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Final Burning ~ The Absolute Champion retires (Part 2)
The first part of the article about Kenta Kobashi's career concentrated on his accomplishments in the ring of All Japan Pro Wrestling and his jump to Pro Wrestling NOAH. The second part focuses on how his career went on from that point.
The Absolute Champion was born
The relevance of the match Misawa and Kobashi competed in on that first of March can't be estimated highly enough. In a time in which the Internet spread more and more fans read of this match and wanted to absolutely see the fight, rated with five stars by Dave Meltzer. Not only for me as the writer of these lines this match was a triggering moment, but it also influenced a whole generation of Puroresu fans. After All Japan Pro Wrestlinghad been seen as the non plus ultra in the world of wrestling for years, NOAH, in by means of this match, was getting ready to become the best wrestling product in the world in the perception of many viewers. Inseparably connected to this perception was of course the name Kenta Kobashi.
Once more Kobashi and Misawa proved their youth despite of many years in the ring that featured battles on the edge of the physical feasible and created one last, an eternal image of their great rivalry. Everything seemed to match: The sold out Nippon Budokan provided the perfect setting for the prromotion's biggest match possible and both fighters proved why their rivalry would go down in history as one of the greatest rivalries in pro-wrestling. While for many fans Misawa's Tiger Suplex off the ramp, the finishing Burning Hammer and other great high spots remained in memory, the story of the match has to be emphasized as it played a significant role in this work of art. Needless to say this match was chosen as the Tokyo Sports Match of the Year 2003. Kobashi won this match, as already mentioned, with Burning Hammer, a move that probably became the world's most popular wrestling move in the aftermath of their battle.
Thus began his only reign as GHC Heavyweight champion which lasted 735 days highlighted by Kobashi's 13 title defenses. Although there had already been five champions before Kobashi - Misawa, Akiyama, Yoshinari Ogawa , Yoshihiro Takayama and again Misawa - it was the reign of the Iron Man that raised the new title onto a level that attracted worldwide attention. The Nippon Budokan became the setting for 7 of Kobashi's 13 defenses, while 2 defenses led the big star into the Tokyo Dome, once under the banner of New Japan Pro Wrestling when he was succesful against Masahiro Chono. But even defenses on a smaller scale like in front of about 2.800 spectators in Nagoya against Bison Smith, in front of a similar audience in Kobe against Takuma Sano or against Akitoshi Saito before about 5,200 fans in Osaka were extremely interesting matches in which Kobashi led those wrestlers to performances they rarely showed on other occasions.
During Kobashi's time at the top, NOAH sold out every but two shows in the Nippon Budokan. Kobashi was also one of the driving forces for NOAH's first show in the Tokyo Dome. At Departure 2004 Kobashi won the main event against Jun Akiyama in front of an official number of 58.000 fans following the Burning Hammer and thus defended the GHC Heavyweight Title for the ninth time. Again a Kobashi match received the best possible rating from the WON. But not only that: Kobashi was also voted wrestler of the year for 2003 and 2004. In his 10th title defense against Akira Taue he debuted a new move: After Taue kept coming back for 28 minutes, Kobashi put him on his shoulders and slammed him to the mat with a Wrist-Clutch version of his Burning Hammer. Kobashi used this move only one more time against his student KENTA on March 5th 2006.
In March of 2005 Kobashi eventually lost the GHC Heavyweight Title to Takeshi Rikio, which was a huge sensation, after he had previously beaten Akitoshi Saito, The Gladiator and Minoru Suzuki in title matches. However, NOAH did not manage to build a new star in Rikio as it was intended.
Though Kobashi's 13 defenses were outbid by Takashi Sugiura who, on a joint show with Westside Xtreme Wrestlingon May 15th 2011, defeated Claudio Castagnoli, but Kenta Kobashi's title reign was not only by chance the most successful period in the history of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Despite a bad physical condition Kobashi wrestled great matches month by month and was probably the biggest star in Japanese wrestling in these days which didn't change following the loss of "his" title. From this point on, the name Global Honored Crown was forever woven together with the name Kenta Kobashi. At NOAH's second Tokyo Dome show Kobashi again played a significant role: While the GHC Heavyweight Title was relegated to the midcard for this event, Kobashi met Kensuke Sasaki in the co-main event of Destiny 2005. After a chop battle that lasted several minutes and that made the officially 62.000 fans cheer in ecstasy, the two wrestled a match considered by many observers as a "heavyweight sprint", because in nearly 24 minutes both wrestlers hit move after move in a breathtaking speed and didn't take a breather for a single minute.
Following this, Kobashi wrestled in the USA for the first time on September 24th 2005 when he beat Wade Chism for Harley Race World League Wrestling and defeated Samoa Joe in Ring Of Honor for another five star match. The day after the Iron Man, alongside Homicide, again defeated Samoa Joe, whose partner was Low Ki. His trip to the U.S. was followed by a trip to Europe, where he teamed up with with his protégé Go Shiozaki at Universal Uproar in England and lost to Jun Akiyama & Doug Williams. He also beat Ares under the banner of Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Essen, Germany. Kobashi returned to Europe for a brief tour in 2008, again teaming with Shiozaki. But before that, the most difficult time of his life was yet to come.
The body took its toll
In the spring of 2006 people began to notice more and more that Kobashi was not the same like a few months before. While most observers thought his battered knees caused problems again, it turned out that it was much worse than expected. After he won the GHC Tag Team Title with Tamon Honda from Takeshi Morishima & Mohammed Yone on June 4th, it was announced on the 29th of that month that doctor's found a 5cm big kidney tumor. Immediately not the fight in the ring but the fight with cancer dictated Kobashi's life. Kobashi underwent a 5 ½-hour surgery on July 7th in which the tumor was successfully removed. On December 10th he made his first public appearance after the surgery in the Nippon Budokan to announce that he would return just as the fans had remembered him. In the following period, Kobashi, however, again had surgery on both knees. In his comeback match on December 2nd 2007 he teamed up with Yoshihiro Takayama and was pinned after an Avalanche-Style Emerald Fusion by Misawa who was assisted by Akiyama. Although Kobashi returned to the ring, he never again reached his old capability after numerous knee surgeries and his serious illness. He rarely compted in singles encounters, but primarily as an attraction in tag team and multi man matches – just like in his 20th anniversary match with Jun Akiyama, Kentaro Shiga and Yoshinobu Kanemaru against Mitsuharu Misawa, Naomichi Marufuji, Yoshinari Ogawa and Mushiking Terry.
But once again, the body did not play along. Right after a match on September 6th 2009 Kobashi was rushed to a hospital and only three days later had surgery on both elbows. Again almost 15.000 fans gatherd to witness the comeback of the Absolute champion who returnd in the opener of a Budokan show on march 1st 2009 beating Masao Inoue. Just a few moths later, the wrestling world mourned the tragic death of Mitsuharu Misawa who was rememberd on a show in Osaka before a crowd of about 6.400 fans. On this show Kobashi teamed with fellow legend Masahiro Chono and Go Shiozaki to beat Akitoshi Saito, Mohammed Yone & Takeshi Rikio.
Kobashi ensured a sold out Nippon Budokon one last time before his retirement show this past weekend when thousands of the approx. 18.000 fans crowded the standing rooms of Budokan on September 27th 2009. In the co-main event of that show, Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama won against Akira Taue & Keiji Muto. Since Kobashi hardly did anything but chops in his matches since his comeback, it became a popular game among fans to count how many chops Kobashi would thorw per match. But this only caused the condition of his already badly battered elbow to worsen more and more, leading to another surgery and another hiatus from wrestling until July 23rd 2011. Again, Kobashi primarily did tag team matches after coming back. For the second to last time before last weekend, as Kobashi teamed up for a dream team with Keiji Muto to fight Toru Yano & Takashi Iizuka, the Iron Man jumped a Moonsault Press on All Together, the joint show of NOAH, New Japan and All Japan. On All Together II, his next to last match, he again teamed with Muto and won again, this time against Jun Akiyama and Takao Omori.
Glorious farewell despite twists and confusion
The lingering decline of Pro Wrestling NOAH was on one hand connected with the ever worsening health of Kenta Kobashi and on the other hand with the death of Mitsuharu Misawa and the loss of the the permanent TV slot at Nippon TV who carried NOAH ever since the foundation in 2000. Misawa's death, combined with the financial demise of the promotion, resulted in a power struggle between Kobashi on one side and Ryu Nakata, Naomichi Marufuji & Akira Taue on the other in which the hardliner Nakata wanted to release many wrestlers for cost reasons. Kobashi on the other hand came from a different era of Puroresu in which the job of each wrestler was considered to be safe when he worked hard. Kobashi became the executive vice president of NOAH, but, in this position, he had little power of decision. Ultimately, he resigned from this position on October 6th 2011. After his match at All Together II silence descended on Kobashi, because he had to pause one more time because of various injuries. In December 2012, the news of Kobashi's termination by Pro Wrestling NOAH shocked the wrestling world. The reason for this step was that Kobashi's salary – as with layoffs before – was too high. The promotion was and still is in such financial difficulties that it could no longer afford to pay the former GHC Heavyweight Champion. This decision of the NOAH management around Nakata, Taue and Marufuji made the quintet of Jun Akiyama, Go Shiozaki, Kotaro Suzuki, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Atsushi Aoki let their contracts expire in loyalty to Kenta Kobashi and jump to All Japan Pro Wrestling at the beginning of 2013.
When Kobashi announced his retirement in Ryogoku Kokugikan on December 9th 2012, this – in the light of news about his dismissal at the end of the year – came across like a compromise between the promotion and its former top star. Kobashi ensured NOAH one more huge payday with his retirement show as the show was sold outh within days and was screened in 15 cinemas across the country. After Misawa, Akiyama and Taue basically being retired, NOAH lost their last true star who can look back on a career with no less than 22 five-star matches in which he not only managed to reach the top of All Japan Pro Wrstling, but also carried Pro Wrestling NOAH on his back for nearly 10 years despite ever new physical setbacks.
For his retirement he received numerous flower bouquets and many of his companions from the last 25 years like Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, Masanobu Fuchi, Genichiro Tenryu, Keiji Muto, Kensuke Sasaki, Masahiro Chono or Hiroshi Hase were eager to appear on Kobashi's final show, while video messages by John Laurinaitis aka. Johnny Ace and Stan Hansen were shown on the screen. At his retirement ceremony, he was declared GHC Absolute Champion and received a corresponding belt. His very last match ended – of course – with a final moonsault press against Yoshinobu Kanemaru. At the end of the show Kobashi could thus put on "his" GHC Heavyweight Title one last time while standing in a sea of streamers with all the wrestlers in union with all the fans giving their final farewell in form of standing ovations. A 10-bell salute under dim light was followed by his final exodus from his arena, Nippon Budokan.
On March 17th of this year re returned to the ring of All Japan Pro Wrestling for only the second time in 13 years. On the one hand, to promote his retirement show, on the other hand, to take over the presidency of the Pacific Wrestling Federation from Hiroshi Hase. As chairman of a fictional committee, the presidency of the PWF is a representative position that sanctions all matches for the Triple Crown. After leaving All Japan on the ark in 2000, Kobashi has returned home after his retirement.
In Kenta Kobashi, the Puroresu not only loses one of its most outstanding performers, but also a personality who has never been inaccessible despite all described successes, but rather always took the time to sign autographs and pose with fans for photos. I remember one event when some fans took photos with Kenta Kobashi in a bus stop in Essen, Germany in 2005 or his second trip to Germany when he thanked me for taking a picture with him.
In this spirit: KO-BA-SHI! KO-BA-SHI! KO-BA-SHI!
Sources: ja.wikipedia.org, en.wikipedia.org, Cagematch Database, Wrestling Observer
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