By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Andre the Giant, Giant Baba and Rusher Kimura vs Motoshi Okuma, Haruka Eigen and Masanobu Fuchi 12/4/92
On paper, this was just a six man that sat in the middle of the card for the finals of the Real World Tag League. In the main event, Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada would defeat Akira Taue and Jun Akiyama to win the RWTL and the AJPW World Tag Team Titles in the process. At face value, there is nothing overly significant about a match that had been played out before earlier in the year, with variations that saw the odd replacement also being trotted out several times. In eleven minutes, the team of Andre the Giant, Giant Baba and Rusher Kimura would win.
Just over a month later, Andre the Giant would pass away. This was his final match.
A shell of his former self for many years, Andre had made All Japan his home for the last two years, with one or two sporadic appearances in the WWF and some matches in Mexico. A wrestling culture that still prides itself on the honour they bestow upon legendary stars of yesteryear, the world of puroresu felt like as good a place as any for Andre to continue to work long after his best days were behind him. There, he was put into positions that best protected his limited ability whilst garnering the respect of myriad numbers of fans.
It is often difficult as a wrestling fan to see a legend stumble on from paycheque to paycheque, clearly ravaged by age and by injury. Even at the very height of Andre’s career in terms of notoriety, Wrestlemania III, he was beginning to suffer severely with the stress that the acromegaly placed upon his frame. The build up to the match with Hogan saw Andre take time off in an effort to recover as the pain was too much; five years further on from this and the effect of the disease was debilitating. Standing in the ring as the men were announced for the six man tag, Andre used the ropes to help himself remain standing, a repeated tactic through the final years to help him even compete on the limited basis he did.
Andre in his pomp was a frightening site to behold, a man equal parts athletic as he was strong. Very few wrestlers have ever been able to match what Andre was able to do as a big man, whilst even as his body began to break down, he still offered a sideshow-esque interest for the crowd. In 1990 and 1991, he had competed with Giant Baba in the Real World Tag League; this year, he would be further protected by adding another two men to each match. Anything to take the load off where possible.
With the focus being on the main event, it is unsurprising that the official version that is available of this match is significantly clipped. From eleven minutes to under three, Andre’s final swansong was on television was limited to nothing at all as the match was generally played for laughs between the native members of each team. No finish was even shown. A handheld camera version of the match gives a greater sense of his involvement, with his arrival only made possible by balancing on his second’s shoulders. Simple things like walking across the ring gained the fan’s positivity, but pain was etched across his face on every move.
Andre would have his most significant involvement down the finishing stretch as he played out several classic Giant tropes, squashing all three of his opponents in the corner after threatening a butt bump on Eigen. After a Baba big boot, a clothesline and butt splash by Andre was enough to pick up the victory, though the Giant held onto the rope tightly as if he might never get up if he lost it. It was all too indicative of a man who shouldn’t have been putting his body through this anymore, but had chosen to go on past any meaningful point.
Andre was a legend that almost transcended wrestling. His final few years were a slow and painful shuffle towards an inevitable death; one made all the more tragic due to the lengths he put his body through in the final few months just to get a paycheque.