Scout Report by Wrestlingscout

The Return of Kenta Kobashi

I like many fans of puroresu was very saddened to hear that Kenta Kobashi was going down with serious knee injuries back in early 2001. This nagging injury required surgery and meant NOAH would be without their #2 for a year. So far, the promotion has struggled in several areas and the Globally Honored Crown tournament was seriously missing his presence. The return of Kenta Kobashi is on the horizon and what will it mean to NOAH, puroresu, and the sport of wrestling as a whole?

Kenta Kobashi is a tremendous wrestler, who has established himself as one of the best in the world in the past decade. He is a three-time Triple Crown winner and won the 2000 Champion Carnival tournament. Kobashi is also a formidable tag wrestler and formed several good tag teams with Mitsuharu Misawa, Johnny Ace, and Jun Akiyama. He and Misawa were two-time All Japan Tag champions, All Asia Tag champs (when Misawa was Tiger Mask II) and won three consecutive Real World Tag Leagues. He and Ace were two-time All Japan Tag champs and two-time All Asia Tag champs. He and Akiyama were All Japan Tag champs and won two consecutive Tag Leagues. The accolades of Kenta Kobashi are impressive and he was an impressive star for All Japan for many years and took his legacy to NOAH.

The matches I watched prior to writing this piece are three of Kobashi's best. His battle with Steve Williams in `93, in which Dr. Death hits three brutal back suplexes in succession. Then his great match with Stan Hansen in the same year, in which Kobashi is nailed with a vicious lariat from the Bad Man from Borger. Then finally his match with a returning Toshiaki Kawada in 2000 that showed a much different wrestler than in the previous two (and not just because he won this time). The first one included: a flying clothesline from the top rope to the floor, a gorilla press slam bump to the floor, and two moonsault spots. The second included: a brutal powerbomb on the unpadded floor, really stiff brawling that leaves Kobashi's face bruised, and yet more two moonsault spots. The most recent one almost seven years later includes: a few apron to floor bumps and two moonsault teases. This shows a distinct change in the trademark style of Kobashi. His padded knee in 1993 was a heavily taped knee in 2000 and the fact he could preform at the level he did and would continue to through until 2001. This man's pain threshold is inhuman!

NOAH has had some problems, while trying to build up a powerhouse in Japanese wrestling. They are yet to have a really standout match, some might say the Great Voyage match between Kobashi and Akiyama, but even that one has its detracters. Those two were probably going to have the first big program of NOAH, actually they did, but it was cut short. It is a good storyline too, despite the fact it is not very innovative. One could dare compare it to Jumbo Tsurata versus Genichiro Tenryu, though they were forced into that thanks to Riki Choshu. The star of the tag team is turned on by the one playing second fiddle, who actually emerges as a big star, even though an unfavorable one, in the end. Akiyama was coming off big as was Kobashi with his new look. Unfortunately this angle that had been running since the opening night.

All Japan was a place of high caliber main events between only a handful of wrestlers. Though a few gaijins had some great matches, it was mainly five mainstays in the promotion: Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue, and Akiyama. Misawa and Kawada were at the top of the heap because they came to the forefront first. Misawa was the first of this group to win the Triple Crown and it was his unbelievable battles with Kawada that helped make All Japan the place for great strong style matches. Kobashi soon followed suit matching up against both guys. Akiyama was similar to Kobashi, but never saw his real moment in the sun in AJPW. Taue was an exception of sorts as he sided with the old guard, namely Jumbo Tsurata, but soon was in essence moved into Jumbo's spot. While this style can wear down people, none of these men spent stretches on the shelf as long as Kobashi is currently doing. His situation is similar to the neck injury situation of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin's neck was a major Achilles' heel and even after the infamous Owen Hart screwdriver, he went on to wrestle with it for quite a time. Finally, Austin bowed out as the Rock took his spot and was allowed a good year to recover from surgery. Since returning, Austin first looked ackward in the ring, but now is taking bigger bumps than he was just prior to the hiatus. Does that mean we will see Kobashi return and hitting moonsaults? Let's hope not. The moonsault is a spectacular move, but unless hit flawlessly it wears down the knees. Keiji Muto is an exceptional example as he's been a practioner of the move since the 1980s and is a entirely different wrestler today because of his bad wheels. Kenta Kobashi is around twenty pounds heavier meaning his knees are being even more battered. Hard to believe one move in such a wide reportoire has had such an overwhelming impact on the career of Kenta Kobashi

Another way one can view this injury is how wrestlers of today are suffering greater injuries at a younger age. Though growth hormone, painkiller, and steroid abuse has never been among Japanese wrestlers, it was among their American counterparts. People like the Dynamite Kid are often noted as being a casualty of the sport and he seems to be a hybrid of the dangers of the 80s and 90s styles. He became reliant on drugs and the chemicals broke down his body. Dynamite also was a helluva bumper and that aspect of his style matched with the drug abuse finished his body off. The man, Tom Billington, is now living in Britian and is struggling finacially as he is now bound to a wheelchair. Greater drug abuser and lesser bumper, "Superstar" Billy Graham, is in a similar state as his knees and ankles are bad and he's had eight hip replacements. On the other side of the coin, Harley Race, a well-known bumper, has had similar injury problems to Graham. Though the drug abusers are phasing out in America to an extent, crazy bumpers are being elevated. Superstars like Jeff Hardy killed their bodies in the independents and when they finally made it to the big time, they pick it up yet another notch. Now Hardy has a permanant limp, another great bumper, Shawn Michaels retired from the sport at 33. Bumping takes precident over freakishly built bodies, which is somewhat better, but its casualities are coming fourth sooner. While drug abusers could last for twenty-five years (assuming they did not die of overdoses), big bumptakers' career lengthes are plumetting. Kenta Kobashi is not a daredevil, but the few risks he did take were what killed his knee. Hopefully Kobashi's career will not be cut tragically short by this injury. His contribution to this sport is extremely significant to the survival of NOAH and puroresu in general.

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