‘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. Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas vs Tsuyoshi Kikuchi & Kenta Kobashi, is that match.
One of the greatest and most legendary tag team matches in history took place twenty-eight years ago today. Not only was it a perfect wrestling contest in which everything clicked. It also took place in front of one of the hottest crowds ever. Indeed, if you ever wanted to understand just how vital a live crowd is to pro wrestling, watch this match.
Kroffat & Furnas vs Kikuchi & Kobashi
A stereotype destroyed
Many North American wrestlers have wrestled in Japan over the decades. And many of those have described a collective behavior among the fans: the stereotype of the quiet Japanese audience. Whereas American audiences will make noise before, during, and after a match, their Japanese counterparts will not. As Chris Jericho put it:
“[Japanese fans are] quiet, respectfully watching. When you first go there you think, like, ‘Do I suck? Like, why is there no reaction whatsoever?’ They’ll start reacting when you do finishing, false moves at the end. But they’re respectfully watching because, to them, it’s a real craft. If you do, like, a nice hold, a technical little sequence, they’ll all clap. If I take you to the ropes and, you know, break, they’ll clap for you. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You are honorable, you follow the rules. Stuff that would never happen here [in North America]. ”
Thus, Japanese fans are much harder to impress. They rarely, if ever, go crazy, making tons of noise during a match. They watch wrestling matches as if they’re traditional sporting contests, focusing on athleticism and the execution of moves. A wrestler needs to bring their A-game if they wrestle in front of a Japanese audience. Those eagle-eyed fans will oversee everything and scrutinize every action. And even the slightest misstep won’t result in boos, but in a deafening silence later on in the match when they’re supposed to come alive.
That is why this match is such a rare gem. It takes the above stereotype and flips it on its head.
The big battle in Sendai
This match took place on April 25th, 1992 in the Japanese city of Sendai. Sendai happens to be Tsuyoshi Kikuchi’s hometown. He was wrestling in front of his home crowd, so the fans were more invested in seeing their boy win. His partner was Kenta Kobashi, who was a rising star in his own right. And their opponents were two bigger gaijins/foreigners. This match took place at a time when most non-Japanese wrestlers played the token ‘evil foreign invader’ gimmick that had been a staple of puroresu since its inception.
So not only were these fans excited to see tag team titles held by foreign menaces challenged by local Japanese wrestlers, but they were going to see their boy Kikuchi take on two opponents much larger than himself.
Kroffat & Furnas vs Kikuchi & Kobashi
A perfect example of working a crowd
The crowd in attendance was white-hot before the match even began, and all four wrestlers knew it. They knew how to make the most out of so little. For example, as the tag titles were shown, Kroffat approached Kobashi and Kikuchi and wagged his finger to both of them. He basically told them, “you’re not getting these.” That set the tone for the match because the fans booed him immediately.
The action started with Kroffat bitchslapping Kikuchi in the face. Neither he nor the fans liked that at all. Then Kikuchi exploded, elbowing the hell out of Furnas. Both the crowd and the commentator went nuts on this, and the commentator even recognized the ‘standing ovation’ the crowd was giving Kikuchi. And this all took place within the first minute of the match.
From there, it became a classic tale of evil bully outsiders versus local heroes defending their turf. The much smaller Kikuchi became the target for his opponents’ attacks. They tried to overpower him whenever they could, but his gutsy, never-say-die attitude helped him overcome those odds. At one point, both opponents tried to attack him but he took each of them down with a dropkick. And when he did, the fans went absolutely nuts. They lost their collective minds over a simple dropkick. It was unbelievable. He brought thousands of fans to their feet hitting the simplest of wrestling moves.
It was something special. Whenever Kikuchi did anything, these fans would cheer and jump from their seats. The same was true for Kobashi. He wasn’t the hometown hero but he was a hero nonetheless. He was bigger and stronger than Kikuchi, and he’d come in like a freight train, taking down his opponents left and right.
The Appeal of This Match
But the appeal of this match wasn’t just a raucous crowd cheering for their homeboy. Kikuchi & Kobashi wanted to win the titles as well, and Kroffar & Furnas became mountains for their challengers to overcome. They attacked Kikuchi relentlessly, and at one point Furnas military press slammed him onto the announcer’s table. That did incredible damage to Kikuchi and made the audience even more desperate to see the heroes win.
A perfect example of this occurred after a hot tag from Kikuchi to Kobashi. He started cleaning house and the fans went nuts. Then both his partners double-teamed him and the audience started to boo. Bear in mind that such reactions are incredibly rare in Japan. Yet these four wrestlers knew how to control their audience. The villains whipped Kobashi and the fans kept booing. He ducked their double clothesline attempt and they started cheering. Then he took both of them down singlehandedly and they jumped out of their seats. But this wasn’t just Kobashi playing to the crowd; it was an excellent way of telling the underdog story that had been started when the bell rang.
And then there was the final stretch. Like in any great match, the last act was filled with exciting and believable near-falls. Both teams had done a perfect job of wearing each other down to the point that any move could end the match. But this wasn’t going to be one of those sad tales in which the evil foreigners win. No, this match was about Kobashi being the ‘big brother’ saving his partner and friend. Kikuchi played a supporting role in this closing act, breaking up pins and distracting Furnas.
In His Sights
But Kobashi had Kroffat in his sights and was going to make him pay for being so cocky and arrogant throughout the match. They exchanged moves a lot until Kobashi planted Kroffat with a double-arm DDT. Yet astonishingly, that wasn’t enough to end the contest. So Kobashi’s body-slammed him. And the fans went nuts. Because even though they were Kikuchi’s fans, they loved Kobashi’s moonsault. And with perfect execution, Kobashi landed the move and scored the fall.
As the bell rang, everyone lost their minds. Fans were screaming in joy, jumping out of their seats, cheering wildly. Even the lead commentator screamed on the top of his lungs, “WE HAVE NEW CHAMPIONS! WE HAVE NEW CHAMPIONS!” Even without understanding what’s precisely being said, his tone and excitement is as infectious as the crowd’s. He sells the drama as much as the crowd and the wrestlers.
Then, to add the cherry on top, Furnas and Kroffat had such deep respect for their opponents that they put the titles on the winners. There were no cheap-shots, no grandstanding, no arguing with the referee. The defeated champions took their loss like men and showed respect to the better wrestlers. It’s a small gesture, but it goes a long way in adding to the significance of the faces’ title victory.
Kroffat & Furnas vs Kikuchi & Kobashi
How it stands today
All told, this was a perfect tag match that had everything working for it. The four wrestlers involved had fantastic chemistry, ideal timing, and a powerful understanding of how to work their audience. The crowd was unbelievable, making more noise than almost any crowd anywhere before or since. Even the lead commentator made his best JR impression and sold this like it was the most significant wrestling victory of all time. It probably wasn’t, but he and everyone in attendance adored this match.
You can watch the match in its entirety here.