King's Road Chronicles - A Journey Through 1990's AJPW - Prelude


This is a project I've had in the back of my mind for some time. My gateway to the 90's glory-days of All Japan Pro-Wrestling came via a couple of Mitsuharu Misawa compilation tapes back in circa 1999/2000. Long-time visitors to the McXal's Reviews archive may even remember I had those tapes reviewed on the site, containing (often clipped versions of) some of the greatest matches of the period. But I took them down a couple of years ago as I wasn't happy with them; they were poorly written, poorly researched and didn't offer readers a fair insight into one of the most celebrated periods in the history of professional wrestling. Down the years I've seen many of the most reputable bouts, but I've never found the time, or avenue to really sit down and document them for a review series (even though many are among my most favourite matches of all time). For the longest time it seemed cursed too. I had a set of VHS tapes back in the early-00's which captured a lot of the biggest bouts...and my laptop died before I could publish the reviews. Sometime in the mid-2000's I picked up a 10-disc compilation set...but the DVD's were riddled with issues, matches would cut out, cut short, picture would drop for 5-10 minutes at a time, audio would be wildly out of sync. And crucially, they were not in chronological order, meaning you could bounce from an early 90's match to something from the late-90's without any real appreciation for how the style evolved and developed in the ensuing decade. I powered through four discs, but it was apparent that, again, it wasn't a fair reflection or insight into the time period...and I scrapped the series yet again. 

Developments in modern technology mean locating and consuming content from AJPW's 90's period is so much easier. I don't particularly like clipped/joined in progress ('JIP') matches all that much, and there will be far fewer of those in this review series than there would have been even a decade ago - such is the ability of the internet to seek out complete versions of these matches. Although All Japan is still very much alive and, like most promotions, has a streaming service; NONE of this content is on there. AJPW doesn't own the footage; instead it is owned by it's 90's broadcast partner Nippon TV. I'm astonished that nobody has sat down and thrashed out a deal to legally distribute this content from a singular source - either via AJPWTV (streaming) or in the form of official DVD/Blu-Ray compilation sets. The wide availability of this content on the internet is surely enough to tell you how much demand there is for these matches. From 90's tape traders who would love official, polished, cleaned up, pristine VQ versions of their favourites, to modern-day wrestling fans looking for a safe and legal way to check out this legendary content they will have read so much about. 

But still, I love these matches and I love these performers. I still have a desire to document this amazing body of work for my website. I continually get asked why I don't cover more Japanese wrestling, particularly NJPW in recent years, for the McXal Reviews site. I've long-felt that there is so much GOOD writing about modern-day New Japan content out there that I don't have much to add. But I got asked the question again recently (actually via my first Twitter 'DM') and it occurred to me that (particularly in year of 2020 when Covid-19 has limited the amount of 'new' wrestling content out there), maybe revisiting this project again is the way to go, and a way to diversify the content on my site. There is no shortage of great writing about AJPW, the Kings' Road, the legendary Four Pillars and more out there. There are amazing YouTube series', podcasts, articles, match-listings etc. But there are few places out there where you can get a single voice offering a deep-dive into the 1990's era - year-by-year - going beyond the matches everyone knows about. You'll see a lot of sources tell you how much more these matches mean when viewed in context, watched in order, so you can fully appreciate the scale and scope of the drama that unfolds before you. But less sources which will help you pick through what can be an extremely intimidating body of work to drop into. That's what I want to do; in as accessible, inclusive and welcoming a manner as I possibly can. 

I'm under no illusion that this review series will be quick to get through. It is a massive project to undertake - but one I'm incredibly excited about. Many of these matches I have seen countless times. But the opportunity to dive deeper and check this out in chronological order, along with a number of matches I've never seen before, is one I am thoroughly enthused by. The loose 'plan' I have is for this to be a 22 volume review series (told you it wouldn't be quick!). We are going to start with this prelude 'episode', two 'episodes' per year for each year 1990-1999, then wrap up with a single 'episode' for the year 2000, capturing up to the 'split' and a look at what some of our key protagonists did post-split for the rest of that year. The end goal is to provide a single resource for readers to take a look at, check out my thoughts, and hopefully provide some kind of guide for what - as I said - can be a vast and intimidating body of work to digest. It will by no means be an all-inclusive list. I can't watch EVERYTHING - and I will be trying to minimise the amount I watch where I can only find a clipped or JIP version where possible. However, if there's a match I've missed that you think I should add - by all means get in touch with me via email, Twitter or Instagram and I'll do what I can to check it out. 

King's Road Chronicles - Prelude Edition

Picking a launching point for this series was tough. I'm sure you're at last fleetingly familiar with names like Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Kenta Kobashi - the 'Four Pillars Of Heaven' as they would become known. Or with gaijin warhorses like 'Dr Death' Steve Williams, Stan 'The Lariat' Hansen, or Johnny Ace (Laurinaitis). My first thought was to jump in at the start of 1990, but the legendary Tsuruta-gun vs Super Generation Army feud would benefit from some context. Then I thought about starting with the formation of the fabled Triple Crown Championship in 1988. But, even that deserves a little back-story. Hence the idea of this prelude episode was born. Starting in 1987 and capturing some choice-cuts from 1988-1989 this review will, I hope, go some way to setting the scene and contextualising the remarkable decade that was All Japan Pro-Wrestling in the 1990's. These are the King's Road Chronicles.

Lets begin by talking a little about AJPW as a promotion. There are some great resources out there if you want to dive deeper into their origin story, but I'll try to provide an abridged version. Probably the central figure in popularising puroresu in Japan was Rikidozan; a (Japanese-occupied) Korean-born former sumo-wrestler with a colourful personal life, a substantial reputation and outrageous popularity. Seriously, there are films made about his life - he was that much of a character. He built the JWA promotion, forged relationships with overseas promotions such as the NWA...and recruited two protégés; Kanji 'Antonio' Inoki and Shohei 'Giant' Baba. Inoki was enigmatic and brash, Baba diligently working beneath Rikidozan - but the two became partners and major stars in their own right. In the aftermath of Rikidozan's death (a story in and of itself; again read up on Rikidozan), after dabbling with other breakaway promotions and attempting to take control of the JWA for himself, Antonio Inoki left to form New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972. Later that year, Baba himself would leave the JWA to form AJPW. Without its top two stars, the JWA promotion would collapse within a year, and the face of puroresu was changed in a manner which still has lasting ramifications to this day. Stylistically the two promotions were different. Inoki favoured a 'strong-style', blending martial arts and worked shoots into his presentation of professional wrestling. Baba, whose AJPW retained close ties to (and remained a territory of) the NWA, favoured a more western presentation which featured long-term storylines and a style of in-ring action which come to be known as the 'King's Road'.

There are many who maintain that AJPW in the 70's and 80's is actually a better, and more sustained, golden era for the promotion than the more famous 1990's. A territory of the NWA, recognising the NWA Heavyweight Champion of the time as their top champion (i.e. the likes of Flair, Harley, Funk etc), the promotion steadily grew as they aligned the popularity of home-grown stars like Baba and the former amateur wrestling prodigy he recruited by the name of Tomomi 'Jumbo' Tsuruta to gaijin talent from overseas. Gradually Baba scaled back his top level wrestling commitments, reduced the reliance on outlandish, wild, brawling gaijin talent and honed a hard-working, gruelling style with the Jumbo Tsuruta as his ace. As the 80's progressed and the NWA's influence began to fade, it became clear that Baba needed to start developing new talent, with Genichiro Tenryu rising up the ranks from the bottom of the card to emerge, forming his 'Revolution' stable (which included a promising young undercard talent by the name of Toshiaki Kawada) as the pretender to Jumbo's throne. That is an extremely condensed version of history of the promotion to this point. There is so much more that could be written and so much GREAT content you could explore from the 70's and 80's. But that's not the focus of this review series and I hope it's given you at least a brief overview of what has led us to our jumping in point...

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu
31st August 1987 (Tokyo) - I picked this match as a launching point for several reasons. First and foremost, it brings together perhaps AJPW's definitive native-talent rivalry of the 1980's. Tsuruta was recruited as a promising amateur by Baba, quickly identified as a prodigy and fast-tracked to the main event picture and was in situ as the ace of the promotion. Tenryu had a longer road to the top, spending years struggling lower on the card waiting for an opportunity. He even spent time as Jumbo's second; a supporting act as the pair fought off 'invaders' like Riki Choshu. His break came in 1987 when a talent exodus (yeah, AJPW has had a few struggles with those) left spots up the card up for grabs. He formed his 'Revolution' stable and now had his sights set on Jumbo's spot as the ace (a story we'll become familiar with as we journey into the early-90's). The second reason I've picked this one is that many point to this match as a key building block in the formation of the 'King's Road' style. Can Jumbo stave off the pretender to his throne? We start our journey through this golden age of professional wrestling in one of its most famous venues - Budokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan.

The buzz from the crowd is inescapable, as is the tension of the competitors as they cagily circle each other. Tenryu misses an early trademark jumping enzi strike, takes a couple of thumping knees to the body...then smartly dodges a big running knee from the ace. He grabs a headlock to quell the size and power of Tsuruta, but can't maintain his hold and is soon clobbered to the ground. It is Jumbo's turn to try to use headlocks to negate his rival, showing his power until Tenryu hauls him to the ground and looks for a cross armbreaker. BRUTAL elbow strikes in the corner from Jumbo to break Tenryu SLAPS HIM! Both of them check their heads for damage and stare across the ring before resuming the battle. Tenryu goes back to the headlock with an increased fervour, clearly rattled by the brutal strikes of his rival - but again Tsuruta escapes and pulverises him with knees to the gut. He tries to press home his advantage with an abdominal stretch which, again, Tenryu counters by going after his arm. Tsuruta escapes and absolutely FLOORS his foe with a jumping enzi to the back of the head. He puts all his weight onto Tenryu's neck with another chinlock and really makes Tenryu fight to make the ropes. Palm strikes from Tenryu...and they really fire Jumbo up. BIG SLAPS BY JUMBO! He hits a jumping knee, and when Tenryu blocks his big lariat he destroys him with a jumping knee to the head whilst he is sandwiched in the corner. The ref tells Tsuruta to back which the ace responds by repeatedly stamping on his opponent's face. A bulldog gets 2; and sets up a JUMPING PILEDRIVER! The ace is now totally overwhelming the man who wants to take his spot. He goes back to the abdominal stretch, but this time with the head and neck savagely cranked under his leg making it almost an octopus hold. Genichiro Tenryu is barely clinging on and Jumbo feels confident enough to scale the ropes - hitting a diving knee strike for 2. Back Drop Driver blocked INTO A GERMAN SUPLEX by Tenryu! 

He is seriously wounded but senses opportunity and lifts his ailing body into an enziguri. FOLDING POWERBOMB nailed - but dropping Tsuruta too close to the ropes for a pin. Jumbo tosses him out of the ring and starts climbing to the top! FLYING SUICIDE DIVE TO THE FLOOR! HOLY SH*T! Tsuruta is a big damn dude to be doing that! Fans cheer as both combatants struggle back into the ring after that. They charge at each other and connect with thunderous lariats, then both fall to the ground. Jumping knee again by Tsuruta - but when he goes to the well again Tenryu drops down and watches him ram his knee into the top turnbuckle. He violently stomps on the now-damaged knee, pulling down the knee pad and applying a half crab to pile on the pressure. Shinbreaker nailed...but Jumbo piles into Tenryu's head again with a jumping enzi on the way down. BACK DROP DRIVER! But it hurts Tsuruta's leg too much for him to cover! BACK DROP DRIVER AGAIN! He can't maintain the signature bridge again - so has to crawl over the fallen Tenryu, who grabs a rope to break it. Small package (a signature finish of the wily, battle-hardened Tenryu) gets a close nearfall which the Budokan crowd really bite on. Jumbo hits a weary, limping body slam and almost collapses on top of his rival. Can he down the up and comer before his leg gives out. He tries to catch Tenryu on a crossbody...but his leg gives way and they both collapse to the floor! The scrap continues out there! Tenryu blocks a Jumbo boots him into the crowd! Tsuruta tries to escape for a count-out...but is hauled back outside and battered into a ringside table! SHINBREAKER ON THE TABLE! They desperately rush back to ringside, where Jumbo kicks Tenryu in the head again. He does so with such force that Tenryu falls into the ring...and LARIATS Tsuruta so hard that he collapses, hanging from the apron with his bad leg in the rope. It earns Tenryu a count-out victory at 21:29 - both warriors on the deck and barely conscious. What a war!

Rating - ****1/2 - As the time of writing, this match is almost 33 years old. It is inevitable that elements of it now seem rather dated. The slower pace, the immense battle over every single hold, the immense drama surrounding a count-out finish - all very much point back to what is now a bygone era in professional wrestling. But the core theme and premise here is something which holds up to this very day. Jumbo is the big, strong, dominant ace of the promotion, looking to protect a spot he has held for almost his entire career. He looks to batter and pummel his challenger; brutalising the head and neck with repeated shots. But Tenryu is battle-hardened and has worked his way up from the bottom, learning plenty of tricks along the way. He continually counters Tsuruta's attempts to slow things down and use grounded holds to maintain his control. And when the opportunity presented itself to target Tsuruta's leg - he exploited it to the max. It rendered him unable to maintain the bridge on his Back Drop finisher, it weakened him to Tenryu's beloved cradle pin...and in the end it presented Tenryu with the opportunity to grab a count-out win because Jumbo simply couldn't get back into the ring. If you can watch 80's wrestling and deal with the relative lack of action when compared to the modern day product then this is a GREAT match. And that isn't to say there isn't some incredibly exciting moments. The ferocity of the striking was staggering. Jumbo's dive to the outside was spectacular. And the finish, with both guys trying to beat the sh*t out of each other on the floor, was one of the better count-out finish sequences I've ever seen. Tenryu gets the win and steps forward on his quest to usurp Jumbo as AJPW ace. But it was far from definitive - and there will be more to come from these great rivals...

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Tiger Mask II
9th March 1988 (Yokohama) - In this prelude episode I will try to give a sense of where some of the biggest names we'll see in the 90's series started to develop. Here we see Jumbo Tsuruta, still the ace (and still NWA International Heavyweight Champion - more on that belt later) stepping into the ring with a man who had seconded and teamed with him; Tiger Mask II. The first Tiger Mask incarnation was in NJPW, famously portrayed by Satoru Sayama in the early 1980's. But when he left in 1983, AJPW purchased the rights to the Tiger Mask character - and gave the gimmick to a promising young wrestler just back from excursion in Mexico, by the name of Mitsuharu Misawa. We'll see plenty of him as the series develops of course. Misawa's battles with Jumbo, after unmasking, are the stuff of legend - so I wanted to include this early skirmish between the two. 

Plenty of crowd support for the young Tiger as the bell sounds. The size difference between the young Misawa and Jumbo is pronounced and he works to negate that by clinging to the big man - not letting go of prolonged headlock or waistlock sequences. Tsuruta hits a shinbreaker to get him off...but Tiger instantly regains the hold (WHILST selling the leg, which I love). Jumbo looks for a back suplex to break it but finds Mask able to counter his momentum...and roll back into the side headlock. Another shinbreaker comes out, again TMII hops and hobbles, but again he maintains his grip. The action intensifies as Tiger unleashes an elbow strike to ensure Tsuruta can't escape, then runs the ropes for a SPRINGBOARD headbutt. It's a flash of dynamism and excitement but used to further his grander strategy which is to exhaust the ace with the headlock. Tsuruta tries to use strikes next and they visibly rattle his opponent - but again Misawa thinks on his feet, uses his speed to kick out the legs and jumps into the headlock yet again. Tsuruta tries to quicken the pace but it only plays into Misawa's hands. He relishes the chance to run the ropes and leaps into a crisp dropkick which paves the way for another headlock hold. Finally Tsuruta has had enough of playing nicely and hits a BACK DROP DRIVER! The shocked gasp from the crowd that accompanies that is really something. Tiger Mask is rattled, and Jumbo follows up with a jumping knee then a STALLING piledriver for 2. He tries to exert dominance using heavy-handed strikes and suplexes...but lifting Tiger skywards again presents an opportunity for the resourceful younger man. He flips out and drives Tsuruta from the ring with repeated martial arts kicks. SPRINGBOARD SOMERSAULT PLANCHA NAILED! Tsuruta tries to get back Misawa clotheslines him back out. SUICIDE DIVE TO THE FLOOR! The young man is leaving it all in the ring looking to pull off the upset win! The Tenryu match showed us that Jumbo is vulnerable to a count-out, but this time he crawls back in - where TMII is waiting to batter him with another flurry of martial arts kicks. Missile dropkick gets 2, as does a beautiful bridging German suplex. The crowd are HOT for this! Tiger Body Press....GETS KNEES! Tsuruta gets up and looks absolutely furious! He rams a knee into Misawa's stomach so hard that he hobbles afterwards, then keeps stomping on the midsection. Another knee aimed at Tiger's gut is countered into a schoolboy pin for 2 - but the momentum here has drastically shifted. Mask is trying to escape with any kind of win he can and keeps charging at Jumbo with elaborate pinning flurries...until Jumbo GUILLOTINES him on the top rope. BACK DROP DRIVER...GETS 2! One last small package from Tiger Mask fails, and he walks into another Back Drop Driver. Tsuruta wins at 14:41

Rating - **** - I'd never even heard of this match until researching content for this project, and I'm thrilled that I included it. It clearly isn't the same as their singles matches in the 90's, but given the more limited scope of what they were trying to achieve it was a lot of fun. Tsuruta had teamed with Tiger Mask, so treated him with respect through the first half of the match. Misawa recognised that he couldn't overpower or out-strike Jumbo, so tried to exhaust him with prolonged headlocks. In isolation that sounds boring, but some of the brilliant ways they worked around Tsuruta escaping, only for TMII to reapply the hold were incredibly entertaining. Eventually Jumbo tired of Tiger Mask (especially after Misawa started clocking him with elbows - something which would become more prevalent in later years) and decimated him with a Back Drop. From there the momentum shifted and, although Tiger Mask fought valiantly (and put his body on the line with some stunning high-flying attacks), he could never again wrest control from the ace. He was always fighting from behind and finally took one devastating blow too many. A thrilling introduction to competition between these two, and it was noticeable already how much quicker and more developed the style had become from the Jumbo/Tenryu 1987 clash we checked out. 

Jumbo shakes Tiger Mask's hand, raises his arms and visibly congratulates the young warrior for his efforts. A clear difference from what we'd see in the years to come...

Stan Hansen vs Genichiro Tenryu - PWF Heavyweight vs NWA United National Title Match
9th March 1988 (Yokohama) - This one takes place at the same 1988 Excite Series event as the previous Jumbo/Tiger Mask bout, and is included as it is our first step towards the creation of the celebrated Triple Crown Championship which will take centre stage in many of the ferocious battles we'll see in the 90's. The PWF Heavyweight Title was the initial top prize after the formation of AJPW; the 'Pacific Wrestling Federation' a fictitious governmental body much the same as NJPW's top prize is the 'IWGP' Title. It is a belt most closely associated with Giant Baba, who's combined four title reigns amount to more than ten years of competition. The NWA UN Title's lineage pre-dates the formation of AJPW - but was brought to Japan and the JWA by The Sheik. It was deactivated for a time, but relaunched in 1976 in a star-making turn for Jumbo Tsuruta, who defeated Jack Brisco in what was considered a monumental upset at the time. Since that time Jumbo's five (to date) reigns amount to more than five years of combat, before he vacated the belt in 1983 to pursue the perceived 'top' prizes in AJPW of the PWF Title and the NWA International Title. Tenryu holds that belt as we enter here. PWF Champion Stan Hansen is perhaps the most famous, and prototypical gaijin of them all. In Japan American wrestlers are typically portrayed as large, brutish maulers that the heroic native talents could fend off; a model formalised in the aftermath of WWII when anti-American feeling was understandably strong in Japan. Hansen fits that mould to a tee - except he is so good that even by '88 he was a beloved figure to many. He is, of course, known for his signature 'Western Lariat' finisher...

Even Hansen's entrance is an incredible spectacle; emerging into the crowd and scattering fans to all parts, flailing them with his bullrope as they go. Tenryu further draws his ire by throwing the traditional pre-match bouquet of flowers into his face. Stan barely lets the introductions finish before he charges at his opponent, swinging like a mad-man. Tenryu is fighting for his life and is shunted out of the ring and brained against the ringpost in short order. His bell rung, his senses scrambled, he also has to cope with Stan targeting his midsection as well; first with ground holds then with no-nonsense CHAIR SHOTS to the spine. Boston Crab applied looking to force a submission, and when Tenryu refuses to tap Hansen decides it's easier just to mercilessly punt him in the back instead. More clobbering to the back comes next. Even when Tenryu tries to roll away Stan simply sits on his back and cranks a camel clutch. A football tackle knocks the Japanese athlete right over the top rope. He goes for an inside cradle on the way back in and, although it doesn't yield victory, it does set up a position where he can blast Hansen with a diving lariat. Stan piles into the injured back again to put a stop to that charge however. Tenryu wills his ailing body into a trademark jumping enzi strike but has little else to offer and is emphatically dropped onto his back again moments later with a northern lights throw by The Lariat. Finally Stan misses a precision elbow to the midsection, opening the door for Tenryu to hit a diving crossbody. It gets 2 - but of course hurts him to execute as much as it damages Hansen. Going to the well again, he lunges at Hansen in the corner...and is left pinging off the turnbuckles and to the floor when Hansen ducks. Prone on the outside, Hansen gives him no space and happily batters on the spine. Tenryu tries a body slam...but his back gives out and Hansen's considerable body weight squashes him from above. Irritated at Tenryu's refusal to quit, Stan BATTERS him with clubbing blows. Desperate to escape, Tenryu grabs the small package...and grabs the win out of nowhere at 14:40. He is now the PWF and NWA United National Champion!

Rating - *** - This certainly won't be my favourite match I review as part of the King's Road Chronicles, but it was interesting to check out as a building block towards the Triple Crown - and a violent example of what made Stan Hansen so great. This was basically a squash match, with Hansen flying out from the bell and destroying Tenryu relentlessly and without reply. The Japanese star made some token efforts at a comeback, but all were snuffed out by the dominant American. But, as we saw in the Jumbo '87 match - Tenryu has fought from the bottom and has plenty of tricks in his arsenal. Much of the limited offence he did get came when he was able to dodge the all-action charges of Hansen. Even the finish came as a result of him using Stan's own momentum against him. Stan may leave feeling like he kicked Tenryu's ass - but Tenryu survived long enough to devise a strategy to slay the gaijin. It wasn't necessarily a pretty match, but from a story-telling point of view it is compelling...

Hansen is furious at the loss and lays Tenryu out with his cowbell, then tears up ringside and beats up a couple of the staff members at ringside. It's a chaotic scene that goes on for some-time - until Hansen finally leaves (trying to pick fights with the fans on his way out). Tenryu is so beaten down that he needs his stable-mates to help him to the back...

Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen - PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National Title Match
27th March 1988 (Tokyo) - Tenryu survived Hansen's onslaught in Yokohama, and somehow emerged victorious as a double champion. But it was far from a convincing victory and early in the 1988 Champion Carnival Tour he has agreed to a rematch, with both championships on the line. Can Hansen develop the good things he did in the first match, whilst eradicating the mistakes that cost him victory? Or can Tenryu find another way to escape with his double-championship reign intact?

Tenryu tries to charge Hansen this time...meaning we start with a whirlwind of striking from both men. Stan notices that Tenryu has his eyebrow taped shut and rakes at it, only for the champ to knock him over with an enzi kick. Hansen targets the eye injury and quickly bloodies Tenryu with violent stomps and punches. Blood streams down his face, but the crowd roar Tenryu on as he charges at Hansen again! A lariat connects...but doesn't inflict substantial damage and Stan drops him on his bloody head with a back suplex seconds later. But this isn't the one-sided beatdown of the last match. Tenryu counters back into a Russian legsweep and starts looking for a lariat-weakening cross armbreaker. Hansen has to roll to the floor before the hold his released - and like the Yokohama match he uses that setting to ram Tenryu's head into the ringpost. Tenryu grabs the arm he's worked on though - and delivers kick after kick to Hansen's upper body. Stan's only defence right now is to keep knocking the champion to the floor then trying to pound his bloody face when he gets back in. Interestingly, Tenryu also starts putting shots into Hansen's ribs and back as well, perhaps a receipt for their last match where Hansen tore apart the back. Stan drops to his knees to block the folding powerbomb even as his opponent peppers his ribs with more kicks. Knee strike TO THE FACE by Hansen! He drills Tenryu with a piledriver for 2 then pointedly targets close-range kicks right into the champ's injured eye. SLAP BY TENRYU! LARIAT NAILED! Hansen goes down! But he's in the ropes already so can't be pinned. FOLDING POWERBOMB GETS 2! The champ hops to the top rope and delivers his falling elbow drop - right into the damaged ribs but still it's just a 2-count. WESTERN LARIAT! But like Hansen earlier, Tenryu lands in the ropes so has an easy escape. Hansen drags him up...LARIAT AGAIN! And he pulls Tenryu's shoulders up! REPEATED PUNCHES TO THE FACE! SLAPS BY TENRYU! Hansen starts choking him with the bullrope, then tosses referee Joe Higuchi to the ground when he tries to intervene. It's a DQ finish, meaning Tenryu retains at 15:33

Rating - **** - A great match, a brilliant and gutsy babyface performance by Tenryu...and a frustratingly open-ended finish to set-up another bout between these guys down the line. The real brilliance of this match, as will become a staple of the King's Road formula, is the way it built on the prior encounter. Hansen wanted to bully and dominate the champion as he did in Yokohama, targeting the existing eye injury to gruesome effect in the process. But after some time to reflect on their last match, Tenryu found better ways to cope with Hansen. He attacked the arm to weaken the Lariat (which paid off when he was able to kick out later in the match), and he went after the midsection just as Stan did to him last time. Where Hansen dominated offence last time, Tenryu was the aggressor for the majority of the bout this time. It was more evenly matched of course, but the champ's heroic response he took last time (and survived) was made for gripping viewing. It was so successful that, after falling short last time and finding himself unable to keep Tenryu down here - Hansen snapped, causing his disqualification. They obviously have a better match in them, but wow - this was a hard-hitting slug-out and one of my favourite individual Tenryu performances that I've seen to date.

Hansen assaults Tenryu in the corner, swatting aside his Revolution stable-mates when they try to come to their leader's aid. For the second time Hansen leaves without the belts, but having beaten Tenryu senseless. Unlike last time, though, Tenryu doesn't need assistance - and even barks a few words to the crowd down the microphone before leaving...

Genichiro Tenryu/Ashura Hara vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Yoshiaki Yatsu - PWF Tag Title Match
4th June 1988 (Sapporo) - The build to the formation of the Triple Crown continues here, as does the building rivalry between the ace (NWA International Champion) Tsuruta and his former tag partner, the PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National Champion Tenryu. The latter teams with his Revolution stable-mate Ashura Hara (whom I'm watching wrestle for the first time), whilst Jumbo teams with Yatsu - a team known as 'The Olympics'. This is probably an example of a less 'essential' match, but also an example of the kind of detail I want to dive into on this series. This match further contextualises the rivalry between Jumbo and Tenryu, a defining rivalry for 80's AJPW and one which would continue to have an impact even after Tenryu's departure. And it also shows Tsuruta's work within 'The Olympics' team, which is worth investigating because it was Yatsu's departure to the Super World Of Sports promotion (with Tenryu) which paved the way for Jumbo to take a young Akira Taue under his wing. The Revolution team are defending the PWF Tag Titles; belts which were unified with the NWA International Tag Titles later in June 1988 to form the AJPW World Tag Team Championship. Tenryu, of course, has a target on his back as the PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National Champion.

Hara and Yatsu start, trading some big beefy tackles! The crowd livens up immediately when Jumbo and Tenryu tag in together for the first time. Much like the 1987 match we watched between them, Tsuruta looks to make his size and power count and puts all his weight on the champion with headlocks and ground holds. The ferocity with which he works a cravat is really something to marvel at. This time Tenryu has some back-up though - he and Hara start tagging in and out with frequency to get the better of Tsuruta. They open up an injury on Jumbo's leg, so much so that after he delivers a signature big boot Tenryu is able to absorb the blow and instantly haul him back for more leg work. There are so many neat, little touches of simmering dislike between Tsuruta and Tenryu as well - like how the champ aims a nasty kick at the back of Jumbo's head as he leaves the ring to recover. Tsuruta makes a critical tag to Yatsu and goes to the floor again to nurse his injured leg. Yatsu takes the fight to Tenryu and tries to go after his leg too, looking for his kneeling Figure 4 hold which, I'm told is rather wonderfully named the 'Jailhouse Lock'. Hara comes to his partner's aid with the 'Hitman Lariat'! Jailhouse Lock on Hara now...and it's then Tenryu's turn to bail out his partner with a lariat. He plants Yatsu with a rather savage DDT and stays right on the neck with a grounded headscissors. Yatsu counters to a knee-bar, going back to the leg he'd tried to injure on the PWF/NWA UN Champion earlier. Tsuruta accepts the tag and he is PISSED! He stomps the sh*t out of Tenryu's leg, looking to make him pay for the pain he put him through earlier in the bout. Boston Crab applied - with some wonderfully subtle leg-selling as Jumbo struggles to get his own injured leg over the torso of his foe. Hara and Yatsu recognise that their partners are in trouble, so each tag in and UNLOAD on each other with palm strikes and headbutts. Yatsu tosses Hara into the guardrails then drags him back inside for a back suplex. Jumbo almost flips the big man through the air with a lariat before laying out Tenryu with a jumping knee...which of course exacerbates his own leg injury! JUMPING KNEE AGAIN! He almost collapses into a pin on Tenryu, who kicks out clutching his head in pain. SPIKE PILEDRIVER! The challengers are smelling blood, emphasised by Yatsu dragging him right back up for another piledriver immediately afterwards. Tandem knee strikes get 2 before Hara lunges in to break the fall. BACK DROP from Tenryu! He has to tag out but Hara is barely in any better shape than him and finds himself absorbing repeated suplexes from The Olympics. Tsuruta tries to deck him with another knee, but this time Hara grabs the bad leg and dumps him. Total Elimination on Tsuruta, before the fired on Tenryu takes him outside and smashes him across the spine with a steel chair. Diving elbow drop gets 2, and leaves Jumbo motionless enough for Tenryu to lock in his kneebar again. Tsuruta escapes, hits a jumping knee and almost crumples in pain! Epic selling on that! He tags Yatsu who has had a long time to freshen up...not that it matters when Hara is on hand to drop him with a brainbuster and another Hitman Lariat. Tenryu hits his own lariat for 2, with a hobbling Tsuruta required to break up that pin. DROPKICK ON TENRYU! KNEE ON HARA! KNEE STRIKE/GERMAN SUPLEX COMBO! Jumbo collapses in the ropes, his knee completely giving way, but in doing so lunges at Tenryu to stop him breaking up the pin. Yatsu pins Hara to win the belts at 22:49

Rating - **** - I can't pretend that this didn't feel a little dated and long, and with a noticeable lag in the middle portion, but parts of this were absolutely fantastic. I knew Jumbo was good, but in his three matches I've covered thus far he has been superb. His performance here  - combining layered selling of his leg, continuing his rivalry with Tenryu and wanting to beat the sh*t out of Hara for daring to step up to his level - was faultless. The last five minutes, where Jumbo would fire up, hit a move using his leg and almost double over in pain - yet still retain a believable aura as the ace bad-ass - were enthralling. Even after the match the first thing he does is summon a young boy to wrap an ice-pack around his leg. Probably not essential viewing, particularly if you're only looking to get some background before jumping into the 90's stuff (after Tenryu leaves) - but worth checking out if you can live with the slower pace of 80's heavyweight wrestling. It certainly did a lot to demonstrate the depth of the rivalry between Tenryu and Jumbo if nothing else...

Genichiro Tenryu vs Stan Hansen - PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National Title Match
27th July 1988 (Nagano) - The third instalment in the rivalry between Tenryu and Hansen. Stan dominated the first encounter from start to finish, but lost when the resourceful Tenryu pulled out a small package win from nowhere. The second encounter was more even and hard-fought, before The Lariat's notorious temper boiled over - finding himself so enraged by Tenryu's stubborn resistance that he used a weapon, shoved over the ref and got himself disqualified. Hansen surely believes he has the beating of the double champion - if he can just put a complete performance together. Tenryu, though, will take heart from his own performance in the Tokyo encounter, where he was able to survive Stan's attacks and inflict serious injuries on the American gaijin too. This takes place ten days after Bruiser Brody, another gaijin talent AJPW used regularly, was murdered in Puerto Rico.

A fan throws a chair at Stan during his chaotic entrance. It's safe to say he's getting the reaction he wants! This time Hansen doesn't wait for Tenryu to get to the ring - he attacks during the champ's entrance and lays him out in the crowd with one of the title belts. Tenryu is, once again, busted open. His Revolution stable-mates try to help him tape his wound shut, but are thrown off by Hansen periodically leaving the ring to charge them like a wild bull. At last Tenryu makes it to the ring so the match can begin - into an inevitable barrage of punches and knees into his bloody face. He is pouring blood now, and Stan dumps him right on his bloody head again with a DDT for 2. The crowd is hot for Tenryu attempting even the most minimal of comebacks and pops big when he clocks the on-rushing Hansen with a plucky lariat. It's short-lived though as Hansen literally stands on his face to drive him out of the ring again. Tenryu's blood is now splattered all over the signature blue and red halved canvas of the All Japan ring and the match has comfortably settled into the Hansen-dominant pattern that their first encounter was noteworthy for. KING KONG KNEE DROP gets 2! Tenryu is smeared into the guardrails then tackled off the apron into the crowd again - lying in a bloody heap on the floor next to the table upon which his championship belts proudly sit. He gets a desperate boot up and into the ribs to block the Western Lariat - the same rib and midsection injury that he exploited in Tokyo. The crowd roar him on as he puts the boots into Hansen's bread-basket. The champ is a bloody mess but manages to further injure Hansen's ribs by dodging an elbow drop aimed at his head wound. A big suplex - with drops of Tenryu's blood flying through the air as he executes it - lands and has Stan clinging to his ribs in pain. Tenryu MISSES the diving elbow! Stan grabs a steel chair and pelts him in the neck with it before going right back to prolonged strikes at his opponent's gruesome head injury. Tenryu unloads with enziguri kicks - but is so weak he can barely get Hansen into the air for his folding powerbomb. Hansen has enough agility to back heel kick him in the face, and when Tenryu tries to go to the top again Stan hits a WESTERN LARIAT TO THE FLOOR! It rockets Tenryu from the top rope over the guardrail into the crowd - where his blood pools all over the arena floor. Hansen wins by count-out at 14:41 as medical personnel rush to Tenryu's aid. Hansen is the new champion...

Rating - **** - My favourite of the three Hansen/Tenryu bouts we've checked out in this series, combining the best bits of those first two matches into a short, bloody, violent and dramatic little match which feels remarkably timeless when compared to the Olympics vs Tenryu/Hara match we watched before it. Like the first bout we started with a brutal onslaught from Hansen which, like the second match, busted Tenryu open. However - just like the secound bout, Tenryu went after the sizeable midsection of The Lariat which really slowed the big gaijin down. Tenryu's performance as the bloody underdog champion fighting off the foreign invader was superb. 

An emotional Hansen, still selling ribs, reaches to the sky and roars Bruiser Brody's name in an incredibly poignant post-match scene. 

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu
28th October 1988 (Yokohama) - So in his battles with Stan Hansen we have seen that Tenryu has cemented his rise up the card and his position in the upper ranks of AJPW's heavyweight hierarchy. But he isn't the top native Japanese wrestler in All Japan. He isn't the ace. He is still to usurp the great Jumbo Tsuruta and, as we saw in the June tag match we checked out, ill-will between these two rivals continues to intensify. Once again Tenryu steps up to Jumbo - the current NWA International Heavyweight Champion. Is tonight the night he cements his legacy and takes Jumbo's spot?

Tenryu's demeanour is different here; a more focused, hungry look indicative of man ready to assume the top spot. He shoves Jumbo and actually makes a move to control the early going with headlocks. Jumbo tries to go after the leg, like Tenryu did to him in the earlier tag bout we saw, but his foe rides it into another headlock. BACK DROP DRIVER! Unlike Tiger Mask, whom he humoured for nearly ten minutes, Jumbo senses real threat to his spot tonight and starts slapping the sh*t out of Tenryu. He throws him out of the ring and absolutely batters him against the apron. Belly to belly suplex gets 2, and sets up a jumping piledriver. Now it's Tsuruta's turn to use his body weight to wear down his opponent - literally lying on top of him whilst working front facelocks and cravats. Jumping knee nailed...which rattles Tenryu, but he blasts him with a jumping enzi on the way down. Clearly it hurts Jumbo because he gets slack whilst setting up an abdominal stretch, and Tenryu absolutely slams him into a Fujiwara armbar. Tsuruta escapes he slaps him right across the face. I f*cking love this rivalry. Leg grapevine next, cranked on even whilst Jumbo repeatedly kicks him in the head. German suplex gets 2 - a bigger move demonstrating the success of Tenryu's strategy thus far. You'd better believe Tsuruta isn't happy; he straddles Tenryu and starts beating him without mercy. Another beating on the apron ensues...except this time Tenryu rides it and drops a knee into Tsuruta's face. Jumbo works an elevated crab and peppers the back with kicks - and even then Tenryu swipes a nasty kick at his face when he grabs a rope break. Tsuruta works a knee bar for a LONG time; it is a major struggle for his opponent to reach the safety of the ropes this time. And when he does the dominant ace dismissively baseball slides him out of the ring like trash. He tries a big hit off the apron...only for Tenryu to get an arm up and hit a lariat. SPEAR THROUGH THE ROPES TO THE FLOOR! Tenryu has had enough! Shades of Stan Hansen as he whacks Jumbo with a steel chair! He tries to maul him back in the ring with an ugly crossbody, except Tsuruta rolls through it! 

Jumbo gets a knee up, not as much a knee strike as a defensive block to save himself as Tenryu piles on the pressure. They collide mid-ring each attempting a lariat - and it's Jumbo that goes down, not Tenryu! BACK DROP DRIVER BY JUMBO! Both men down! By the time the ace finally manages a cover Tenryu has already made the ropes. He roars back with chops, enraging Tsuruta who clubs him with big elbows. Jumping knee blocked into a half crab! Jumbo shoots his foe into the ropes...but almost collapses before he bounces back and nearly falls to defeat from a sunset flip. Unable to stand properly, instead Tsuruta props himself up in the ropes and stands on Tenryu's head. Small package gets 2 as Jumbo looks completely gassed. He tries another Back Drop - but this time Tenryu grabs the head and rams it into the canvas on the way down. Tsuruta voluntarily leaves the ring to recover, so Tenryu physically drags him back for a Figure 4 Leglock. Jumbo Tenryu pelts him with disrespectful kicks. JUMPING ENZI by Tsuruta, hurting his own leg and ripping off Tenryu's signature strike. He hauls his ailing body to the top for a FLYING KNEE! Again Jumbo is hurting his own leg trying to put his rival once more Tenryu blocks it and cranks onto the kneebar again. Jumbo escapes by absolutely battering him in the back of the head with elbows. Diving elbow by Tenryu gets 2! FOLDING POWERBOMB by Tsuruta gets 2 - with his leg giving way as he hits it! Air Scissors Drop (Jumbo's Thesz Press) gets 2! BABA NECKBREAKER for 2! Jumbo looks to the crowd for approval and flies into Tenryu with relentless elbows in the corner! Tenryu kicks the leg! SLAP BY JUMBO! KICKS AND KNEES BY TENRYU! HE WILL NOT BACK DOWN! DOWN GOES JUMBO! SLAPS! KICKS! The referee tries to pull Tenryu away but he refuses, causing the referee to disqualify him at 34:55!

Rating - **** -  This lacked the urgency and fervour of the 1987 bout we checked out, but that isn't entirely surprising considering it went more than ten minutes longer. I won't deny that at times this did feel a little meandering. But it feels like essential viewing, if only for the stark tonal shift it represents in the Tenryu/Jumbo war. In '87 it was a fired up Tenryu fighting to avoid being dominated by the powerful ace figure and, although he put up a hell of a fight and actually took a count-out win, it was Tsuruta who was the aggressor. Here, a year later and having survived some absolute wars with the likes of Stan Hansen, Tenryu is a different beast. He is the aggressor. He is nasty, vicious and very visibly determined to take Jumbo's spot. It elicits a very different performance from Jumbo; reactions which are key and inform how he would act in the 90's when Misawa would come for his spot as well. He tries to slow it down. He tries to bully the pretender to his throne...and gets more and more desperate when it doesn't work. After more than 30-minutes of a gruelling bout the rivalry, which was intense in 1987, is now nasty and personal. Tenryu decides that he doesn't need to beat Jumbo. He just wants to send a message by f*cking him up. The finish was as spectacular a non-finish as you could ever see as Tenryu takes down the ace with such a prolonged, sustained spell of violence that he is disqualified for it. He then marches straight to the locker room, knowing that even if Tsuruta is technically the 'winner' his work has been done for the night. Their feud isn't over, but he leaves having fired a critical blow - and inexorably staked his claim to be All Japan's top gun. 

Genichiro Tenryu/Toshiaki Kawada vs Stan Hansen/Terry Gordy - AJPW World Tag Title Match
16th December 1988 (Tokyo) - This is the final match in the 1988 Real World Tag League. '88 was the first year that the World Tag Championship was vacated before the tournament, with the winners crowned the new champions. The winners here win the League and the championship. Once again Hansen and Tenryu will go to war, with Hansen still holding the unified PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National Championship he won (via countount) from Tenryu in the summer. They bring their younger apprentices along for the ride, meaning it's our first chance to get a look at Terry Gordy...and more importantly our first glimpse of the young Toshiaki Kawada. He was a rising star, but very much an undercard talent in the Revolution stable so main eventing a Budokan Hall show is a big deal for the young man. This is before he started wearing his iconic black and yellow gear, instead wearing a wholly unsettling leopard print pair of tights. 

The seconds start, with the crowd deafening in their support of the young Kawada. He basically bounces off the much bigger Gordy, then has the audacity to actually attempt a sunset flip on Hansen. The fans roar with shock at it, and Stan dismissively deposits him out of the ring where Terry is waiting to punish him with a rough trip to the guardrails. Spinning heel kick on Gordy...and Hansen has to pull his partner to safety as Tenryu tags and looks to unload! When Gordy finally does return to the ring Tenryu stomps on his damn head. But it's Terry's turn to show some insolent fire, levelling Tenryu with a dropkick. The crowd roar when Hansen and Tenryu come together, with Hansen beating his old rival down. But the second he tags Gordy in Tenryu fires up and pummels him into the corner. Kawada unleashes some speedy youngster offence on Gordy...then dropkicks Hansen OVER THE TOP! PESCADO NAILED! Babyface fire from young Kawada! Hansen is furious and tries to throttle him using the bottom rope! He swats aside more kicks and drags him to the gaijin corner where he and Gordy can batter him two-to-one. Samoan drop by Gordy...but Kawada responds with a lariat. Spinning heel kick/jumping enzi combo by Revolution gets 2. Hansen is twitchy on the apron and lurches into the ring to kick Tenryu when he threatens to pin his partner off a swinging neckbreaker. He starts clubbing Tenryu across the face even though he isn't the legal man, setting Gordy up for a brutal running lariat in the corner. Tenryu chops Hansen ferociously, feeding Kawada in for a flurry of vicious kicks at the ten minute mark. Gordy actually has to come in and help The Lariat just to get Kawada off him! Hansen sells Kawada's attack fantastically - staggering a drunk into the corner to tag Terry in. German suplex by Kawada...only for Hansen to violent PUNT his leg out when attempting to bridge for a pin. Kawada instantly collapses in pain, with big Stan all over him kicking and stomping on the leg. He flails desperately for a tag to Tenryu...except Hansen has clobbered his partner off the apron too! Gordy pounds on Hansen, whilst on the outside Hansen is literally RIPPING KAWADA'S TIGHTS whilst beating the f*ck out of his leg. It means Tenryu is practically unconscious inside the ring, and his young partner is on the outside unable to walk. Tenryu tries to fire up but finds himself continually battered and bombed by two big, burly American heavyweights at the same time. The camera pans to Kawada in his destroyed tights on the floor, literally screaming in pain. Gordy hits a powerbomb as Hansen batters Kawada with a chair...only for Kawada to NO SELL THE CHAIR and hobble in and break the pin. Hansen is like 'you little prick' and brutally kicks him out of the ring; trying to break his leg on the floor with a toehold. Small package by Tenryu - which the crowd buy as a finisher - gets 2. Stan starts violently attacking the head and neck of his old Tenryu takes him down with an anklelock trying to get revenge for his young partner! Gordy breaks it up though, demonstrating the numbers advantage the gaijin still enjoy. Kawada tries to take out Gordy, so Terry kicks out his leg and dumps the poor kid into the crowd! Torpedo Lariat on Tenryu as well, just for kicks. Somehow Tenryu fires up - blasting Hansen with enziguri kicks and flying off the top with his diving elbow. Obviously Gordy strolls in and breaks up the pin though. POWERBOMB on Stan! POWERBOMB BY GORDY! WESTERN LARIATOOOOO! Hansen pins Tenryu at 21:01

Rating - ***** - This would be a phenomenal match if a wrestling promotion ran it today...the fact that this one is now 32 years old is staggering. This is a beautifully crafted and executed match, showcasing so many neat little touches and nuances which will be hallmarks of the King's Road matches in the 90's. The clear ranking system, with Kawada at the bottom, the seconds (Kawada and Gordy) able to fight each other but only able to step up to one of the 'big names' when fed by their senior partner, and the overwhelming struggle between the senior names for top billing. Tenryu looked every bit the ace in waiting here. With his destruction of Jumbo in August (the last show before the Real World Tag League Tour began) fresh in everyone's memory, he was as credible as he has ever been trading bombs with Hansen. Indeed, it was only when the gaijin duo had eliminated his partner altogether and they were able to overwhelm him two men to one, was he really threatened. Kawada gave one of the all-time great sell-jobs here and was flawless in the way he executed his role. He gave us just enough fire to be a believable threat to Gordy and Hansen, without overstepping his status. The charisma and physical theatricality of the way he sold his knee was something to behold. If you've only seen the surly, toothless, grumpy, aggressive mid/late-90's version of Kawada, this will be a revelation to you. I loved everything about this. The pace was insane for an 80's match, the compact twenty minute run-time was all they needed to tell a perfect story. Each man intimately understood what was required of him and delivered impeccably. Watching in 2020, this one still holds up as an utterly brilliant match. Far the best we've seen on the set so far. 

Stan Hansen vs Jumbo Tsuruta - PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National/NWA International Heavyweight Title Unification Match
18th April 1989 (Tokyo) - So here we are; the formation of the Triple Crown. To provide some background, this is actually the third time these two men had met in a 'unification match' to bring together Jumbo's NWA International Heavyweight Title and Hansen's PWF Heavyweight/NWA United National belts. In October 1988 they went to a double count-out in Hiroshima, and two days prior to this bout in Korakuen Hall they went to a no contest. As we've already seen through this first compilation; non-finishes in major bouts were commonplace in 80's AJPW. Will there be a winner tonight as once again the battle between Jumbo, the ace, the top native Japanese star and Hansen, the brutish gaijin warrior who has seen off Tenryu (where Jumbo couldn't) and skippered his partner to victory in the 1988 Tag League as well (although Tsuruta and Yatsu had subsequently travelled to the the US and taken the World Tag Championship back from Hansen and Gordy)?

Jumbo is pumped up for this and has no problem dropping bombs with Hansen in the early going; immediately demonstrating that this is a different kind of match than Stan's clashes with Tenryu. He wants to wrestle with The Lariat, knowing full well the American bruiser can't live with him on the mat. A prolonged headscissors on the mat demonstrates this and has Stan perspiring heavily by the time he breaks free. Hansen tries to lock horns with the decorated former amateur wrestler but it isn't happening; Tsuruta always has the answer. Eventually Stan has seen enough, blasts him in the head with a few knee strikes then hauls the match out of the ring for a brawl - which is much more up his alley. It's amazing how much less effective Jumbo is on the canvas after Stan has cracked his skull against the ringpost. Now Hansen gets to work holds, mostly a high chinlock which does plenty of damage to Tsuruta's head and neck. They start teeing off on each other with strikes...until Jumbo floors his opponent with a jumping knee. Stan leaves the ring, with Tsuruta in hot pursuit to receipt his ringpost shot earlier with one of his own to the gaijin. He leaps off the apron with a tackle and takes a few shots at Stan's lariat-throwing arm as well. Hansen senses the danger as the ace starts pelting his arm and shoulder with strkes...but is too beaten up to stop him and find himself battling for survival in an abdominal stretch moments later. Hansen leaves the ring and threatens to walk out, only for Tsuruta to retrieve him from the crowd! Stan delivers a desperate Back Drop Driver - although he lies alongside Jumbo selling his arm and shoulder for a long time before finally covering him for 2. It's Tsuruta's turn to leave the ring looking for some respite...and Hansen's turn to go after him! He smashes a chair into Jumbo's neck and busts him open on the guardrail! Outside-in brainbuster drops Tsuruta on his head for 2, followed by a scrappy-looking piledriver. A second rope fist drop causes more blood to fall from Jumbo's forehead...and Stan adds insult to injury by using Tsuruta's own jumping knee strike! Western Lariat...ducked...Tsuruta rolls Stan up for a three-count! Jumbo holds the Triple Crown at 17:51

Rating - *** - As a match this is famous for crowning the inaugural Triple Crown Champion, and there can be no more fitting or deserving a competitor than Jumbo for that honour. This was, however, far from the best match we've checked out on this Prelude compilation. The central premise was good; Tsuruta wanted to wrestle and was tough enough to strike with Hansen where Tenryu couldn't, and Stan got the edge whenever he bombed on Jumbo's head or took him outside to brawl. The last few minutes, i.e. after Tsuruta was busted, cranked up the drama, but before that the contest did feel slow and dated. I admire the struggle and effort that each individual hold would produce but it was slow going with neither man doing the best job of really selling the story they were going for. Even the finish felt somewhat dissatisfying - albeit to the 1980's All Japan audience, expecting another non-finish, I imagine it was a wild, shocking moment.

Hansen is devastated, attacking multiple seconds then giving a young Kenta Kobashi the Western Lariat before storming away! The bloody Tsuruta is helped to his feet and smiles broadly as he is presented with all three championship belts. 

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
20th April 1989 (Osaka) - Two days after defeating Hansen to unify the PWF Heavyweight, NWA International and NWA United National Championships into the AJPW Triple Crown, Jumbo steps into the ring for the inevitable showdown with his old rival Tenryu. As we saw, Tenryu may not have beaten him in October '88...but he did beat the sh*t out of him in a powerful, aggressive statement of intent. Tenryu thinks he is ready to carry the company as the ace, and he needs to beat Jumbo out of the way to claim that spot. Is tonight the night he does it? Or can Tsuruta stave off the challenge and continue his reign as Triple Crown Champion? 

Tenryu explodes from the bell, hitting a jumping enzi then clobbering Jumbo with a lariat which almost wins him the match! Jumbo doesn't like that of course so retaliates with a big dropkick. He clearly fears Tenryu's strike power now - and makes a point by backing him into the corner and popping off a cheap elbow into his face. There's a smirk on the champion's Tenryu F*CKING SLAPS HIM! He deserved that! Smartly Tsuruta takes it to the mat since he has the edge on the challenger when it comes to pure grappling. Tenryu in response smartly breaks his grip and kicks him right in the back of the head. He tries to give Jumbo one of his own Back Drops only for the champ to counter into a bulldog for 2. Trying to open up a neck injury, Tsuruta grinds in a rear chinlock - then blasts him with the jumping knee when he escapes. The champ is on the brink of choking Tenryu out...and legit blasts him in the neck with a close-range elbow when he refuses to give up. Tenryu fights like death but is swung violent into a Back Drop Driver for 2. Just when you think the challenger is done he chops Jumbo IN THE THROAT! It's followed by a big boot so savage that it knocks Tsuruta out of the ring...and Tenryu is on him again with an ELBOW SUICIDA! LARIAT IN THE ROPES! Jumbo is left hanging upside down by his leg, just like he was in 1987! Tenryu kicks and stomps at the leg, but since he hadn't worked it for as long Jumbo is able to escape the count-out this time. He repeatedly boots Tenryu in the face then climbs the ropes! Tenryu tries to counter the jumping knee with a super powerslam...but Tsuruta rolls through for a 2-count! Jumping knee strike gets 2. FOLDING POWERBOMB! TENRYU IS KNOCKED OUT! Jumbo pins his unconscious body at 15:59

Rating - **** - I'm so delighted that I've dived into the late-80's AJPW scene to set the stage for what we'll see in the 90's, because this Jumbo/Tenryu war is absolutely fantastic. Everyone of their singles matches we've seen so far has been different - but great. The way they upped the stakes from the October '88 match (and even referenced August '87 as well) was absolutely joyous. Once again the dynamic had shifted. Tsuruta was grumpy and wanted to boss Tenryu around, but because of what happened last year there was clearly a hesitancy on his part. Tenryu exposed chinks in the armour of the ace when he beat him unconscious last year and Jumbo wants to avoid the same thing happening again - so tries to work an intensely mat-based match where he can work the head. Every time Tenryu gets back to his feet he poses a threat and he showed beyond doubt that he is through being pushed around by Jumbo. The moment where Tsuruta thought he'd exerted dominance so smirked in Tenryu's face, only for Tenryu to slap the sh*t out of him was spell-binding. Having done some research, it appears Tenryu was legitimately knocked out with that finish - hence it came across as slightly awkward. Given how the October match finished though (with Tenryu knocking Tsuruta unconscious then leaving after being disqualified) it was an AWESOME end. Jumbo gets revenge by knocking his foe out cold in a championship match. WHAT a statement. And still you feel these guys have a better match in them...

Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
5th June 1989 (Tokyo) - To the Nippon Budokan we go for the rematch to the previous encounter between these two. They've fought to count-outs, non-finishes, they've knocked each other out...and still Tsuruta can't shake the dogged, determined Tenryu. He is once again the defending Triple Crown Champion, but more than that, he is once again the ageing ace fighting to prove he still belongs at the very top even as the leader of the 'Revolution' tries to usurp him. Many call this the definitive Tsuruta/Tenryu bout, the first Triple Crown 'classic' and one of the best matches of AJPW's 80's run.

There is clear smack-talking going on before the bell this time. As soon as it rings they come to blows, with Tenryu side-stepping the jumping knee and delivering a GERMAN SUPLEX for 2! Tsuruta is rattled momentarily so smartly goes to a headlock; targeting the head and neck to mirror the strategy that was so successful in their last bout. Tenryu tries to strike him in the Jumbo hits a bulldog and holds on so he can roll through into a cobra clutch. Tenryu escapes, somersaults, blocks the jumping knee...only to walk into a big boot to his face! He tries throat chops, so Jumbo boots him again. The intensity and speed here is just off the charts compared to their '87 and '88 clashes. The crowd are actually booing Jumbo as he clobbers down on Tenryu's head and neck relentlessly. Tenryu hits a lariat in the ropes, and flows like a junior heavyweight into a crossbody block off the apron! That's the kind of speed that Tsuruta simply can't replicate! And that's before Tenryu grapevines his leg in an attempt to completely eradicate the knee strike. He starts punching the leg whilst still working the hold...then climbs on top of Jumbo to repeatedly punch him in the face. You'd best believe this is personal now! He hasn't forgotten being knocked out in Osaka! But his desire to beat on the champ causes a mistake; Tsuruta launches him with a belly to belly suplex then latches onto the neck again with that cobra clutch. Stan Hansen (by now a team-mate of Tenryu's) is at ringside cheering him on - but watches helplessly as Jumbo delivers the jumping knee (with leg selling) for 2. It's his turn to climb onto Tenryu for vicious punches to the face as well. He goes for the folding powerbomb that knocked his challenger out - but Tenryu blocks. 

Abdominal stretch applied, and again the crowd start jeering Jumbo. His face and reaction to the audience is absolutely phenomenal. With a single glance it says 'really, after all I've done for you' and I love it! Tenryu escapes with a thunderous lariat for 2. Jumbo elbows him into the corner then dives at him with more big strikes as he goes down, mirroring Tenryu's savagery in his direction last year. The challenger clings to the ropes to stop him delivering the Back Drop Driver, but eats the jumping knee in the corner instead. Jumbo tries the Back Drop again...but Tenryu kicks off the top turnbuckle to drive them both into the canvas. LARIATOOOO by Jumbo! Baba Neckbreaker next, as the assassination of Tenryu's head and neck continues. Second rope knee drop TO THE NECK! And he's mugging off the crowd as he goes! Time and time again Jumbo climbs to the second, taunts the crowd then delivers a devastating diving blow to Tenryu's neck - in a vicious display of exactly how much he wants to keep his spot. Air Scissors Drop gets 2 - with the crowd roaring support for Tenryu! BACK DROP DRIVER! He tries the Air Scissors again only for Tenryu to counter with a flapjack into the top rope! Jumbo doesn't like that and almost decapitates him with a running dropkick. TOP ROPE KNEE SMASH! Now he pulls the knee pad down...only to miss the bare knee strike and almost get pinned with the small package. Lariat by Tsuruta, but when he goes for a belly to belly suplex Tenryu hooks his leg like the resourceful old pro that he is...and they both go down! DIVING ELBOW MISSES! Jumbo poses to the fans again...only to then miss a charging strike and get vaulted into the ropes again. Jumping enzi by Tenryu! FOLDING POWERBOMB! JUMBO KICKS OUT! People are screaming in disbelief! FOLDING POWERBOMB AGAIN! TENRYU WINS! THE ACE HAS FALLEN! We have a new Triple Crown Champion at 24:05 

Rating - ***** - Jumbo Tsuruta is easily one of the best workers of all time. His sense of timing is immaculate, his ability to tell a story and get his opponent over in such a subtle and genuine way is unparalleled; he gets SO MUCH out of every little movement inside the ropes. This was a masterful performance from him as the bitter, ageing ace, clinging to his spot even as the fans who once loved him turn on him in droves...before finally he unravelled and was picked apart by the 'new ace'. Tenryu too was superb. He isn't younger than Jumbo. This isn't a young lion beating the old alpha male. It was the story of a contemporary who looked on jealously as the prodigy Jumbo was fast-tracked past him to the top, whilst he grafted from the bottom. Jumbo is powerful, skilled and dangerous - but being rocketed to the top of the card meant he didn't spend time fighting, clawing and learning tricks of the trade like Tenryu. Tenryu proved in 1988 that he has the striking power to threaten the ace, taught to him through his violent battles with now-partner Stan Hansen. He has the resourcefulness to negate the knee strikes with leg locks. He is dangerous enough to bust out a fatal pinning combination at any second. It was prize fighter versus street fighter and a thrill-ride to the very end. The pace of this match is what makes this one so different from their previous encounters. It was a huge step into the modern era and one which laid the blue-print for the King's Road Classics of the following decade as it worked multiple layers of story-telling alongside a relentless, rugged fighting style. They worked in multiple references to their prior bouts; each providing context and explaining their actions in this one. It ended with Tenryu repeatedly powerbombing Jumbo, trying to knock him out just as Jumbo had done to him in Osaka. The reaction to his win felt like a changing of the guard. Tenryu had ascended to the top, ready to lead AJPW - ahead of Jumbo - into the next decade. This bout is every bit as good as it is billed to be; particularly if you take some time to research some of the background bouts that lead into it.

Toshiaki Kawada vs Kenta Kobashi
1st July 1989 (Saitama) - Lets gather breath after that classic. We've checked in on the young, masked Misawa and we've seen the young Toshiaki Kawada at the side of Tenryu in Revolution. Its time to take an early look at Kobashi now. By this point he was about a year into his career. Famously he spent most of his debut year losing every singles match, but showing so much spirit and fire that he won a 'rookie of the year' award anyway. This takes place as part of the 1989 'Tomorrow League', and is right after Kobashi actually won his first singles match. These two men would do great things together in the following decade, but here they are in their formative years. Can Kobashi make an impression at the expense of the more established and higher ranked Kawada?

Kobashi is in red trunks, Kawada is in green and white trousers (and has all his teeth) - making this feel completely unsettling to look at. Even at this stage Kobashi competes with a big sleeve on his knee, but it's immediately apparent how quick he once was. He nimbly leapfrogs Kawada, plants him with a dropkick then goes after the legs to negate Kawada's kicks. In response Kawada slaps a leglock onto the bandaged knee of his foe. Kobashi counters and continues working over Kawada's leg (even as he uses his good leg to pepper him with kicks from close-range). The Revolution member tries to muscle young Kobashi to the corner for kicks...but again the kid grabs the leg and counters, this time into a single leg crab. Kawada grabs Kobashi's leg again and they start working simultaneous leg grapevines until each roll into the ropes to escape. Dragon screw by Kobashi...met with more kicks to the head. Spinning heel kick knocks Kobashi to the floor...and Kawada is right on top of him with the RUNNING pescado! He starts kicking and stomping at the back, which he appears to have injured when he whipped Kobashi into the guardrails on the outside. Fisherman suplex gets 2. They start unloading slaps on each other...and surprisingly it's Kawada who blinks first. He plants his foe on the bad back again with a sidewalk slam; converting to his own version of a single leg crab. Kobashi builds up a head of steam before propelling himself into a HUGE spinning heel kick, then a bridging fallaway slam for 2. He collapses after hitting that, at least making an attempt to sell the back injury. SPRINGBOARD CROSSBODY PRESS by Kobashi! Dragon suplex blocked...BRIDGING German instead for 2! Lariat countered with a spinning heel kick. LARIAT by Kawada! He wins with a dragon suplex at 11:22

Rating - *** - Of course it isn't a patch on their Triple Crown classics, but this was still a fascinating glimpse into the future. Young Lion Kobashi and rising star Kawada demonstrated that the future of AJPW was very bright with this effort. It wasn't ambitious, didn't outstay it's welcome and focused largely on the fundamental premise of each worker attacking a body part. What you'll notice is Kobashi's incredible speed and athleticism. Compared to the kneeless, hulking chop machine that he'd be by the time he ended his career in NOAH his showing here is quite remarkable. The single leap springboard crossbody he busted out was something you'd expect to see from a junior heavyweight. Kawada too looked to have improved since the 1988 Tag League final where we saw him last. The ugly tights were still there, but he was more aggressive and more...grumpy too. Fascinating, but not essential viewing if you're only here for the real cornerstones of the 'King's Road classics' so to speak.

Genichiro Tenryu/Stan Hansen vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Kenta Kobashi
15th July 1989 (Tokyo) - More from young Kobashi now as he makes his first ever main event appearance in Korakuen Hall. Obviously the big story here is Tenryu and Jumbo. In June we saw Tenryu take Tsuruta's spot at the top of AJPW - clearly Jumbo wants it back. But he is at a disadvantage here, bringing a talented but raw and inexperienced young lion out as his partner...whilst Tenryu has one of the most dominant gaijins of all time as his partner. Hansen is an old rival of Jumbo's as well; all the ghosts of Tsuruta's past are coming to haunt him now as he fights against the tide to reclaim his ace status. The sub-plot here is that we'll get to see Hansen and Kobashi together. They would have a fabled rivalry of their own into the 90's, so it should be fun seeing those two lock horns at this stage of Kobashi's career too. To set the scene, this is just a few days after Hansen and Tenryu had defeated The Olympics (Jumbo and Yoshiaki Yatsu) for the World Tag Championship.

Baby Kobashi looks so awkward and youthful. It doesn't stop him sprinting across the ring and getting into a fight with Hansen before the bell! Tsuruta and Tenryu spill to the floor as their bitter rivalry continues, whilst on the other side of the ring Stan batters Kobashi with a chair. Jumping knee by Tsuruta! Missile dropkick by Kobashi gets 2 on the Triple Crown holder! The Korakuen crowd are absolutely loving Kobashi and gasp as Tenryu batters him to the ground with a jumping enzi, before tagging Hansen in to brutalise him. Jumbo comes to his young partner's aid by ramming Stan's head into the guardrail, but the respite is only temporary as Tenryu joins in for a DOUBLE lariat. SLAP TO JUMBO! But getting distracted by Tsuruta works in Kobashi's favour; the youngster lands a spinning heel kick and tags Jumbo in for another jumping knee! Hansen sprints in and literally DRAGS Tsuruta to the ground...then starts kneeing the f*ck out of Kobashi for fun. Jumbo makes an early attempt at the knockout powerbomb, then goes back to his mat wrestling sensibilities with a savage abdominal stretch. Just as with their Triple Crown classic, Tenryu works the leg to escape. Jumbo has to tag Kobashi back in...and once again Hansen is in trying to beat on the kid. Except this time Kobashi lands an elbow strike on The Lariat! He gets a bit over-confident and tries to fight Stan on the floor. Even Hansen seems a little bit incredulous about it and drags him back into the ring like a naughty school kid where he starts choking and knee-smashing him in the ropes. Tenryu arrives, glares at Jumbo, then starts stiffing the sh*t out of the young man he has chosen to partner with. It is a striking, savage and violent strike sequence...and to Kobashi's real credit that he survives and battles into a tag. Tsuruta hadn't had time to recover from his last spell in the ring though; and this time he is crowded and battered by Tenryu and Hansen. He hits a knee strike...but limps heavily afterwards. What an opening ten minutes this has been - capped when Jumbo absolutely hammers his great rival Tenryu with a lariat. Once again he has softened his foe up for Kobashi to profit from...but yet again Hansen crashes the party and beats the sh*t out of Kobashi. Again he and Tenryu take turns clubbing poor Kobashi into the dirt...but once more the youngster escapes their clutches. Jumbo goes after Stan's Lariat arm with a Fujiwara armbar! Cross armbreaker soon after by the fiery Kobashi as well...until Hansen ELBOWS HIM IN THE FACE! Tenryu tries his luck as well...KOBASHI SLAPS THE SH*T OUT OF HIM! What a moment! Tsuruta cheers his young partner on as Kobashi starts hitting Jumbo-esque dropkicks on the champion for 2...before joining the party and hitting one of his own. Hansen is swatted away as he tries to intervene and Jumbo puts all his weight into Tenryu's neck with a side headlock. Kobashi tries to pound on Tenryu with palm strikes...until finally Tenryu snaps. He stares dead-eyed at Kobashi...then MURDERS him with chops. Kobashi runs away to Jumbo again, with Hansen in hot pursuit. Jumbo tries the abdominal stretch on big Stan now...before feeding him to Kobashi for a HEAD DROP SUPLEX! As in, Hansen didn't want to go over, Kobashi suplexes him anyway and puts him right on the point of his head. Tenryu starts chopping and slapping Tsuruta...BACK DROP DRIVER! Hansen breaks the pin! WESTERN LARIAT! Jumbo collapses backwards into a tag on Kobashi...who plants Tenryu with a missile dropkick! Fisherman Suplex gets 2! Jumping enzi by Tenryu. He drags Kobashi back up for the FOLDING POWERBOMB! Tenryu wins at 20:17

Rating - ****1/2 - Unsurprisingly, given the talent involved, this was stunning. It didn't have the layered, concise and flawlessly paced story-telling of the Hansen/Gordy vs Tenryu/Kawada Tag League '88 finals but there were several tonal similarities; most notably the stunning, fiery young lion performance from Kobashi. He isn't necessarily recognisable as the Kobashi we'd grow to know and love - but you could see that performer growing and developing before your eyes throughout this. The fighting spirit, fire and raw babyface charisma he exudes was on display from the opening seconds when he charged Stan Hansen. The hierarchy of the match meant he was so far beneath the other three so he very rarely got actual offence of his own (other than dropping Stan on his head), rather he needed to be fed his offence by Tsuruta. But the innovative ways they maintained that, whilst allowing Kobashi to express himself and not be bullied by his imposing opponents was really special. And 'bullied' is the apt term; that is what Hansen and Tenryu were trying to do. Jumbo and Tenryu were kept apart for long stretches, but paid great reverence to their rivalry every time they came into contact, letting us know that their issue is very much still burning. The pace did slacken in the second half (after a stunning first ten minutes) but that is only a very minor quibble. It remains a superb, breakout performance for Kobashi. 

Genichiro Tenryu vs Terry Gordy - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
2nd September 1989 (Tokyo) - I'm not entirely sure what to expect from this one. It's not a match I've seen footage of before either. But when doing some research and canvassing some opinion whilst putting together a match listing for this 'Prelude' volume a couple of people mentioned this one to me as one that is 'just plain fun'. Tenryu is in place as the Triple Crown Champion and is now a team-mate of Gordy's former partner Stan Hansen. Can Gordy step up to the plate and assert his credentials to be the new top gaijin in AJPW by taking the top prize in the company?

Tenryu sarcastically powerbombs Gordy's second before the bell...firing Terry up so much that he absolutely DUMPS the champ with a powerbomb of his own. And all that before old Joe Higuchi calls for the opening bell. Gordy is fired up and clatters into the champ again with a lariat and a knee drop for 2. Tenryu struggles to get up off the canvas without his challenger blasting him with kicks to the head. He tries to get resourceful and dodge the rugged Gordy...but even that fails and he eats a superkick in the corner. The champion fights tenaciously to avoid another powerbomb even as Bam Bam tears into him with big elbows and knees. Jumping DDT instead for Gordy, drawing a 2-count. Terry stands over Tenryu and starts straight-up pounding on the back of his unprotected head and neck - leaving the champ with no other choice than to leave the ring. Gordy is so dominant that he is quite literally beating the champion out of his own ring; a powerful image. Next he wears Tenryu like a fur trophy - carrying him over his shoulders and strolling around the ring before dropping into a Samoan drop. Desperate enziguri kicks from Tenryu all land, but have almost no effect as Gordy steamrolls through him with a shoulder tackle. Still Tenryu battles the powerbomb; knocking Gordy back with a lariat and returning the favour from earlier with repeated stomps to the head. Unlike Terry, he does find the strength to deliver a folding powerbomb - but such is the damage he has sustained he is unable to cover immediately and only gets 2. REPEATED back suplexes bring Gordy back into the fight - unsurprising since that is a move favoured by Tenryu's great rival Jumbo. Folding Powerbomb by Tenryu again...but still just 2! Gordy is on the ropes. FOLDING POWERBOMB! Tenryu wins at 12:12

Rating - *** - Probably the 'least essential' match from this Prelude compilation to accompany my AJPW 90's review series, but it makes for fascinating viewing and offers a real snapshot into the career trajectories of both performers. It shows Tenryu's struggle to assert himself as the ace and Triple Crown Champion. Although he holds the belts, he does not exude the same aura of impregnable dominance that Jumbo did (and Giant Baba did before Jumbo...and Rikidozan did before Baba). Even against Gordy he faces a battle to cement himself as the undisputed top gun. And for Gordy this marks his ascension to a legitimate top tier singles gaijin star for AJPW. No longer is he just a tag guy. Here, even in defeat, his performance was violent, dominating and VERY reminiscent of Stan Hansen's powerful displays against Tenryu in 1988. We will see plenty of Gordy at the top level as we move into the early 90's and this match certainly helps contextualise why that was the case.

Dan Kroffat/Doug Furnas vs Joe Malenko/Kenta Kobashi - AJPW All Asia Tag Title Match
11th October 1989 (Yokohama) - Three of these four men would compete in one of the most iconic AJPW 90's bouts of all time, in front of one of the very best pro-wrestling crowds of all time. We'll get to that later, but for now lets check in with the Can-Am Express of Kroffat and Furnas as they defend the All Asia Tag Titles (AJPW's second tier tag team championship) against the young Kobashi and Joe Malenko (Dean's older brother). 

Malenko and Kroffat start with the Japanese commentators putting Joe over as a 'suplex machine'. Dan tries to take the fight to him with martial arts Joe keeps using the leg to take him down. Their skirmishes quickly escalate and lead to them bludgeoning each other inside and outside the ring. Kobashi has to act as the voice of reason, forcing Malenko out of the ring and calming things down with a headlock on Furnas. PRESS SLAM by Doug...but he the back flips into a superkick by Kobashi! SPRINGBOARD CROSSBODY by Kobashi! TOMBSTONE by Furnas! What a completely bonkers exchange that was. It is Joe's turn to calm things down for his team; tagging in and targeting Furnas' leg with his signature technical precision. Kroffat smartly tags his partner out...then spits in Kobashi's face. Clearly that annoys Joe, who dropkicks him out of the ring where Kobashi is waiting...but Kroffat smartly dives back into the ring. Kroffat is a smart wrestler and works hard to slow Kobashi down to a more methodical pace. He puts a Cattle Mutilation hold on the young Japanese firebrand before feeding him to Furnas who delivers an incredible DROP-SAULT! Malenko tags but is stopped from unleashing more technical wizardry with a rugged lariat from Doug. He makes the mistake of trying to work ground holds with Joe though - with Malenko easily countering out and bringing Kobashi in to work a Boston crab. The Can-Ams team up on young Kobashi, using their experience as a team to gain an edge...but once again the prodigious rookie has the answer; knocking Kroffat out of the ring and tagging Joe back in. He and Kroffat are simply magic and work the mat with astonishing fluency. Joe manoeuvres his foe into a position where Kobashi can wipe him out with a flying crossbody block. TOP ROPE SUICIDE DIVE TO THE FLOOR by Kobashi! DDT ON THE FLOOR by Kroffat! Furnas tries to suplex Kobashi back in after that and his jaw almost hits the canvas as the youngster counters him into a northern lights suplex. Malenko tries to make Furnas tap with a standing chickenwing. Doug eventually breaks that with an absolutely brutal dead-lift cradle back suplex, into a whirlwind belly to belly for 2. Kobashi tries to save but eats a spinning heel kick Hart Attack for 2. He and Kroffat TRADE lariats and spinning heel kicks until Kenta ups the ante and launches himself into a missile dropkick. Tiger Driver gets 2 for Kroffat. Furnas comes off the top rope with a guillotine leg drop - and this time Joe has to break the pin to save his partner. DIVING BODY PRESS by Kroffat! The Can-Ams are really beating on young Kobashi now and drive their advantage home with a single leg crab spot which almost breaks him in half. Malenko tags, but is suplexed into the Canadian Backbreaker by Furnas. Malenko escapes...DROPKICK/GERMAN SUPLEX COMBO by the challengers. High velocity sunset flip gets 2 for Furnas simply picks him up into a DOUBLE TEAM SUPER DDT for 2! QUEBRADA MISSES for Kroffat! Hurricanrana by Joe, who swivels like a genius into a Fujiwara armbar. Furnas breaks that and back drops Kobashi over the top rope! DROPKICK/POWERBOMB COMBO! Kroffat pins Malenko to retain at 23:12

Rating - **** - Wow. This was slick, polished and so far ahead of its time. You could run this match now and it would get great reactions; all four were at the top of their game here. Furnas showed what a remarkable athlete he was, with an incredible ability to align feats of amazing agility with brute strength. Kroffat excelled as a wrestling machine...but was totally eclipsed in that department by Malenko who, as I said in play-by-play, is a total genius. I've only seen limited amounts of his work before, but I loved everything he did here. I've not even mentioned the sheer joy of watching young lion Kobashi work. He was still basically a rookie at this point, in his first ever championship match, and delivered a performance like this. Here he was still very clearly the most junior participant in the match, but the dynamic was very different from when he got in the ring with the likes of Tenryu and Hansen. He isn't just a whipping boy here; using his power and speed (yes, he moved like a junior heavyweight before his knees were ruined) he posed genuine questions of Furnas and Kroffat - and wasn't the man to take the fall. The match as a whole did feel more like 23 minutes of four men showing off what great wrestlers they were than it did a truly top tier standalone match...but it absolutely flies by because of the incredibly high level of skill on display. The Can-Am Express are an all-time great tag team; this felt like a tremendous way to introduce them to the King's Road Chronicles review series...

Genichiro Tenryu vs Jumbo Tsuruta - AJPW Triple Crown Title Match
11th October 1989 (Yokohama) - This takes place at the same 'October Giant Series' show as the previous match and is the third in the 1989 trilogy between these great rivals. Tenryu has been unable to shake Jumbo's pursuit of the Triple Crown and has been unable to cement his legacy of the ace - as evidenced by the beating he took at the hands of Terry Gordy in September. Is he truly the 'new ace'? Can he solidify his spot at the top of the card by beating Jumbo in his championship rematch? Already this year we've seen Tsuruta knock out the current champion, then an all-time great bout in June which saw AJPW's fans turn on Jumbo and embrace Tenryu's emotional climb to the top of the mountain. We've seen them go short, we've seen them go long, we've seem non-finishes, big finishes...this match really is completely in the balance.

Even during the entrances there is a tonal shift in fan interaction. Jumbo is mobbed and greeted like a hero, whilst Tenryu batters his way through the fans in an almost Hansen-esque manner. The initial lock-up is intense with Tenryu backing Tsuruta into the corner but refusing to back Jumbo shoves him away angrily. The champion brilliantly spins on his heels to dodge an early jumping knee and pelts Jumbo with chops. Jumbo swats away a jumping enzi strike to leave us back at a stalemate though. The challenger grinds into a cravat, knowing that he is both bigger and more skilled as a mat grappler. Tenryu escapes and sprays some vicious and disrespectful kicks in the direction of his bitter rival. Shinbreaker by Jumbo...which Tenryu rides with a side headlock as he tries to negate the size and power of his foe. Tsuruta counters to a JUMPING ARMBAR! He keeps going after the arm as well, knowing how the champ likes to use a lariat as one of his favoured weapons. Once again Tenryu escapes and delivers a nasty kick...followed by a chop to the damn throat! Jumbo is f*cking furious about that, shoving the ref aside and blasting Tenryu with such fierce dropkicks that he is ejected from the ring. To the floor we go, where Jumbo hurls the champ into the guardrail and beats on him with a chair! The crowd jeer but Tsuruta is visibly unmoved. Where last time he played to them for affection, tonight he has a laser-focus on victory - returning to the ring and repeatedly elbowing Tenryu in the side of the head. In the end it's Jumbo's rage that counts against him. He runs like a wildman at Tenryu in the corner...prompting the champ to get a knee up to defend himself. It rattles the challenger and allows Tenryu to blast him with kick after kick. We go into the corner with chops, remembering that Tenryu has knocked Jumbo out in the corner before. DEAD-LIFT POWERBOMB scores...but Tsuruta rolls out of the ring to avoid being pinned. Tenryu dumps him over the guardrail and tosses THREE chairs (all joined together) at him. Tsuruta emerges carrying a rib injury and of course the champ looks to exploit it - even coming off the top rope with a diving crossbody block. Jumbo gets a knee up to block the lariat though, tossing the champ over with a suplex for 2. Air Scissors Drop gets 2 as well. He goes for the knockout powerbomb but it is blocked by the champion. Instead Tsuruta drags him into the corner and just starts BEATING on him. Body slam COUNTERED to the Small Package for 2, proving that Tenryu is very much still alive in the fight. He gives Jumbo a back suplex...although he can only muster up a weary cover afterwards. Jumbo blocks the folding powerbomb and STOMPS ON HIS FACE! That looked brutal. BOMBS AWAY knee drop gets 2. Jumbo wants to do that again...but Tenryu shoves him off the top into the guardrail! Disrespectful kicks to the face follow only for Tsuruta to heel kick him in the jaw to block the powerbomb. Back Drop Driver COUNTERED to a crossbody press by Tenryu for 2. LARIAT FLURRY by Jumbo. BACK DROP DRIVER! Tenryu is in the ropes! Jumbo sinks to his knees. How badly does he want his top spot back!? SLAPS by Tenryu! Folding Powerbomb COUNTERED TO A RANA! JUMBO WINS! He has his belts back at 22:16

Rating - ****1/2 - In researching this project I read a lot about some of their other matches, but couldn't find a great deal written about this one. I thought it was absolutely fantastic, fuelled by another quite sensational character performance by Tsuruta. The calling card of this match was how bad-tempered it was. They weren't just rivals vying for a championship now. After years of doing battle at the very top they have become battle-scarred and nasty. Tenryu attacked fans and was truly vicious in his striking...but it was Jumbo who was truly mesmerising. Everything he did and every movement he made embodied his ill-will towards his rival and his burning desire to re-assume his spot as the ace. He dominated the first ten minutes, picking Tenryu apart then beating him with a chair when he continued to show disrespect. Even when Tenryu managed to hit his big powerbomb - Jumbo knew instinctively to roll out of the ring to prevent losing. Watching Jumbo sink to his knees after the Back Drop Driver failed to bring him victory was drama of the highest order but perhaps the highest testament to Jumbo's will to win, and the most dramatic moment of them all, is that he was only able to win by using a Tenryu-esque trickster pin. I've spoken at length about how Tenryu had to battle from the bottom of the card learning all manner of tricks along the way, whilst Jumbo was fast-tracked to the top. Here he showed that, after years of battles with Tenryu, he too now has the street smarts to pull a win from anywhere. With that he essentially trumps Tenryu's major 'edge' over him in the battle to be the ace of AJPW. The ace had reassumed his throne...and Tenryu would never get it back

Jumbo Tsuruta/Yoshiaki Yatsu vs Genichiro Tenryu/Stan Hansen - AJPW World Tag Title Match
6th December 1989 (Tokyo) - A year after doing battle on opposing sides, this year Tenryu and Hansen joined forces for an assault on the Real World Tag League. They were the Tag Champions coming into the tournament, but the belts are vacated at the start of the Tag League tournament, so they are looking to get them back here. They have gone undefeated through the tournament thus far...but so have their opponents. Standing in their way in this final match in the tournament is the Triple Crown Champion and perennial nemesis to Hansen and Tenryu - Jumbo Tsuruta and his partner in 'The Olympics'. But Yatsu has carried a head injury through the tournament, making him particularly vulnerable tonight. Can Hansen and Tenryu regain their belts? Or will Jumbo - the now undisputed ace in singles competition - lead his team to a seemingly unlikely victory, delivering a crushing blow to Tenryu so soon after losing his top spot?

Yatsu wears a skullcap in the hope of protecting his head injury. Tenryu goads him into starting the match, pissing him off so much that he even uses headbutts as a weapon. Even Yatsu isn't dumb enough to hang around when Hansen tags though, vacating to allow Jumbo to run through Stan with his jumping knee. Tenryu recognises the danger but is unable to prevent The Olympics from ganging up on him. He takes his licks, biding his time until he can get Hansen in with the injured Yatsu. Instantly The Lariat's heavy-handed, brutish attacks leave Yatsu in trouble. That is until he resourcefully trips Hansen INTO Tenryu, knocking him to the outside where Jumbo is waiting to fling his bitter rival into the crowd! Air Scissors Drop gets 2 but doesn't soften Tenryu up sufficiently for Tsuruta to unleash a powerbomb. Yatsu lands a belly to belly suplex...only to be smashed in the back of the head by an elbow from Hansen. BACK DROP DRIVER from Jumbo to Tenryu - and once again Stan is in to rescue his partner. Yatsu tries another belly to belly but Tenryu drops his entire weight down across the injured skull. Hansen capitalises; bashing the head against the turnbuckles then raining down on him with knee strikes and hip attacks. He rips the protective headgear off Yatsu, then Tenryu joins him for repeated boots to the head. A desperate Jumbo leaves the apron and fights Hansen into the crowd, clinging to his FACE to stop The Lariat smashing Yatsu's head against the guardrails. His reward for that is Tenryu giving him a running lariat off the apron. Spike DDT from Hansen gets Tenryu gives Tsuruta another big slap across the face just for existing. Yatsu manages to evade the diving elbow from Tenryu...only for Stan to cynically knee drop him in the head as he inches towards the precious tag he needs. Repeated HEAD CHOPS by sold into a GERMAN SUPLEX by Yatsu. Both men down! Jumbo gets the tag! 

SLAPS ON TENRYU! LARIATOOOO! Jumping knee takes out Hansen as well! He mounts Tenryu and just elbows the ever-loving sh*t out of him! Stan is so woozy from Jumbo's blows that he almost collapses under the weight of the Air Scissors Drop. BACK DROP DRIVER! Tenryu breaks the pin and boots Yatsu back to the ground as well to ensure it's still 2-on-1. WESTERN LARIAT to the back of Tsuruta's head! Medics are literally bandaging Yatsu's head outside the ring by the way. He dives back into the ring to break a pin after Hansen repeatedly blasts Tsuruta in the back of the head and neck...but then falls to the floor again through sheer exhaustion. ROCKET LAUNCHER SPLASH onto Jumbo's head! SPIKE PILEDRIVER! The former champions are trying to ensure Tsuruta has as bad a head injury as Yatsu it seems. Speaking of Yatsu, he is still lurking on the outside, giving Hansen a BULLDOG ON THE EXPOSED CONCRETE! Small Package by Jumbo - again showing the smarts he learned from Tenryu - gets 2! Yatsu accepts a tag despite having his head covered in bandages. Headbutts on both opponents - with Stan bleeding heavily after his bump on the floor. Tenryu stomps on Yatsu's head Tsuruta DESTROYS HIM IN THE CORNER! A theme of their rivalry! SLAP DUEL between Yatsu and Hansen, who of course overpowers him when it comes to striking. SUPER BACK DROP DRIVER BY JUMBO! Tenryu aims a jumping enzi at Yatsu...but accidentally knocks Hansen's block off! There are just three minutes left in the 30-minute time limit now. Top rope knee smash by Jumbo...only for Tenryu to run into the ring and unleash a furious volley of strikes. He saves Stan from another bulldog too! Dropkick by Yatsu...NO SOLD! LARIAT DUCKED! JUMPING KNEE ON HANSEN! JUMPING ENI BY TENRYU! WESTERN LARIATOOOOO! Tenryu tackles Jumbo to the floor as Hansen pins Yatsu to win the Tag League and the Tag Titles at 28:57!

Rating - ****1/2 - A blockbuster encounter to end AJPW's decade; this was another really special match that is really worth checking out. Hansen and Tenryu's inevitable destruction of Yatsu's head was fantastic, violent and ruthless. Every interaction between Tsuruta and Tenryu was suitably embittered and grumpy - ensuring that the extent of their rivalry was effectively conveyed even when not the main focus of the match. The spot-heavy, multi-part finishing sequence here also demonstrates the continued evolution of AJPW's product into the traditional 'King's Road' formula that we know - and is a marked change from even the 1988 RWTL final just a year prior. That isn't to say it's quite on the same level as the '88 final though. Yatsu did a terrific job with his head injury, but his sell-job couldn't touch Kawada last year, nor did his big comeback spots ooze the same charisma and fire as Kawada. The longer run-time probably didn't help these guys either. Although the finish was slightly more epic, 1988 had such a crisp and concise narrative structure. These guys had more time to fill, making the transitions less precise and significant, and creating a relatively flat hot tag to Jumbo when the place should have been rocking. Many call this the 'last major Tenryu' match. He (and Yatsu) would leave in April 1990 to the new 'Super World Of Sports' promotion. 

Tape Rating - ****1/2 - I will admit that, by 2020, wrestling from the late 1980's may not suit everyone's taste. Many of these matches are gruelling, methodically paced heavyweight battles, which modern day professional wrestling has deviated vastly from in many promotions. It is also true that this was probably a more in-depth look at AJPW in the late-80's than was probably required given that I'm only dipping in as a 'prelude' to our real subject matter of the 90's years. You could be excused for wondering why we spent so much time exploring the rise and fall of Genichiro Tenryu, given that he would leave at the start of 1990 and, to many, it was his departure which served as the catalyst for the outbreak of the Super Generation Army. But I think Tenryu's multi-year arc is a wonderful blueprint for what AJPW in the 90's and the 'King's Road' style would become. And it is a story which informs everything about how Jumbo Tsuruta acts with Misawa and his Super Generation army in 1990-1992. When you watch young Misawa challenge Jumbo for his role as ace it is a Jumbo battle-hardened by his wars with Tenryu, scarred by how the crowd turned on him in favour of Tenryu in June 1989...and a Jumbo who was only able to re-assume his spot at the top of All Japan by becoming a nasty, violent, street-smart fighter (more like Tenryu in fact). Here, from 1987-1989 we see Jumbo desperately clinging to his spot as the ace as Tenryu first proves his equal, toughens up via his wars with Stan Hansen then - for a time - appeared to have Jumbo's number. Exploring that story in depth provides SO much context for everything we'll see from Jumbo/Misawa in the years ahead. Our journey in this King's Road Chronicles Prelude, whilst long, also introduced us to so many key players from AJPW's 90's glory years. We see a Tiger Masked-Misawa taking his first tentative steps into the heavyweight division. The young firebrand Kawada rising up the card. The young lion Kobashi prove himself an insanely talented rookie. We explored Stan Hansen in his role as the top gaijin (with the likes of Terry Gordy himself coming to challenge for that spot), a glimpse at the tag team excellence of the Can-Am Express, the formation of the Triple Crown and the significance of the Real World Tag League. Not every match I've reviewed in this compilation is essential viewing. I hope I've helped you pick out a few key matches and moments though as we set the stage for what is to come in the next decade. 

SIDENOTE - I'm not going to be doing a 'Top 3 Matches, or 'Top 5 Matches' for the King's Road Chronicles review series. My loose plan is to put together a 'Top Matches' list at the end of the project detailing my favourite matches reviewed during the King's Road Chronicles. I suspect I'll need more than a 'Top 10' or even a 'Top 20', but I want to keep it as concise as I can. I will, however, list what I pulled out as the 'essential matches' from each collection in chronological order.

Must See Matches
Stan Hansen/Terry Gordy vs Genichiro Tenryu/Toshiaki Kawada (16/12/88 - *****)
Jumbo Tsuruta vs Genichiro Tenryu (05/06/89 - *****)
Genichiro Tenryu/Stan Hansen vs Jumbo Tsuruta/Kenta Kobashi (15/07/89 - ****1/2)
Genichiro Tenryu vs Jumbo Tsuruta (11/10/89 - ****1/2)

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