All Japan Pro-Wrestling had its golden age during the 1990s. That company produced some of the greatest wrestling matches to ever take place. They were such time-tested classics that they became the standard for highest-quality in-ring action for professional wrestling. today we revisit one of those classics to see why it still holds up after almost twenty-five years.
It’s the classic tag team bout between Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue from December 6th, 1996.
‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series. It is dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Jun Akiyama’s Greatest Tag Team Match Ever involving Misawa with Akiyama against Kawada and Taue is that match.
1996 marked a turning point for Misawa as a tag team wrestler. As the company ace, he always had a target on his back since other wrestlers wanted to challenge him for his coveted position. Among those challengers were his tag team partners that, over time, wanted to break out of his shadow and strike out on their own. The first of these was Toshiaki Kawada, who tagged with Misawa until early 1993 and then became his archrival.
The second of these was Kenta Kobashi, who teamed with Misawa from 1993 to early 1996 and then wanted to challenge Misawa and become a singles star. And with Kobashi’s departure, Akiyama was elevated from being Misawa’s #3 stable member to his right hand man.
For Akiyama, this was a major challenge. He had to prove that he belonged in the conversation of best wrestlers in AJPW. But he had a huge mountain to climb. He was much younger and less experienced than both of his opponents and his partner. So the pressure was on for him. Not only did he want to prove he could survive with the most dangerous team in All Japan (The Holy Demon Army), but he also didn’t want to disappoint arguably the best in-ring wrestler alive at the time (Misawa).
Akiyama Tries To Prove Himself
As the match began, Akiyama tried to hold his own against Kawada. He gritted his teeth each time Kawada landed his stiff and dangerous kicks. The first few strikes dropped him but Akiyama soon learned to power through them and fight on. That took Kawada by surprise, which allowed Akiyama to drop him with a jumping knee and tag in Misawa. The much more experienced Misawa knew how to control Kawada and keep him on the defensive. Misawa charged with an unrelenting assault with one big move after another.
But in doing so, Misawa forgot about Taue, who was more than willing to interfere to save his partner. Taue started causing Misawa problems, until Akiyama tagged in. Akiyama tried to show he could hit as hard as any of them, but got stopped dead in his tracks with a brutal slap to the face. Then, seeing that Taue liked to throw big kicks, Akiyama adapted in the middle of the match and dropped him with dragon screw leg whips.
In doing so, he weakened Taue, making it harder for him to hit moves strong enough to keep him or Misawa down. But Kawada was having none of that and dropped Akiyama with another big kick before wearing him down with one painful strike and submission hold after another.
Misawa and Akiyama vs Kawada and Taue
The Archrivals Begin Their Fight
After a long struggle, Akiyama finally managed to tag in Misawa. And with that, the legendary rivals began their fight. Misawa and Kawada knew each other very well. Because of that, they had options when fighting. Sometimes Kawada would charge and land a yakuza kick to the head or a running lariat. Misawa would either duck a kick from Kawada or he’d tank one and fire back with a spinning elbow.
Because of how deeply these two knew each other, they created these long, tense, elaborate sequences of big strikes and high-risk moves. Watching them fight was like watching a tense action movie fight, except with deeper meaning behind almost every move. Although this feud was incredibly personal, it ran much deeper for Kawada because he still longed to surpass Misawa, which is something he was still unable to do by the end of 1996.
This time, Misawa tried his best to keep Kawada down with brutal kicks and elbows, but Kawada answered all of this with a stiff jumping kick to the face. That enabled Kawada to tag Taue, and for Misawa to tag Akiyama.
Akiyama’s Struggle Continues
Akiyama had to find a strategy to weaken both of his opponents. Working Taue over was a challenge because Kawada liked to land brutal strikes whenever his opponent was concentrating on a submission hold. Kawada also liked to bully Akiyama, so Akiyama came up with a creative strategy. After taking plenty of kicks from Kawada, Akiyama blocked one and countered into a discus lariat that managed to drop Kawada long enough for his team to get the advantage.
With that, Akiyama and Misawa started gaining the upper hand. They double-teamed Taue and eventually managed to get him out of the ring, before focusing on Kawada. they landed multiple double-team combination moves on him, including consecutive German suplexes that dropped Kawada on his head.
Yet despite all that damage, Kawada had the wherewithal to ragdoll himself and roll out of the ring, thus avoiding being pinned. He tried to do his usual shtick of ‘delayed selling’ by powering through an initial wave of pain and only collapsing after landing his own move. But this time he couldn’t do that. Suddenly, Akiyama was looking less like the odd man out in this four-man combination and more like he belonged among them from the beginning.
Misawa & Akiyama vs Kawada & Taue
The Beginning Of The End
Twenty minutes into the match, the tables began to turn in favor of The Holy Demon Army. Taue, unable to match Akiyama’s raw youthful intensity, decided to take Akiyama out with something big. After kicking him hard in the face, Taue choke slammed Akiyama from the apron to the floor. That big move basically took Akiyama out of the match, turning this into a two-on-one handicap match. Misawa tried his best to fight the HDA two on one, but that was just too hard for him.
Taue dodged a flying elbow smash which sent Misawa careening into the canvas at high speed. Misawa was only able to escape an apron chokeslam from Taue because a near-catatonic Akiyama held Taue back for a critical few seconds. But back in the ring, the HDA overpowered Misawa once again. He smashed both of them in the face with stiff elbows but got too carried away with one of them. The split second it took Misawa to wind up for a rolling elbow smash was enough for Kawada to duck and hit the Dangerous Backdrop, spiking Misawa on his head.
From there is simply became a matter of time. Misawa had little strength left, if any, to land any of his own power moves. As such, whenever Taue or Kawada were in control and Misawa fought back with elbows, they knew it wasn’t a real comeback but an attempt at delaying the inevitable.
Akiyama tried his best to save Misawa, but ended up eating one big move after another, including a combination Backdrop/Chokeslam for his efforts. In the end, Akiyama could do nothing but watch from a few inches away as Kawada dropped Misawa with one powerbomb after another until Misawa was down long enough for the three-count.
Jun Akiyama’s Greatest Tag Team Match Ever
In the end, Akiyama did achieve his goal. He proved he belonged in the conversation with Misawa, Kawada, and Taue, because he wasn’t the one that took the fall. He endured a lot from the Holy Demon Army but still fought to the very end. Even without the extra years of experience, Akiyama proved he was talented enough to hang with the three strongest veterans in AJPW.
As for Kawada, this was another critical moment for him. He once again managed to pin Misawa clean, in the middle of the ring. With this win, Kawada hoped fans would see him as someone worthy to be ace of AJPW. Though those opportunities wouldn’t come until later on.
As a wrestling match, this was simply phenomenal. The back-and-forth action, with its never-ending twists and turns, was amazing. You just don’t see wrestling like this today, which is a shame. And this match is, in all honesty, fairly tame in terms of danger compared to other AJPW matches. Yes, this one had a few high-risk head spiking moves. But aside from those, the rest of the match was a pure story.
All four wrestlers put on an intense wrestling match filled with hard-hitting strikes that made them look tough-as-nails. They teased moves that could end the match, but no move was ever landed right away. Whether it was a big suplex or a powerbomb, the use had to fight hard just to land it, and most of those moves didn’t even end in a pin. These four wrestlers took you on a journey, a rollercoaster ride of great peaks and valleys.
This is definitely a must-see wrestling match as it blows much of what you see today completely out of the water.