By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Kenta Kobashi © vs Mitsuharu Misawa 10/31/98
Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship Match
Since Mitsuharu Misawa ended Kenta Kobashi’s first reign with the Triple Crown Championship in January 1997, the two men had met four more times. Outside of a draw in a Champions Carnival match, the other three contests had been decided two to one in favour of Misawa. This put Misawa’s record over Kobashi at an imperious 9-2-1. Worryingly for Kobashi, Misawa never lost when the Triple Crown Championship was at stake. However, Misawa had miles on the clock that Kobashi didn’t have. Was the Ace slowing down after years of hard hitting action and conquering all before him? Kobashi had already defeated Jun Akiyama and Akira Taue in his run with the crown, but Misawa was still the effective final boss within the All Japan world.
Even by their standards, this was an epic. For almost three quarters of an hour, Misawa and Kobashi showed exactly why the Triple Crown was rightly considered the greatest title belt in the 1990s. No belt could compete with the classics fought over it, with each confrontation to win the gold laden with context and history like no other championship on the planet. Similarly, few men could stand across the ring like Kobashi and Misawa did at the start of this match and have each move feel like beginning swell of a motif that, whilst familiar, diverged in weird and wonderful ways.
For a match that was due to go long, it was unsurprising to see some early ground work as each man tried to work the arm, with the occasional simmering of a strike or forearm that threatened to see the contest burst into stiff and unrelenting action. Kobashi would have the better of these earliest of exchanges, his arm work punctuated with simple blows as he sought to wear down the challenger. Several Kobashi chops to the back of Misawa’s head finally saw some serious strike trading, once again won by Kobashi. The champion seemed unflappable in the first ten minutes.
It was Kobashi’s desire to land a superplex that cost him, as Misawa fought his way out of the hold twice and began to turn the screw himself, landing a flying shoulderblock, a baseball slide and a twisting plancha to the outside. The high impact athletic offense continued with a rolling senton press and flying tackle, before Misawa slowed the pace with a chinlock and other submissions targeting the neck. The next shift in momentum – caused by Kobashi blocking an apron dive by Misawa with a dropkick – saw Kobashi return the favour with legdrops across guardrails, multiple backdrop driver-style suplexes and a vicious release German suplex.
As the match moved into its second half, neither man was able to stay in control for long and each began to bring out their biggest offensive manoeuvres – the feeling out process was long over. A Tiger Driver earned Misawa the first true nearfall, with the crowd counting along in hope. A frogsplash was greeted the same way but Kobashi wasn’t going to roll over and die so easily. Another attempt to soar through the air saw Misawa caught in what was effectively a double clothesline, dropping both men to the canvas.
With the match entering its final act, both men were visibly tired and Kobashi almost ended the contest with a brutal Dragon suplex for a nearfall. A teased Burning Hammer had the crowd in raptures, but Misawa managed to fight his way out, only to be dropped with a lariat for another near three count. A desperate Kobashi would even go for two (unsuccessful) pinfalls in a row, so desperate to pin his foe was he. An All Japan trope, the apron move, was brought out next as Misawa took Kobashi onto the ringside mats with a tiger driver.
Every move felt laboured, an expense of almost spent energy at this point, but Misawa still managed to drop Kobashi with the Tiger Driver ’91, only for Kobashi to somehow kick out, as he would do moments later after a Roaring Elbow, a tiger suplex and a running forearm. By the end, sheer force of the onslaught defeated Kobashi; several elbows crumpled him to the canvas and gave Misawa the three count and the victory.
Once again, Misawa had risen to defeat Kobashi and take the Triple Crown Championship from around his waist. As both men lay on the canvas being consoled by their cornermen, it was hard to fathom who had truly won that night, outside of the world of wrestling as two of the very best put it all on the line.