If you recall during the time of the Kenta Kobashi retirement show that I was very high on the night, match and send off to Kobashi in his final match at Budokan Hall, the building that he had wrestled classics in so many times. You may also recall that I am quite the fan of a good wrestling MV, sure most of them are bad, but like with AMVs (although, admittedly there are very few good AMVs out there) you sometimes get that special video that is really able to connect, and it just so happens that a user named ‘verbec’ on the BOARD was able to create what is perhaps one of my favourite wrestling MVs ever – a Kenta Kobashi career retrospective. From the timing of the video itself, to the way that the story was laid out and corresponded with the actual story of Kobashi’s career, I would really say that it was perfect. There are only a handful of MVs that I would put on the same level, the first is a Jumbo Tsuruta vs. Mitsuharu Misawa MV ‘What if the Storm Ends’, the other is a Chris Jericho Radiohead career retrospective, and the third is of course ‘God Gave Pro-Wrestling to You’. There certainly are other great videos out there, but those are the first ones that come to mind, and this Kobashi MV is certainly at or above that level.
Below is the original piece that I wrote on Kobashi after the Final Burning show – from Issue #82:
Kenta Kobashi – Eternal Burning
Today is a special day, as on May 11th 2013, Budokan Hall witnessed the retirement of one of the greatest performers to ever wrestle inside of its walls, not only that, but the world witnessed the departure from the ring of not only one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of Japan, or even the world in the last few decades, but one of the greatest workers in the history of the business – Kenta Kobashi.
One could make the case for a few people as the greatest workers of all time, some would say Shawn Michaels, others Manami Toyota or Mitsuharu Misawa, but you could make a very strong argument for Kobashi, as very few people have been able to perform at such a consistently high level for so many years. Even more than that Kobashi had many attributes that were lacking in his contemporaries, Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kowada, as he had the facial expressions and selling ability that neither man, specifically Misawa, ever had.
He also had another very important attribute that unfortunately was never granted to Misawa or Kawada, and that was the gift of longevity. Even though Misawa wrestled until his untimely passing in the ring in 2009 and Kawada has wrestled up until very recently, neither of those two men were able to maintain their level of in ring performance for as long as Kobashi; certainly not Misawa, and while Kawada put on the occasional great match in his post 2004-2005 run, the fact is that he could not touch Kobashi during that period.
It is actually quite ironic that Kobashi was able to perform at the most consistently high level out of the three, as he was the one who has been putting his body through abnormal levels of abuse since the very early 90s. His knees have been blown for years, and he suffered from other injuries along the road, but for whatever reason he was able to carry on and work a very stiff and taxing style that paid dividends in the form of great matches, but obviously placed serious strain on his health.
Kobashi had one of my most favourite runs ever in the 2003 to 2005 period where he was the ace of Pro-Wrestling NOAH, and held the GHC championship from his March 1st 2003 victory over Mitsuharu Misawa, until March 5th of 2005, where he lost the title in NOAH’s attempt to elevate Takeshi Rikio into a top star, a plan that failed in the long run. During that run he put on classic after classic including his victory over Misawa, a defence against Yuji Nagata, Kensuke Sasaki at the Tokyo Dome, Jun Akiyama and many more. To use a present day example, it was the 2011/2012/2013 Tanahashi run; only magnified by ten and in a reign that lasted for two years.
A good career before that NOAH run combined with the run itself would have made Kobashi a strong Observer Hall of Fame candidate, but in reality he didn’t have a good, or even very good career before that run, he had a great, even phenomenal career by 2003. His All Japan run in the 90s was filled with classic matches, in both his legendary rivalry with Misawa, although rivalry may have been too strong of a word, as well as tag matches with Misawa and singles matches with the likes of Steve Williams, Stan Hansen, Kawada and many others.
He even had one of the best matches in Ring of Honor company history when he wrestled Samoa Joe on October 1st of 2005, in a stiff, hotly contested battle between two of the best wrestlers of that year in the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. Despite the fact that Kobashi has had so many matches that were better, either from a crowd heat, technical or drama standpoint, his match with Joe from 2005 will stick out as one of the matches that I will remember most about Kobashi’s career. Sure, some of his matches with Misawa in many cases had it all, and his matches with Steve Williams and Stan Hansen have became classics in the eyes of many people, but for whatever reason, whether it was the attitude of the crowd on the night, the way that Kobashi worked the match, or simply the way that everything fell into place on the night – it was one of the nights for me personally that really exhibited to an unbelievable extent just how much of a star Kobashi was, and how he fits in amongst the top workers of all time.
I don’t know how long Kobashi would have been able to go when it comes to putting on great matches, but in 2006 he contracted renal cancer, which he in-turn recovered from, but was never the same following the time off. It was a combination of factors, years of abuse, combined with time off, and the most glaring thing in that the man had just beaten cancer. Still, despite being limited in what he could do he was able to put on a great match every now and again, like the tag match on the first Diamond Ring show as a semi-recent example, where Kobashi teamed with Jun Akiyama to face Kensuke Sasaki & Mitsuhiro Kitamiya. Kobashi’s return match on December 2nd 2007 was also a memorable outing when he teamed with Yoshihiro Takayama to take on Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama.
Misawa, Kawada, and specifically Kobashi remain big names to this day in Japan, and you can look for no further illustration of that fact than Kobashi’s retirement show at Budokan Hall, ‘Final Burning’, and the excitement that surrounded it. This wasn’t like the retirement of a Michaels, or even a Ric Flair, in the sense that former presidents were in attendance and the show sold out two days after tickets went on sale. Not only that, but if you wanted to catch a glimpse of the live show via closed circuit in Japan at the last minute, there was no use in trying, as most, if not all of the cinemas airing the show were sold out. Budokan, which hasn’t been as strong for Japanese pro-wrestling as in the past over the last few years, didn’t only witness a sell-out this time around, but the building was actually over capacity on the 11th.
The above are simple metrics that don’t only speak for the star power of Kobashi, but the level of public exposure that wrestling in Japan had during that time period, and why it will be so hard to rekindle that flame. It is in many ways a different world for wrestling in Japan. Tanahashi, Okada and others can draw big numbers at times, but they simply don’t have the TV deals or levels of momentum that top stars had during the 90s. That is in no way a knock on any current wrestler on the roster, but rather an indictment of the current status of pro-wrestling in Japan, and why it will take so much reach even a fraction of what it used to be.
Despite the fact that the show doesn’t look to be an amazing show on the level of any of the best shows of this year, I am still more excited to get a hold of the show than anything else, as everything that I have read on the show so far points to it being a magical night. The mainevent saw Kobashi, Sasaki, Akiyama and Mutoh defeating the younger team of Go Shiozaki, KENTA, Maybach Taniguchi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru when Kobashi pinned Kanemaru with a moonsault after a forty minute long match.
The convention in pro-wrestling if for the wrestler retiring or leaving the territory to lose on the way out, it only makes sense, but there are certain times when you would want to bypass this convention and this is one of those times. When so many people paid to see Kobashi, and simply wanted to send him off, it would make little sense having someone beat Kobashi, as Kobashi is one of the guys that deserves to win on the way out more than most people.
From the pictures that have surfaced of the show at press-time it looks like the mainevent could be one of those matches where the wrestling isn’t the best, and it is just a feel good match, but the atmosphere alone makes it extremely memorable. What could be even more special is that after the match the fans apparently chanted Misawa’s name and Kobashi made a comment dedicated to Misawa. After the match Kobashi’s wife and mother both entered in the ring in front of a very teary-eyed Budokan Hall apparently, with two very hard men in KENTA and Akiyama both crying.
Today is a special day indeed, as May 11th 2013 marks the day that one of the most unique and talented people in the history of the business, a man that changed the way that I looked at pro-wrestling, a man in an elite class, one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestler to ever live, Kenta Kobashi, retired from professional wrestling in a building that he made home – Budokan Hall.