Section 1- Results
All Japan: Kojima finally beat Sasaki in a singles match on Saturday, marking his 5th defense of the Triple Crown. A solid reign to date, though now the challengers are running thin.
Section 2- News
All Japan: A new promotion called King’s Road will be starting next year. It is being run by former All Japan office workers and will revolve around Kawada. I’d wager it will be an irregular promotion like BIG MOUTH or Riki Pro rather than a full-tour promotion. Also joining this promotion is Miyamoto, which means only Taiyo Kea will remain on the All Japan full-time roster from those trained before the NOAH split.
New Japan: The 1/4/06 card is official.
NOAH: They’ve put together another winning tour-end card for 12/4. Taue’s first title defense will be against the renewed Morishima, who can’t defend the tag titles due to an injury to Yone. The undercard has both Shibata and Sasaki, so those two look to be brought in regularly from now on. Akiyama & Kikuchi vs Sasaki & Nakajima could be a very fun match, to say nothing of Kobashi & Izumida (a guilty pleasure of mine) against former IWGP tag champs Tenryu & Koshinaka.
Section 3- Taue wa tensai
Gangly, awkward, and seemingly a country mile separated from his peers in talent, Akira Taue is one of the most underappreciated wrestlers of the modern era. For someone who has participated in several of the greatest matches of all time, and who was able to at least keep up with wrestlers like Misawa and Kawada as a mere 3-year pro, he deserves accolades ahead of many who get praise as among the best ever to enter the squared circle.
For the longest time I would watch matches like the 6/5/95 and RWTL ’96 Final tag classics and wish that Taue would be switched out for someone I preferred like Akiyama or Kobashi (respectively). When it came time for a singles match between Taue and Misawa, Kawada or Kobashi, I felt that an injustice had been done if Taue won. When fellow InsidePulse writer Eric S dubbed Taue a ‘Japanese Test’, I wrote to him in agreement (which didn’t happen very often). Over the years my opinion has changed.
One key to this is that I now put more emphasis on psychology and match structure rather than big moves and cool spots. Taue has no swank strike combinations or brutal head-drops, he isn’t crisp in executing moves, and his trademark chokeslam is low-end compared to one done by a larger/stronger wrestler. It wasn’t until recently that I noticed how often Taue was the one with reliable selling, logically placed finishers, and more attention to detail than most men in his role can ever be expected to have. The way he worked over Misawa and Kobashi on 6/5/95 was just as smart as Kawada, for example.
Another thing that happened is that I’ve simply seen more of his work. From his great, balls-out performances against Nagata on 6/6/03 and Kobashi on 9/10/04, to his forgotten singles match with Misawa on 2/28/93, to a number of tag matches where he contributed vitally, the number of times Taue had a very good to excellent night of wrestling is really quite amazing. This became all the more clear when I delved into the Misawa vs Jumbo feud, where Taue was Jumbo’s right-hand man. Taue’s incredible leg selling on the lengthy (and again mostly forgotten) 5/22/92 tag is a sight to behold. Taue managing not to feel like a complete drag when Jumbo tagged out in their wars with Misawa and company was no small feat either. In January of ’91 he had singles matches where he took the original Tiger Driver ’91, and put on a hellacious brawl with Kawada.
One of the ‘problems’ of All Japan in the ’90s was the sheer volume of great matches produced. Having them all takes years and quite a lot of money. Another is that Taue’s top singles matches never reached the level of the Misawa/Kawada/Kobashi ones, so many of his best performances get passed over because of a bias towards seeing more of the other three in action. Last but not least is the lamentable lack of footage from the early ’90s, as All Japan had much less TV time and fewer commercial tapes than is the norm today. In the end it’s understandable that Taue is overlooked by many, but for those who do appreciate how good he’s been over the years his match with Rikio was great fun.
Section 4- Taue vs Rikio
I watched every Rikio title match. To say that I wasn’t thrilled would be an understatement. That feeling was shared by NOAH’s core audience, as I detailed last week. Knowing how broken down Taue is today, I dreaded the prospect of him being saddled with Rikio. The end result worked in a way that’s quite different from most big NOAH bouts. Though it had a lot of big moves, those were often over-wrought and overly-assisted slams of one form or another. There were no heroic strike exchanges or neck-snapping bumps.
The match revolved around two key concepts: Taue, who hardly ever won ‘the big one’ and who would probably never get another shot, and Rikio, who had inherited the Kobashi formula. By that I mean a match where the entire middle is dominated by the eventual loser, then the winner comes back, then the loser throws out finishers to be kicked out of, then the winner does his finishers to come out on top. Rikio vs Kobashi from ’04 and ’05 followed this to a tee, not to mention Rikio’s defense against Misawa. When Taue vs Rikio went into the formula it was such that Taue was going to lose. He dominated the middle, overcame Rikio’s first comeback and tossed out a couple finishers. Rikio hit the Muso (which I’m starting to like because of its uniqueness and impact) so Taue was just one big move away from losing.
Only, that big move never came. Like the way Masao Inoue avoided the inevitable so long last year against Misawa & Ogawa, Taue found an escape or a dodge or a counter and just plugged away at Rikio. One chokeslam variant followed another, all the while making it seem like Rikio’s final comeback HAD to happen now, only it didn’t. It’s a very weird kayfabe-in-a-no-kayfabe-era way to generate babyface heat and it worked like a charm. When Taue finally got the upset pin the crowd erupted for Taue just as much if not more than they did for Kobashi beating Misawa in ’03. It was the final reward for a hard worker who deserved more than he got, akin to Wrestlemania 20.
If you watch the 11/5 Budokan show, please don’t expect a five-star classic from the main event. I happen to think it was only the third best match on the card. However, with the right mindset you can enjoy the match like the NOAH fans did.
PS: Don’t for get to check me out on the wrestling edition of the PPH at puroresupower.com!