Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V1 (10/12/2015)
I guess I should go ahead and get this out of the way…I really didn’t want to do this. Not because of quality, God no, this for my money is a top 10 wrestler in the history of the business and I love many a match Kawada’s been involved in. There were a couple of reasons I was hesitant, and they were as follows. One, this is a nearly 30 year career we’re talking about here with a ton of very specific times and viewpoints. Secondly he’s had a ton of great matches, a ton of great matches. And with both of those led to a conundrum in that, how am I going to whittle this insanely awesome career to just 7 matches, and how can I avoid it being a bunch of Misawa and Kobashi matches? Well I ended up making a bit of an executive decision to go with all singles matches first of all, sadly cutting off a lot of his early career in Footloose and skipping over his prolific team with Taue. So there goes that, but I have to also give a disclaimer of sorts as truly, no matter what I say or write, what else can be said about him? He’s a legend for a reason. This is just scratching the surface of his amazing career and every person reading this to read up on him and watch more of his matches. Especially against Kobashi and Misawa because their matches are classics no matter who you are, but watching the great years of tag and trios buildup in addition to their singles encounters obviously.
So anyway, Kawada in the started off his career in the 80s, and was the only one of the four pillars of AJPW’s beloved “Four Pillars” to have a true excursio to a foreign country and for almost all good reasons. And it’s well known that his time in North America, wrestling with Samson Fuyuki in Texas as Japanese Force or under a myriad of aliases in Canada, including as the Black Mephisto in Stampede wrestling, Kawada was pretty much miserable and generally not working as much as he could. But he never gave up or quit until Giant Baba was ready to have him back despite hating it. Upon his return, he wrestled mainly in 3 distinct tag teams. First with Fuyuki as Footloose, 2nd his team with Misawa, and then after turning villainous with Akira Taue for perhaps his most famous and well known team. And that all in a lot of ways, would lead up to this match…vs. his greatest rival. Now there are so many resources, so many different people that have told the story of Kawada and Misawa that again I highly encourage you to read that I won’t go into in overly detailed fashion here (tomorrow I will a little bit more since spoiler alert, it’s another important Misawa match) since it would read like War and Peace and most reading this likely know but really all you need to know is their rivalry was extremely personal, started in the high school they both attended that saw a jealousy in Kawada grow and grow and in many ways culminate in this incredible match. Of which there really are no words for. Just saying that the expression “save the best for last” definitely isn’t applying to Kawada’s story because this became a legendary match for a reason and is the match many consider the best in his and Misawa’s series and among the greatest of all time and I’m not an outlier as it ranks among my favorites as well. Does it hold up today? YES. Without further hype or adieu, please watch and check out the definitive, Toshiaki Kawada vs. Mitsuharu Misawa from June 3rd, 1994.
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V2 (10/13/2015)
From fighting Misawa in such a historically well-regarded match Kawada had great success in both the singles and tag ranks, until in October 1994 he pulled out a great win when he defeated Dr. Death Steve Williams to win the Triple Crown title for the first time. Unfortunately his title reign wasn’t quite the triumph you’d hope for, as he only had one successful defense…a time limit draw to Kenta Kobashi, before dropping the title to a well past his prime Stan Hansen who turned out to be a transitional champion to get back to Misawa. Despite continuing his run with a legendary tag team and having tremendous fan support, Kawada unfortunately ran into a few political problems when in early 1996, Kawada publicly criticized Giant Baba and All Japan’s policy of not working with other companies, when at the time New Japan and UWF-i’s interpromotional war did record breaking business. Rocking the boat rarely works in wrestling and led to Kawada never quite getting the due many thought he deserved for a long time. But he wasn’t completely forgotten, getting a huge pin on Misawa in a very famous World Tag League Final, ending Misawa’s 4 consecutive year World Tag League Title streak. And in 1997, Kawada gained a pinfall singles victory over his rival, squashing him in just over 5 minutes on the Final day en route to winning the Champions’ Carnival. Of course it didn’t really mean as much considering Misawa had just wrestled a 30 minute draw with Kenta Kobashi before Kawada slid in to pick up the pieces, in addition Misawa yet again defeated Kawada for the Triple Crown title a month later. After a year back in the tag scene, a historic Misawa Triple Crown Title reign, and a 30 minute draw in the Champions Carnival, the stage was set for today’s match.
After their whole lives of wanting to be pro wrestlers, wrestling at the same high school together, Misawa always getting more from their company from the very beginning, being Tiger Mask while Kawada toiled away in the places he hated, to Misawa getting titles and being Jumbo Tsuruta’s successor, this rivalry went far beyond any sort of kayfabe or in-ring feud for Kawada. A true win over Misawa would mean something to Kawada and everyone knew it, including the two participants. So it’s only fitting that on All Japan’s biggest show in its history, there was no meaningful undercard matches, this show was about Misawa and Kawada for the Triple Crown. And it sold out the Tokyo Dome with nearly 60,000 fans in attendance, nearly split with diehards chanting for both of their heroes. Truthfully it wasn’t their greatest match in terms of overall quality. Nobody would say that compared to the true ***** classics of theirs. But especially for Kawada, this was their most important. And truly THE definitive moment and shining match of his career. You can tell that Kawada’s performance truly had a “NOT THIS TIME” feel to it which makes this a great watch. But please especially watch the ending if you want proof of what I said to be true. There simply hasn’t been such a gutteral and “real” reaction to a wrestling victory since, and I find it hard to believe there will be again. Amazing moment for Kawada and even as a fan this is why I love wrestling. So here it is, Kawada vs. Misawa, from the Tokyo Dome with no time limit! After Misawa had a record 8 defenses and Kawada looking for his most meaningful win of his career. From May 1st, 1998. I’ll close it with Kawada’s own words after his historic win…
“This is the best moment of my life! …I’m happy everyone could enjoy this great moment with me.”
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V3 (10/14/2015)
Man, what a thrill. After 15 years of always being looked at as “2nd best” in the promotion the gritty Kawada finally overcame his rival in an emotional moment for the ages, now he could FINALLY embark on his truly great title reign that he’s wanted after his first ended without a winning defense.
And with that his title reign kicked off against the partner of his arch-rival, you may have heard of him. Kenta Kobashi.
Kobashi and Kawada’s rivalry was probably the least personal and stated of the 3 beloved pillars to Western fans, but in between numerous battles in Champions’ Carnivals, as well as legendary matches between each others main tag teams, there was a lot of in-ring heat to be had between these two. And their most famous match before this was quite a lead-in despite happening nearly 3 years prior. During Kawada’s first title reign his only defense of the Triple Crown was a 1 hour draw vs. the same Kobashi. So in addition to obviously defending it now, Kawada was in his own way a challenger looking to overcome another hurdle in his quest to being the greatest of all time. Kobashi had his own story going in, as he had only one reign at this point which had quickly be ended with a Misawa elbow, and was looking to use his lariat to do the same to his longtime rival.
The match itself is a classic to nobody’s surprise. And in a contest that will be debated until the end of time by puroresu fans all over the place in terms of which truly was their best match together, this is my pick over the also amazing 1 hour draw. They really separated themselves from other matches of the King’s Road ilk with stuff like Kawada channeling Volk Han with a flying submission attempt, but also bringing in the great stuff of the other matches that we all love, with each others’ faces and body language telling the story of the match as it builds and builds and again in a pace slower than many others of this ilk early on, the finishing stretch of the last 5 minutes of this match is an absolutely incredible display by both men and further cemented both men’s status as among the greatest legends the sport has ever seen. Please watch this incredible match and incredible story, as one month after taking the Triple Crown from Misawa, Kawada defends against Kenta Kobashi from Budokan Hall on June 12th, 1998.
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V4 (10/15/2015)
Well, his big title victory over Misawa definitely didn’t lead to the kind of great run we all wanted for him, as again he lost the Triple Crown without a single victorious title defense. And the 2nd half of the year wasn’t exactly him making the climb up the ladder either after his loss, and he was seeming more and more destined to be an outsider to the true main event scene. Until the first big show of the new year, he pulled a huge upset by defeating Misawa in his 2nd straight Triple Crown Title match against him, suddenly vaulting himself over the hump and seemingly setting himself up for the big run he was desperate for. But it wasn’t to be, as Kawada suffered a broken arm during his match with Misawa and inadvertently invented the move possibly most associated with him, as on a Powerbomb attempt Kawada couldn’t lift Misawa all the way, dropping him on his head and hitting the Ganso Bomb. He gained the title for all of one week as despite his extreme toughness shown in the Misawa match, he couldn’t defend the title, AGAIN dropping the title without a successful defense, this time via forfeit. The rest of 1999 was horribly injury plagued, and upon his true return in 2000 he went on a losing streak to the main event of AJPW, falling vs. Vader, Kobashi, & Misawa and again settled into his tag team role.
…Until another twist breathed new life into Dangerous K, as Misawa attempted to lead everyone on the roster away from All Japan, into his own new company, Pro Wrestling NOAH in June 2000. Kawada, through loyalty to Baba, or perhaps due to too much animosity towards Misawa to follow behind him again, Kawada was the only native Heavyweight to remain in All Japan, and one of only two overall. The fourth pillar stayed behind, left in a big position as to pick up the pieces of once the greatest promotion in the world, Kawada expressed little desire to take on any sort of executive role, though during his first press conference, he announced that All Japan was preparing to move forward with what he had called for years ago. Interpromotional wrestling. And so it begun, through many starts and stops and twists and turns and comments in all sorts of directions publicly including the shocking return of Genichiro Tenryu (A story for another time, just know that Giant Baba hated him for leaving AJPW and publicly said that he would never step foot in an AJPW ring again, so his emotional widow bringing him back got quite a bit of attention) we get to today’s match.
On August 10th, 2000 Masanobu Fuchi, the other native wrestler to remain in All Japan hit the ring at a New Japan show and after a handshake with Riki Choshu, declared that All Japan and New Japan would have that interpromotional war. A month later, Kawada stepped into the fold as well, setting the stage for the first AJPW/NJPW showdown match in history, announcing his intention to decimate the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at the time, Kensuke Sasaki. The Title was not on the line for this match, as it was about more than professional awards or anything like that. This was in essence something that has been built up for nearly 30 years in Japan! Since the formation of both companies. And you can tell what a big deal the match is just by looking at it. The NJPW crowd is insane for Sasaki and against the outsider Kawada, various members of the respective rosters are in their corners just to watch this clash of the titans. If there ever was a big match feel, this was it. A truly amazing experience. As for the action itself…I think by now if you’ve seen Kawada you know what you’re getting. And what you’re getting is great. A true classic, here is Toshiaki Kawada taking on IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki from a SOLD OUT Tokyo Dome from Do Judge, October 9th, 2000.
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V5 (10/16/2015)
The battle raged on on and off for over a year with the AJPW/NJPW dream feud, but for what it’s worth Kawada had a fairly strong showing when matched up against the NJPW faithful, rarely taking pinfalls outside of once to the recently mentioned Sasaki in the finals of an IWGP Heavyweight Title tournament and once to Keiji Muto. And that’s a good way to jump ahead to the end of the feud and what happened afterwards which was an important moment in the company’s, as well as Kawada’s history. On January 11th, 2002, Muto and his buddies Satoshi Kojima and Kendo Kashin jumped from NJPW to AJPW, shocking everyone, though Muto immediately being placed in a position of power likely helped that along. Things started off well for the new era of AJPW for Kawada, as in a surprise he got his win back over Muto from the summer a month later, capturing the Triple Crown for a 4th time. Unfortunately I have to say this again, but things immediately took a turn for the worse, as for the 4th time his reign ended without a single successful defense, as he suffered an injury that would sideline him for over a year.
While he was gone things All Japan faced some significant changes under Muto’s vision, and there’s really no way to sugarcoat it. Nearly none of which were well received by longtime King’s Road fans as Muto brought more of a sports entertainment flair to the promotion influenced by WWE, bringing in many big men such as John Tenta, even Goldberg (which wasn’t cheap) and bringing in an Ape Man character to wrestle, in addition to the only two champions during Kawada’s absence being Muto himself, and fellow NJPW alumni and also Zero1 star/owner Shinya Hashimoto, it got to the point that conspiracy theories ran rampant that Muto’s true goal for his jump to AJPW was as a Sleeper agent for NJPW to destroy the hated rival AJPW. And even upon Kawada’s return in 2003 a report surfaced in famous Japanese wrestling magazine Weekly Pro Wrestling that Baba-era AJPW holdouts Kawada & Fuchi made an appeal to Mrs. Baba to rid All Japan of Muto and Kojima and any other outaiders, an ironic twist for one of the biggest supporters of interpromotional work in years past. Now obviously nobody knows for sure, it’s hard to believe with the timing of what happened next that something didn’t happen. And regardless of whether that is true or not, there’s a reason Kawada was never known as much of an executive, and what is 100% true is not only was Muto not forced out, he bought all of the Baba-family stocks and to the dismay of Royal Road fans, owned AJPW, leading to speculation that Kawada would be the one exiled.
But thankfully those fears proved unfounded, as after a few months and an injury to Triple Crown champ Hashimoto, Kawada won a 4 man tournament to capture the Titles, and the 5th time proved to be the charm, as he engaged in a spectacular title reign that all knew he was capable of, amassing 10 successful defenses, a Triple Crown record. Not only solidifying himself as the man, but elevating the titles back to glory and truly sealing his legacy as a truly great champion. And he was successful from an aesthetic standpoint as well, putting on entertaining matches, which of course leads me to yet another dream match here, as Kawada finally got a shot to the defend the title against the man that never lost it in truly a highlight of his title defenses as well as a highlight of Japan in ’04. This was one of Hashimoto’s last great performances (RIP) and Kawada was beginning to slightly wear down, but was putting his heart into this title reign and was going to squeeze every last drop he could out of himself to make this great, although I think most would say on this day Hashimoto was the one who put this over the top. So here it is, people. Toshiaki Kawada defending the title in a blowoff of a very successful Zero1 feud and a great showing as it was a dream match. Kawada takes on Shinya Hashimoto from February 22nd, 2004.
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V6 (10/17/2015)
So I think it’s safe to say, after a career involving some of the greatest matches of all time. Some of the biggest dream matches possible in Japanese wrestling, selling out the Tokyo Dome as a main eventer, playing a huge role in bringing an entire company from the brink of death, Kawada became revered as a true legend in the pro wrestling industry. But there’s one thing he’d yet to accomplish in his storied career…
After his excellent reign with the Triple Crown mentioned before, things were going well for Kawada. He had brought back prestige to the title and the company, and by the time he dropped the title to Satoshi Kojima in early 2005, Kojima got a huge rub and became a main eventer, solidifying himself as the company’s next ace. With that said, if someone would have thought Kawada would finally leave All Japan, I’m sure most thought it would be to go to NOAH to get one last huge house against one of his old buddies at the Tokyo Dome. And indeed, he did work one show for NOAH for that payday at the Dome vs. Misawa (which will be delved into more during Misawa’s week), and in one show he had another falling out with Misawa via his promotion after he cut an unscheduled promo that made the show go long during NOAH’s special primetime slot on TV. But out of all the companies in Japan that the generally ultra serious Kawada would go to, at face value the over the top sports opera known as HUSTLE would not be a likely choice. It’s hard to understand why Kawada chose to make his home base in HUSTLE from 2005 on, I wish I could say I had the answers. But reasonable theories include him looking to lessen his workload in his older age after years of the dangerous King’s Road style, possibly just looking to reinvent himself as completely the opposite of who had been known for for many years and mostly in the same company, and the obvious answer: Dream Stage Entertainment who owned both HUSTLE and Pride Fighting, probably offered him a lot of money to join up, in addition to letting him work freelance dates when he wanted to wrestle normal people.
I guess I should give a brief description of HUSTLE for those who don’t know. It was a crazy place to say the least. If you’re aware of wacky promotions like DDT and CHIKARA, HUSTLE made those groups look like World of Sport by comparison. There were all sorts of things featured prominently, from Ninjas, to Aja Kong in exuberant amounts of makeup, to a swimsuit model turned terrorist turned dominatrix turned both who gave birth to Akebono after being impregnated by Great Muta’s mist, gay guys, heck the top babyface was an army-esque general who shot lasers and killed people. And as sure as some of you are shaking your heads and saying: “Zero this was a great series, why are you wasting our time with this stupid HUSTLE crap?” Well to those people I say A. Shut up. and B. I’m normally not a fan of comedic wrestling at all and have never liked either of those other two companies’ attempts at comedy much. But I love HUSTLE! I miss the craziness of it all, and there are very good odds I’ll never be able to get my be able to feature my all time wrestling crush Yinling the Erotic Terrorist and a hero of many people like Razor Ramon HG on one of these again so I have to take it.
We’ll both of those people are featured in this match, along with Kawada! Kawada quickly turned his back on his student Taichi Ishikari who had followed him from All Japan as well as friend Shinjiro Otani and joined the main heel group of HUSTLE, the Monster Army as Monster K. He participated in some storylines during his near 4 year stay in the company as both heel and face as HUSTLE K, perhaps his most famous moment in HUSTLE was when he sung karaoke live at a show. But mostly he wrestled under a gimmick as the new generation Bruce Lee, which for a “WWE” style gimmick…you could do a lot worse. But here in 2005 he was merely Generalissimo Takada’s #2 in command, coming out to Timothy Thatcher’s theme song. It’s the biggest show of the year for HUSTLE and the story as evidenced in the pre-match video which set up the story of this which was more or less all about HG and Takada wanting to take out the HUSTLE Army guys. And it’s funny because HG was a TV personality before he was a wrestler (though he technically wrestled in college clubs with the likes of Tanahashi and was a guy who really loved it) and obviously his outrageous gay gimmick is what he’ll be known for. But we’ve seen guys like Danshoku Dino do this same deal and not be a very good wrestler. But HG? Not too bad! Plus he makes an excellent target for Kawada to beat the crap out of which was the highlight to this match outside of some cool stuff with Ogawa 2 years after their famous and highly memorable Zero-One MAX match that I wish was online. But anyway, enough talk. It’s Kawada, it’s HUSTLE, you can’t talk about his career and leave it out, as he teams with the amazing Yinling-sama and Yoji Anjo to take on Shinjiro Otani, Naoya Ogawa, and Razor Ramon HG at HUSTLEMANIA ’05 from November 3rd, 2005. (And plus TWO different clips of Kawada singing!)
Week of Toshiaki Kawada – V7 (10/18/2015)
So really the HUSTLE years saw Kawada very much tone it down in terms of his wrestling, though to his credit Kawada never came across as someone who was a shell of himself or adopted an “old man” role that many do. To the very end in NOAH’s first ever Global League, he was still recognizable as the Kawada we all know and love. A sports comparison I would make would be NBA Big man Tim Duncan. He’s not the perennial MVP candidate he was but was still “that dude”.
What wasn’t recognizable however was his booking, especially during the middle years. To me a horrible time in particular for me was a week in 2007, where in the same week Kawada was booked to infamously take a stinkface from Razor Ramon RG, and then back in All Japan the same night, he lost to Vampiro in under 5 minutes in a time where I’m pretty sure if there were any traditional King’s Road fans left they probably burned whatever tapes they had at that point. But thankfully he had a bit of a resurgence the following year as he competed in NJPW’s G1 Climax, where he had a solid showing, finishing tied for 2nd in his blocks and having strong matches vs. the likes of Yuji Nagata, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Hirooki Goto that may or may not be on NJP World. And in 2009, he had a very surprising turn of events when he went back to the company he had worked closely with 5 years earlier, Zero-One and won their World Heavyweight Title in a bit of an upset over Masato Tanaka. Now it wasn’t an overly long reign and by his own admission the death of his old rival Misawa hurt Kawada’s passion for the business and it showed, but he did do what he could during this title run for Zero-One and in many ways was the last time we’d see him as his old self.
So that brings us to today’s match during said reign in Zero-One. And it’s extremely interesting in a lot of ways too. First of all, this match was a very distinctive Royal Road style match with a lot of flavor to it that really you don’t see in terms of the strike exchanges and such to contrast in the NJPW style predominant today that showed that Kawada still belonged up there as a World Champion still. And two is his opponent honestly. As if there was a successor to the 90’s All Japan ways I’m not sure you could get three guys in without the name of Daisuke Sekimoto popping up. He works Kawada’s style and to nobody’s surprise is very good at it, though 5 years ago he wasn’t quite to the level of greatness as he’s known for these days. It’s a great battle between generations and really let’s be honest…it’s KAWADA VS SEKIMOTO. That’s really all I need to say. After this Kawada had a run in the first ever Global League that mostly didn’t air online but was at least respectable. But that was it. To this day he never had any kind of retirement match and tour or anything like that, and during a sitdown talk battle with Genichiro Tenryu stated he wanted to wrestle again, but his body was hurting and he liked running his noodles restaurant. So I as a huge fan would like to see him wrestle again obviously, but can certainly not blame him after the level action he provided the world. Truly, it was good times. But anyway, the match. Enjoy a look at Kawada in his last few months and realize he was still pretty freakin’ cool! As he defends the Zero-One World Title vs. Daisuke Sekimoto from their big show, January 1st, 2010.
Final Thoughts: Breaking news: Kawada was good. Actually one of the better Japanese wrestlers of all time quite frankly, in the ring and in influence and stardom as well. Sadly he never quite reached the heights of his top two rivals in Kobashi and Misawa and politically got himself into trouble multiple times as a result of his candid, honest, and outspoken nature. But I am so thankful for that big title reign he had so he’ll never be able to be labeled as any kind of choker or anything like that. And of the Four Pillars of Heaven he’s in by far the best shape. Despite the pain and the toll wrestling has taken on him he lives a well adjusted and normal life after wrestling. Considering his two careers in the King’s Road and HUSTLE, there definitely won’t be anyone like Dangerous K again in puroresu. Seek even more of him out because trust me, his catalog of great matches will keep you busy for a long time.