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Final Burning ~ The Absolute Champion retires (Part 1)
This article was originally published in German over the last weekend and will be seperated in two parts. The first part is about Kobashi's career in All Japan and follows his career up until February of 2002. The second part will be coming within the next days.
While Pro Wrestling NOAH tried to write a new chapter with their Show "Ark New Chapter" this past Sunday, the day before a man resigned whose past is inseparably connected with the glorious past of the promotion. We're obviously talking about none other than Kenta Kobashi who, in front of over 15.000 fans in the Nippon Budokan, laced his boots and put on his elbow pads one final time and once more did what made him one of the most dazzling personalities in Puroresu: he put the masses into ecstasy.
In the style of of a great statesman, Kobashi left the ark with former japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda, a big fan of the former GHC Heavyweight champion, in the front row. The captain who guided the promotion founded in 2000 for years goes ashore.
The beginnings with All Japan
The young Kenta Kobashi was an an active judoka and rugby player during his school days in Fukuchiyama, Kyoto and also did strength training after he finished school. During that time he worked in civil jobs before applying for the dojo of All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987 to which he was admitted on June 20th of the same year. There he was primarily trained by Giant Baba and Kazuharu Sonoda, but Dory Funk Jr. and Masanobu Fuchi were also involved in the training of young Kenta Kobashi. Scarce seven months later Kobashi debuted in Ritto, Shiga against Motoshi Okuma who naturally defeated the novice in no time. Kobashi didn't only lose this match, but also his following 62 fights. However, despite his continued losses it became clear just how charismatic and how talented he was – common plan for a youngster, but one that booker Giant Baba pursued from the outset and which came up wonderfully. He finally got his first win against american jobber Mitch Snow. He also celebrated first small successes in Tomorrow League in 1989 and won two battle royals that year. These were first significant successes that only hinted at what was to come. First he was put through 7 match trial series in which he celebrated victories over Randy Rose and Rip Rogers and lost to Yoshiaki Yatsu, The Great Kabuki, Davey Boy Smith, Jumbo Tsuruta and Abdullah The Butcher. But once again even in defeat Kobashi proved his great fighting spirit which was conductive to increasing his popularity. That is how it came that he won the All Asia Tag Team title alongside Mitsuharu Misawa under the mask of Tiger Mask from Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas on April 9th 1990. However, only less than a month later Misawa unmasked and gave back the title.
At that time, Kobashi had already risen to a stage where he was not yet at the level of the big stars of All Japan and thus in matches with senior wrestlers like Baba, Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada and Johnny Ace he still was the rookie who fought with lots of heart, while he played the role of a "big brother" when competing alonside the likes of Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. During this period, Kobashi won the All Asia Tag Team Title three more times, twice with Johny Ace and one time with Kikuchi. His title win with Kikuchi – again from Kroffatt & Furnas – took place in Kikuchi's home prefeture of Miyagi in front of an incredibly hot crowd and not only got a five star rating from the Wrestling Ovserver, but was also voted the Observer match of the year 1992.
The road to the established star
1993 Kobashi pinned the former Triple Crown Champion Terry Gordy in a singles match and was made the permanent tag team partner of Mitsuharu Misawa on whose side he won the Real World Tag League and thus the AJPW World Tag Team Title. In the finals against Kawada & Akira Taue Kobashi pinned Kawada following a backdrop – his first pinfall victory over the higher-ranked Kawada. Kobashi's star began to rise even further, but he failed to win the big one in his first attempt, as he lost to Tiple Crown Champion Steve Williams in a Budokan main event on Septemer 3rd 1994. Again, the Observer rated this match with a sensational rating of **** 3/4 stars. This period of time can probably be described as the heyday of Kobashi's work. Not only the match against Williams is one fans keep recalling almost 20 years later, his matches against Misawa, Kawada or a young Jun Akiyama in the following years were so outstanding that even today they put fans in amazement. It appears almost as a matter of course that Akira Taue & Toshiaki Kawada vs. Kenta Kobashi & Mitsuharu Misawa from June 6th was elected the match of the year 1995 by Tokyo Sports. But not only the positive is to be noted: 1995 Kobashi suffered his first serious knee injury as a result of his spectacular style, but did not take a break as he was designated for more great achivements.
After he lost to Triple Crown champion Mitsuharu Misawa on October 25th 1995 and also lost a # 1 Contender's match against Toshiaki Kawada in May of the following year, July 24th 1996 marked the day of his first Triple Crown win, held at that time by Akira Taue. Though Kobashi held the three straps 180 days, he defended them only twice, including a 60-minute time limit draw against Kawada. On 20.01.1997 Kobashi lost the title to Misawa – in another **** 3/4 star match. In the Champion Carnival 1997 he avenged his defeat, because on March 28th he defeated Misawa for the very first time in the group stage of the tournament. The final of the Carnival 1997 had to take place in a round robin system, because Kobashi, Kawada and Misawa were tied. Again Misawa was not able to defeat Kobashi as the two fought to a grueling 30 minute draw. Thus Kawada just had to pick the bones and beat Misawa in just 6 minutes. Kobashi also had very little time for regeneration, but the minutes in which Misawa became the victim of Kawada were enough to not be beaten as fast as Misawa. In the decisive third match of the round robin series, Kobashi eventually had to admit defeat to Toshiaki Kawada after a jumping high kick.
In july of the same year, Kobashi won his first AJPW World Tag Team Title not teaming with Misawa, lost the four belts shortly after winning them to Steve Williams & Gary Albright, but won them back with his partner Johnny Ace in October. The same month he once again challenged Mitsuharu Misawa for the Tiple Crown, but in another memorable match he fell short once again. The anew win of the Triple Crown, however, was not too long in coming, because on December 12th 1998 he defeated Kawada in the Nippon Budokan in front of a crowd of over 15.000 spectators. This time he held the belts 141 days – a reign which might have been longer if he had not once again suffered a knee injury just before his title win. Again he granted himself no time off, but defended the bets against Akiyama and Taue before he was again beaten by Misawa. Latest at this point he replaced Kawada as the main rival of Mitsuharu Misawa.
Another important moment in the career of Kenta Kobashi was the founding of the tag team Burning which later became a stable both in All Japan and NOAH. But first, the team consisting of Kobashi & Akiyama participated in the Real World Tag League1999, reached the finals against Stan Hansen & Vader in which Kobashi pinned Hansen following a lariat and won the World Tag Team Title during the New Year Giant Series 1999. Another titlerun with Akiyama was followed by Kobashi's third Triple Crown reign after he defeated Vader on Febuary 27th 2000. As the reigning Triple Crown Champion Kobashi started into the Champion Carnival 2000 that was a KO-tournament this year. After victories against Johnny Ace and Johnny Smith, Miswa was waiting in the semifinals and was put out of the way after a Kobashi lariat. In the finals against Takao Omori it was also the Lariat that brought Kobashi his first success in the prestigious tournament. Following a defense against Yoshihiro Takayama, he layed down his three belts on June 16th, 7 days after he competed in his last match for All Japan. Together with his arch rival in the ring, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kobashi left his home with many other wrestlers and moved to the newly formed Pro Wrestling NOAH.
A new beginning on the ark
One day after Kenta Kobashi gave up the Triple Crown, he was rushed to a hospital where he was due to undergo a much-needed knee surgery, but the founding of NOAH crossed out these plans as the Iron Man was badly needed for establishing the new organization led by Misawa. For Kobashi, the new era in Puroresu began with a victory alongside Jun Akiyama against the team of Mitsuharu Misawa & Akira Taue when Akiyama scored both falls in a Two Out Of Three Falls Match and went on to beat Kobashi one day after they teamed up. On NOAH's biggest show up to this point Kobashi managed to avenge his loss when he defeated Akiyama with the Burning Hammer on December 23rd 2000 in almost 36 minutes. The Burning Hammer was only used for the third time in this match and up to this point had only been used by Kobashi to put away Misawa. So despite the loss this match was like a accolade for Akiyama. But at this point, Kobashi's knee were in such a poor state that he had to undergo several knee surgeries and missed 13 months of action.
Long before his 25th Birthday his knee were in an incredibly bad state, which resulted of his spectacular style and attitude to always try to offer the best possible for the audience. A man who weighed in at 260 or at times even at 280 pounds and who jumped Moonsaults and more daring maneuvers every night could simply not keep up with that style for a long run. Remarkably, Kobashi remained one of the best performers in the world even in times of great pain, whose popularity in Japan was so great that he did not even listen to offers from the United States. He made his first public appearance after his surgeries on July 27th 2001 when he did colour commentary for the main event between Misawa and Akiyama on NOAH's Anniversary Tour Final by request of Jun Akiyama. On February 27th 2002, one day after his 14th anniversary in the ring, he returned after 395 on the sideline as partner of Mitsuharu Misawa. The dream team was beaten by Jun Akiyama and Yuji Nagata when Akiyama once again pinned Kobashi after a Wrist-Clutch Exploder. The comeback was too early, though, because already during the match it turned out that the knees of the Orange Crush were not stable enough. He again paused until July 2002 and mainly wrestled in tag team matches, before he faced his arch rival once again on March 1st 2003.
Sources: ja.wikipedia.org, en.wikipedia.org, Cagematch Database, Wrestling Observer
Go to part 2
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