King's Road Chronicles - A Journey Through 1990's AJPW - 1992: Part One

We pick up our journey through 90's All Japan at the start of 1992 with our key players in familiar positions. Jumbo Tsuruta is the Triple Crown Champion and undoubted ace of the promotion. Stan Hansen is a perennial challenger and top gaijin. The Miracle Violence Connection are also major gaijin threats and regained the Tag Championship at the end of the year. It leaves the Super Generation Army on the periphery; pushing against the establishment. But my conclusion to 1991 was that the Super Generation's 'marginal gains' were starting to add up. Kawada and Kobashi become more dangerous with each match that passes. Misawa endured a difficult year in 1991, battling injuries and suffering a high profile loss to Jumbo...but the year still included a singles win over Terry Gordy, Tag Title wins over the MVC and a submission victory over Tsuruta in a tag team match. There is some criticism for the relatively stagnant booking in 1991, when compared to the absolute culture shift which AJPW booker & founder Giant Baba oversaw in the second half of 1990. However, Baba had skilfully ensured that fans of the Super Generation enter 1992 with just enough hope that this just might be their year...

Jumbo Tsuruta/Masanobu Fuchi vs Mitsuharu Misawa/Kenta Kobashi
2nd January 1992 (Tokyo) - We start with the very first All Japan show of 1992 and by this point much of this will be feeling very familiar. We're in the recognisable setting of Korakuen Hall, getting ready for tag team action between warring members of Tsuruta-gun and Super Generation Army. It's Misawa and Jumbo again; both with reasons to enter high on confidence since Tsuruta beat Misawa clean when they last met for the Triple Crown, whilst Misawa's recent performances in tag bouts against Jumbo show just how much of a credible threat he has become. It is perhaps significant that Kobashi is given the spot in this match over Kawada. It indicates the intention to further elevate and promote Kobashi in 1992 (Kawada was relegated to teaming with Kikuchi in a loss to the gaijin duo of Stan Hansen and Johnny Ace on this show) and we also start to see some distance between Misawa and Kawada, after Dangerous K so admirably proved himself to be a worthy foe for Jumbo during Misawa's injury issues last year. Is there more merit in Kawada being the 'senior' partner in a team with Kikuchi than there is in him seconding Misawa by this point?

Kobashi and Fuchi start, with the savvy veteran looking to keep the fiery youngster on the canvas with wrestling holds. He pointedly looks at Misawa as he mounts Kobashi and grinds a forearm into the face but can't keep someone with the size and tenacity of his opponent grounded. Jumbo tags, and Misawa instantly summons Kobashi to their corner so he can step up to the ace. Within seconds they are bombing on each other with elbows and Misawa has landed that rebound headbutt spot out of the corner and so Jumbo - like Fuchi with Kobashi - decides he needs to keep the younger man on the mat. He and Fuchi team up to start wearing down Misawa; before Jumbo smears his fist into Misawa's eye & nose looking to exacerbate the facial injuries he suffered last year. Misawa elbows the f*ck out of Jumbo...but is affected enough by that brief attack on his face that he needs to tag. Kobashi hits a second rope DDT on the champ then feeds him into Misawa's Tiger Body Press. But leaving Kobashi in there with the veterans is an obvious risk and soon enough Tsuruta-gun have worked themselves back into the ascendancy; targeting the ribs and midsection of Kobashi (clearly negating the effectiveness of his vaunted Moonsault). Misawa rushes to his partner's aid and scrambles Jumbo's brains with more Kobashi collapses to the floor fighting to catch his breath. FACELOCK from Fuchi to Misawa! The devious veteran is not only damaging Misawa's face, he's doing it by stealing his own move! Misawa again tries to fight with elbows, so Jumbo tosses him out. Fuchi blasts Misawa against the guardrail and when he gets back to the apron Tsuruta charges with a LARIAT TO THE FLOOR! Fuchi gives him a shinbreaker on a table for good measure! With his face hurting him, Tsuruta tears into Misawa's legs as well by repeatedly blasting them into the mat, with his lieutenant Fuchi always on hand to attack the injuries too. Misawa does finally free himself (with a flurry of elbows to Jumbo's head of course)...but Kobashi is still ill-equipped to stave off two such savvy opponents. Tsuruta quickly hammers him to the mat with the jumping knee then drags him back to their corner for a 2-on-1 attack. Kobashi shows all of his heart and courage to survive; enduring a back suplex from Fuchi then a thudding lariat from Jumbo for 2. POWERBOMB on Kobashi...gets 2! And the limping Misawa saves his partner from Jumbo's Back Drop Driver. TOP ROPE ELBOW SMASH by Misawa! FACELOCK ON JUMBO! The crowd goes absolutely batsh*t for that and audibly groan when Tsuruta makes the ropes! Fuchi comes to the aid of Jumbo - by raking Misawa's eyes. Kobashi tries his top rope flying tackle spot...but Tsuruta dodges and rams him STERNUM FIRST into the mat! Kobashi defies that to climb the ropes...and when Jumbo stops him hitting the Moonsault he decides to hit a wild flying crossbody on Fuchi instead! MOONSAULT NAILED! Jumbo breaks the pin! ACID DROP by Kobashi gets 2! He floats into the rolling cradle...AND PINS FUCHI! HUGE win for Kobashi at 24:25!

Rating - **** - This isn't a top tier match from this feud by any means, but it has all the tropes we've come to love from the Super Gens vs Tsuruta-gun rivalry. And crucially, whilst this retains some of the elements we've loved about the series it also felt like we were starting the year with some real progress. Misawa is now such a threat that Jumbo and Fuchi opened up two concurrent serious injuries (his leg and his face) and still couldn't suppress him sufficiently to stop him elbowing Jumbo in the head a lot - and the huge win for Kobashi immediately sets the stage for him to receive a higher billing in 1992. Of course there was a lot of Tsuruta-gun being incredibly watchable as bullying veterans. Misawa's selling of the leg was great, as was Kobashi's babyface fire (when isn't it?!)...and as always the way they moved up and down the levels of rank and status between the four combatants was masterful to watch. But it also really served a purpose in emphasising the growth of the Super Generation Army. There's no need to seek this match out if you're only a casual King's Road viewer...but the more enthusiastic among you will really find a lot to like here. In isolation it's engaging, exciting and outright fun, but there are little pieces of detail which demonstrate real progress in the over-arching narrative of the Super Generation/Tsuruta-gun rivalry and for the career development of both Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi.

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Toshiaki Kawada
21st January 1992 (Osaka) - With a Triple Crown defence against Stan Hansen looming in just over a week at the conclusion of the 1992 'New Year Giant' Series, the last thing Jumbo needs is a rematch with Kawada to deal with. Their Triple Crown clash in October 1991 is an absolute classic which demonstrated just how much the fiery and violent Kawada had closed the gap in ranking between he and the ace. On that night it was Jumbo's big match experience and heavy offensive weaponry which just gave him the edge on the young pretender. Does he still have that edge now, and how much is he willing to sacrifice of himself to beat Kawada just days before renewing hostilities with his great rival Hansen, with his gold on the line?

Jumbo circles Kawada tentatively and is obviously concerned about his striking - which Dangerous K duly amplifies with repeated leg kicks. KNOCK OUT SLAP BY JUMBO! He just turned Kawada's lights out! Tsuruta drags his limp body up and pulverises him with another lariat that somehow only gets 2. More leg kicks from Kawada, drawing a knee to the stomach from Jumbo which crumples Kawada to the floor (but injures the ace's leg further as well). Spinning heel kick by Kawada gets 2 and he immediately climbs onto the champ looking for the kind of wear-down submission holds which were so successful in October. When Tsuruta fights up Kawada dodges a knee, ducks a lariat then hammers him with another high velocity heel kick - which in turn sets up another leg submission. The champ is hobbled; desperately trying to get away from his opponent whilst Kawada fires off endless kick at his injured leg. Trying to up the ante in his effort to knock Kawada the f*ck out, Jumbo drags him through the ropes and hits a PILEDRIVER ON THE FLOOR! Somehow Kawada survives that, and shows his tenacity again as he bombs on Jumbo's head with elbows and starts knee dropping his injured leg. Drop toehold...into a mounted sleeper hold on Tsuruta! To a man who has tapped out to Misawa's Facelock, this is an extremely dangerous position...but this time Jumbo makes it out of the ring to break it. RUNNING PLANCHA BY KAWADA! REVOLUTION ELBOW OFF THE APRON! Kicks to the head, then another Revolution Elbow drop back into the ring gets 2! Kawada Kicks! SLAP DUEL! KAWADA KICKS! JUMBO LARIATOOOOOO! Tsuruta is desperate to put Kawada away - forcing him out of the ring again to hit a CHOKESLAM on the floor! Back in the ring he almost throttles the Super Generation Army member in a ferocious sleeper hold, but still Kawada resists. He hits a Russian legsweep to counter the Back Drop Driver then charges at the ace to level him with a clubbing lariat. Tsuruta tries to block the Revolution Elbow with a Back Drop...but Kawada rolls through that and hits a GERMAN SUPLEX for 2! Stretch Plum! Tsuruta all but collapses into the ropes whilst escaping, but still has Kawada climbing all over him grabbing limbs frantically. GAMENGIRI to block the Jumbo Lariat...for 2! The champion is being pushed to the limit now and only just blocks the Folding Powerbomb of his opponent. POWERBOMB by Jumbo gets 2! DDT nailed...and still 2! No matter how many times Tsuruta drops Kawada on his head the young man just won't quit! STRIKES TO THE NECK! BACK DROP DRIVER! KAWADA KICKS OUT! BACK DROP DRIVER AGAIN! Jumbo wins at 20:19

Rating - ****1/2 - It lacked the high stakes of the October '91 bout and doesn't quite match it for big time feel, but this truly is a spectacular sequel and a real under-rated/hidden gem in the All Japan King's Road era. There is so much urgency to this match. Tsuruta needs to beat Kawada quickly for so many reasons, so is incredibly violent in pursuit of victory. Perhaps it is his residual dislike for his opponent due to his association with Jumbo's great rivals Tenryu and Misawa. Perhaps it is fear after how hard Kawada pushed him in October. Or perhaps it is self-preservation; knowing he can't sustain too much damage ahead of his Triple Crown defence against Hansen. Whatever the reason, from the moment Kawada dished out a few kicks to the leg Jumbo set about trying to destroy his opponent. Every move was a remorseless, callous attempt to knock him out cold and end the match quickly. But just like in October, we saw again just how much Kawada has closed the gap. He gets the better of the great Jumbo on multiple occasions, and is the aggressor for prolonged periods of time here even in a match where it felt like Tsuruta was trying to kill him. As I said, this probably doesn't have the big match aura of their Triple Crown encounter and, like that one, it probably lacks a palpable sense that Kawada really could beat Jumbo...but this is still phenomenal, and not one I've seen talked about anywhere near as much as some other AJPW 90's bouts. If you loved their first match then you need to see this one as it's an outstanding accompanying piece of work.

Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi vs Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi
24th January 1992 (Tokyo) - Yes it's these six men, again. By this point you should know the sheer quality that the Tsuruta-gun vs Super Generation trios tags entail. This isn't the most famous meeting of these six men by any stretch, but it does bring them back together at an interesting point in time. The Super Generation are looking to fight back after a frustrating end to 1991 and are enjoying greater success in the ring with the biggest names in AJPW even if that hasn't yet translated to wins and championships. Jumbo meanwhile, as we saw last time, is a troubled ace with a split focus; struggling to shake the unrelenting challenge of Misawa's stable yet somehow having to focus on a looming date with his old foe Stan Hansen. 

By 1992 fans know what to expect when these six men get together, and there is a palpable sense of excitement during the introductions. Kawada seems up for a fight with anyone but is convinced by Kobashi to save his energy and start on the apron. Kobashi's enthusiasm is misplaced though as he find himself on the receiving end of some early Tsuruta-gun punishment. Taue's response to Misawa is fascinating; clearly fearful of the threat he poses and doing everything he can to keep out of strike distance. Kawada inevitably wants a piece of Taue too and slaps the sh*t out of him when he gets in! It's visibly reminiscent of the slap Jumbo dished out to him in their match earlier in January. Misawa works a prolonged chinlock on Taue...prompting both Fuchi and Jumbo to invade and take free shots at his unprotected head to break it. Kobashi tries to return but is again totally outclassed by Tsuruta-gun, despite showing real courage and defiance in the face of ferocious punishment. They aggressively target Kobashi's face (as they've done to both Kobashi and Misawa in the past), and the crowd roar in approval at ten minutes when Misawa emerges to save his young partner - driving Tsuruta to the floor then decking Fuchi with a savage elbow smash. STEREO PESCADOS by Kobashi and Misawa! Kawada takes over on Jumbo, going for kicks to the leg and head just as he did earlier in the month. All of the Super Generation take turns working Jumbo's head...until Fuchi makes the save for his leader. Taue finds himself isolated instead after that - and escorted outside for a DDT on the concrete by Kobashi, then a CACTUS ELBOW from Kawada! He puts an abdominal stretch on Taue whilst literally staring down Jumbo; daring the ace to come in and challenge him! It's only when Kawada exits the ring for Kobashi that Tsuruta actually comes in and tries to help his partner - by punching Kobashi in his injured face. Kobashi responds by ELBOWING HIM OFF THE APRON! Any time we see that spot happen to Jumbo we are transported straight back to the May 1990 tag. Taue's midsection takes plenty of does Fuchi, who is absolutely MAULED by Kawada when he tries to interfere! Out of nowhere Taue plants Misawa with a DDT and finally gets a hot tag to Jumbo. The Ace is on fire; rampaging into the ring and single-handedly laying waste to the Super Generation and repeatedly throwing vicious punches into Misawa's face. Kawada tags and fights right back with head kicks and the Revolution Elbow for 2! 

It seems like Kawada actually has Tsuruta's number momentarily...until Tsuruta starts bombing on the ribs and stomach which visibly slows Dangerous K down. FOLDING POWERBOMB on Taue! But with both men ailing after taking punishment to the abdomen there's no real chance of a pin before members of both teams spill in. MOONSAULT from Kobashi to Fuchi - but Jumbo breaks the pin. Kobashi elbows him off the apron and tries the Rolling Cradle again...but unlike January 2nd Fuchi kicks out! The wily veteran dodges a plancha from Misawa as well, causing Misawa to land on his feet on the floor - jarring his knee. It's a pivotal moment in the match and Misawa's partners know it. They rush to his aid as he tries to cover up his injured leg...but he soon finds himself escorted into the ring where Jumbo is, of course, waiting to attack it. GUARDRAIL SHINBREAKER by Taue! STF by Tsuruta follows, although it is broken by a kick right into Tsuruta's exposed and vulnerable head from Kobashi. Misawa's leg continues to take heavy punishment, with such damage inflicted that even when he does manage to elbow Tsuruta in the head it doesn't have its usual devastating impact and Tsuruta-gun are able to continue their dominance. He finally does land an elbow on Fuchi with enough impact to escape - and of course it's Kawada who wants in to unleash some more violence. LARIAT on Jumbo, then a running powerslam on Fuchi for 2. Taue blocks the Stretch Plum and throws a few Kawada lariats him to the ground too. Jumbo tags and puts his foot through Kobashi's face (again)...but this time Kobashi no-sells and tackles him to the mat! ELBOWS by Misawa! ELBOW SUICIDAAAAA! But Misawa can barely walk after hitting that and gets mowed down by the Triple Crown Champion as a result. Back Drop Driver blocked with an elbow INTO THE FACELOCK! The crowd gasp, but it's quickly extinguished as Fuchi breaks the hold and sets Tsuruta up for a big lariat which gets 2. Air Scissors Drop COUNTERED by hanging Jumbo over the ropes though...FACELOCK AGAIN! Kobashi and Kawada scatter the rest of Tsuruta-gun...but Jumbo makes the ropes! Fuchi tags and hits a top rope knee drop into Kobashi's injured face for 2. Akira tags...but gets punted in his injured ribs by Kawada and given a German suplex by Kobashi! Tiger Body Press on the injured midsection by Misawa for 2! KOBASHI MISSES THE MOONSAULT! NODOWA OTOSHI gets 2 for Taue! BACK DROP DRIVER BY JUMBO! ELBOW BY MISAWA! He brawls to the floor with Jumbo whilst Taue hits Kobashi with another big powerbomb for 2. Nodowa Otoshi again, and Taue wins it for Tsuruta-gun at 44:24

Rating - ****1/2 - The drawback of watching these six men in 1992 is that their trios matches don't quite have the same sense of freshness that the feud had in 1990. The first twenty minutes of this match aren't bad at all but this match does take a little more time to click into the higher gears and all the wrestlers feel a little too comfortable. However, the benefit of watching these six two years into their feud is that everyone knows their roles SO well - and the evolving ranking dynamics between them remain fascinating to watch. For the first half an hour of this match it was the Super Generation who largely took the role as the aggressors as they overwhelmed Fuchi, injured Taue and we saw that not only Misawa, but now Kawada has the fire power in his arsenal to genuinely unsettle the ace Tsuruta. For thirty minutes it felt like an exhibition in the growth and development of the Super Generation Army. The trajectory of the match radically changed after the Misawa leg injury though. Inflicted by Fuchi (who was the MVP of this match with a sensational display of villainy and antagonism) it meant that Tsuruta-gun found a way to eliminate one of Super Generation Army's big hitters. As good as Kawada had become and for as much as Kobashi has improved; when it came to dropping bombs down the stretch they and a one-legged Misawa ultimately didn't have enough in the locker. Taue gets the win. Taue demonstrates that it isn't just Kawada and Kobashi who are rapidly advancing towards main event status in AJPW. Despite the gains of the Super Generation, Tsuruta-gun remain just a step ahead. This isn't a top tier match in the rivalry so I could understand people going lower than me on a match rating - but I thought the depth of story-telling, some strong character work and a really dynamic final fifteen minutes really make it stand out. 

Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue vs Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi
26th January 1992 (Tokyo) - Already in January 1992 I've spoken a lot about the growth of Kobashi. We started the year with him scoring a pinfall in a main event win over Fuchi and Jumbo, and in the trios match we just watched he more than held his own (particularly when taking the fight to Tsuruta himself). Now he will really be tested, as we return to Korakuen Hall to see the 'top team' in Tsuruta-gun face the Super Generation Army second team of Kobashi and Kikuchi. If you recall, Kobashi and Kikuchi also defeated Jumbo in a tag encounter last August (Kobashi pinning Tsuruta's partner Yoshinari Ogawa with the Rolling Cradle).

The Super Generation charge Tsuruta and Taue at the bell and quickly drive them both to the floor - with Kobashi then picking up his own partner and launching him into a plancha over the ropes after them! He continues using Kiku as a weapon; flipping him into a moonsault splash on the fallen Taue for 2. Jumbo tries to help his partner after witnessing three minutes of non-stop punishment...but Kobashi gives him an emphatic slap in the face to keep him at bay as the Super Gens work over Taue's back. Kikuchi even finds the time to rush the opposition corner and smack Jumbo off the apron with a Misawa-esque elbow strike. Unfortunately it doesn't have the same impact as Misawa, and seems to visibly agitate the ace. Jumbo instantly forces his way in and mauls Kikuchi, and after a brief rest Akira too is able to launch into a nasty assault against the guardrail. His head and neck are clearly hurting him, and Taue damages his equilibrium as well with a giant swing. But Kikuchi is still game; he lands a few strikes on Tsuruta...who knees and elbows the f*ck out of him for his insolence! Kobashi has to rescue his partner from a particularly sadistic abdominal stretch and tries to take the fight back to Taue and his injured back with a Boston Crab. He looks for a suplex on the floor...but Taue counters! It delivers a devastating blow to Kobashi, and also allows Akira to crawl away and make the big tag to the Ace! He delivers repeated shots to Kobashi's ribs, which were seemingly damaged in that suplex on the outside. Kobashi tries an abdominal stretch on Taue...but has no choice but to tag out as he needs some time to recover. RUNNING ELBOW TO TSURUTA by Kikuchi! The crowd roar with approval at the precocious fire of Kikuchi, but Tsuruta-gun aren't on the back foot for long before swarming and overwhelming him again. And this time he doesn't have a fully-fit/healthy Kobashi on the outside waiting to help him. More elbows from Kikuchi nevertheless! FACE CHOPS from Taue to Kobashi - who runs through them and lands a DDT! Springboard bulldog nailed as well, before Jumbo steps in with more kicks and knees to the bad ribs. BACK DROP DRIVER by Kobashi! He ducks Jumbo's lariat as well, then fells him with a running neckbreaker for 2. Missile dropkick by Jumbo almost decapitates him with a big boot! Samoan Drop by Taue gets 2. Kobashi smacks Tsuruta off the apron then swings Kikuchi into a top rope splash for another 2. SUPERKICK/GERMAN SUPLEX COMBO...but Taue kicks out again! TSURUTA LARIATS KOBASHI OFF THE TOP ROPE as he lines up the Moonsault! NODOWA OTOSHI on Kikuchi...who kicks out! JUMBO LARIATOOO! Kiku kicks out again! POWERBOMB! KIKUCHI KICKS OUT ONCE MORE! The crowd go nuts for that! HIGH ANGLE BACK DROP DRIVER! Jumbo finally pins Kikuchi at 22:10 (shown)

Rating - **** - The official match-time is 22:21, so we didn't miss much at all there (I didn't notice any obvious edits at all). Clearly this lacked some of the fizz and spectacle that Tsuruta and Taue's matches with the Misawa/Kawada team had. That is to be expected given the fact that Kobashi and Kikuchi are the 'second' team for the Super Generation Army. But as has been a common theme in 1992; it is clear that the Super Gens are gaining ground. Tsuruta remained the undoubted ace - and the only man to never really sustain an injury or an extended period being worked over. But the rest of the pack are now bunching close together behind him. Kobashi possesses a Moonsault which Tsuruta-gun visibly fear could beat them, as well as enough speed and power to unsettle even Jumbo. And Kikuchi has now risen sufficiently in stature that it took an absolute flurry of bombs to put him down at the end. This isn't a top tier King's Road match in isolation - but if you have the time it's worth checking out because it gives you a clear perspective on how quickly Kobashi, Kikuchi (and even Taue) are ascending the ranks. Tsuruta's throne appears more perilous than ever before...

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Stan Hansen - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
28th January 1992 (Chiba) - So with the rising contenders from Super Generation Army still dogging him at every turn, Jumbo now turns his attention back to defending the Triple Crown against one of his oldest rivals. He and Hansen have traded wins and championships before and the Ace will be under no illusion that the gaijin wild-man will be a major threat here. Having become so sidetracked with Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi et al, can Tsuruta once again protect his spot at the very summit of AJPW?

Jumbo has plenty of experience in facing Hansen, so goes to what he knows works - namely trying to get the big gaijin on the mat and wrestle him. And by the same token, Stan knows he needs to stay on his feet and try to brawl or swarm the champion. He tries, but it ends up costing him as he charges shoulder-first into the turnbuckles. As he has done multiple times before Tsuruta immediately seizes a chance to work over the arm and weaken the vaunted Western Lariat. He wraps it around the ringpost on the outside, then hits a some big arm-breakers when they return which drops Stan to his knees in pain. Any time Hansen tries to do anything Jumbo is able to instantly put him back on the ground with a swift kick or punch to the injured arm...and this match starts to look pretty one-sided. Hansen bails; recoiling to the floor for respite - and when he returns (and Tsuruta tries to attack the arm again) he is able to plant him with a back suplex. He starts kicking at the bad leg which Jumbo has been nursing all tour (which Kawada exploited in their singles match earlier in January), and lays him out with a SHINBREAKER on a table! Back in the ring he goes to the mat whilst working over the leg, as much because his damaged arm means he isn't capable of fighting Jumbo on his feet. Eventually he realises that isn't working and goes outside again, this time loading up the same table with a chair and hitting another shinbreaker through both the chair and table! Half Crab applied (since Stan can't use his other arm to apply the full Boston Crab), and when Jumbo doesn't tap Hansen starts mercilessly stomping on the leg instead. Desperation enziguri strikes by Jumbo...into the Air Scissors Drop for 2. Stan blocks the Back Drop the even more desperate Tsuruta just tries to frantically roll him up instead (without success). Stan drills him with a DDT...and again Jumbo comes at him with wild, desperate kicks and pinfall attempts. WESTERN LARIATOOOO! Hansen wins at 16:44

Rating - *** - There were things I liked about this one, and things I didn't. I think I've already written this, but by 1992 it really did feel like stylistically the work between these two is a little dated. The more intricate, layered work of Tsuruta-gun and the Super Generation Army had raised standards considerably and, whilst there is a charm to watching these old rivals together, it felt too comfortable. It felt like they were repeating sequences, ideas and themes we've seen multiple times before between them. However, where I found myself really enjoying this - particularly in relation to Jumbo's storyline and status in 1992 All Japan - was how desperate the Ace became once Hansen started applying pressure. We visibly saw Tsuruta cracking under the strain of Hansen's leg attack. Having been chased and pushed to breaking point by the likes of Misawa and Kawada, it almost felt like it was his old foe Hansen who got to pick the bones. As Stan exploited the injury Kawada helped inflict earlier in the tour, Tsuruta went for wild kicks and frantic roll-ups. This wasn't the indomitable Ace emphatically romping to victory (as it seemed he might in the first half of the match). Instead it was a weary, desperate champion who had been worn down by young pretenders...only to fall to a wise old head who knows him perhaps best of all. Hansen once again rises to the top of AJPW, Tsuruta would never compete for the Triple Crown again...

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Kenta Kobashi
27th February 1992 (Matsumoto) - So Tsuruta ended the 1992 New Year Giant Series tour dethroned; his beloved Triple Crown Championship moving into the rugged grip of Stan Hansen. But his battles with the Super Generation continue. The recent Kobashi matches we've seen have demonstrated his growth. He may not be on Jumbo's level yet, but his Moonsault is a deadly finisher and his mix of power, speed, athleticism and raw tenacity make him a dangerous foe. Having lost the Triple Crown just a month earlier, is Tsuruta vulnerable to an upset loss? 

Tsuruta immediately pulls rank by clubbing on his opponent with some big forearms then drags him to the mat with one of the most emphatic headlocks you'll ever see. Kobashi responds with headlocks of his own; even using the hold to withstand an attempted shinbreaker from Jumbo. Eventually Tsuruta powers free with a series of violent knees to the abdomen. Just when he looks set to dominate, Kobashi breaks free of a Lion Tamer and hits a lariat with such force that it knocks Tsuruta out of the ring. BULLDOG OFF THE APRON! Having watched Misawa knock Tsuruta out on so many occasions, Kobashi knows just how effective ramming his skull into the arena floor will be! He tries to work the leg that Kawada and Hansen targeted in January next; ramming it into the canvas repeatedly and wearing it down further with a Texas Cloverleaf. Jumbo rolls out of the ring to escape so Kobashi simply pursues him and slaps on a Boston Crab on the floor...then bounces his head off the ringpost for good measure. He tries to repeat Stan Hansen's move of hitting a shinbreaker through the ringside table - which visibly pisses Tsuruta off. SHINBREAKER THROUGH THE TABLE by Jumbo! Defiant knees by Tsuruta HAMMERS him with a lariat! Kobashi DDT, into a running neckbreaker for 2. He clambers into a sleeper hold; knowing he's already inflicted serious damage to Tsuruta's head and having watched Misawa tap him out to the Facelock in the past. Once again Tsuruta rolls out of the ring to escape the Kobashi goes after him, rips up the protective mats on the floor and gives him a DDT ON THE CONCRETE! He looks to follow up with a running tackle inside the ring, only for Jumbo to counter with the sidestep facebuster which he has used on Misawa in the past. Lariat ducked...sleeper by Kobashi...COUNTERED TO THE BACK DROP DRIVER! It's Kobashi's turn to slump to the floor, with Tsuruta in hot pursuit to drop him sternum-first over the guardrails. The look of utter viciousness on Tsuruta's face as he punches his young foe square in the face is terrifying. Powerbomb nailed...for 2, Kobashi kicking out of that just as he did in their 1990 singles match. Back Drop Driver COUNTERED to a Misawa-esque crossbody for 2! BACK DROP DRIVER BY KOBASHI! MOONSAULT NAILED! JUMBO KICKS OUT! The crowd really bit on that nearfall and are going wild for Kobashi now! Jumbo floors him with another lariat, but his head is so scrambled he collapses to his knees as well. BRIDGING GERMAN SUPLEX gets 2 for Kobashi! He tries another suplex, then powerslams the Ace when he tries to escape. Top rope tackle COUNTERED WITH A MID-AIR KNEE TO THE RIBS! Neckbreaker drop by Jumbo! BACK DROP DRIVER! Tsuruta finally wins at 21:39

Rating - **** - This is a great match and, although it gets the same rating as their August 1990 singles match, it really is a more rich and engaging encounter that really demonstrated Kobashi's growth in the last year and a half. The opening period of this is a little flat (and some of Jumbo's work on Kobashi's leg didn't really feel like it went anywhere), but after Kobashi hit that brutal bulldog off the apron this was such a fiery encounter. The young Kobashi brought his absolute best in an effort to take down the leader of Tsuruta-gun; going after the head and neck (which all of Super Generation Army have done successfully over the last couple of years), and also targeting the knee that Kawada and Hansen injured the previous month. He even started trying to directly lift spots from Stan and Kawada, which was a great touch. And, as he so often is, Tsuruta was just majestic in his portrayal as the grumpy, veteran Ace. The way he escalates his vicious, violent offence (and facial expressions) as the rising star refuses to be put away or dares to threaten him. The fact that his performance here was different from the outright loathing he displays with Misawa, the aggression he shows with Kawada and the dismissive disrespect he shows to Kikuchi. He really is a masterful and versatile performer, still very much at the apex of AJPW in early 1992 even without the Triple Crown.

Stan Hansen vs Mitsuharu Misawa - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
4th March 1992 (Tokyo) - Upon winning the Triple Crown Hansen vowed to be a fighting champion and promised to defend it against Tsuruta, Misawa or anyone else. It means that, once again, Misawa is looking to definitively shatter the glass ceiling and capture the Triple Crown which has eluded him for nearly two years. The win against Jumbo in 1990 proves that he is capable of beating the very best in AJPW in singles matches. He also has a submission victory over Tsuruta in tag action, and a pinfall win over another former Triple Crown Champion in Terry Gordy. Is tonight that Misawa throws off his 'nearly-man' tag and finally assumes the role of Ace? 

The combatants violently lock up before the bell rings, rolling around on the ground and peppering each other with strikes. Just as we saw with Jumbo, Misawa tries to keep Stan on the ground; controlling him with a front facelock for a prolonged period. Of course that softens up the head and neck for him to rattle off a few elbow bombs as well. Next he transitions to working the arm, clinging to an armbar in an effort to weaken the Western Lariat. It's noticeable that at every step Hansen is using nasty, vicious touches of experience to hang in there - like cheap-shotting Misawa in the stomach, or raking his eyes or close-range punches to the face. It means that the challenger doesn't inflict any significant damage and Hansen retaliates by throttling Misawa against the guardrails. But after that impressive burst of violence even Stan slows the pace right down and takes the time to work an extended dragon sleeper (until Misawa uses a barrage of kicks to escape). Misawa goes to a headlock; sticking to his strategy of trying to ground the champion whilst working over the head and neck. This time Stan bounces his head off the canvas with a back suplex to escape then begins choking and raking his face in the ropes. He works a claw hold on the neck and shoulder and utterly steamrolls Misawa with a running tackle when the challenger escapes it. Back to the floor, where Hansen smashes Misawa's head against the table where the Triple Crown belts are situated...then DDT'S HIM ON THE CONCRETE! A powerbomb in the ring follows, right into a back suplex and Misawa is barely able to kick out. Somehow he survives and swings a desperate lariat into the back of Hansen's head - knocking him to the floor. DIVING ELBOW OFF THE APRON! DDT ON THE EXPOSED FLOOR BY MISAWA! He propels himself back into the ring with a flying elbow from the top as well for 2...then locks in the Facelock! But, unlike Jumbo in the past, Stan is able to lurch into the ropes. Tiger Body Press gets 2, and this time Hansen starts pulling Misawa's hair and grabbing hold of the referee to escape the Facelock! The crowd desperately wants Misawa to win here and gasp in agony as he misses a running senton splash. LARIAT by Stan...for 2! Misawa hits the float-over crossbody counter to a back suplex...then a RUNNING ELBOW for 2! Another top rope elbow misses, and Misawa runs right into the WESTERN LARIATOOOOOO! Hansen retains at 19:12

Rating - *** - This is slow-going in the early stages, but stick with it because the second half is really fiery and you can palpably feel the excitement growing in the audience during Misawa's comeback sequences. During the King's Road Chronicles series thus far we've talked a lot about Misawa's journey. As one of the Four Pillars, his story is clearly integral to our exploration through 1990's All Japan. But this match is actually far more about Hansen's story than it is Misawa's. On every level this match sets Hansen up as the new big, bad boss at the top of the mountain. Having toppled Jumbo, he decisively beat the hottest rising native star in Misawa here too. At every turn it felt like, even after two years of battling to ascend to the throne Misawa just wasn't ready. His strategy felt too safe and limited; working submission holds on the canvas just didn't have enough impact - particularly when his brutish opponent had no qualms about bending all the rules to escape. Misawa came off as too nice and too naive, trying to work headlocks against a man who is willing to rake his eyes and smash his head into tables. Indeed, Misawa's biggest successes in this match only came when he threw off the shackles and got into a down and dirty fight with Hansen. Although the methodical first half limits the mass appeal of this one, I do like what it represents as we reach the close of 1992's first quarter. Tsuruta is dethroned, Hansen is the new dominant champion and he effectively taught Misawa a lesson here. No matter how beloved Misawa is, he leaves the Budokan on this night clearly not yet ready to become the Ace...and another huge opportunity slips through his fingers.

Terry Gordy/Steve Williams vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue - AJPW World Tag Title Match
4th March 1992 (Tokyo) - This match main events the evening's show at the Nippon Budokan even over the Hansen/Misawa Triple Crown bout. Having lost his singles championship the previous month, Jumbo is looking to quickly get gold back around his waist as he and his protege Taue challenge the Miracle Violence Connection. It is the first defence for the MVC after they won the titles in the finals of the 1991 RWTL in a classic against Misawa and Kawada.

Doc starts with Jumbo and shows no fear whatsoever, absolutely ignoring Tsuruta's early strikes. An irate Jumbo finally hits a jumping knee with such force that it propels Williams right out of the ring. Taue tags, but walks into an emphatic tackle from Gordy. He tries the sumo strike rush but Terry smartly counters with a drop toehold and keeps him on the ground and for the first time Tsuruta steps in to protect his partner. He and Gordy BEAT THE SH*T out of each other in a crazy strike exchange, which Jumbo gets the better of. It needs a cheap-shot from Dr Death to put the champions in control again. He brawls around ringside with Tsuruta, after which Jumbo can be seen nursing his head which necessitates another tag to Taue. Recognising that this is their chance, the MVC immediately try to double-team Taue...and the crowd roar jubilantly as he out-guns them and tackles Gordy to the floor. Williams launches another illegal attack to blindside an opponent; this time hitting a double axehandle on Akira to hand the advantage to Gordy. Now the champions successfully double team Taue - stomping him into the mat as Jumbo watches on in a rage. LARIAT ON THE FLOOR by Terry! The audience jeer loudly as Williams refuses to give Taue a clean break on a Boston Crab moments later too. Gordy supplements that with repeated knees into the midsection which leave their younger challenger writhing in pain...and they then unload more double-team strikes in the corner to further antagonise both the crowd and Jumbo. The beating gets progressively more vicious as Gordy starts to pepper Taue with lariat after lariat and it leaves Tsuruta with no choice but to interfere. Unfortunately Dr Death sees him coming and cuts him off with a body avalanche as Terry hits a powerbomb for 2 on Taue. 

ASSISTED POWERBOMB gets 2 for the MVC! DDT BY TAUE! Out of sheer desperation he drops Gordy with one of his own favourite moves and makes a crucial tag to Tsuruta! Jumbo roars into the ring...but is again attacked by Williams before he is able to inflict any real damage. Once again Williams mauls Tsuruta against the guardrails, before feeding him into a grounded headscissors from Gordy - his thighs clamped around Jumbo's skull as Doc drops a series of illegal elbows as well. Sleeper by Williams, applied with such force that it takes multiple strikes from Taue to break it. BACK DROP DRIVER from Tsuruta to Gordy! Taue gets a tag, and a receipt for earlier as he drops Williams with a cheap-shot on his way to hitting a Samoan Drop on Gordy. NODOWA OTOSHI gets 2! DOUBLE BACK DROP as well, but Terry somehow kicks out again. TORPEDO LARIAT by Gordy! Lion Tamer by Williams...broken only to level Taue with a lariat as well. OKLAHOMA STAMPEDE! But Taue breaks the pin, even though he knows Gordy is waiting to absolutely pelt him with strikes. Jumbo escapes another Stampede and spikes Doc with a DDT to leave them both on the mat. Williams tries to climb the ropes - but finds Taue waiting to halt his progress and leave him vulnerable to a press slam from Tsuruta. Air Scissors Drop gets 2! ELBOW SUICIDA FROM TAUE TO GORDY! BACK DROP DRIVER from Jumbo to Dr Death! But he kicks out again as Taue and Gordy brawl back through the ropes. Williams hits a Back Drop Driver...and now they're both so beaten down neither man can cover. BACK DROP DRIVER BY JUMBO! HE PINS WILLIAMS! With Taue restraining Gordy, he watches Tsuruta win back the Tag Titles at 31:18

Rating - ****1/2 - I really adored the structure and drama to this one. Some of the pacing is a little weird and it does start slowly but this really is a brilliant match where almost every little movement means something. The opening exchange where Williams shows absolutely no fear of Jumbo and completely no-sells his strikes is critically important as it sets Doc up to be Tsuruta's nemesis throughout the match. Multiple times he cheap-shots Jumbo, or attacks him on the outside...and right at the death it's Doc and Jumbo trying to back drop each other into oblivion. I loved how the MVC injured Jumbo's head, leaving him no choice but to tag Taue the champions the opportunity to isolate and viciously work over what is perceived to be the weakest man in the match. But Taue heroically resists and actually ends that sequence by defiantly levelling Gordy with a DDT - one of his own favourite moves. It's thrilling to watch Jumbo as the beloved babyface hero rather than the curmudgeonly obstacle for the Super Generation Army we're used to seeing in these 90's AJPW matches and the roar of the crowd as he wins the match and quickly reclaims AJPW gold from American opposition after losing the Triple Crown to Hansen earlier in the year is a wonderful moment.

Kenta Kobashi vs Toshiaki Kawada
20th March 1992 (Tokyo) - We now enter the 1992 Champion Carnival, in fact this is from night one of the 1992 CC tour. In this series we've watched these two stable-mates do battle on a couple of occasions. We watched in 1989 as Young Lion Kobashi brought the fight commendably to the more established Kawada. In 1990 we saw them compete as rising stars looking to prove their main event credentials. Now they have more seasoning, more experience and they've both demonstrated that they can take the fight to the biggest and best names in AJPW. Kobashi will be looking to prove he is on the same level as Kawada, whilst Dangerous K will have eyes on another Triple Crown opportunity if he's able to produce a strong Champion Carnival...

Kobashi seems to enjoy more crowd support on the night and it spurs him onto a feisty opening which sees him tackle Kawada then DDT HIM OFF THE APRON! A top rope flying tackle to the floor scores as well leaving Kawada thoroughly rattled. Even a big kick to Kobashi's knee causes only a momentary pause before he is back on top and trying to submit Kawada with a sleeper. We reach the five minute mark and Kawada has been completely dominated...but he finally frees himself with a shinbreaker and goes right to work on his stable-mates leg. Kobashi goes to a front facelock, but this time as much to protect his now-injured leg as it is to weaken Kawada. His vertical base has clearly been weakened too as Kawada is easily able to scurry to the ropes to break a dragon sleeper attempt. The extended submission sequence does buy his leg time to recover though and he is getting closer to choking Kawada out; this time with a Cobra Clutch. Dangerous K finally thunders out of the corner, decimating Kobashi with a lariat then unleashing an almighty kick flurry which leaves his foe motionless on the canvas. He slumps to the outside...with Kawada in pursuit to body slam him on the floor. REVOLUTION ELBOW OFF THE APRON! Back in the ring he drop toeholds the back leg, using that as a set-up for a mounted sleeper hold which quickly turns Kobashi's face purple. Revolution Elbow again gets 2 - and Kobashi visibly needs the ropes to help him stand now. He makes one last dash for glory...but Kawada catches him trying to climb for the moonsault and delivers another swift kick to the leg. Elevated back suplex drags Kobashi back to the mat with a bump, although he recovers quickly from that to hit the springboard bulldog for 2. MOONSAULT NAILED! Kawada kicks out! JUMPING ENZI by Kawada gets 2. Folding Powerbomb countered to Kobashi's Rolling Cradle...for 2 again. Kawada puts a stop to those shenanigans with the lariat to the head and a FOLDING POWERBOMB. Kobashi kicks out! Stretch Plum locked in...and Kobashi taps at 20:46

Rating - *** - I didn't like this as much as their June 1990 bout, but there are some mitigating circumstances here. On that night they were going full throttle in an effort to prove they belonged in the main event picture. This is night one of the incredibly gruelling Champion Carnival tour so it is understandable they might be more reserved. Some of the ideas here were really good; particularly Kobashi using shock and awe tactics in the opening couple of minutes to completely catch Kawada off guard. Unfortunately the subsequent ten minutes becomes somewhat arduous as Kobashi works prolonged submission holds in an effort to wear his stable-mate down. It made sense, but it wasn't particularly compelling viewing. Even the moments of excitement, drama and danger that Kawada brought to the party were broken up with some rather one-dimensional mat sequences on his part as well. Thankfully they had a hot closing sequence, with Kobashi hitting the Moonsault but paying for not having done enough to weaken Kawada before hand, then getting totally outgunned by his senior stable-mate who clearly pulled rank and unleashed some big bombs before tapping Kobashi out. It's good, but certainly not essential viewing.

Stan Hansen vs Kenta Kobashi
27th March 1992 (Wakayama) - One week on from the previous match, and we stick with Kobashi's progress in the 1992 Champion Carnival. Up next for him is the imposing figure of the Triple Crown Champion, Stan Hansen. 'The Lariat' is unbeaten thus far, with quick wins over Dan Kroffat and Yoshinari Ogawa already in the book. Last time we saw these two do battle, in September 1991, we saw the feisty Kobashi push Stan hard in a match which went almost twenty minutes. Can go one step further tonight and send shockwaves through All Japan with a victory over Hansen?

Just like he did with Kawada, Kobashi comes out firing and quickly batters his opponent through the ropes. But Hansen isn't phased and simply picks up a steel chair to hammer the youngster with! Trying to shake the cobwebs away, Kobashi starts to attack Stan's arm - eventually wrapping it around the top rope and dropkicking the exposed shoulder. POWERBOMB ON THE FLOOR BY HANSEN! For a second time he has gone to extreme lengths to shut down Kobashi's attempts to hurt him. He follows that with a neckbreaker in the ropes, then a dragon sleeper trying to hurt the neck still more. Kobashi fights back with a bulldog...and when Hansen leaves the ring he piles into the champ again with a DDT ON THE CONCRETE! He tries a flying tackle off the apron...but Hansen blocks with a BACK FIST to the face then a bruising football tackle to the floor. Dragon sleeper in the ropes next...setting up a diving powerbomb for a close nearfall. A Piledriver comes next, but still Kobashi refuses to stay down. He ducks the Western Lariat and lands another DDT! With blood pouring from his nose he valiantly tries to throttle the champ with a sleeper hold...then starts to climb the ropes. MOONSAULT MISSES! Stan tries another powerbomb, but Kobashi counters by throwing all his weight down onto Hansen's face. He starts leg dropping the back of Stan's head, seemingly trying to knock him out...but just can't make him stay down. Hansen eventually grabs his head and just bashes his bloody face straight down into the canvas just to get some respite! WESTERN LARIATOOO! Hansen wins at 14:41

Rating - **** - This certainly isn't the most celebrated Kobashi/Hansen encounter, but they really do have such a natural chemistry that even this is an engrossing watch. Kobashi is the perfect foil for Stan; oozing babyface fire and heart, willing to throw his body around and taking huge amounts of punishment, but with enough size and power to believably threaten Hansen in return. All of their matches have a reckless, dangerous charm to them and this was no exception. Just like with the Kawada match from a week earlier, Kobashi came out swinging, but what was more impressive here was that he never really slowed down. Unlike his match with Kawada where he started working submissions, he maintained a much higher pace here - and he needed to because at every turn Hansen was waiting to do something incredibly violent (use a chair, powerbomb him on the floor, break his nose) to punish every mistake he made. The match became a visible display of Kobashi's progress; he was in charge, he was seemingly on the brink of knocking Hansen out. But then it ends with a stark reminder of his place on the food-chain as Hansen needed just a swift, single blow to win.

Akira Taue vs Toshiaki Kawada
31st March 1992 (Toyama) - The rivalry between these two men goes back a long way. At times the hatred between them threatened to boil over and eclipse even the bad blood between Misawa and Jumbo. Now they renew hostilities in the Champion Carnival, each with a perfect record of two wins from two up to this point. Kawada followed up his hard-fought win over Kobashi with a win over Dan Spivey, whilst Taue's victories have come against Yoshinari Ogawa and David Isley meaning he will arguably he slightly less fatigued by the tournament action thus far.

Taue jumps Kawada during his entrance then gives him a wild dropkick off the apron, in scenes reminiscent of their January 1991 classic. TOPE SUICIDA NAILED! NODOWA OTOSHI ON THE FLOOR! And this is all before the bell has rung! He rips Kawada's shirt from his back as we finally get underway officially, of course with the crowd now raucous in their support of Kawada. Taue drops him throat-first over the ropes, steps on his neck and hits a precise leg drop in a targeted attack to the neck and throat. GAMENGIRI by Kawada, blocking an attempted running tackle from his opponent. He repeatedly kicks at Taue's face before locking in a front choke; partially to wear Taue down and partially to buy himself time to recover. Akira escapes that and hauls Kawada straight to the floor where he hangs him chest-first over the guardrails. Dangerous K responds by body-slamming him through the timekeeping table! In the ring he applies an abdominal stretch...then absolutely SLAPS THE SH*T out of Taue when he makes the ropes to escape! Headlocks next, with Kawada clinging on even when Taue tries to break with a shinbreaker. In the end Taue escapes it by hoisting him up and hitting a modified shinbreaker into the ring-ropes, effectively crotching him. He locks in a tight sleeper hold, looking to capitalise on the work he's done all match making it hard for Kawada to breathe. Kawada counters to an equally tight sleeper of his own, which of course is made more potent by the sheer volume of head and neck strikes he's delivered to his foe throughout the match. He then clatters into Taue with a thudding lariat when he escapes. Revolution Elbow nailed for 2. When Taue kicks out of that, almost without breaking stride Kawada takes him outside and hits a CACTUS ELBOW! Folding Powerbomb scores - but again it's just 2. Dangerous K smells blood...only for Akira to hit the sit-out counter to another powerbomb, then the sumo strike rush. Kicks by Kawada - COUNTERED to another Nodowa Otoshi. Then another for a nearfall! LARIAT TO THE HEAD by Kawada - a move he's beaten Taue with before. Stretch Plum locked in...but too close to the ropes! Taue kicks him in the throat and hits ANOTHER NODOWA OTOSHI...FOR 2! GAMENGIRI! NO SOLD! Neckbreaker Drop by Taue! Kawada blocks another Taue lariats him in the back of the head! NODOWA OTOSHI! KAWADA KICKS OUT! ROLLING NODOWA OTOSHIS! TAUE PINS KAWADA! It's a huge victory for Taue at 17:03

Rating - **** - Once again the tempestuous rivalry between these two men absolutely sizzles here. It's not quite as electrifying as the January 1991 encounter, but at points this is certainly reminiscent of that. There are a few lulls in the action, and although each man is simply deploying more methodical, grounded holds to suit the wider narrative of the body-part they were looking to isolate, there are points where you can feel the momentum they were built with the incredibly feisty opening salvo start to fizzle out. But inevitably they recover and build to a storming closing stretch, which sees Taue so desperate for a rare, decisive win over Kawada that he relentlessly bombs on him. Kawada shows incredible fighting spirit - but largely in vein as he does little more than resist; holding off Taue's inexorable march to victory for as long as he possibly can. The thunderous pop at the finish tells you that both competitors did their job well and that the audience recognised that this was a significant moment for Taue. 

Mitsuharu Misawa vs Jumbo Tsuruta
2nd April 1992 (Yokohama) - It is the fourth and final Misawa/Jumbo singles encounter, although of course at the time nobody realised that. After their famous clashes in 1990, and their (in my opinion) under-rated Triple Crown bout in 1991, they come back together in the 1992 Champion Carnival. Both are undefeated in the block thus far, and both have their eyes on a Triple Crown rematch with Stan Hansen as soon as possible. Misawa has a one hundred percent record; with wins over Giant Kimala II, Master Blaster, Masanobu Fuchi and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Jumbo is behind Misawa at this stage, also unbeaten but with a time-limit draw against Terry Gordy meaning he has fewer points. There is still plenty of time left but many expect this to effectively decide who advances from the block into the final. Can Misawa repeat his heroics of June 1990 and topple the mighty Jumbo once again? Or will Tsuruta maintain his subsequent singles dominance over his arch rival?

It takes only seconds for them to start blasting each other elbows, before Jumbo sidesteps Misawa's signature diving elbow to plant his face into the mat then land the Air Scissors Drop. He viciously swings Misawa round in an early sleeper hold, clearly remembering Misawa tapping him out to the Facelock last year. It forces Misawa to leave the ring to recover, clutching his head on the outside as we've seen Tsuruta do so many times with him. A big boot and the jumping knee follow as Tsuruta continues to pummel his young foe. Even a big Misawa elbow only momentarily halts his progress - before Jumbo shuts him down with bruising knees and forearms to the sternum. Every time Misawa shows some defiance Tsuruta swiftly and brutally brutalises him back to the mat; an absolutely dominant opening period from the Ace. Misawa tries to leave the ring again, but this time Tsuruta goes with him and starts bouncing his head off the ringpost. Ten minutes in and Misawa desperately tries to rally with some brutal elbow strikes...but yet again Jumbo mauls him back to the mat and clamps on a tight sleeper hold. And Misawa's only reward for escaping it is walking right into a piledriver. FLOATOVER COUNTER to the Back Drop Driver...but Tsuruta easily kicks out (refusing to allow the younger man to flash pin him again) and clobbers him with a few lariats. GERMAN SUPLEX by Misawa! The match is almost fifteen minutes old and he finally lands a major offensive bomb on Tsuruta; quickly following it with a baseball slide and a DIVING ELBOW OFF THE APRON! At last Jumbo is vulnerable and Misawa swarms him with strikes from all angles to close the gap. He even hits a top rope elbow drop, drawing his first significant nearfall of the match. Jumbo still has enough to block the Tiger Driver Misawa gives him a back suplex. Tiger Body Press GETS KNEES! Jumbo blocks the move and once again leaves Misawa rolling in pain on the canvas. He plants Misawa with a DDT then almost decapitates him with one of the most murderous dropkicks you'll ever see. FLYING CROSSBODY by Tsuruta! Misawa clings to the ropes to block the Back Drop, then starts striking at the back of Jumbo's head...but yet again Tsuruta simply shakes him off like a Terminator. POWERBOMB gets 2! POWERBOMB AGAIN! Misawa kicks out again, leaving Jumbo furious. He loads up a LARIAT TO THE FACE! But in his fervour to attack Misawa, he makes an error - charging at Misawa and allowing the Super Generation leader to duck a dropkick causing him to ricochet off the ropes. It's a counter Misawa has used before...and he looks to capitalise with more flash pins and elbows. ARMBREAKER BY JUMBO! Finally sick of being elbowed in the head, he sadistically wrenches on the arm then levels him with the BACK DROP DRIVER! Five minutes left in the time limit and once again Tsuruta clamps onto the Sleeper Hold, until Misawa collapses in the ropes. FACELOCK BY MISAWA! But Tsuruta has a counter; pulling the hair to escape. Two minutes left in the time-limit and Tsuruta marches towards Misawa again, rocking him with huge elbows - interspersed with frantic pinning attempts from Misawa. Sleeper again by Jumbo; smashing Misawa in the head for good measure too. Ten seconds left and Tsuruta hits a BACK DROP DRIVER! TIME LIMIT EXPIRES before the ref can count the pin! It's a 30:00 draw...

Rating - **** - It is, of course, disappointing that a match which so clearly wasn't meant to be their last encounter wound up being the final singles clash between Misawa and Jumbo. This seminal rivalry - which paved the way for All Japan to transform from what brought them success in the 80's to the critically acclaimed King's Road of the 90's - does deserve a more conclusive finish. But it is important to acknowledge that this is a really high quality bout. If you can somehow unburden it from the pressure and expectation of being the last Jumbo/Misawa clash it really has some strong ideas. In many ways it is Tsuruta's most dominant performance over Misawa yet. He controls the pace and is on top for the vast majority of the thirty minute run-time...and it is he that is cruelly denied victory by the time-limit expiring just when it seemed within his grasp. In the context of this, coming in the aftermath of Misawa's Triple Crown defeat to Stan Hansen, it is even more fascinating. As we saw in the Hansen Triple Crown Match, and as Misawa's subsequent two singles bouts with Jumbo after the shock of June 1990 also demonstrated - Misawa just isn't ready. The leader of the Super Generation may be the future, but in the present (and after two years of struggle) he still hasn't fully closed the gap on the dominant 80's stalwarts of Tsuruta and Hansen. But digging into this in more detail, perhaps this is actually one of Misawa's strongest performances against the old guard to date. Given that he had won all his matches in the Champion Carnival thus far - he didn't NEED to beat Jumbo the same way Tsuruta needed to beat him. On this night, just as with the Hansen Triple Crown match, there were points where he was completely overwhelmed. And yet he resisted, he held on, he fought valiantly. For all that Jumbo battered him, he consistently came back with reminders that he COULD beat him. Surprise pin attempts littered the second half of this match as he attempted to reprise the 1990 upset. The crowd roared in delight when it seemed like Misawa may just tap Tsuruta out to the Facelock again. Perhaps the victory Misawa claimed here wasn't the three-count or the definitive win over Tsuruta he so craved - but in defying the legend. In surviving the onslaught and thwarting his efforts to pass Misawa on the way to the Champion Carnival final. After consecutive defeats to Jumbo and after being taught a lesson by Stan Hansen - was this the night where Misawa showed us he finally does have what it takes to ascend to the very top?

Stan Hansen vs Toshiaki Kawada
6th April 1992 (Osaka) - The Triple Crown Champion remains unbeaten and dominant in the Champion Carnival Block B standings. Kawada's defeat to Akira Taue means that his only hope of advancing to the final is to win here; securing an unlikely victory over the champion.

Hansen charges Kawada and hurls him out of the ring (even as Kawada frantically throws strikes back at him). The opening minute is non-stop violence as the two men violently smack each other around; Kawada's kicks proving to be a weapon so potent even the champ struggles to deal with them. Annoyed at Kawada's insolence, Stan cheap-shots him then levels him with a sharp DDT. Kawada tries to work a leg to weaken Hansen's vertical base...even as he absorbs a staggeringly violent stumbling reverse elbow strike from Stan. He works a kneebar, whilst delivering sick short-range kicks right into the champ's face, forcing even the mighty Hansen to retreat for the cover of the ropes. Kawada uses the ropes to deliver a succession of kicks to the leg...SO STAN POWERBOMBS HIM ON THE F*CKING FLOOR! Hansen then collapses alongside the fallen Kawada, selling the injury that has been inflicted to his leg. Kawada doesn't really get a chance to recover either, with Hansen staying on him and dropping him chest-first over the barricade. Dangerous K does manage to clock Stan with a big boot - but is now carrying so much damage to his back and midsection that he struggles to capitalise. A big elbow drop misses, further injuring him...and Stan crushes the ribs again with a rebound elbow drop for 2. Kawada catches Hansen across the jaw with a jumping kick out of nowhere, causing the big American to go sprawling to the mat as if he's been knocked out. He hasn't but Kawada hits him again with a spinning heel kick before hitting the CACTUS ELBOW TO THE FLOOR! Revolution Elbow gets 2...and Hansen has little choice but to start tossing Kawada away as he attempts to swarm him with kicks and elbows. LARIAT TO THE HEAD! SLEEPER HOLD! Kawada is trying to choke out the champion! Stan escapes and HEADBUTTS KAWADA OUT OF THE RING! He rips up the protective mats and body slams him next, before delivering REPEATED body slams to the exposed concrete. GAMENGIRI to block the Western Lariat! But Hansen pushes forward regardless and powerbombs Kawada to the mat for 2. Brazos Valley Backbreaker (Boston Crab) applied...and Stan refuses to break it for several seconds. when Kawada makes the ropes. DEFIANT ELBOW STRIKE BY KAWADA! WESTERN LARIAT! Hansen wins at 18:00

Rating - **** - This is another example where the relentless, smash-mouth, strike-heavy style of Hansen's opponent (Kawada in this case) fits so comfortably with his old-school, reactive brawling. This isn't a particularly deep, meaningful bout - but it's simple, effective and really rather violent at points. Kawada loses but emerges with plenty of credit; refusing to be bullied or pushed around by Hansen (he was quite literally defying the Triple Crown Champion with aggressive striking right up until the decisive Western Lariat finish) and forcing the champ to go to extreme lengths just to escape with the victory. I really did like how Stan maintained a consistent focus on attacking Kawada's back and midsection too. 

Stan Hansen vs Steve Williams
14th April 1992 (Kumamoto) - I've not heard a great deal about this one, but I've included it out of interest as I'm genuinely keen to see what happens in this battle between two of the gaijin powerhouses in Block B of the 1992 Champion Carnival. Hansen has a perfect 16 points thus far, winning all of his matches. Williams is one behind on 15, also unbeaten but with a time-limit draw against Kenta Kobashi. It means Dr Death needs to win to advance to the final, whereas Hansen can advance with either a win or a time-limit draw. 

Williams is noticeably keen to close the gap on Hansen and grapple with him, which Stan staves off with some vicious headbutts. Doc does manage to ground The Lariat soon after, causing Hansen to roll out of the ring and smack him with a steel chair. Within two minutes it is crystal clear that Williams wants to wrestle the champion, and Stan is going to do whatever possible to ensure this remains a dirty brawl. Steve works a grounded hammerlock, keen to avoid both a Lariat and more of the clubbing strikes which have rained down on him thus far in the contest. He isn't averse to bending a few rules either; wrapping the arm in the rope illegally and using that for extra leverage as he stretches it again. Seeking revenge for earlier he leaves the ring and grabs a chair of his own...then starts smashing the arm and shoulder with it! With one arm now injured, Hansen uses knees and boots to the head to fight his way back, before dropping Williams on his head with a DDT for 2. Rolling suplexes by Dr Death, once again using his wrestling acumen to combat the powerful Triple Crown Champion. Cross armbreaker applied next...only for Stan to pummel his way free then hit an emphatic running dropkick. Dragon Sleeper applied in the ropes; Hansen looking to do maximum damage with minimal effort due to his arm not being fully functional. Steve escapes, puts a knee into the shoulder again then lands a DDT of his own. He climbs on top of Hansen with a sleeper hold, but simply can't force a submission. He looks for a cobra twist instead so he can work the arm some more...only for Stan to collapse in the ropes. Thesz Press by Hansen; using his entire body as a weapon with his arm having been rendered redundant. POWERSLAM by Dr Death gets 2! Cobra Twist applied...and again Stan almost falls into the ropes. DOCTOR BOMB! Hansen kicks out! Oklahoma Stampede blocked...Western Lariat ducked! LARIAT TO THE BACK OF THE HEAD! Hansen essentially collapses on top of Williams and wins at 19:15. The champion is in the finals of the Champion Carnival.

Rating - **** - If you come into this expecting a meaty bomb-fest you might be a little disappointed. I actually thought the gruelling, intelligent story they told with this was really ambitious however and a real departure from wild brawling or head-dropping you might expect from them. Williams is a decorated amateur wrestler, equipped with the kind of size and strength needed to pose a genuine threat to Hansen. He had a clear game-plan; to avoid striking and brawling with the champ at all costs - instead using his amateur skills to get him on the ground and work over the arm. And it almost worked, he almost took down the man who has held the spot as top gaijin in AJPW for many years. Dr Death was the aggressor for the majority of the contest, with Stan struggling for answers to his strategy. In the end Hansen wins due to the puncher's power of his lariat...but he essentially collapsed after hitting the decisive move to demonstrate just how hard he had been pushed by Dr Death. In an era where we've watched and celebrated the development of Misawa, Kawada, Taue and Kobashi it was matches like this which demonstrated they might not be the only four future Triple Crown Champions being groomed by Giant Baba...

Mitsuharu Misawa vs Terry Gordy
14th April 1992 (Kumamoto) - Like Hansen/Williams that we just saw, this match will decide who advances to the 1992 Champion Carnival final. Both men enter on 15 points, unbeaten but with only time limit draws against Jumbo blotting their one hundred percent record. Tsuruta ended his campaign on 16 points meaning he currently leads the group - but a winner here will move to 17 and advance. It's a rematch of their June 1991 classic, where Misawa memorably produced one of the best performances of his career and defeated former Triple Crown Champion Gordy. Terry would love to avenge that loss and progress to a meeting with his old partner Stan Hansen in a few days time...

The camera does a great job capturing the facial expressions of both men before they lock up for the first time. Misawa looks stoic and focused as always, but Terry's face is one of absolute determination that he will not let Misawa beat him again. Misawa duly PELTS him with an elbow which leaves him on his ass in the corner looking absolutely stunned! Gordy flies out of the corner in a fury and dumps his foe with a running powerslam. He lands a forearm with such force that Misawa leaves the ring to recover. He returns with more elbows; each one rocking Gordy and leaving his eyes more and more glazed. ROLLING back suplexes by Terry, followed by an emphatic leg drop. He then drops Misawa throat-first over the top rope before smashing into the throat again seconds later with a lariat. Yet again it's the elbow strikes of Misawa that pose a threat to Gordy though - each one rocking him backwards as they land. Terry again combats that with brute strength and brawn as he runs clean through Misawa with a tackle. He follows that with a Russian legsweep and a swinging neckbreaker...only for Misawa to leap off the turnbuckles into yet another elbow strike. He dropkicks Gordy to the floor and instantly sprints into the ELBOW SUICIDA! The speed and precision with which Misawa hits that move in the early 90's is just a joy to behold. TOP ROPE ELBOW SMASH gets 2! Facelock applied! And having visibly rattled Gordy with each and every elbow strike throughout the match it is critical that Terry gets to the ropes quickly to escape. He puts a cobra clutch on Misawa, but just like with the last match - working submission holds on the ground really isn't his game. Planting him with the DDT is a much smarter move. He flails at Misawa's head like a wild-man and drops him with a Powerbomb...then sinks to his knees and looks on the brink of tears when Misawa kicks out! Powerbomb again - COUNTERED TO THE RANA BY MISAWA! That is how he beat Gordy to win the Tag Titles in 1991! Gordy kicks out this time! GERMAN SUPLEX...GETS 2! Tiger Driver blocked with a running dropkick by Gordy. Misawa recoils and loads up a crucifix pin. MISAWA WINS AGAIN! He advances to the finals at 17:27

Rating - ****1/2 - People thought I over-rated the June 1991 match between these two, so I suspect some really won't agree with this rating. I, however, thought this was an awesome match and an absolutely brilliant follow-up to their strong bout together last year. The camera work and production for this match is stunning as well, capturing Terry Gordy as he gave some of the best facial expressions I've ever seen in a wrestling match. The absolute determination to avenge his losses to Misawa in 1991, the way his eyes rolled in his head each time Misawa rocked him with a mighty elbow (having beaten Gordy with an elbow strike last year)...and the utter despair when Misawa kicked out of the Powerbomb. Terry entered this with a much smarter gameplan too. Last time he was overwhelmed by the speed and strike power of Misawa; reduced to trying to negate his advantage with extended periods of mat-work which Gordy clearly wasn't comfortable with. From the outset here he was more effective as he manufactured situations where he could use his size and mauling style to get him ahead. And by presenting Gordy so strongly in the first two thirds of the match, in a way Misawa's eventual victory is actually more striking and impactful second time around. Unlike 1991 he didn't have it all his own way. He took some of Gordy's biggest bombs...and yet he endured, carried on and in the climactic stretch (just like last year) it felt like Misawa was on an inevitable march to victory. A magnificent story, cleverly working in multiple elements from previous battles building to a sizzling closing stretch and one of Misawa's biggest wins of 1992 thus far. This is well worth checking out...

Stan Hansen vs Mitsuharu Misawa - 1992 Champion Carnival Final
17th April 1992 (Nagoya) - We move to the final of the Champion Carnival, and once again it's Misawa looking to topple Stan Hansen for the first time. He failed with the Triple Crown on the line earlier in the year, and it took everything he had just to survive Jumbo during the Block stage of the tournament itself. But another win over Terry Gordy proves that Misawa does have what it takes to beat Triple Crown winners. He has gone undefeated all tournament and now wants to upset Hansen, win the tournament then secure a Triple Crown rematch as quickly as possible. Hansen, meanwhile, is not only undefeated, but has won every match in the tournament thus far. He is looking to add the Champion Carnival to his list of accolades, and in the process become only the second ever gaijin winner of the tournament (and the first since Abdullah The Butcher in 1979).

We begin with a few big strikes and it's Hansen that blinks first and drags the match to the canvas for some respite. Misawa shows his intentions early too as he aims a succession of kicks at Stan's Lariat-throwing arm. Having had his other arm worked over by Steve Williams days earlier, Stan recognises he is vulnerable and fights viciously to try to keep Misawa at bay...but the young pretender continually gets him down into arm submission holds. Hansen actually resorts to choking Misawa in the ropes just to escape his persistent attacks on the arm, but in the end it's a series of blunt, brutal strikes to the head which finally shake him off. Hansen is clearly weakened though and doesn't work Misawa over with the same vigour and dangerous energy which we traditionally associate with him. That lack of fire means he can't keep Misawa down and before long he is sent packing to the floor after another volley of kicks to the injured arm. When he tries to get back into the ring Misawa absolutely BOMBS on him with elbows before hauling him back to the ground in a Fujiwara armbar. Hansen tries to haul Misawa out for a brawl...but even then Misawa keeps him at a distance using kicks to the shoulder and stands defiantly in the ring waiting for the champion to return. Stan eventually forces his way back in by sacrificing his own injury to shoulder tackle Misawa down, then drops him on his head with a DDT seconds later. ELBOWS TO THE ARM by Misawa! HUGE CHOPS BY HANSEN! Back suplex (adjusted to use the good arm rather than the injured one gets 2. He loads up one big powerbomb...but uses his injured shoulder to lead the pin and therefore visibly weakens it allowing Misawa to kick out (which the crowd goes wild for). He looks for another but Misawa COUNTERS TO MORE ELBOWS TO THE ARM! Tiger Body Press (aimed high and at the shoulders) scores a 2-count, and sets up the ARM-CAPTURE FACELOCK! Hansen manages to find the ropes. RUNNING ELBOW...gets 2! LARIAT by Hansen (using his good arm, therefore not his preferred lariat-throwing limb!) gets 2! Misawa is fearful of a Hansen comeback so starts going for quick pins (the kind he's used to pin Jumbo and Gordy in the past)...but just can't force Stan's shoulders down before Hansen steamrolls through him with a running dropkick. Tsuruta-esque jumping knee by Stan...into the WESTERN LARIAT! HANSEN WINS! Despite a hell of a fight, Hansen adds the Champion Carnival to his Triple Crown in a time of 20:06

Rating - **** - Hansen/Misawa matches aren't always the most beloved, but this is a great one. The way Stan sells the arm is spectacular, adding incredible drama to the bout and really putting Misawa over in defeat. And that is the real take-away story from this one; after two years of struggle Misawa still can't win 'the big one'...but damn is he ever getting closer. When they met for the Triple Crown in March, Misawa was out-gunned and out-classed by The Lariat. Misawa's ascension to the top spot in All Japan looked further away that ever on that night - but he has gained ground since. His undefeated run to the final - including another win over former Triple Crown Champion Gordy - shows his undoubted quality and talent. The fact that he survived being brutalised by Jumbo for most of their 30-minute draw (a match that Jumbo needed to win - he didn't) and came out the other side shows how resilient he has become as well. And on this night he pushed the mighty Stan Hansen to the limit. Every time they've met he seems to have gone after the arm...and this time it worked. Hansen was wounded and lessened as a result of Misawa's attack. His boisterousness, his lawless and chaotic brawling were nowhere to be seen. Like with the Hansen/Williams match a couple of days earlier, Stan retains his spot through sheer force of will and the punching power of his Western Lariat (even with an injured arm). Yet again Misawa 'fails' on the big stage...but how much longer does he have to wait? And how much longer can an increasingly battle-weary Hansen cling to the top spot?

Jumbo Tsuruta/Masanobu Fuchi/Yoshinari Ogawa vs Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi
19th April 1992 (Tokyo) - It is Fan Appreciation Day 1992. A year since the Tsuruta-gun vs Super Generation trios tag that many consider to be the greatest six-man of all time. On that night things seemed bleak for the Super Generation; Misawa had failed to topple Jumbo for the Triple Crown, Kawada had fallen to a singles defeat against seemed that Tsuruta-gun were suppressing the youthful uprising that Misawa and his cohorts had attempted. But on that night it was the Super Generation Army who left victorious; a rallying cry and another timely reminder of how close they still were to taking the top spots. The parallels to the 1992 edition are obvious. Misawa has twice lost major matches to Stan Hansen; once for the Triple Crown and once in the Champion Carnival Final. Both Kawada and Kobashi were beaten by Hansen in the Carnival...and Taue got another win over Dangerous K as well. But you'll note a difference in the line-ups tonight - there is no Taue. He missed the second part of the Champion Carnival Tour through injury and is replaced by the youthful Tsuruta-gun junior heavyweight Yoshinari Ogawa. Once again things look bleak for the Super Generation and a big performance is needed on Fan Appreciation Day...

Tsuruta pulls his partners aside and demands to start as soon as he sees Misawa in the ring for the opposition, which the crowd in the Korakuen go nuts for. Misawa is on FIRE in the first minute, landing a reverse elbow and then somersaulting most of the way across the ring to evade any comeback from Jumbo...until the mighty Ace absolutely crushes him with knees and elbows to the stomach. All three members of Tsuruta-gun take turns working over Misawa's midsection to quieten the buzz from the pro-Misawa crowd. That segment ends brilliantly as well; Jumbo tosses Misawa to the floor and ORDERS young Ogawa to attack him...but Misawa swats away the youngster with a brutal elbow strike which leaves him sprawling on the deck! Kobashi is full of fire of course, but ultimately isn't a match for Jumbo and is dragged into the Tsuruta-gun corner for a beating - with Fuchi putting him in a tree of woe then dropkicking the knee. Not trusting Ogawa to do the dirty work for a second time, now Jumbo goes to the floor himself for the TABLE SHINBREAKER! We go to commercials, and return with Jumbo back in the ring still stretching Kobashi's injured leg. Next Fuchi tears down Kobashi's knee pad and gives him a SHINBREAKER ON A CHAIR! It's only when they let Ogawa back in that Kobashi is able to crawl away - unleashing Kawada. Ogawa defiantly DDT's him down and tags Fuchi, but Kawada loads up the veteran anyway and gives him a tree of woe knee dropkick as payback for Kobashi! Misawa and Kawada take turns putting the boots to Fuchi's knee; Misawa then briefly working a Figure 4 Leglock until Ogawa sneaks in and rakes his eyes. Tsuruta saves his partner too, and when Kawada tries to fight back Jumbo completely murders him with a big boot and a jumping knee. It leaves Kobashi once again momentarily on his own to fight Tsuruta-gun; Ogawa and Tsuruta tagging in and out rapidly allowing Fuchi time to recover on the floor. The heels are doing a terrific job keeping the Super Generation divided, with Misawa next to feel the brunt of their offence after he muscles in to help his fallen comrade. But once again it's Ogawa that is the weak link, losing control of Misawa and allowing himself to be dragged into the Super Gen corner for the first time. Kawada literally points sarcastically at Fuchi before he and Kobashi take turns dropkicking Ogawa in the knee! 

He throws the middle finger up at Fuchi too when the veteran thinks about stepping in to rescue Ogawa. Kobashi tries to work a Texas Cloverleaf too...which is broken when Fuchi blind-sides him with a dropkick to his own injured leg. Ogawa hits a leg-selling missile dropkick on Kawada and slithers away for a big tag to Jumbo who - for the second time in the match - strikes the absolute f*ck out of Kawada. He and Fuchi elevate and throttle Kawada in the ropes, whilst Ogawa climbs and hits a double axehandle. Fuchi then tree of woe's Kawada simply to make a point and adds insult to injury by standing on his throat. He and Jumbo alternate in the ring, each looking to choke Kawada into unconsciousness with sleeper holds. BACK DROP DRIVER by Ogawa when Kawada tries to rush him with chops as well! Even when Kawada tries to fight back and collides with Jumbo mid-ring, Fuchi is still on hand to block a hot tag (once again by standing on Kawada's throat). Ogawa tries another DDT (having hit one earlier), but Kawada blocks that...only for Ogawa to land a swinging neckbreaker instead! Brilliant sequence, immediately followed by another excellent spot as Ogawa tries to hit another leg drop (after landing one earlier)...only for Kawada to evade it this time and instantly tag Misawa. He and Kobashi toss Ogawa around with relish; Kobashi even smashing Jumbo off the apron too! Tsuruta returns and punches Misawa right in the face to prevent him hitting the Tiger Driver though. Powerbomb from Jumbo to Kobashi gets 2...before Misawa elbows Jumbo in the head to stop him hitting the Back Drop. REPEATED RUNNING KNEES by Kawada as a receipt for Jumbo earlier, right into a REVOLUTION FROG SPLASH for 2! Sleeper Hold on Tsuruta - of course broken by Fuchi stomping on the neck and throat once more. Chop flurry from Kawada to Ogawa gets 2 (and AGAIN broken by Fuchi kicking Kawada's neck). FACELOCK! Jumbo quickly hits the ring to break that of course. Stretch Plum on Fuchi! Ogawa tries to break it...but Kawada IGNORES HIM! Elbows from Misawa to Jumbo, as Kobashi grabs Fuchi for the Rolling Cradle which gets 2. Misawa dumps Tsuruta into the front row, whilst on the opposite side of the ring Kobashi climbs the ropes. MOONSAULT ON OGAWA! KOBASHI WINS at 33:13 (shown - we lose about two minutes)

Rating - ****1/2 - On another day I might only have gone to 4* on this as it is by no means a perfect match. Ogawa and Kobashi abandon the selling of their respective leg injuries pretty quickly, which dramatically reduces the impact of those heat segments. I also felt the quality of the match dips ever so slightly after the Tsuruta-gun heat segment on Kawada. But, as ever with these Tsuruta-gun/Super Generation trios matches - even when they're not perfect they're still incredibly good. I loved the shift in dynamic we saw at play here. Previously it has been Super Generation weakened by having Tsuyoshi Kikuchi; a game, youthful junior heavyweight joining the ranks...but on this night it was Tsuruta-gun with Ogawa. Other than the patchy selling of his leg, I actually thought Ogawa had a great individual performance here. He was the right amount of devious and sneaky (without eclipsing Fuchi of course), he was allowed to show some real moments of genuine fire with the more established names (even Misawa)...and of course he took a hell of a beating; excellently used as the weak link and pivot any time the advantage switched from Tsuruta-gun to the Super Generation Army. Other than that, all the things we've liked about this rivalry still hold true. EVERY Misawa/Jumbo exchange feels tense and loaded with significance. Fuchi is unrivalled as an utter bastard. Kawada and Jumbo have some really bad-tempered exchanges which reflect their newfound levels of disdain following their pair of classic singles matches in recent months. Kobashi is, as always, full of heart and fiery courage and was rewarded with the eventual victory (continuing his own 1992 sub-plot of growth, development and more victories). After two years of these trios bouts it is easy to become complacent - as a wrestler by running through the same old spots on autopilot, and as a fan by becoming too expectant and unappreciative of their undoubted quality - but there was a freshness to this as well. With Jumbo dropping the Triple Crown, Taue out injured and all three of the Super Generation sustaining major losses, the first period of 1992 hasn't been easy for either faction. It was a match where it felt once again like everyone had something to prove and was all the better for it.

Tape Rating - **** - I was a little taken aback by how much I enjoyed the opening months of All Japan's 1992 season. I hadn't expected it to be bad by any means, but of all the 'episodes' in my King's Road Chronicles series thus far this is probably the first one without any truly seminal, era-defining, all-time classics. This period is remembered for the unintentional final Misawa/Jumbo match not being as good as its predecessors, or for Misawa failing to beat Hansen twice in short order (neither match is bad, but neither is particularly heralded as a classic either). But therein lies the beauty of the main event scene in All Japan in the 1990' never fails to amaze you. What I found here were a couple of really under-rated sequels. Jumbo/Kawada II and Misawa/Gordy II are not as ubiquitous as their 1991 iterations...but they're both outstanding. Jumbo may have lost the Triple Crown for the final time, but he bounced from that straight into an absolute scorcher for the World Tag Titles as he and Taue took down the Miracle Violence Connection. After two years of battle, the skirmishes between the battle-weary troops of Tsuruta-gun and the Super Generation Army are largely still as good as they ever were. But with Jumbo unwittingly on the cusp of being phased out, and with the dynamics of the Four Pillars constantly evolving - the 'quiet' start to 1992 sees us bombarded with fresher matches. The Tsuruta-gun tags and trios matches still exist (and are still a staple of the non-televised tour events) - but on TV we see all of the Pillars in more singles matches than before. We see Stan Hansen usurping Jumbo as the new 'Big Bad' and becoming another dominant obstacle that blocks Misawa's path to the very summit of AJPW. It isn't a time of great sweeping drama, which fans viewing through a modern, retrospective lens might wish for. But, as ever with Baba's booking, it is a time of subtle and gradual change. The rivalries between the Pillars and their contemporaries span much of the decade, there are rarely definitive moments of closure or of 'feuds' coming to decisive conclusions - only shifting dynamics and the gradual evolution of all the key players. If you're only here for the definitive AJPW 90's King's Road matches, although there is some great stuff, I don't know that much of what I covered here falls into that category. But if you enjoy watching these amazing performers develop; laying the groundwork for future classics, building up the mythology and back-story of their epic rivalries, establishing themes which we'll see for many years to come this is another fascinating set of matches to delve into...

Must See Matches
Jumbo Tsuruta vs Toshiaki Kawada (21/01/92 - ****1/2)
Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue/Masanobu Fuchi vs Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi (24/01/92 - ****1/2)
Terry Gordy/Steve Williams vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Akira Taue (04/03/92 - ****1/2)
Mitsuharu Misawa vs Terry Gordy (14/04/92 - ****1/2)
Mitsuharu Misawa/Toshiaki Kawada/Kenta Kobashi vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Masanobu Fuchi/Yoshinari Ogawa (19/04/92 - ****1/2)

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