Sunday, December 9, 2012

Happy Trails, Kenta Kobashi

Farewell and thank you, Orange Crush!
Photo Credit: The Sun
Via Puroresu Spirit Tumblr

I usually don't cover puroresu on here, but some events are just so important that they're worth noting. When one of the noted legends of the squared circle, a man who influenced not only an entire culture of professional wrestling in one country but had immense influence on the critical development in other lands, including this one, decides to hang up the boots, well, it's worth noting.

Kenta Kobashi announced today that nagging neck and left arm injuries have forced him to retire. He will attempt to wrestle one more time on February 26th, his 25th anniversary as a wrestler, and after that, he'll enter the retired sector.

Kobashi was part of a highly influential All-Japan Pro Wrestling troupe that included Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, Jun Akiyama, and the late Mitsuharu Misawa, one that was influential not only in Japan but in America as well. Puroresu filled a growing hunger for pro wrestling by audiences who were growing weary of the WWF's insistence on gimmickry. WCW satisfied that hunger slightly by working with New Japan and bringing in wrestlers who made splashes overseas, but the tape traders of the time valued the wars fought by the AJPW heavyweights, both against each other and against gaijin like Stan Hansen, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, Vader, and John Laurinaitis.

Kobashi set himself apart from his peers as more of a brawler than a striker or technician. He was famous for his moves, several of which he innovated like the Orange Crush, Black Crush, and Diamond Head DDT, but the move he was most famous for, the Burning Hammer, was actually innovated by Kyoko Inoue. Regardless, the brutality with which he threw the Hammer and the sparsity with which he used it added a mystique to the move that was matched by only Misawa's Tiger Driver '91. But again, for all the moves he was known for, followers of the man will regard him as perhaps the best brawler, a style that is not stereotypically known to be associated with puroresu.

His influence spread across the Pacific Ocean into the hearts of fans and future wrestlers, as promotions such as Ring of Honor used the '90s AJPW main event heavyweight scene as part of the template for their identity. Kobashi himself even appeared for ROH, wrestling Samoa Joe in one match and teaming with Homicide to take on Joe and Low Ki in another.

Kobashi leaves behind one of the greatest careers in wrestling on any continent, in any promotion, and in any era. He wrestled the greats. He blazed trails. He even no-sold cancer. This man is a veritable legend in professional wrestling, and I for one am glad that I got to at least know of him and see him in clips here and there. But even if I, or you, haven't seen him in full, you've seen the impact his career has had on American wrestling just by turning on RAW or buying an independent wrestling DVD.

Happy trails, Kenta Kobashi! Here's hoping that the retired life treats you well.