On October 24th, 1998, the ultimate wrestling finisher was created, as it was the debut of the burning hammer. It was hyped up for weeks as a special secret weapon that was meant to be a last-ditch effort. And when it debuted, it became world-famous. Wrestling fans everywhere were shocked at the move’s sheer brutality and inherent danger. And many of those same fans used the move in each and every wrestling video game as their created wrestlers’ finishers. Today we look back at the creation of the super-finisher to end all super-finishers, Kenta Kobashi’s Burning Hammer. This is the debut of the burning Hammer.
The Burning Hammer as it is known today was actually not created by Kobashi himself. Rather; he popularized a move that was created five years earlier by a women’s wrestler named Kyoko Inoue. Inoue came up with a torture rack head-spike move which she called the Victoria Driver and used that on a handful of occasions during the mid-1990s.
The Debut of The Burning Hammer
But it was Kobashi who took Inoue’s creation, modified it and then made it his own. And the timing for this move couldn’t have been better. At the time, Kobashi was embroiled in a deep feud with AJPW ace Mitsuharu Misawa, a wrestler that he could never beat in singles competition outside fluke wins in their annual Champion Carnival tournament. Misawa and Kobashi had squared off many times before, but no matter what Kobashi did, Misawa always stood tall in the end.
Kobashi hoped to change that this time around. Not only was he facing Misawa in a big singles match, but he was also defending his world championship against the ace. He won his first world title in 1996 and then lost it to Misawa in January 1997. Kobashi fought hard and managed to win the title a second time from Misawa’s other archrival Toshiaki Kawada, and hoped to keep his momentum going by beating AJPW’s Emerald Emperor.
But most importantly, Kobashi knew Misawa very well. They had been teaming together since 1990 and had many, many historic matches together. Kobashi knew Misawa, as well as Misawa, knew Kobashi. Both men were known for being inhumanly tough and withstanding incredible punishment. And since Kobashi had a scheduled title defense against Misawa on October 31st, he needed to go further than ever before to win, especially since the crowds had seen Misawa kick out of every move already found in Kobashi’s arsenal.
Kobashi Debuts the Burning Hammer
Thus, Kobashi spent weeks hyping up the debut of this big new move that he was sure would keep Misawa down for the three-count. It was first hyped up as simply ‘the Kobashi Special,’ and he promised to bust it out before his big world title match.
And so came a seemingly-random tag team match that pitted Kobashi and his partner Jinsei ‘Hakushi’ Shinzaki against Misawa and Takao Omori. As the match reached its conclusion, Kobashi hoisted Misawa onto his shoulders into the torture rack position. With one arm hooked around Misawa’s neck and the other holding his legs, Kobashi moved forward, dropped down…and spiked Misawa right on his head.
The fans screamed out, the commentator yelled in shock and horror, and Kobashi got a rare three-count on Misawa. With that, two important things happened. First, Kobashi now had a move that he could use against Misawa. One that made fans believe Kobashi stood a chance of beating him. Before this move’s creation, many fans doubted Kobashi could win because he lacked a move that Misawa hadn’t kicked out of already. But with this move (soon called the Burning Hammer to coincide with Kobashi’s ‘Burning’ gimmick), that changed, and Kobashi had an ultimate nuke he could land that would guarantee victory.
The Debut of The Burning Hammer
The Most Vicious Wrestling Mover To Ever Exist?
Second, Kobashi created arguably the most vicious wrestling move to ever exist. It was the epitome of the ‘head spike’ era of late 1990s All Japan. And perhaps the peak of the King’s Road style. What had once been more about careful psychology and long-term storytelling had evolved (devolved?) into a contest of one-upmanship over who can drop their opponent with the deadlier move.
With the Burning Hammer, Kobashi topped each and every move that came before it and created the ultimate super-finisher. No one kicked out of Kobashi’s Burning Hammer. It was a rare, devastating weapon that he only brought out in the most desperate situations. At a point when everything else had failed. But because it was so dangerous, Kobashi couldn’t use it all the time. In fact, he only used it seven times over a nine-year period:
- October 24th, 1998: he used this move to send a message to Misawa.
- October 23rd, 1999: Kobashi dropped Misawa with the Burning Hammer to win the AJPW World Tag Team Titles
- December 23rd, 2000: Kobashi spiked Jun Akiyama in a bitter, personal match that many believed to be Kobashi’s swan song as he desperately needed time off for knee surgery.
- March 1st, 2003: Kobashi beat Misawa to become NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Champion in their last-ever big singles match, putting their historic rivalry to bed.
- July 10th, 2004: Kobashi used it on Jun Akiyama to retain said world title in NOAH’s first-ever Tokyo Dome show.
- September 10th, 2004: Kobashi created the wrist-clutch version of the move for an old rival, Akira Taue.
- March 5th, 2006: Kobashi lands his final Burning Hammer on his protégé KENTA after realizing that such a move was needed to keep KENTA down long enough.
The Debut of The Burning Hammer
A Finisher that Was Never Kicked Out Of
Although he only used is seven times, Kobashi’s Burning Hammer was never kicked out of. Thus effectively makes it the most successful finisher in wrestling. Of course, many wrestlers all over the world had copied the move. They did so hoping to capitalize on that subset of fans that think, ‘oh my God, how can he survive such a move?’
For many years, it was thought this move would never come to larger companies such as WWE because it was too dangerous. Then on August 31st, 2016, this changed when Brian Kendrick landed a real, genuine, picture-perfect Burning Hammer on Kota Ibushi. Naturally, Ibushi kicked out because Ibushi.
Others to have used the move include Dan Maff:
Seth Rollins (as Tyler Black)
and AJ Styles
But while all of these wrestlers and others have tried, none of them have managed to or will replicate the success, legitimacy, and aura of Kobashi’s creation. To this very day, it remains the finisher of finishers. And the best example of an ultimate weapon in pro-wrestling history. On this day, twenty-three years ago saw the debut of the burning Hammer.