Jumbo Tsuruta & Kenta Kobashi vs Genichiro Tenryu & Stan Hansen 7/15/89
This was a special moment for Kobashi, as it marked his first ever TV Main Event. Here he teams with the man himself, Jumbo Tsuruta, against Genichiro Tenryu & Stan Hansen. It's King's Road, so you know standards are high. Given the brightest spotlight of his career, the youngster puts on quite a show, but you can probably guess the finish.
Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshi Yatsu & Kabuki vs Stan Hansen, Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada 7/28/89
An all star six man tag. Old guard Olympians (Tsuruta & Yatsu) team with The Great Kabuki (played by Akihisa Mera, age 40, a 24 year veteran). Mera often toured the international landscape, and had adopted the martial arts/colored mist blowing gimmick while under the tutelage of Gary Hart. Here they take on stalwarts Hansen & Tenryu, with a young Kawada in the role of junior.
In the summer of 1990, Mera was among a group of All Japan and New Japan name talent who defected for the generous 'above market' contracts that were being handed out by upstart promotion Super World of Sports. With Genichiro Tenryu positioned as headliner, SWS was funded by corporate powerhouse Megane Super, which at its peak established an international working relationship with Vince McMahon's WWF. Eventually a casualty of Japan's 'Lost Decade', SWS would end its two year run with a complete shutdown in the summer of '92. This 'money puroresu' period was similar to the later 'ATM Eric' era of mid/late 90s WCW. The influx of corporate money from 'outside' the business bid up wages to artificially high levels, benefiting talent in the immediate term, while creating unsustainable conditions that would negatively effect the industry once investment retracted, and market correction restored balance.
This was from a show at the famed Budokan Hall. Kenta Kobashi does what he did best at this time, play the role of a talented young upstart. Johnny Ace is seen at age 26, with just under 3 years in the business. This was his first of many tours for Baba, and he gelled with the the King's Road system from the get go. A good showcase of two men at a formative stage, both of whom would go on to be well grounded in the AJPW mix for years to come.
It's a real shame that the only memories many American fans have of the wrestling career of John Laurinaitis comes from the hapless Dynamic Dudes gimmick. Overseas in Japan, he proved himself to be a legit talent, an athletic big man, somewhat of an innovator in the ring, and an impressive finish man behind the scenes.
Dynamite Kid & Davey Boy Smith vs Joe & Dean Malenko 1/28/89
A tag classic from Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith, age 26, an eleven year veteran and Dynamite Kid, age 30, with 13 years of ring time) signed a lucrative deal with Baba after leaving the WWF post Survivor Series 88. The Malenkos began their run with All Japan as a recurring gajin team in February of '88, and had earned a sound reputation as technical marvels. Somewhat of a dream match for fans of high level tag wrestling, which still holds up very well with time. Watch for some impressive matwork sequences, including 'lost' moves from the Great Malenko playbook, like Joe's consecutive bridging toeholds spot!
The year in review continues. Newly ascended All Japan Triple Crown Champion Genichiro Tenryu attempts to defend his title for the first time. His opponent is long time old guard rival, the Olympian Yoshi Yatsu. Everything one would expect from a King's Road main event.
If compiling a list of the best wrestlers of Baba Era All Japan, Yatsu would place with-in my top 10. He wrestled for Japan in the '76 Olympics and placed on the team for the '80 games (which were boycotted). Shortly thereafter, he announced his intention to go pro, signing with Antonio Inoki and came up through the New Japan system. In time he became a headliner. Yatsu would leave NJPW for All Japan in '84, touring as a key part of Riki Choshu's Army. He would remain with the Baba organization for the rest of the decade, eventually defecting in '90 for SWS during the 'money puroresu' period. Looking back, he left behind a tremendous body of work, and between his stints with Choshu and Jumbo, ranks among the greatest tag team wrestlers in the history of the industry.
This marks Genichiro Tenryu's second attempt to defend the All Japan Triple Crown title. The challenger is Terry Gordy (age 28, 14 years of ring time). A good look at Gordy at his peak.
Terry Gordy was a Baba favorite, who was booked very strong in both singles (a 2 time Triple Crown Champion, the first foreigner to ever win the title) and tag competition (7 time International Tag Champion, twice with Stan Hansen and five times with Steve Williams). He even won the famed World Strongest Tag League round robin tournament 3 times (w/ Hansen in '88 & back to back with Williams in '90 & '91). Ironically his career took a turn for the worse in '93 while en route to another tour for Baba. He overdosed on pain medication, which induced a multiple day coma and resulted in brain damage. While he returned to the ring a few months later, he was nowhere near the level of performer he was at his peak. Had that incident not happened, Gordy likely would have been a force for many years to come. He passed away in '01 at age 40. RIP
This was the rematch from Tenryu's Triple Crown win in June. The big question was, would Baba solidify the switch to GT on top? The answer (as seen here) would put into motion a powerful counter reaction and coming roster shake-up the next year going forward. A fun chess style match-up between two greats, with an all too familiar result at the bell.
Dan Kroffat & Doug Furnas vs Kenta Kobashi & Joe Malenko 10/11/89
Another top flight King's Road Style tag from '89. Junior division stalwart Joe Malenko pairs up with a young Kenta Kobashi in a showcase match. Their opponents were the Can-Am Express, a combo put together at the request of Giant Baba himself. The team was comprised of Doug Furnas (age 29, 3 years of ring time) & Dan Kroffat (age 28 with 6 years of ring time). Kobashi gets in a lot of offense, but still displays his tremendous ability to emote, one of the traits that would eventually make him a legend. Watch the height Furnas gets from a standing position on the dropkick into the finish, a very impressive feat for a man of Doug's size. RIP