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201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die #15: Kenta Kobashi & Tsuyoshi Kikuchi vs. Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas
[A long time ago in a War Rig far, far away, a young War Boy named 'Plan wrote an excellent column series called 101 WWE Matches to See Before You Die. It was perfect, so perfect that it's now a book you can buy on Amazon! There was just one problem; it only focused on WWE matches! Thus, as a fellow War Boy, I've taken it upon myself to take a look at the other stuff, compiling a list of 201 Non WWE Matches to See Before You Die. This right here is entry #15. Enjoy! And buy 'Plan's book!]
There is nothing quite like home field advantage in professional wrestling. I know; duh. Isn’t that the case with every sport known to man? To an extent yes, but it’s heightened in wrestling. Look no further than Bret Hart in Canada during the 90’s or CM Punk in Chicago just a few years ago. Certainly it can’t be underestimated that both Punk and Hart were huge stars everywhere, never mind the fact that Chicago and basically all of Canada is a wrestling hotbed. But to me the point still stands. Bring a wrestler to his/hers home city/state/country/province, put him/her in front of the hometown fans in a big time match and you’re going to get something like you haven’t seen before. Its science as Ron Burgundy would say. And sometimes, on the greatest of occasions, it’s also magic.
In the 1990’s, one promotion that was no stranger to magic was All Japan Pro Wrestling. Long before New Japan had passed them over as the apple of every hardcore fan’s eye, All Japan was the pillar of wrestling greatness under the command of wrestling legend turned legendary promoter Giant Baba. Regardless of what time of the year it was, Baba’s All Japan always seemed to be on another level, churning out masterpieces like Chris Nolan churns out blockbusters and making household names out of dudes like Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, Americans Stan Hansen and “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa. Legit, All Japan and Giant Baba could take any wrestler they wanted and make them a star faster than Speed Racer making a turn at the Grand Prix. No match hammered home that point more than the one that took place on May 25th, 1992. With All Japan still in the early stages of their Super Power Series tour, Baba and the gang cooked up a tag match for the promotions secondary tag belts, the All Asia Tag Team Championships. In one corner were the champions, Doug Furnas and Dan Kroffat, an American/Canadian duo who to that point had been nearly a year into their fourth reign as All Asia Tag Champs. The story however was with the challengers. First was then 25 year old Kenta Kobashi, a four year pro who had quickly gained fame teaming with Misawa and Kawada in several legendary six man tags and for a 63 match losing streak to cap off his career that forever carried sympathy for him with the audience. He had yet to have reached the lofty heights of his more famous friends, but there was no question that Kobashi was on his way to stardom, if not already there, in the spring of 1992.
His partner however was a different story. 27 year old Tsuyoshi Kikuchi may have had two years on Kobashi, but he had largely played the “little brother” role of the team ever since he and Kobashi started teaming up as young lions in 1989. It was a nice contrast; the athletic marvel that was Kobashi would play the heavyweight defender of the group, while the 5’10, 190 lb Kikuchi would be the high flying junior who’d get beat up and saved by Kobashi as the match wound down. How very British Bulldogs of them, a fitting comparison as Kikuchi’s idol was Dynamite Kid. The problem as that while Kobashi continued to rise to bigger and bigger heights Kikuchi more or less remained a bit player in the Junior’s Division, receiving only a few Junior Heavyweight Title shots and more often than not finding himself stuck behind the Joe Malenko’s and Masanobu Fuchi’s of the world. Even his success with Kobashi was limited; the duo had previously challenged for the All Asia Tag Titles on at least two occasions and came up short both, including once against Furnas and Kroffat. Those losses were nothing to Kobashi considering the places he was going. For Kikuchi though, it more or less seemed to confirm that he was stuck in no man’s land indefinitely, one of those guys you remember years from now and wonder what in the name of Grodd happened to him. It turns out this match became his salvation; not only was it another chance for Kikuchi and Kobashi to win gold, but the show also saw the Super Power Series stop in Sendai, Miyagi. Not only is Miyagi the largest prefecture of Japan’s Tōhoku region, it’s also the place where Kikuchi was born in raised. Remember what I said about wrestlers having big time matches in their hometown? How was that for some foreshadowing?
Oddly enough things don’t see too different as Kobashi and Kikuchi make their way to the ring. The 5,000 plus in the Miyagi Sports Center are happy to see both, but it’s not unlike pops you’ve heard before; in fact the reaction for Furnas and Kroffat as they come to the ring is just as positive. All of that changes as soon as the bell rings. Whether he’s just that hyped up or really just wants to prove a point, Kikuchi goes full speed ahead after poor Kroffat, nailing him with elbow strike after elbow strike before driving Kroffat into the corner for what I can only describe as the first ever mud hole elbow attack in human history. It’s pretty chill; even more amazing though is that the Miyagi Sports Center crowd comes completely unglued, as if they just witnessed Shunsuke Nakamura’s goal against Rangers F.C. for the first time. And it becomes apparent, to Kroffat and Furnas especially, that they may just be in a bit of trouble for the first time.
This leads to a mistake by Kroffat. What seems to be a wise move in tying up with Kikuchi instead leads to Kroffat pushing Kikuchi into his own corner. Who’s there to tag Kikuchi; none other than the bigger and more dangerous Kobashi. Poor Kroffat attempts to exchange chops with the legend to be, but instead finds himself going chest first into the opposing turnbuckle, followed by a boot to the face and a devastating Kobashi shoulder block. Eventually Kroffat is able to tie up Kobashi and slow him down long enough to get in Furnas. Momentum has turned now right? NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND! Instead Furnas walks into a Kobashi dropkick, allowing Kobashi to bring in Kikuchi to yet another thunderous pop. What follows next is something else. Kikuchi takes Furnas to the ropes, Irish Whips him and then proceeds to hit a cross between a running thrust kick and a dropkick. It’s a move I’ve seen probably a million times, a move that arena had probably seen a million times. And they react to Kikuchi hitting this move as if he hand singlehandedly averted the apocalypse.
Amazingly unshaken by this, Kroffat emerges to try and take back control, only to be sent into the ropes himself so Kikuchi can nearly cave in the Miyagi Sports Center roof again. Finally Kroffat and Furnas realize that maybe it’s best to take a breather before going at Kikuchi again. Novel concept I know! Things go better this time when Furnas returns, with the American putting Kikuchi in a headlock and using his strength to slow and ground the youngster for the next several minutes, even withstanding a brief onslaught of elbows from Kikuchi. The same cannot be said for poor Kroffat; though he does hit a nice Booker T esq sidekick on Kikuchi, he also ends up on the receiving end of a beautiful Kikuchi snap Suplex (which the announcers refer to as a brainbuster oddly enough) and cannot keep control long enough after to prevent Kikuchi from tagging in Kobashi. Suffice to say, the only positives that happen for Kroffat over the next few minutes is a nice spin kick, some Bryan Danielson esq thrust kicks to Kobashi’s chest and the fact that Kobashi didn’t put him away by dominating every other moment of that stretch. A huge Lariat(o) is Kroffat’s cue to bounce and hilariously Furnas’ cue to get hit with one himself. It’s not going too well for the boys abroad!
Luckily for them the match begins to turn the moment Kobashi tags in Kikuchi. The hometown hero keeps the momentum going for a moment, but eventually runs right into a clothesline from Furnas. And just like that the match takes a dramatic turn. Fed up with Kikuchi and Kobashi’s dominance of them, Furnas Gorilla Press slams Kikuchi from the ring to the floor while Kroffat keeps Kobashi busy on the ring apron. Evidently not satisfied with that first Gorilla Press, Furnas decides to do it again; only this time he decides to send Kikuchi over the guard rail and into a table in the first row (making things worse for Kikuchi, this is one of those sturdy tables that doesn’t break. Poor bastard). Now firmly in control for the first time all match, Furnas and Kroffat employ the strategy of utterly wrecking Kikuchi over the next…well for the Miyagi Sports Center it seems like an eternity, but I’ll estimate it was between five and ten minutes. Save for a few pinfall and submission breakups, Kobashi is forced to watch as Kroffat and Furnas unleash an assault of power moves, amazing snap brainbusters, a double team or two (including a Doomsday Device) and enough Boston Crab/Lion Tamer/stretch submissions that it’s a miracle Kikuchi isn’t one of those Coney Island pretzels afterwards. It’s pretty brutal; the problem for Kroffat and Furnas is that regardless of what they do Kikuchi, nor his hometown fans, will go away. With each move and each stretch, the Miyagi Sports Center appears to just get louder. They wouldn’t allow Kikuchi to quit, and thus he just keeps going, refusing to give up and give in. Sure it helps that Kobashi did break up a few submissions and such, but even before that you could just tell there was no way Kikuchi was giving up that night. Kroffat and Furnas would’ve had to snap him like a twig in order to beat them.
With that sort of mindset, it’s no wonder that eventually Kroffat and Furnas’ eventually see momentum slip away. An attempted Lariat as Kikuchi’s coming off the ropes proves costly for Furnas; he misses wildly, allowing Kikuchi several elbow shots and another roof collapsing dropkick (they loved them some Kikuchi dropkicks in this match). That’s all the opening Kikuchi needs to bring in Kobashi to a thunderous ovation. No sooner is the “Orange Crush” in is the onslaught on. We’re talking thrust kicks, scoop slams, Saito Suplexes; Kobashi even throws a double Lariat(o) spot in because he’s that sweet a dude. It looks entirely hopeless for the champs, and only when Kobashi gets distracted in cornering Furnas is Kroffat able to regain control. The moment is brief however, as a missed Kroffat splash allows Kobashi enough room to tag in Kikuchi AND hit Kroffat with an Enzugiri for good measure. Kikuchi takes advantage and goes full Dynamite Kid with a headbutt. One! Two! Oh not quite as Kroffat just gets out. Kikuchi moves quickly to hit a Fisherman Suplex, but again Kroffat kicks out. Some desperation sets in for Kikuchi here, and he allows himself to be reversed attempting an Irish Whip into the corner, allowing Kroffat to superkick the shit out of him. Kroffat then wisely goes after Kobashi, throwing him to the floor and leaving poor Kikuchi all by himself with the evil foreigners.
Kikuchi continues to show fight though; he manages to hold off Kroffat as the Canadian goes for a Double Underhook…something (might’ve been a Suplex, might’ve been a Tiger Bomb, might’ve been a Pedigree. It didn’t happen, and thus we’ll never know!), forcing Furnas to come in and put the boots to the hometown hero. It’s at this point Furnas and Kroffat just say fuck it, and Kroffat goes up top while Furnas puts Kikuchi on his shoulders, culminating in a devastating Doomsday Device. Good night folks and please drive home…NOPE! Kikuchi gets out at two and I tell you; if you thought the previous Kikuchi ovations were something they’ve got nothing on this one. Despite carrying Kikuchi throughout this whole match, it appears even the crowd had even given up hope when Kroffat and Furnas hit that devastating Doomsday Device. And then Kikuchi got his shoulders up and suddenly the belief came roaring back. There was just no way Kikuchi could go down at this point. None.
Kroffat and Furnas are fighters themselves though, so they decide to put this theory to the test again. Kroffat locks in a deep sleeper/choke onto Kikuchi (sort of like a Tazmission), sending a flailing Kikuchi into a near sleep. To make matters worse, Furnas has honed in on Kobashi (finally back up) and ties him up in the corner. This is BRILLIANT; not only is it great teamwork and great instincts by Furnas, but it also forces Kobashi to helplessly watch as Kikuchi is forced to endure the sleeper alone, with the likelihood being that he’ll pass out and Kobashi and Kikuchi will come up short again. There’s just one issue; this is Kenta Fucking Kobashi Furnas is holding back, which means you cannot stop him; you can only hope to contain him for so long. And poor Furnas cannot contain the Orange Crush, who breaks free and manages to break up the submission, saving the match yet again. A frustrated Furnas sends Kobashi out to the floor, which turns out to be an even bigger mistake as Kobashi ends up launching him into the guardrail and sending him face first to the floor with a DDT. Sayonara Furnas, and just like that Kobashi is back in the ring, saving Kikuchi from a Kroffat Superplex and placing him on his shoulders. Kikuchi takes a moment to recover, balances himself on the top rope and GOOD GRODD THAT IS A DROPKICK OUT OF THE ELECTRIC CHAIR POSITION! More structural damage is done to the Miyagi Sports Center roof as Kobashi picks his partner up and flips him right on top of Kroffat for the one, two and NOPE! Unbelievably Kroffat got out of all that, this match is still going and I wouldn’t blame you if you needed a few ice waters right now.
Kikuchi decides to give way to Kobashi, who comes in and immediately find himself at a two on one disadvantage. This culminates in Furnas turning into Rey Mysterio and hitting an awesome hurricanrana roll up that has the match won…until Kikuchi flies in to break it up as the arena explodes for what must be the 9,000th time this match. Kroffat sends Kikuchi to the floor then takes the tag from Furnas as the crowd goes apeshit for Kobashi. Their faith is rewarded when Kobashi hits a big boot on Kroffat as he tries a corner attack and then nails a Powerslam for yet another near fall. If it seems like they’ve used every single move they can (on both sides) by this point, its cause they have. Well except for one, which Kobashi sets out to rectify, picking up Kroffat and scoop slamming him right near the corner. Once more the buzz in the Miyagi Sports Center grows because they know what Kobashi plans to do; he’s going to hit a gorram moonsault.
Many fans of Kobashi’s career know him as the man who came up with such amazing moves like the Burning Hammer, the Orange Crush Bomb, the Diamond Head, the Black Crush, the Kobashi DDT; if there’s a cool move in wrestling you’ve seen, Kobashi probably invented it (and if he didn’t, Misawa did). What many forget however is that Kobashi’s most impressive move for the longest time was a Moonsault, which the 250 lb Kobashi generally pulled off flawlessly. It wasn’t just impressive because he could do it though; it was impressive because whenever Kobashi merely walked towards a turnbuckle to attempt it, the arena he was in would collectively lose their minds in anticipation. The Miyagi Sports Center is no different; they act as though Kikuchi is about to attempt a 450 as Kobashi climbs to the top. Furnas gets back in to momentarily stall Kobashi, but Kikuchi is in for the save, ultimately throwing Furnas to the floor. All it takes now is for Kobashi to nail the Moonsault; unfortunately he doesn’t, only catching a bit of Kroffat’s back as Kroffat moves out of the way. This gives Kroffat the opening to roll Kobashi up, only for the Orange Crush to kick out yet again. A back and forth sequence leads to Kobashi hitting that Kobashi DDT for yet another near fall.
Unfortunately for Kroffat, that would be the last near fall. With Kikuchi handling Furnas on the outside, all Kobashi needs to do is slam Kroffat down again near the corner to yet another eruption. In about five seconds Kobashi is up on the top and without hesitation hits a pitch perfect moonsault. Furnas tries to get back into the ring but it’s no use as Kikuchi holds him back. The ref gets into position. One! Two! THREE! The roof officially comes off the Miyagi Sports Center, the All Japan announcer turns into a portrait of mass hysteria and, most importantly, Kenta Kobashi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi have finally climbed to the mountain top and won the All Asia Tag Team Championships. Gracious losers, Kroffat and Furnas shake hands with the new champs and even put the belts around their waists, while Kobashi sets the world record for hugs by embracing Kikuchi every other second as the crowd continues to roar in delight. In many ways it’s a perfect moment with one exception; Kobashi won the match instead of Kikuchi. Not to take anything away from the great moonsault ending, but my Grodd Kikuchi getting the pin to win the match would’ve been something. Perhaps the roof would’ve really come off the Miyagi Sports Center after all.
I’d like to say that this match had a profound effect on everyone in it, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Already a budding star, this match merely served as another reminder of what Kenta Kobashi was going to become, though this does remain one is his most highly regarded bouts in a career that spawned countless numbers of all time great matches. For Furnas and Kroffat, this cemented their reputation as one of the most underrated tag teams in history and made it all the more disheartening when WWE never used them to their full potential in 1997. But the biggest surprise in retrospect was how little this match did for its hero, Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Though he’s continued to wrestle since and would go on to win All Japan World Junior Championship and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships once each, Kikuchi ultimately spent the rest of his career as a midcarder/opening act. In some ways it never did get better for Miyagi’s favorite son than this match. I guess you could say it’s ironic in a way. Kikuchi idolized the Dynamite Kid and yet his legacy is more akin to Dynamite’s partner, the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, another wrestler whose career peaked due to one legendary wrestling match in his hometown.
That being said, if I was Kikuchi, I wouldn’t trade this match for all the titles and main event gigs money could buy. I’ve seen many wrestling matches over the years, in both the biggest and smallest arenas, but nothing compares to this one. The crowd was like a Lucha Underground and Wrestlemania audience rolled into one from start to finish. As far as the in ring action goes, I’d be hard pressed to find as fine of work as that of the four men in this match. There are plenty of occasions where the crowd is excellent and carries the match or the match is excellent and carries the crowd. This is a situation where they carry each other and the result is beyond anything Giant Baba could’ve possibly dreamed of when he cooked up this match. You could search over 9,000 years and never find a match like this again. In thirty minutes an all time great continued his run towards legendary status; a tag team showed the world what they were missing; and a hometown crowd took one of their own and turned him into a wrestling king. That was the power of All Japan in the 90’s. That’s the power of the home field advantage.