Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V1
Not that long ago, I did a whole big thing on Kawada and it was awesome. I loved it, you loved it, hot women loved it, pretty much everybody loves Kawada and we all miss him and his karaoke and great wrestling ways. Now if there was one criticism of that, it’s that there were so many great singles matches with Dangerous K that I couldn’t get into his great tag team run that was legendary in it’s own right. And I felt bad about it because it’s only right that probably the greatest tag team of all time gets recognition. So I came up with a way that rectifies that completely…by again avoiding tag matches for the HDA completely in this week’s version. (I am doing Taue to clearly set that up soon though if there’s a critic out there waiting in the wings. It’s a comin’ after I knock out a few more requests.) Thankfully there’s enough great Taue singles/trios work to easily fill up a good 7 and unlike his partner his singles story lacks the controversy and big storylines you associate with the 4 pillars, but is much like Taue’s in-ring wrestling style. Straightforward and steadfast.
Taue grew up in the small, fishing town located primarily by rivers of Chichibu. Unlike his peers of the 4 Pillars he wasn’t the natural supernova of wrestling like Misawa nor was he the larger than life personality that brought so much emotion like Kobashi, nor was he as machine-like in his drive and determination like Kawada. He was a humble man and wrestled primarily in the Sumo ranks, pushing other big guys around with his great strength and building up a solid name for himself making it to the 2nd highest division before calling it quits to become the latest Sumo export to join up with Baba’s company, and immediately got hyped as such by the company as someone who could be of a similar vein to Genichiro Tenryu to be a big star. Now in terms of actual wrestling it’s well known by many that Taue gets by far the least amount of respect of the Four Pillars of Heaven, and unfortunately because of the greatness of his peers gets a lot of undue criticism and not enough love of his own accord. However not just in general but in particular his rookie years in particular he is criticized a fair amount for not delivering quality performances and garnering the nickname “Two Left Feet Taue” by some particularly bitter fans. Now with that said I’m not arguing his rookie years were anything to write home about on the whole, but keep in mind these were his rookie years we’re talking about here and he was still finding his way. But this match proves his in-ring psychology was already starting to take form and he wasn’t a broomstick. He flashed potential at times to be the great big man and active contributor to the legendary AJPW he would become. For a guy 8 months in he handles himself very well here teaming with a future rival under his Tiger Mask persona and really fit in well taking on too extremely grouchy veterans who I’m sure got a kick out of beating up two rookies. Check out the team of Genichiro Tenryu and his Revolution faction mate Ashura Hara taking on Taue and his buddy Tiger Mask II from August 21st, 1988 and decide for yourself. I’m very much looking forward to this week and even if you’re a “Taue hater” I would urge you to give his biggest and some of his best performances after growing up a chance as I truly believe he was a worthy 4th Pillar at worst and on his own a great big man who added a lot to Puroresu history on his own merits.
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V2
During the early years of the 90’s, All Japan Pro Wrestling faced a bit of an uprising as the next generation became out to get the last line of defense of the “legends” that had carried the company for years and years, as Misawa engaged in a rivalry with arguably the greatest wrestler of all time, Jumbo Tsuruta. During this time the Four Pillars weren’t at the legendary status they would go on to become later on, but all still growing, with Misawa and Kawada just now moving on old gimmicks (Tiger Mask and Footloose) and Kobashi and Taue still essentially rookies. But of the four young men, Taue was the only one to remain loyal to the “old guard” of All Japan, choosing to respect tradition and carry the torch of his predecessor rather than overthrow and take over, with his size and alignment with Jumbo throughout, Taue was the perfect person to take on that role in a lot of ways but make no mistake, there is no “next Jumbo”, but leaving the Super Generation Army for the Tsuruta Army proved quite well for the man in red in the long run.
Over the next two years Taue would start to improve in the ring and get closer to the level we all knew and loved. Still he seemed slotted a level below the new standard as a singles wrestler, but still performed well at his own pace, engaging in a multi-match rivalry with his future tag partner that often gets forgotten, but in 91 Taue faced Kawada in 5 separate singles matches and numerous tags, often avoiding the big moves seen in later epics, instead being hate filled brawls. But in addition to fighting Kawada a lot, he gained three wins in both the 91 and 92 Champion’s Carnivals as well as receiving his first Crack at the Triple Crown which was a loss to Stan Hansen, of which surely everyone knows there is no shame in. But in 1992 there was something definitively positive to talk about too, his first World Tag title win in the company. In 1990 Taue had a brief run as All-Asia Tag Champions but this time was the top tag titles in the company and on top of that winning them with his greatest mentor and friend Jumbo providing a great moment for the young big man that must have felt nearly as good as a World Title win at the time, especially considering Jumbo’s time in the ring was limited and certainly his hope of being the great wrestler that made him so beloved was on it’s last legs sadly.
But for one successful defense it was about as great as you could possibly hope for in a reign. And this is a great match with plenty of buildup for all four men involved. This match was a rematch of a non-title tag where Misawa made Taue tap to a facelock that could come into play in this match. This was Jumbo Tsuruta’s last main event at Budokan Hall. It was Kobashi’s first. At this point Kobashi was really setting himself up as the next big thing in AJPW with his great performances, connection with the fans, and being best buddies with the ace of the company in Misawa. A win over either man would carry extra meaning for Taue as revenge against Misawa, or solidifying his spot over Kobashi would be huge for Taue, who had just debuted his Nodowa Otoshi Chokeslam in it’s truest form to accomplish this feat. The match itself is pretty gosh darn awesome as I’m sure even non-rocket scientists would expect with those guys in there. Also a great moment for Taue in the Budokan main event. Check it out. Taue & Jumbo vs. Misawa & Kobashi from June 5th, 1992 for the World Tag Team Titles. See, even before HDA Taue was a great tag wrestler!
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V3
Sadly his run as Tag Champions with his mentor Jumbo had to be cut short as Jumbo was tragically diagnosed with Hepatitis B, and couldn’t keep up the level of wrestling he had become synonymous with. Not only resulting in a quick title loss, but the end of the team as Jumbo took a year long break to recover and was mainly a pre-match player lower on the card than Taue from then on. That opened the door for Taue’s more famous team with Toshiaki Kawada, who are still just as awesome as we all remember them to be. But as a singles star, Taue was certainly the least prolific of the four pillars during this time, but that’s more about the great success of Misawa and Kobashi than a sleight on Taue, as he still never fell out of the main event mix and had multiple great title matches specifically against Misawa for the Triple Crown that established their underrated rivalry, with both of his title challengers against Misawa being excellent matches first of all, but also both drawing the famed million dollar gate that WCW never got to, and proved the level of attachment the AJPW fans had with him was just as much as the rest in addition to finally living up to his full potential as a World Class worker on his own.
His story up to this point was something that we’ve seen before many times, but one where Taue always seemed one step short of getting what he wanted and seemed destined to stay in his lane as one of the rulers of the tag division…until early 1996 where he went on a great run, leading into and during the Champions’ Carnival tournament where popped off with a 7-1-3 record (his only loss coming at the hands of that Misawa who beats everybody, with his 3 draws coming against Kawada, Kobashi, and Steve Williams) and tying for the lead to set the final up battling the man who drew with him just nights earlier in the American “Dr. Death” Steve Williams who they had quite a few tag team battles in in the past. But this was different as it equaled a Triple Crown shot as well as the chance to win the World’s oldest and most prestigious wrestling tournament for the first time as neither man had during their careers. Check out the heart shown in and after this classic moment and one of the undisputed high points of Akira Taue’s career from the 1996 Champions’ Carnival finals on April 20th. Taue vs. Williams.
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V4
After years of struggling along the line to get the acclaim of his peers and also to get his chance on top of the mountain of the world’s top wrestling company to match his elite performances and strong fan support at the time. But with his excellent performance in the Champions’ Carnival capped with his huge victory signaled a turning point in his career not just for him but for the fans. Before the fans wanted Taue to get the win, but now they knew he was ready. But there was one problem for Taue fans to get too excited over, and that was the beloved Triple Crown champion who happened to arguably be the most prolific wrestler in the company in decades: Mitsuharu Misawa.
As stated previously, Taue had had multiple attempts to dethrone Misawa from Triple Crown champion status and produced great performances and matches but had fallen short so much, there was serious questions if Taue’s chance to be at the top of the AJPW mountain would ever come. And that significantly added to today’s match. But I have to be fair here, perhaps a part of what has unfortunately led to his reputation somewhat being sullied is that his big win and Title defenses weren’t the epic and legendary affairs at the level of Misawa’s. But it also was a completely different kind of match than those, in pace and in length, with no time wasted and in some ways is an easier watch. Really enjoyed the counter wrestling and the finishing run is next-level great revolving around the Nodowa Otoshi Chokeslam attempts and although this wasn’t 45 minutes in and as a match wasn’t to the level of their previous encounters, but when Taue finally hits it, it’s awesome and great that they, particularly Misawa played so well off of both of his Carnival matches against both Taue and Kobashi and weaved those parts so greatly into this. Well worth watching and arguably the biggest moment of Taue’s entire singles career. Check out Taue getting his Triple Crown title shot after winning the Champions’ Carnival vs. his big rival Mitsuharu Misawa from May 24th, 1996. Also of note, it also says something about both men that they were both able to be at this level ONE DAY after an even more hard hitting and strong match for the tag titles that pit the HDA vs. Misawa and Akiyama. Definitely adds context to Taue’s big win. And even more to consider as a bit of a bonus to my previous piece on Taue’s partner Kawada was what an excellent addition to the Kawada/Misawa story this was and what fire it added that after years of dramatically falling short to his greatest rival his less heralded and respected and younger tag partner got him before then. All Japan was such a great promotion in the 90’s truly and this big upset was such a grade A example of that.
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V5
The dream had come true for Dynamic T, taking hold of the coveted Triple Crown for the first time in his career after a huge upset over the ace of the company. Fan support was high for the company and Taue at the time as he made his first defense of the title vs. his tag partner Toshiaki Kawada in a very cool match. What follows as we often see in these biographies were a pair of unfortunate and unexpected from this otherwise excellently booked company that signaled the end of Akira Taue’s run as a true major piece of AJPW. He would drop the titles in his second defense to Kobashi and by no means nothing against Kobashi, but it wasn’t the right time for Taue to lose the Triple Crown for Taue or the Belts as they really seemed to have something with the unexpected big guy champ, and just as one final note to those who always try to say Taue was a legend by proxy and hopefully how dumb that picture has been made to look in all this, Taue’s first Triple Crown title defense had a stronger gate and attendance than Kobashi’s first at Budokan 2 months after Taue’s defeat. Tag success continued to end the year and both of the HDA were still firmly in the main event mix until a move that could have been pretty cool in theory but ended up hurting Taue significantly as in January 1997 Jun Akiyama defeated Taue in a stunning upset in under 5 minutes. Now this was meant to set up Akiyama to challenge his partner Misawa for the Triple Crown and elevate himself to be the successor of the pillars. Unfortunately in ways I’ll get into during Akiyama’s article at some point very soon it didn’t really work out that way and the side effect of that was that Taue got schooled by someone who wasn’t a top guy. Not to say Taue didn’t hang around and get title shots on occasion especially against his rival Misawa, and still remained popular through his tag team, but look no further than All Japan’s biggest show in it’s history, a year plus after his loss to Akiyama at the Tokyo Dome. In the half decade prior you could bet Taue would have been in the main event or the semi-main tag match, instead he was in a mid-card Trios match that featured him pinning Hideki Hosaka on a team that included Tetsuhiro Kuroda and The Gladiator. ‘Nuff said. But he still remained a great tag wrestler and the times he was thrown in for a one-off title match he always got support from the fans in terms of box office as well as cheering, the last years he spent in All Japan.
Then the NOAH split happened as has been covered extensively in my writing as well as everywhere else. In terms of Taue much of his NOAH run especially early on was about the same as the end of the run in All Japan except he didn’t have any of the great tag work, instead generally booked as a non-entity entirely primarily in the pre-lims and as more of a comedy figure. Around 2003 though he got a bit more respect and was utilized as a bit of a gatekeeper for potential title challengers, gaining some credibility back to have in between his random GHC Title shot he’d get every two years or so. His greatest example of that to me is his match from June 6th, 2003. Nagata was coming off his record breaking IWGP Heavyweight Title Reign in New Japan and was looking for a bounceback in the rival company, but if he wanted to get at Kobashi who was in the middle of his own legendary title reign, he’d have to get past his old rival from All Japan. I know I touched on this a bit in Genius of Ark, Marufuji’s spotlight piece, but I loved pretty much anything NJPW vs NOAH in 2003 because the crowds were so passionate. This was all about the beloved fan favorite Taue fighting for the home team here. And in this case, forget the fans, this is a freakin’ awesome match! Taue specifically brings it here and despite getting up there in age he showed he still had an elite mind, with an excellent sense of timing throughout in such a greatly paced and structured match. A highlight of Taue’s NOAH run, a MOTYC in 2003, and a bit of a hidden gem makes this an extremely fun watch. Check out, Akira Taue taking on Yuji Nagata in an interpromotional matchup on June 6th, 2003.
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V6
Now, according to many fans of Dynamic T and even just AJPW fans who appreciated Taue as a solid 4th or 5th man, you could definitely argue NOAH didn’t use Taue to his full capacity during his run, though considering his future in the company and his rise to power and this is just speculation on my part, but that may very well have been by choice as he worked a much lighter load than his prime years on top and by yesterday’s match with Nagata in ’03 his role as veteran fan favorite and unofficial gatekeeper to Kobashi seemed to get him in a solid role, until 2005 came along and Kobashi’s legendary title run fell at the hands of a completely random, but well intentioned choice of Takeshi Rikio. If it came to best theme songs, Rikio would be legendary, but unfortunately such a contrast to Kobashi’s greatness and popularity didn’t work out and could have perhaps used a softer transition to help someone like Rikio out more. But regardless at this point they needed a bit of an upgrade in terms of familiarity and status to the large contingent of King’s Road fans of NOAH. They obviously couldn’t go back to Kobashi after a 2 and a half year run. Misawa would have felt like overkill and didn’t need the title of his own company after having 2 reigns earlier on. Kawada? Pfft, he had 1 match in the company before having a falling out with Misawa/NOAH. So, despite not having the greatest recent win-loss record Akira Taue received a title shot in November and got about the best he could technically get with his own as well as Rikio’s limitations at the time, it turned out to be a rabid crowd all behind Taue and culminated in a great feel-good moment, in the rare double dip I will give you a highly condensed 5 minute version of the match that makes it seem pretty gosh-darn awesome and especially Taue winning his one and only GHC Heavyweight Title.
Whether through his decision or NOAH’s his run was never intended to last long, and was more of a chance to give everyone a chance to regroup. Just 2 months later he lost against Akiyama in another well received match, which is why I said regroup since you would think Akiyama was already well respected on his own and as big as he was going to be, if it were up to me I would have looked at someone who could have benefited more from beating Taue. Like his opponent in today’s (full) match. After losing the title it was obvious Taue’s days as a main eventer were over unless something crazy happened with injuries or an exodus of some sort. But he still had enough popularity with the fans to be relevant and especially the first few months after dropping the title he was still credible enough that a win over him meant a lot. Enter another throwback to a previous wrestler I’ve covered and someone at this point who many thought had potential to be the future of the company, after growing little by little from his previously leaner stature: Naomichi Marufuji. Now Marufuji had popularity and a strong reputation, but mostly as a Junior in the singles ranks. He wasn’t ready to be a Heavyweight in the eyes of most natives, letalone a title contender. This is the match that elevated Marufuji to that level in addition to being a very unselfish performance that was a bit rare among the four pillars, this win for Marufuji meant so much and on top of that, this was an excellent match again largely due to Taue and his in-ring psychology at work and guiding this match. Taue seemed to think highly of Marufuji and enjoy putting him over here as in terms of truly great matches at his age, this was more or less Taue’s swan song. So please enjoy a tremendous match, with Taue’s GHC Title win days within it’s 10th anniversary and Marufuji just winning NOAH’s Global League, enjoy this huge match to both men for completely different reasons, as Akira Taue takes on Naomichi Marufuji from March 5th, 2006.
Ore ga Taue: Week of Akira Taue – V7
Taue was a virtual non-factor in terms of title shots or anything like that from that point on, and even as a competitor in any sense slowed down considerably, taking on a lighter workload and mainly helping out his friend Misawa, getting one last title shot against him in 2007. In 2009 Misawa suffered his tragic death and sadly the Ark needed a new captain, of which Taue was named as Misawa’s spiritual successor and the new president of the promotion. Things got off to a bit of a rocky start as it was destined to with such a change from the beloved Misawa’s vision, though also with a good bounceback in various years such as the title reigns of KENTA and Yuji Nagata, Taue remains a major player in the company to this day as contrary to a myriad of rumors and general belief, NOAH remains it’s own company to this day.
In 2013, Taue announced his retirement to focus more on his duties with the company though truthfully it was more of a publicity thing to get a good year end show house. It worked of course as fans came to see their dynamic hero one more time in front of the crowd, as he had only wrestled 3 times through all of 2012-2013. So if you missed it the first time definitely check out today’s showing, and a very special and emotional one at that, even though I did watch it when it happened it was still really great and a feel good ending to a Hall of Fame career. Akira Taue’s retirement ceremony from December 7th, 2013.