‘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. Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi versus Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue is that match.
Mitsuharu Misawa. Kenta Kobashi. Toshiaki Kawada. Akira Taue. These four men are collectively known in Japan as Shitennou. That roughly translates as ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ or ‘Four Pillars of Heaven’. There has never been a more apt name for a group of wrestlers than that.
These four wrestlers have had some of the greatest wrestling matches of all time against each other. Their tag team contests throughout the 1990s were absolutely phenomenal. They were critically lauded by both the Japanese wrestling media and by publications such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. And they were commercially successful, too. So much so that AJPW booker Giant Baba didn’t need to book AJPW matches in bigger venues because they were making money hand over fist by running their regular shows in Bukodan Hall.
The story behind the matches
On June 8th, 1990, Giant Baba made Mitsuharu Misawa the new ace of his company. After he beat then-ace Jumbo Tsuruta, he started his main event ascent and ushered in a golden age of pro wrestling. But Misawa needed not just one person to work within his big matches, but several. And so Giant Baba went to work laying the foundation for one of the best long-term wrestling stories ever told.
As Misawa kept feuding with Tsuruta, other younger wrestlers joined in on the rivalry. Misawa was joined by his then-tag partner Toshiaki Kawada and rookie Kenta Kobashi, while Tsuruta relied on old guard wrestlers and another rookie named Akira Taue. This feud between Jumbo and company vs. Misawa and company dominated AJPW until 1992 when Misawa won the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Shortly thereafter, Tsuruta retired from wrestling, leaving Misawa without a main rival. But Giant Baba didn’t need to look far to find someone to fill that role.
Toshiaki Kawada, Misawa’s main partner, was more than just that. He was also a close personal friend of Misawa’s. Both of them had gone to the same high school and it was Misawa that convinced Kawada to join AJPW instead of NJPW when they were old enough. Both of them debuted for AJPW in the early 1980s and went on separate foreign excursions. Misawa found immense success in Mexico and returned to AJPW to become Tiger Mask II.
Misawa and Kobashi vs Kawada and Taue
Kawada, meanwhile, went to the United States and Canada and was said to hate his time in both countries. And seeing Misawa’s success caused the seeds of doubt to be sewn. Kawada was said to be jealous of Misawa’s success and worried that he’d always be #2 behind Misawa, even though some thought he was a better wrestler than Misawa.
So in 1993, Kawada turned on Misawa and joined Akira Taue, forming a duo that would become known as The Holy Demon Army. But Misawa didn’t have to look far to find a new right-hand man, either. Kobashi was promoted to being his regular partner, and this coincided with Kobashi’s own ascent as a wrestler. Baba wanted Kobashi to be able to shine as both a singles and as a tag team wrestler. He already had the skills needed to play the right role in a match depending on circumstance. But he just needed to rub shoulders with the right people, and sooner or later, the fans would see him as a star on the same level as the others instead of as beneath them,
The Battle of The Four Pillars of Heaven
By the time this match took place, the Four Pillars of Heaven already had several great matches that had been critically acclaimed. Their brutal war from December 1993 was considered a masterpiece of a tag match, but they were capable of exceeding those heights. More to it, Misawa had a huge target on his back as he was a dual champion at the time. He held both the AJPW World Tag Team Championships with Kobashi as well as the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship.
At the time of this match, he was scheduled to defend the Triple Crown against Kawada on June 3rd, so the pressure was on for him to make sure he had momentum. But the pressure was also on Kawada to send a message to Misawa (and to the fans) that he was as credible a challenger as any.
Misawa and Kobashi and Kawada and Taue :
The battle begins
It’s often said that AJPW King’s Road matches are masterpieces, and this one’s no exception. This is a masterclass in telling a story based on simple athleticism and logic. Everything in this match is done with a purpose, even if that notion belies its chaotic execution. While the feud between Misawa and Kawada was the main story, Kobashi and Taue played important roles as well.
Taue was the crafty miscreant you never wanted to turn your back to, because he’d find some way to surprise his opponent and lure them into a trap. Kobashi was his polar opposite; a never-say-die hero in peril that fought like a runaway train; once he started, he couldn’t stop himself even if he wanted to. Both of those characters played incredibly well with and against the stoic hero Misawa and the hungry, win-at-all-costs challenger Kawada.
When Kobashi started the match for his team, the Holy Demon Army saw nothing more than an annoyance, nothing more than a roadblock for Kawada to get to Misawa. Kawada’s hatred for Misawa burned so deeply that he decided to strike the first blow. As Kobashi tried to roll to Misawa to tag him in, Kawada surprised everyone and kicked Misawa hard in the face, sending him to the floor. Then as Kawada went to work on Kobashi, Misawa betrayed his trademark stoicism and took a cheap-shot on Kawada.
This became a recurring theme throughout the match. Kawada and Misawa despised each other so much that they abandoned AJPW’s typical strict match format. This was no longer a straightforward tag team wrestling match; it became a fight. But that fight still had a sense of wrestling logic about it. When Misawa and Kawada were in the ring together, it was a personal brawl. But when either Taue or Kobashi was involved, it was scientific wrestling. That was on full display as Kawada and Taue demolished Kobashi’s leg.
Kobashi, desperate to prove he could be a main-eventer, played the ‘little brother in peril’ to Misawa throughout the match. He tried to go toe-to-toe with Kawada, which was a bad idea because Kawada had no scruples about cutting corners and angering his opponents. Kobashi tried to play the honorable fighter and wrestle clean, but Kawada and Taue took advantage of this and attacked Kobashi’s leg throughout the match. Kawada started getting booed when he kicked Kobashi’s leg, and Taue got incredible heat from the crowd when he smashed Kobashi’s knee into the steel ring barricade and the announcer’s desk.
A Tag in Desperation
And whenever Kobashi tried to tag in his partner, Kawada would rush over to cheap-shot Misawa and isolate Kobashi. In doing so, Kawada displayed an icy logic. Not only was he attacking his archrival and thus furthering the already-bitter rivalry between them, but he was also making it harder for Misawa’s partner to survive, thus making the current match more tense and exciting.
But in the end, Kawada was so focused on Misawa that he underestimated Kobashi’s will to win. Despite all the damage he endured – especially to his legs – Kobashi was the one to score the win for his team. No matter how much Kawada and Taue attacked him, took shortcuts to weaken him, and tried to demolish him with dangerous and creative offense, Kobashi was just too tough for them. He withstood an incredible amount of pain – especially to his knees – to the point that it looked like it was only a matter of time before he’d actually give up. And this would’ve been extra poignant since AJPW booker Giant Baba hated submission victories.
Misawa and Kobashi and Kawada and Taue :
Never Say Die
But Kobashi never tapped. In fact, he overcame incredible odds to mount an offensive comeback on Taue. Eventually, after unleashing everything on Taue, Kobashi succeeded in pinning Taue with his Diving Moonsault. While this was going on, Kawada tried to break up the pin as he had done so many times before. But Misawa held him down in place so he couldn’t move. Kawada was desperate to save Taue; he tried desperately to escape but came up short. But that only fueled his anger towards Misawa even more. Kawada would’ve likely saved his partner and potentially won the match had Misawa not grabbed him.
Now the stage was set for Misawa vs. Kawada in a one-on-one match. Neither of them was involved in the deciding fall, and both left the match looking stronger than ever. Kobashi left the match looking like an absolute world-beater, withstanding an incredible amount of pain while staying determined to win. And Taue, despite taking the fall, looked like a monster. It took a lot of consecutive big moves to put him down, and even more to keep him down for the three-count.
The match’s legacy
This match is a perfect example of tag team wrestling perfection. It has multiple overlapping stories that get told simultaneously. Everything is done with a precise, focused logic. The wrestlers don’t insult the viewer’s intelligence by putting on silly gimmicks or doing things that don’t make logical sense. They didn’t go overboard with insane high-spots or crazy dangerous moves done just to get a bigger reaction from the crowd. Both teams kept things simple, relying on basic wrestling, limb targeting, and continuous reversals of each other’s big moves. They wove such a complex tale that it was impossible to predict what was going to happen or how the match would end. Fans watching were left on the edge of their seats, excited about what was about to happen and who would win.
Words cannot do justice to how great this wrestling match was. Seek it out and save the link immediately.
You can watch the match in its entirety below.
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