Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Greatest Matches Of All-Time: Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi (January 20,1997)

According to the IWC hivemind, it’s the single greatest rasslin match of all-time — but what makes it stand out from the million-billion other great Misawa/Kobashi matches out there?

By: Jimbo X

As of July 20, 2019, anybody want to take a guess as to what the single highest-rated match on — which, for better or for worse, is pretty much the closest thing the rasslin' world has to an iMDB — is?

A couple of obvious mathes ought to immediately come to mind. The concensus pick for best match of THE EVER — the seminal Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaka Kawada bout from June 03, 1994 — just barely made the top ten. That "six-star" Tokyo Dome bout between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada from 2017? Didn't even make the top five. That glorious Misawa/Kobashi bout from NOAH in 2003? Close, but it only made it to the No. 3 spot. And in a move sure to sour the pusses of many a boomer, the Stone Cold/Bret Hart bout from WrestleMania 13 is listed No. 22, while the highest-rated Steamboat/Flair match comes in at No. 36.

So with all of that in mind, what could possibly be the IWC's pluralist pick for best match ever?

Well, as it turns out, the No. 1 rated match on the site is both unsurprising and surprising at the same time. The fact that it's a match involving Misawa and Kobashi shouldn't be surprising at all, but the fact that it's their Triple Crown bout from January 20, 1997 does come off as just a little ... well, unexpected, perhaps?

That's not to say the match has a reputation for not being good by any stretch. It's just that in the grand pantheon of outstanding Kobashi/Misawa matches — and I assure you, there are a FUCK TON of 'em — that particular match isn't routinely regarded as one of their best outings. Indeed, there's a lot of people who argue that it's not even the best Misawa/Kobashi match from 1997, as apparent by Davey Meltz himself giving their October rematch from the same year an even higher snowflake rating. 

Still, as evident by the bout’s unparalleled user rating on Cagematch, I also reckon it’s safe to say the bout has developed a newfound respect and admiration from the IWC of the AEW and Okada age. Which, naturally, begs the question — just what is it about this particular match that makes it stand out from the myriad outstanding Kobashi/Misawa outings out there, and a good 22 years after the fact, is there anything profound about this match in particular that we’re just now beginning to recognize and realize?

Well, I think you know what that means, folks — it’s time for an update to our ongoing GREATEST MATCHES OF ALL TIME collection; next stop? Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, circa January 20, 1997 ...

Remember: if your opponent can still walk upright after a match, you've wandered astray from the righteous path of King's Road.

Kobashi is in the back, rocking his bad-ass Creamsicle orange windbreaker, while Misawa is also in the back, rocking his equally awesome green and silver windbreaker. Misawa, the challenger comes out first, with "Spartan X" blaring out of the speakers, as always. I know we say this a lot, but he LITERALLY gets a deafening reaction, to the point the audio on the camera setup kinda blows out for a second or two. The cameraman pans on the back of Kobashi's head as he makes his way through the crowd, while a whole bunch of Japaheeno fan boys all try to mob him. You have go to dig the FUCK out of Kobashi's pompador 'do, ya'll. The ref shows off the iconic Triple Crown trifecta of belts and the fans are fucking HYPED for this match. I know the Japs are famous for being reserved, but here they're acting like a fucking Mid-South crowd circa 1984. The ref gives 'em one final patdown and the bell rings. The heat, it 'tis on once again.

We get your classic collar and elbow tie-up to begin, with Misawa allowing Kobashi the clean break. Misawa lands a couple of elbows and Kobashi breaks out the chops. Misawa gets dropped for a second, but he's right back up with a dropkick. He then baseball slides Kobashi out of the ring and fucking TOPES his ass for good measure. Kobashi takes his sweet time getting back in the ring, only for Misawa to elbow him and backbody drop him. Misawa goes for the Tiger Driver, but he just can't stick it. Kobashi with a chop, a kick and jumping DDT. Misawa rolls to the outside and Kobashi just kinda' bides his time waiting for his foe to re-enter the ring. Misawa re-enters the ring and Kobashi chops him good, as Kobashi is oft prone to. Then he karate chops the FUCK out of Misawa's neck and hits him with a knee to the gut afte he sneaks his way out of a stalling brainbuster. Kobashi with more knees to the gut and a side Russian leg sweep, but it's only good enough for a two-count. Kobashi drops a few more knees and gets a couple of extra chops in, only for Misawa to elbow him in riposte. To which Kobashi replies, "no, fuck you, I'm going to shove my patella into your spleen ONE MORE TIME." Kobashi pink bellies Misawa in the corner with hard jabs and then he drops him with a front facelock suplex. And there's the bow and arrow submission attempt, motherfuckers. Kobashi breaks the hold so he can hit Misawa with a diving spear. He continues to punch and knee Misawa's intestines on the ropes, and then he locks in an abdominal stretch. Misawa gets to the ropes, so Kobashi's gotta' break the hold. Kobashi with more chops in the corner and a couple of headbutts to the bellybutton for good measure. Then he fucking YAKUZA kicks Misawa, only for Misawa to no sell it and fucking rock him with a hard elbow shot instead.

Misawa drops Kobashi with a couple of more spinning elbows and does that old "I'm going to dig my knee into your back while trying to pull your arms out of their sockets at the same time" chestnut. Kobashi, however, reverses the hold, and it's all manly and dramatic as fuck. Misawa hits Kobashi with a rolling mule kick to escape, then he pops Kobashi in the face with an elbow on another diving lariat attempt. Misawa does a corkscrew dropkick of the top (which ends up looking more like a twisting double stomp 'cause of the way Misawa lands) and then it's time for more clubbing blows to the spine and a fallaway Tiger suplex slam, but NOT the actual Tiger Suplex itself. Kobashi collapses after another barrage of elbows and Misawa goes up top. He connects on a flying elbow drop and a frog splash, but Kobashi kicks out a two. The Japanheeno fans are going APESHIT over this and it is glorious. Misawa locks in a Camel Clutch, and I love how both of these guys have 1981-style haircuts even though it's 1997. Misawa with a snapmare and a standing head wrench — basically, the Skull End that EVIL in New Japan uses today, except NOT shitting looking. Now Misawa has the facelock fully locked in and it looks like he's really trying to cave Misawa's face in and I goddamn love it. Misawa hits a couple of jumping knees, but Kobashi gets his second wind and starts chopping like crazy. Then they take turns kicking each other in the fucking face, and then it's a goddamn FIRESTORM of elbows and knees, culminating with Misawa doing that flipping thing over the ropes but crashing and burning on the guardrail after a failed plancha.

I can only IMAGINE how much money All-Japan's on-call chiropractor was making back in the day ...

Misawa gingerly climbs back on the ring apron, only for Kobashi to hit him with a flying lariat. Kenta rolls to the outside and rolls Misawa's carcass back into the ring. He goes for a quick pin attempt, but Misawa kicks out. Kobashi goes for a jumping knee in the corner but Misawa blocks it — but he don't block the follow-up dropkick. You can tell there's like 20 Yakuza bosses in the front row, just sitting there in suits not saying anything or even blinking. Then Kobashi ramrods Misawa into the guardrail and starts slinging his arm over the barrier like he was trying to bust the white meat out of it. Kobashi uses the top rope to assist him in a couple of arm-breakers and Misawa rolls to the arena floor once more. Kobashi retrieves him and rolls him back into the ring because sportsmanship, that's why. Kobashi then lands a one-armed DDT and goes for a goddamn straight armbar, of all things, but Misawa safely gets back to the ropes. Of course, that don't stop Kobashi from stomping the shit out of him AFTER the rope break, naturally. Kobashi lands another one-armed DDT and Misawa kicks out of that, too, while the Japanese faithful stomp the floor like they were at a Baptist revival or something. Kobashi spams the arm-breaker some more and Misawa tries to get some offensive elbow shots in but it's no use. Then KOBASHI KILLS MISAWA FUCKING DEAD WITH A SINGLE WING GERMAN SUPLEX, planting Misawa DIRECTLY on his neck at full speed. Kobashi, naturally, follows that up with a fucking reverse kimura and this stuff is goddamn DRAMATIC as fuck. Misawa, of course, makes it to the ropes before Kenta can snap his arm in half, only for Kobashi to IMMEDIATELY lock in a reverse Fujiwara armbar instead. OK, this is just fucking fantastic in every possible way. Misawa escapes and Kobashi goes right back to arm-breaking a motherfucker like there's no tomorrow. Then he fucking GERMAN SUPLEXES Misawa's brains out of his ears again, only for Misawa to FIGHTING SPIRIT his way through, only to get hip-tossed and lockd in a fucking STRAIGHT ARMBAR for his efforts. This match is absolutely fucking fantastic in every way. Misawa quickly manages to get a boot on the ropes, so Kobashi has to break the hold. Kenta starts rattling off this badass spinning elbow drops and then he drops Misawa DIRECTLY ON HIS FUCKING NECK AGAIN with a one-legged German suplex. Kobashi goes for a lariat, but Misawa elbows Kobashi's elbow, and Kobashi rolls around on the mat grimacing in pain like he's Peter on Family Guy after skinning his knee. Misawa with a baseball slide and a rolling plancha to the outside. Misawa rolls Kenta back into the ring, but Kobashi, of course, kicks out of the pin attempt. Misawa his Kobashi with a dope looking spinning lariat off the ropes and Misawa FINALLY manages to give Kenta a taste of his own medicine with a HELLACIOUS German suplex. Miswa sets up the Tiger Driver and he sticks it, only for Kenta to roll out at 2.9999. Misawa drops Kobashi cold with a hard elbow shot and he starts climbing the top rope. He goes for a dropkick, only for Kenta to hit him with a lariat in mid-air. But Misawa, somehow and someway, KICKS OUT.

Kobashi looks for what appears to be a powerbomb, and you better believe he gets ALL of that sumbitch. But Misawa, clearly summoning some dark, unholy force that would cost him his life in 12 years time, KICKS OUT. Kobashi hits Misawa with a sick standing leg drop and then hits another Atomic Leg Drop that makes everything Hulk Hogan's ever done in his life look like utter fucking shit. Kobashi goes for a brainbuster, but turns it into a sitout, one-handed powerbomb at the last second. Yep, just a two-count. Kobashi just SCREAMS in agony, looking like he's about to cry, having no idea WHAT it's going to take to put this asshole away. Kobashi hits the lariat, but it may have been a pyrrhic one, since it seems to have fucked up his own arm worse than it injured Misawa. Kobashi rolls Misawa to the edge of the apron and it looks like he's going for a powerbomb — only for Misawa to counter it with a hurincanrana at the LAST possible second. Fuck, that is an ALL-TIME SPOT right there, folks. Misawa gets back into the ring first, then Kobashi flops back in there. Misawa unleashes a ton of elbows and hits Kobashi with a German, but he had the common decency to not try to shove Kobashi's vertebrae out his asshole on the landing. Misawa lands a twirling elbow shot and both men struggle to get back to their feet. Misawa goes for another spinning elbow, only for Kobashi to LARIAT-O that asshole right out of his green and silver shoes. Misawa gets a few more elbow shots in, only for Kobashi to launch Misawa into orbit again with yet another stem-cell depleting release German. A wobbly Kobashi goes for another lariat, only for Misawa to LITERALLY headbutt him in the dick and clobber him with a discus elbow to the back of the head. Misawa pulls Kobashi off the ropes, locks his arms up and Tiger Suplexes that motherfucker REAL GOOD. But Kobashi, of course, KICKS OUT. Kobashi goes for anothe spinning karate chop, only for Misawa to Tiger Drive Kobashi NECK first into the mat — with Kobashi getting a shoulder up at 2.99999999999999999999999999999. Seriously, that HAS to be the narrowest kick-out I've ever seen in my 30-plus years of watching rasslin', ya'll. Misawa gets to his feet, Kobashi lariats him from his KNEES, and Misawa counters it into one more release German suplex. Misawa waits for Kobashi to rise to his feet, and then he fucking SPRINTS across the ring to deliver the coup de grace, a fucking VICIOUS-looking Muay Thai elbow right into Kobashi's goddamn face. And that, my friends, is what FINALLY gets Misawa the three-count, and the Triple Crown Championship.

In the post-match antics, Misawa walks over to Kobashi's unconscious ass and slaps his hands on his. Then all his handlers in their crimson red All Japan jackets carry him to the back, not even bothering taking that huge ass globe-shaped trophy to the back with them. Meanwhile, Kobashi's handlers pad him down with ice packs, as the fans chant "KO-BASH-EE, KO-BASH-EE," no doubt champing at the bit at the inevitable rematch for the Triple Crown a couple of months down the line. And, as they say in France ... la fin.

Take note, Jericho: THAT is how you make an elbow shot look like a fuckin' finisher.

Well, needless to say, that whole soiree was just goddamn outstanding in every sense of the term. If it wasn’t a legit [*****] affair, it was certainly close, and I have a hard time believing anybody who isn’t a stick in the mud not loving the absolute shit out of everything this match had to offer.

Oddly enough, Davey M. didn’t pull the five-snowflake lever on this one, which means — canonically — he considers a fuckin’ Davey Richards/Michael Elgin from 2012 better than this match. Hell, for that matter, he CANONICALLY considers that six-man ladder clusterfuck from NXT TakeOver: New Orleans last year to be superior to this match, which is reason 4,356,789 to never, ever give a fuck what he has to say about anything anymore.

But yeah, on the whole, there is VERY little to complain about here. Pretty much the only thing I can imagine anybody poo-pooing this match for is maybe Kobashi’s spamming of the arm wrenches, but since that’s a pivotal set-up to all of his subsequent armbar variation attempts, I’m not even 100 percent sold on that criticism.

There’s just so many great things about this match. Kenta going fake-ass BATTLARTS and breaking out a million billion kimuras and reverse Fujiwara armbars. Miswa breaking out fucking corkscrew legdrops out of nowhere. That fucking BOSS hurincanran counter on Kobashi’s ill-advised powerbomb to the outside. And, of course, that goddamn glorious elbow to the face KO finish — I mean, this match just plain fucking delivered on all accounts, and you’d have to be a pure D pansy to argue to the contrary.

I guess the ironic tragedy of the match is that, since these two have had SO many great matches against each other, it’s kinda’ hard to figure out where it ranks in the pantheon of great Misawa/Kobashi matches. Personally, as good as this one is I think it may not even be in the top five singles matches these two had against one another, which ought to tell you just how goddamn spectacular the rivalry was. I can certainly see why others would prefer their October 1997 match more, and I can definitely see why you might dig their Halloween 1998, 6/11/99, or lone full-length NOAH shindig from 2003 more, too. But just on its own standalone merits, there’s no denying this is a fucking fabulous match no matter how you approach it, and if for some stupid-ass reason you haven’t watched it by now, you ought to.

So, is the Cagematch hoi polloi right in their heralding of this as the absolute best match of all-time? Eh, I think that’s a stretch, but this much is incontestable: even if it AIN’T the best match of all-time, it’s certainly one of the best matches of all-time, and for that, it deserves both our appreciation and admiration, regardless.


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