Stan Hansen v Kenta Kobashi (All Japan, 9/5/96)
You know this was fucking awesome. Feels like it's been a while since I last watched a Hansen match. He's the still the best ever. He's pretty broken down here, but it really makes for the story of the one-time baddest redneck walking trying to take back the crown from the new guy on top. Hansen was The Man back when Kobashi was scrubbing Baba's underpants. He's no longer the same Terminator in the Cowboy Hat (that was a line from Childs on PWO, but it's too good not to steal), but this'll probably be his last chance, so there's no way he's not going down throwing hand grenades. What's so great about this match-up is that you can trace its progression from at least '93 (I haven't seen the '92 Carnival match in forever and I don't think I've ever actually seen the '90 and '91 matches, but I don't doubt you could trace it back even that far). In '93 Hansen was still higher up the food chain, but Kobashi was nipping at his heels and Hansen needed to uncork the nastiest Western Lariat in history just to beat him in July. In '94 Hansen was a little older, a little more banged up, and Kobashi was only picking up more steam. When Kobashi finally got his win, it felt like he would only continue to ascend while time would just keep chipping away at Hansen. Now two years down the line Kobashi is the champ. He's where Hansen used to be. So Hansen says fuck it and does the only thing he knows, and that's fight like a total bastard. There are a few points in the first half where you wonder if Kobashi has taken Hansen too lightly. He'll start to gain some momentum, then Hansen will potato him in the jaw and shut him down (and then Tenryu kick him in the eye). Eventually Kobashi gets fed up with that and throws punches to the ribs, and Hansen finally starts looking like the near-50 year old man he is. Hansen responding with his crazy reckless redneck tope fucking ruled, as did his powerbomb on the exposed concrete, which is an awesome staple of Hansen/Kobashi matches; kind of like how Rey and Eddie would always work in a variation of that springboard backflip DDT. Like the '94 match this goes from great to super great once Hansen almost breaks a body part. In '94 he got bounced off the apron and cracked his ribs off the guardrail. This time he runs along the apron and tries to hit the lariat, but Kobashi dives out the way and Hansen smashes the post instead. Hansen's selling from then on out is really awesome. He relies mostly on kicks while his left arm dangles by his side, but now and then Kobashi comes too close so Hansen will throw a right hand to the cheek bone. There was one backhander in particular that looked totally face-cavey. Kobashi obviously works the arm over and as the match progresses he gets more and more surly in his own right. He doesn't resort to throwing potatoes the way Hansen does, but he won't hesitate to kick him in the bad arm, and that leads to the spot of the match. Hansen knows that the only way he can possibly come out of this with the belts is if he hits the lariat. Kobashi has surpassed him and that's really the only weapon that could even things up. It'll hurt Stan, but it'll hurt Kobashi more, so he'll take that bullet. He charges in and Kobashi kicks the arm just as he's about to throw it, but Stan does a 360 on the spot and fucking wastes him on the spin with a right-armed lariat. Crowd lose it in a way where you can tell it was a total left field shot (I never saw it coming, either. And I also popped huge), and Hansen staggers back with hands on knees like that was everything he had left. I think Higuchi might've fucked up the count a little (dude must've been about a hundred a six at this point), but when Kobashi kicks out at the death you can see Hansen just deflate. It was like all those moments in the past where it looked like someone was about to put Hansen away only to fall that tiny bit short, but this time the shoe was on the other foot. Kobashi comes back, Hansen stay belligerent til the end, but there's only so much he can do at this point. Maybe if he'd been able to hit the lariat with the left arm rather than the right it'd be different. But he didn't, and it wasn't. Still, you best believe he walked out with his head held high.