WWE is commonly known for having the best general product of the 90’s where they won the Monday Night Wars with the Attitude Era. Ever since, they have dominated the wrestling world. But as far as in ring action, there was one company in the entire world dominating throughout the entire decade. All Japan Pro Wrestling. Although AJPW has fallen from it’s glory days, the impact that it has had in the past has been huge.
All Japan was moving on from the “Tsuruta Era” as top stars like Jumbo Tsuruta, Giant Baba, & Genichiro Tenryu were being phased out from the spotlight in favor of the up and coming Mitsuharu Misawa whose popularity was on the rise after his recent unmasking as the second incarnation of Tiger Mask, Toshiaki Kawada who served as Misawa’s tag team partner, Akira Taue who was a retired sumo wrestler and Kenta Kobashi, a rookie with a ‘Burning’ spirit who at the time lost all of his first 63 matches.
These four men became known as the “Four Pillars of Heaven”, however these men did not do it on their own. Stars like Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori, Yoshihiro Takayama and Yoshinari Ogawa started to make a name for themselves as well as key Gaijin wrestlers like Stan “The Lariat” Hansen, Johnny Ace, Terry Gordy, Steve Williams and Vader. Older stars like Jumbo Tsuruta, Giant Baba, Rusher Kimura & Masanobu Fuchi would also contribute before being regulated to six man tag matches due to declines in health and fading spotlights.
Tiger Mask II (Misawa) and Toshaki Kawada kicked off things as Misawa would ask Kawada to unmask him during a match against Samson Fuyuki and Yoshiaki Yatsu, Misawa was met to a big reaction as fans seemed to be well aware that it was Misawa under the mask. Both men went on to defeat Yatsu & Fuyuki. Just days removed from the unmasking, Misawa and Kobashi would vacant the All Asia Tag Championship as Misawa now after unmasking began to focus on his singles career. Misawa would go on and score a big upset victory over Jumbo Tsuruta, thereby establishing Misawa as a top main event level competitor. Misawa and Tsuruta would feud for a couple of years as Misawa would have Kobashi and Kawada by his side known as the Super Generation Army, Tsuruta would recruit Akira Taue who quickly was involved in a heated rivalry with Kawada, and Masanobu Fuchi under Tsuruta-Gun lead by yours truly.
These men would go on to have classic after classic with three outstanding matches. Some matches had other members of the stables competing like Yoshinari Ogawa, Mighty Inoue and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Tsuruta even managed to successfully defend his Triple Crown Championship against Misawa and Kawada. Kawada and Misawa would go on to defeat The Miracle Violence Connection (Williams and Gordy) for the World Tag Team Championships, however they would vacant the titles in favor of the annual World’s Strongest Tag Determination League which Williams and Gordy would win.
Over a year later in 1992, Mitsuharu Misawa would defeat Stan Hansen to win his first Triple Crown Championship earning the respect of Hansen in the process. Misawa would hold the title for 705 days making it the longest Triple Crown title reign of all time. Just a few days later, Misawa’s partner Toshiaki Kawada would defeat Akira Taue via submission to become the first #1 contender for Misawa’s Championship. Misawa would defeat his tag partner in his first successful defense, the next month in November, both Misawa and Kawada entered the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League which they would win on December 4th, 1992 thus becoming World Tag Team Champions once again. 57 days later, Kawada and Misawa would lose the belts to Williams and Gordy, thus ending their partnership.
Tsuruta slowed his career down due to Hepatitis B and Kawada broke away from Misawa to form the most dominate tag team in AJPW history, The Holy Demon Army with former rival Akira Taue. Kobashi fresh off his three All Asia Tag Championships reigns with Johnny Ace and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, became Misawa’s new tag team partner. Kawada is now Misawa’s top rival and challenges Misawa once again later that year as enemies, The Holy Demon Army would defeat Williams and Gordy for the World Tag Team titles.The Holy Demon Army would successfully defeat Misawa and Kobashi defending their Tag Team titles during the Summer Action series, Misawa would once again successfully defend against Kawada a month later.
MIsawa and Kawada would trade victories between themselves in various tag matches, the next time the two men would face off was at the Champions Carnival in 1994 where they went to a 30 minute draw. This was a big key match as Kawada came close to putting Misawa away. Toshiaki Kawada would go on to win the Champions Carnival, earning him a shot at Misawa’s Triple Crown Championship. The buzz behind this match was intense and this was Kawada’s chance to beat the ace, Misawa and become champion. Misawa defeated Kawada on June 4th, 1994 at Nippon Budokan in what many fans considered the greatest match they’ve ever seen for the next 23 years.
Part 2 will be uploaded at a later date.