fuchi breaks it up.

Misawa comes in and dropkicks Taue. A spinkick gets Misawa a two-count, so he tags in Kobashi who gets a shoulder tackle and two-count of his own. Taue reverses a suplex and tags in Kawada at the five-minute mark.

Kawada lands a standing dropkick for a two-count. Kobashi blocks a Kawada charge and tackles Kawada down before tagging in Misawa. Diving spinning lariat by Misawa for a two-count. Kawada regains control and kicks Misawa hard in the legs then yakuza kicks him down. Fuchi tags in and hits a few body shots until Misawa elbows his way to his corner and tags in Baba. Baba hits hard but Fuchi chops him back. He tags Taue in, who lands a few chops, but Baba regains control and tags in Kobashi.

Kobashi hits a vertical suplex for two then applies a facelock. Misawa tags in and hits his scoop slam/senton combo for a two-count, as does a diving crossbody. He dropkicks Taue out of the ring and Kobashi hits a running baseball slide dropkick onto Taue. That enables Misawa to skin the cat and land a flying elbow smash to the outside. Another diving elbow gets Misawa a two-count. Misawa teases the Tiger Driver but Kawada chops him to break his control. Chokeslam by Taue and in comes Kawada. He hits a flurry of trademark stepkicks to Misawa’s head at the ten-minute mark.

Misawa quickly escapes a facelock so Kawada punts him in the back and lands the first of what will likely be many Backdrop Drivers. Kawada pins but Misawa gets up at two. Fuchi tags in and lands some diving chops. He applies a sleeper hold then tags in Taue, who mounts the pressure by dropping Misawa throat-first on the top rope. Taue lands a piledriver and pins but Misawa gets his foot on the rope. Taue lands snake eyes twice in a row, but Misawa fires back with elbows on the second one. Fuchi comes in and attacks Misawa long enough for Taue to tag in Kawada. Kawada applies a head-and-arm lock of his own until Baba kicks him in the back as revenge for before. Fuchi comes in and starts hitting forearm and takes Misawa down once again at the fifteen-minute mark.

Fuchi tosses Misawa out of the ring and he and Kawada drop him with an aided piledriver ringside. Then Taue decides to be a dick and drops Misawa throat-first on the guardrail. Fuchi pins but Misawa gets his foot on the rope. Kawada tags in and stomps away on Misawa, and pins for a two-count. Fuchi tags in and he and Taue land a double team move where they drive Misawa throat-first into the top rope multiple times. Misawa tries to reach his own team but Taue enters the ring to cut him off. Fuchi ties Misawa in the tree of woe and stands on his throat. Kawada whips Misawa and lands a massive lariat for a two-count. Taue climbs the top rope and he and Kawada hit a diving chokeslam/backdrop driver combo move on Misawa. That looked sick. Kawada pins again but Misawa reaches the ropes once more. Kawada applies the stretch plum, Kobashi tries to break it up but Kawada won’t release the hold, and Fuchi comes in to remove Kobashi. That strategy fails because Kobashi gets up after a backdrop and charges Kawada again. Taue enters the ring and he and Kawada his powerbombs in stereo on Misawa and Kobashi at the twenty-minute mark.

Kawada pins but Misawa kicks out at 2.5. Fuchi tags in for his own pin but Misawa kicks out again. A third pin attempt and another kickout by Misawa. Misawa blocks a backdrop driver so Fuchi enzuigiris him. Fuchi tries another backdrop but Misawa elbows his way to freedom. Baba tags in and hits some chops that send Fuchi down. He hits a sloppy boot on Fuchi then throws a charging Kawada out of the ring. Taue comes in as well, but Baba tosses him out too. Baba applies a cobra clutch on Fuchi as Kobashi cuts off Taue and Misawa cuts off Kawada. All three of the babyfaces have submission holds locked in and the crowd goes absolutely nuts. Fuchi rakes the eyes, forcing Baba to let go. He dropkicks Baba into a corner and tags Kawada, who charges Baba furiously and hits a massive lariat. He and Fuchi whip Baba into Taue who somehow manages to chokeslam Baba down. Kawada pins but Kobashi breaks it up. Stretch Plum by Kawada! Kobashi and Misawa are distracted by Fuchi and Taue. The crowd is going absolutely crazy since Baba very well could tap out to this hold. Kobashi breaks free and makes the save. Kawada chops the shit out of Baba’s chest and whips him but Baba reverses it and lands a high knee on Kawada.

Kobashi tags in at the twenty-five-minute mark and starts a chop war with Kawada. They go back and forth, and Kobashi even lands a yakuza kick on Kawada. But Kobashi goes for one chop too many because Kawada blocks it and slaps Kobashi’s face off his head. Taue tags in and guillotines Kobashi on the top rope. He tosses Kobashi out of the ring and then lands a DDT, dropping Kobashi face-first on the exposed floor. Taue pins but gets a two-count. Fuchi tags in, lands a backdrop suplex, then tags in Kawada. He whips Kobashi into Kawada, who drills Kobashi with a running lariat, then does the same with Taue, who drops Kobashi with a huge chokeslam. Fuchi pins but Misawa breaks it up. Fuchi scoops up Kobashi but he reverses into a pin for a one-count and Fuchi tags in Taue. Taue lands a throwing back suplex and gets a 2.5-count. He lands a running kick to the head and tags in Kawada who does the same. Then Kawada drops Kobashi with a tombstone piledriver, but Kobashi kicks out at 2.8, twice. Fuchi tags in again and Kobashi fights back with chops. He tries to reach his partners desperately but Fuchi keeps cutting him off.

We’re at the thirty-minute mark as Fuchi holds Kobashi by the hair to keep him from tagging in his partners. Fuchi applies a camel clutch then tags in Taue, who hits three consecutive short-range clotheslines for ac two-count. A Samoan drop by Taue gets him a two-count, and Kawada tags in. Kawada hits a flurry of chops and pins but gets a two-count of his own. The fans chant Kobashi’s name as Kawada continues with chops. He goes for a corner kick but Kobashi blocks it. Kawada blocks a Kobashi charge with a kick but Kobashi takes him down with a lariat. Both men are down.

Kobashi crawls to his corner. In comes Misawa! Elbows for all three of his opponents. Spinning back suplex to Kawada for a two-count. Kawada blocks a German suplex with a kick to the face. Step kicks by Kawada. Elbows by Misawa. Misawa charges, but runs into a gamengiri. Taue tags in and lands a DDT for two. Coconuts crash by Taue twice in a row and an atomic drop, but Misawa drops Taue with an elbow. Misawa tags in Baba, who lands a coconut crash of his own to Taue. Baba goes for a DDT but Fuchi rakes his eyes. Taue suplexes Baba and gets a two-count. Taue charges but Baba gets his foot up, and Baba lands his running neckbreaker finisher. He pins but Fuchi breaks it up.

Kobashi tags in at the thirty-five-minute mark and chops away at Taue. Taue tosses him down but Kobashi gets back up and fires away again. Kobashi refuses to stay down and hits a running knee to Taue in the corner. Elevated DDT by Kobashi gets a two-count. He teases a powerbomb on Taue but Taue escapes. Kobashi charges but walks into a powerslam from Taue who then tags in Fuchi. He hits a Lou Thesz press for two and then starts walking on Kobashi’s chin. Some people are even chanting Fuchi’s name.

Kobashi starts hulking up AJPW style but Fuchi blocks his chops. A standing switch ends in a rolling cradle from Kobashi but Fuchi kicks out. Scoop slam and standing leg drop by Kobashi. He signals to the crowd and they go nuts. He climbs the turnbuckle for his moonsault but Kawada cuts him off. Misawa knocks Fuchi down and Kobashi takes advantage with a leg drop. Then Kobashi lands a diving leg drop to the back of Fuchi’s neck and pins, but Taue breaks it up. Baba takes Taue down and Misawa takes down Kawada. Scoop slam by Kobashi again. Moonsault press. The referee counts one…two…three! There’s the match

Winners after 39:02: Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi & Giant Baba

Review

That was a great six-man tag team match. The crowd was hot for most of it and their noise helped make this match come across as important. They were especially loud when Misawa or Kobashi were in control, and they also booed very loudly whenever the feels did, well, pretty much anything, and especially when they attacked Baba. But while the fans’ admiration of Giant Baba is commendable, his addition to this match was actually its biggest hindrance.

Giant Baba really brought this match down. Whenever any of the other five wrestlers were in the match, it was pretty damn great. But Baba was such a downgrade whenever he wrestled, and there was nothing he could do about it. He was so massive from his gigantism that he had no hope of matching the other wrestlers’ talents. But as an offensive wrestler, Baba was terrible. The Big Show looked like the Undertaker in comparison with Baba.

In this match, Baba was slow, not particularly graceful, and his moves didn’t even look like they hurt. Seriously, The Great Khali did more convincing overhand chops than Baba. Of course, there was an expectation of slowness going into the match, since Baba was always slow. Yet his fans adored him, and his employees revered him. And he had tremendous star power, which he hoped to rub onto the other wrestlers in this match.

And aside from Baba’s lack of mobility, the rest of the match felt rather formulaic. There were flashes of greatness and references to previous match-ups, which helped move this match forward. I especially enjoyed watching Misawa and Kawada go at it (they always get great chemistry together) and Fuchi did an amazing job of isolating and torturing Kobashi throughout the match. Kawada also had some great sequences with Kobashi, which helped elevate their budding rivalry as well. Out of all six wrestlers involved here, I think Kawada worked the hardest and had the biggest impact on the story. He did such an amazing job acting like d**k in this match. Whether it was when he kicked the crap out of Misawa, bullied Kobashi, or tried to knock Baba out with his Stretch Plum submission hold, Kawada really drew the ire of this audience. And even though he wasn’t involved in the winning fall, he did the most damage from anyone on his feet.

And yet, it felt like most of the stories these wrestlers were telling only scratched the surface. It felt like they were ‘playing the hits’ and only giving the audience a sample of what they were capable of. Maybe that was the intention, but once the match was over, I felt both a desire to see more and a sense of disappointment in what I did get out of the match as well.

There was also a strange inconsistency. At one point, as Kawada had Misawa in a submission hold, Baba tried to come in to make the save. But the referee stopped him and counted until he got back on the apron. And yet, Baba just interfered anyway, which defeated the point of that count. I always wondered what rules, if any, All Japan had when it came to illegal man interference in tag matches, and this sequence did little to clear up that ambiguity.

Lastly, this match felt like it dragged on quite a bit. On one land, All Japan was known for putting on long matches, and I’ve reviewed many matches before that were longer than this one and were better. But here, the match’s pacing felt much slower (especially when Baba was in) and only really picked up in the closing ten minutes when Misawa and Kobashi took over in earnest.

Final Rating: ****1/4

This was one of those ‘passing-of-the-torch’ matches in which an established legend tries to use that status to help some rising stars. On one hand, that approach worked from a story perspective. Baba did his best to make anyone that touched him look like a real threat, which was shown by the loud reactions the audience gave whenever Baba was in peril. Since Baba was so beloved, it became easy for the fans to rally behind his partners Misawa and Kobashi, which in turn made them into valiant heroes.

On the other hand, the match wasn’t that good from an in-ring action perspective. There was just too much slowness and a lack of depth in the big dramatic narrative they were trying to show. The beginning and middle of the portions of the match seemed to drag on forever, and the only real intensity came from Kawada, who seemed to have an ax to grind with all three of his opponents. Both Taue and Fuchi did great work getting the audience to hate them, but nothing they did was really that special.

And on the babyface side, Kobashi worked his ass off as always, Misawa was Misawa, and Baba was the gentle giant. Literally, I cannot imagine any of Baba’s attacks hurting, even in the slightest. Mick Foley once said that Baba’s offense looked like it couldn’t break an egg; and after seeing Baba in action here, I think that’s a perfect description of Baba as a pro wrestler during the 1990s. He was much better off booking things; that’s where his genius was best applied.

In some other reviews, I’ve said that sometimes it’s better to keep things simple and that going to basics can make a match better. What we had here was a simple match that, while technically sound, was a bit bland. A lot of the action was by-the-numbers and they seemed to go long just for the sake of going long. For the first time in watching one of these AJPW classics, I had to speed the video up just to get through it. They could’ve shaved off ten minutes and shortened the middle heat segment and this would’ve been a much better match.

But if you want to see traditional pro wrestling at its simplest, without storylines or crazy angles, then you’ll find something to love here.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.