On June 9th, 1995, in front of a reported 16,300 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, “The Four Pillars of Heaven” of All Japan Pro Wrestling (Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, and Akira Taue – four men with more five-star-rated matches amongst them than any other group of wrestlers in history), came together and made something truly magical.
The greatest tag team match of all time?
Many matches in wrestling history are debated amongst fans as “the very best of all time.”
In WWE, Shawn Michaels versus Undertaker at WrestleMania 25 comes to mind.
In New Japan Pro Wrestling, the legacy of Kazuchika Okada versus Kenny Omega is undeniable. So can be said of the trilogy of world title matches between Samoa Joe and CM Punk in Ring of Honor.
“Greatest” or “best of all time” proclamations and arguments are respectfully subjective.
However, in the summer of 1995, the fighting spirit was never more on display when The Four Pillars of All Japan Pro Wrestling shared a ring.
“Every wrestling fan should watch this masterpiece.”
– Wrestling fan, Fabio Dewitt
Backstory: The Four Pillars of Heaven of All Japan
In the 1990s, All Japan Pro Wrestling had more Dave Meltzer/Wrestling Observer five-star-rated matches than any other wrestling company on the planet. At its heart were four wrestlers who came to be known as "The Four Pillars of Heaven."
The Four Pillars of Heaven – Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, and Akira Taue – were students of a wrestling style created by Giant Baba called "King’s Road," where matches relied on multi-layered physical storytelling in the ring.
Although their matches weren’t as accessible at the time, AJPW was a hot commodity amongst VHS tape traders. While the more mainstream WWF was going through more of a cartoon character pre-Attitude Era lull, All Japan was bringing hard-hitting matches that looked like genuine athletic contests.
At the start of 1995, Toshiaki Kawada had never pinned Mitsuharu Misawa despite three attempts against him for the Triple Crown Championship. Kawada got a step closer to defeating the champion each time they met, only for Kawada to lose in the end.
This led to a bitterness rising in Kawada where he would leave the Super Generation Army (where he was allied with Misawa) to align with a new tag team partner in the form of Akira Taue.
Akira Taua was a monster in the ring known for his brutal chokeslam. Together with Toshiaki Kawada, they formed a tag team by the name of “The Holy Demon Army.”
The first meeting between Misawa and Kobashi against the Holy Demon Army occurred on June 1st, 1993. The newly-formed team of Kawada and Taue took the victory in a match then-AJPW owner Giant Baba allegedly called the greatest match he had ever seen.
However, it was a bittersweet victory as Kawada still never pinned Misawa.
A series of nine matches ensued between the two teams, with arguably their most important match happening two years after their first for the AJPW World Tag Team Championships on June 9th, 1995.
The Match: Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue (June 9, 1995)
Like any match featuring any one of The Four Pillars in All Japan, the crowd was very invested in this encounter. The reported 16,300 strong stayed loud throughout the lengthy 42-minute war.
There were many moments that filled the arena with the crowd’s excitement. The first being when Kawada delivered a heavy front kick to the face of Misawa.
Misawa had previously broken his orbital bone, so this led to him unleashing a more vicious side on Kawada in opposition to his usual calm demeanor.
The Holy Demon Army would respond.
Limb-shattering kicks from Kawada made it seem as if the knee of Kobashi would be shot off his body. This was followed by Taue using his hulking size to drive all his strength and power into his attempts to flatten the bones and ligaments in Kobashi’s knee.
Kenta Kobashi gave one of the finest selling performances of his career, showing that he had very little use of his leg, struggling to get to his corner to tag in his eager partner until he caught a lucky break.
He knocked down the opposition and stumbled over to Misawa to unleash him on The Holy Demon Army.
The fighting spirit that the King’s Road style is known for was on full display, with nasty bumps on the back of the neck aplenty and fast-paced strikes flying from all directions despite any punishment they may take themselves in the process.
The escalation of high-impact moves in this match grew to a fever pitch.
Rapid slaps came from Kawada. Taue threw the opposition around the ring. The heart and fighting spirit was alive in Kobashi. All the while, all the greatness that was expected whenever Misawa stepped into the ring was all on full display.
It almost seemed as though the face team of Misawa and Kobashi would get the win.
Yet, Kawada caught Misawa with a powerbomb and kicked the life out of him until Kobashi showed his pure heart by diving onto the downed body of Misawa, facing the consequences with a beautiful tag-team move of a chokeslam-back suplex combo from Kawada and Taue.
This allowed for Kawada to hit another beautiful powerbomb on Misawa and…
1.. 2.. 3!
Toshiaki Kawada finally pinned Mitsuharu Misawa for the very first time.
Although Kawada had defeated Dr. Death Steve Williams for the Triple Crown Championship one year prior, this could easily be seen as the biggest win of his career.
He had finally defeated the man he took a backseat to and lost out to so many times in their rivalry.
Lasting Impact of The Four Pillars of Heaven
I recently came across a quote on YouTube where a fan declared this “the Citizen Kane of tag team matches.” I couldn’t agree more.
The King’s Road style, and these four men, in particular, created unforgettable magic in the ring and influenced the style and fighting spirit of many wrestlers today.
Their bodies battered by years of wrestling at a level most mortals could not sustain, each of The Four Pillars of Heaven has long now stepped away from the ring.
Toshiaki Kawada wrestled his last known match on August 15th, 2010.
Kenta Kobashi and Akira Taue both retired in 2013.
And Misawa, tragically, died in the ring on June 13th, 2009.
However, on one fateful night in June 1995, these four men came together to tell the perfect story, creating an all-time classic that will inspire and be discussed for generations.
These men gave their all to wrestling. For that, we are thankful.
Watch the match:
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