Kawada (left) shaking hands with Zeus following a match in 2008.
December 8, 1963|
Shimotsuga District, Tochigi, Japan
|Professional wrestling career|
|Billed height||1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)|
|Billed weight||105 kg (231 lb)|
|Debut||October 4, 1982|
|Retired||August 15, 2010 (last match to date)|
Toshiaki Kawada (川田 利明 Kawada Toshiaki) (born December 8, 1963) is a Japanese semi-retired professional wrestler who is most known for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). In 2005, he started freelancing in other promotions.
His matches against Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama, and Kenta Kobashi in the 1990s are argued by many fans and experts in the industry as some of the greatest professional wrestling matches of all time. He is widely known for his extremely stiff wrestling style, martial arts strikes and has the distinction of having competed in 17 matches that were given a 5-Star Rating and one match which received a 6-Star rating by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Professional wrestling career
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Early years (1982–1987)
Kawada was very active during his high school years in amateur wrestling, becoming a national champion in his senior year after defeating Keiichi Yamada (who later became Jyushin Thunder Liger in professional wrestling) in the finals. He made his professional wrestling debut at the age of 18 on October 4, 1982 for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), competing against (future partner) Hiromichi Fuyuki. Kawada was then sent to North America for a year in November 1985, where he gained experience as a professional wrestler in Fred Behrend's Texas All-Star Wrestling (San Antonio, Texas), Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling (in Calgary) and Frank Valois' International Wrestling (in Montreal); Kawada was billed as "Kio Kawada from Seoul, South Korea" in Stampede Wrestling for a very short time around June 1986. He was under adverse circumstances, and rarely has he talked about his days in American/Canadian wrestling.
Rise to Superstardom (1987–1995)
His first major break came in 1987 when he joined his mentor Genichiro Tenryu's "Revolution" group. Kawada often teamed with Fuyuki under the name "Footloose", and the duo held the All Asia Tag Team Championship on three occasions between March 9, 1988 and October 20, 1989; their standout rivalries were against Shunji Takano and Shinichi Nakano, as well as against the Can-Am Express (Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas). When Revolution stable mate Ashura Hara was expelled from All Japan in 1988 for gambling debts, Kawada teamed with Tenryu in that year's World's Strongest Tag Determination League, losing a memorable final match to Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy.
In the summer of 1990, after Tenryu and a number of All Japan wrestlers jumped to Tenryu's newly formed Super World of Sports promotion, Kawada became Mitsuharu Misawa's main partner in the Jumbo Tsuruta & Co. vs. Misawa & Co. feud. As part of the feud, Kawada had very heated rivalry with Tsuruta's main partner, Akira Taue. Misawa and Kawada would win the World Tag Team Championship twice, as well as the 1992 World's Strongest Tag Determination League. He gained his first Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship shot on October 24, 1991, challenging Tsuruta, and was also turned back in the following year in Triple Crown challenges to Stan Hansen (June 5, 1992) and Misawa (October 21, 1992); the match with Hansen was named Match of the Year by Tokyo Sports, and finished second behind the Misawa match in Weekly Pro Wrestling's year end fan poll for Match of the Year.
In early 1993, after it became apparent that Tsuruta's days as a competitive wrestler were over, AJPW promoter Giant Baba asked Kawada to team with his rival Taue, thereby leaving Misawa's group. Kawada and Taue went to a draw in the 1993 Champion Carnival and ended their feud with a handshake. In their first title match as a team, Kawada and Taue defeated World Tag Team Champions Terry Gordy and Steve Williams. Immediately afterward, they successfully defended the title against Misawa and Kenta Kobashi on June 1, 1993, in a match that Baba (at the time) regarded as the greatest match he'd ever seen; it was the first of nine legendary matches between the sides, and Kawada would hold the World Tag Team Championship with Taue six times.
Kawada won the 1994 Champion Carnival by defeating Steve Williams on April 16, 1994. Kawada followed by dropping his third straight Triple Crown challenge against Misawa in the June 3, 1994, "Singles Match of Decade"; in a 36-minute showstopper, Kawada & Misawa displayed some of the stiffest wrestling ever seen. After Williams lifted the Triple Crown from Misawa, Kawada defeated Williams on October 22, 1994; his title reign lasted one successful defense, as he went to a one-hour draw with Kenta Kobashi in Osaka on January 19; it has been called the greatest one hour match in pro wrestling history by Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer. Stan Hansen ended Kawada's Triple Crown reign on March 4, 1995. Kawada pinned Misawa for the first time on June 9, 1995, when he teamed with Taue to face Misawa and Kobashi, but Misawa and Kobashi came back to defeat them in the Tag League Final in the last straight tag meeting of the two teams.
All-Japan Ace (1996–2005)
Kawada spent much of 1996 in Giant Baba's doghouse for publicly questioning All Japan's isolationist promotional policy at a time when rival New Japan drew record business running interpromotional matches; he watched Taue and Kobashi win the Triple Crown in the place of what looked to be the time for "his push". Kawada worked one interpromotional match on a major UWFi show, but All Japan chose not to follow up on either a promotional feud with UWFi nor on the sudden attention Kawada drew. He was allowed out of the doghouse in time for Kawada & Taue to break through in 1996 to win the World's Strongest Tag Determination League for the first time, beating Misawa and Jun Akiyama. Kawada pinned Misawa for the first time in a singles match in the 1997 Carnival Finals mini-round robin, then followed up to pin Kobashi the same night to win the Canival championship for the second time; neither win had quite the impact one would expect given the results. Kawada and Taue would take their second straight World Tag League championship to close out year that saw both spend much of it in the shadows of Misawa and Kobashi. The crowning moment of Kawada's career came on May 1, 1998, as he pinned Misawa for the second time to win the Triple Crown at All Japan's first Tokyo Dome show. However, he was promptly defeated by Kobashi on June 12, 1998, in his first title defense. After receiving little singles push over the last half of 1998, Kawada was given (with no build up) a Triple Crown match against Misawa on January 22, 1999; in something of a surprise, Kawada took his second straight Triple Crown match against Misawa to win with title for the third time. However, he broke his arm during the match and vacated the title the following day. Kawada returned in May 1999, but would revert to the sidelines due to an eye injury in August. He didn't return until January 2000, but suffered high-profile losses to Kobashi, Vader, and Misawa. In June 2000, Kawada and Taue won the World Tag Team Championship for the sixth time, breaking a record they shared with not only Jumbo Tsuruta and Yoshiaki Yatsu, but Terry Gordy and Steve Williams as well.
Following the June 2000 series, Misawa and all but two native talent in All Japan resigned from their positions and defected to the newly formed Pro Wrestling Noah promotion; Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi were the only two native talent to stay with All Japan Pro Wrestling. With the promotion gutted of top talent, Kawada's old mentor Genichiro Tenryu was brought back and an interpromotional agreement was struck with New Japan; the first key match against New Japan saw Kawada defeat IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kensuke Sasaki on October 9, 2000 in a non-title match. On September 6, 2003, he won the Triple Crown for the fifth time in a tournament final against Shinjiro Ohtani. This time, however, Kawada embarked on a magnificent reign with 10 successful title defenses against the likes of Genichiro Tenryu, Shinya Hashimoto, Jamal, Taiyō Kea, Kensuke Sasaki and Hiroyoshi Tenzan; as a result, Kawada broke Misawa's record of 8 defenses during Misawa's third reign. In addition, 2004 became only the second year when the Triple Crown did not change hands (the first was 1993, during Misawa's first reign), which included a successful defense against Mick Foley in the HUSTLE promotion; in Misawa's era, the title was not defended during the Champion Carnival and World's Strongest Tag Determination League tours, which were dedicated to their namesake tournaments. Kawada's reign restored dignity to the Triple Crown at the expense of the said tournaments.
After losing the titles to Satoshi Kojima on February 16, 2005, Kawada signed a contract with Dream Stage Entertainment, the parent company of PRIDE Fighting Championships. Kawada made the sports entertainment based HUSTLE promotion his new home, and immediately turned heel in 2005; he turned his back on his young student Taichi Ishikari and friends Shinjiro Ohtani and Naoya Ogawa of the HUSTLE Army to join the dastardly Monster Army, led by Generalissimo Takada and swimsuit model Yinling the Erotic Terrorist. Due to the way Kawada's contract with DSE was structured, he was free to work where he pleased (including New Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Noah, and other various independent groups). However, when All Japan reopened relations with FEG to begin running WRESTLE-1 shows again in 2005 with the parent company of PRIDE's biggest competitor in Japan (that being the K-1 fighting group, run by FEG), DSE requested that Kawada not work for All Japan any longer because of the conflict of interest. On July 18, 2005, at the Tokyo Dome, Kawada wrestled one final 27-minute classic against his old rival Mitsuharu Misawa.
In July 2006, All Japan officially ended their relationship with FEG. Kawada immediately expressed interest to work in his home promotion once again, and finally made his long-awaited return on July 30, 2006, defeating D'Lo Brown. Following his win of the Triple Crown on 3 July 2006, Taiyo Kea named Kawada as the first challenger for the title, and the match was held at the inaugural Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku event on 27 August. However, Kawada was unsuccessful, falling to his own finishing maneuver (the powerbomb). Kawada continued to compete in both All-Japan and HUSTLE, as well as defeating Shinsuke Nakamura at the All-Japan/New Japan "Wrestle Kingdom" supershow on January 4, 2007 with a running kick to the face. At Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku, Vol. 2 (on February 17, 2007), Toshiaki Kawada and Taiyo Kea defeated RO'Z and Suwama for the World Tag Team Championship; this win gives Kawada his ninth reign with the championship, as well as Kea's 5th reign. From March 26–30, 2007, Toshiaki Kawada competed in the year's Champion Carnival tournament, going all the way to the finals where he fell to Keiji Mutoh; Kawada finished the tournament with 5 points (2 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw). During the Hold Out Tour on April 22, 2007, Toshiaki Kawada lost to Vampiro, after the Great Muta had interfered and sprayed mist in Kawada's eyes. Muta and Vampiro later challenged Kea and Kawada for the World Tag Team Championship at Pro Wrestling Love in Nagoya (on April 30), but Kawada and Kea were successful in their defense of the belts. On June 24, 2007, Satoshi Kojima turned his back on All-Japan Pro Wrestling and aligned himself with All-Japan's nemesis, the Voodoo Murders group; this angered Kawada, who had left Kojima to lead All-Japan when he lost the Triple Crown in 2005.
On August 26, 2007 at Pro Wrestling Love in Ryogoku, Vol. 3, Kawada and Kea lost the World Tag Team Championship to Satoshi Kojima and TARU. On September 16, following the conclusion of the opening show for the 2007 Flashing Tour, Kawada issued a challenge to Kensuke Sasaki for the Triple Crown Championship; Sasaki accepted, and Kawada challenged for the title at All-Japan's 35th Anniversary Pro Wrestling Love in Yoyogi show on October 18, 2007. Kawada also teamed with Ryuji Hijikata to challenge Sasaki and Katsuhiko Nakajima on September 29, 2007, at the final show of the Flashing Tour.
On October 3, 2009, at the Mitsuharu Misawa memorial show, Kawada and Akira Taue reunited the Holy Demon Army for one night and defeated Jun Akiyama and KENTA. Three weeks later, he defeated Masato Tanaka to win the Zero1 World Heavyweight Championship.
Kawada would return to NOAH in late February 28, 2010, trading victories with Takeshi Morishima. Two weeks Later, Kawada would be announced as a part of NOAH's inaugural Global League. On April 11 he lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Kohei Sato. In the Global League, he earned second place in his group and thus did not compete in the final.
On August 15 he participated in the last card of New Japan's G1 Climax tournament for the year, teaming with mentor Tenryu and Tiger Mask to defeat Riki Choshu, Junji Hirata and Akira Nogami. This turned out to be the last match Kawada has wrestled to date.
Although Kawada has not announced a formal retirement, he admitted that the death of his rival Misawa in 2009 diminished his passion for the sport. In 2013, he attended Kenta Kobashi's own retirement ceremony and greeted his also former rival; however he refused to participate in Akira Taue's retirement match later in the year, although he similarly attended the ceremony and greeted Taue.
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- All Asia Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Samson Fuyuki
- Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (5 times)
- World Tag Team Championship (9 times) – with Akira Taue (6), Mitsuharu Misawa (2) and Taiyō Kea (1)
- Champion Carnival (1994, 1997)
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League (1992) – with Mitsuharu Misawa
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League (1996, 1997) – with Akira Taue
- Asunaro Cup (1989)
- Autumn Festival Tag Team Tournament (2004) – with Taichi Ishikari
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League New Comer & Fair Play Award (1989) – with Samson Fuyuki
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League Fighting Spirit Award (1990) – with Mitsuharu Misawa 
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League Skill Award (1991) – with Mitsuharu Misawa 
- Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship Tournament (2003)
- World Tag Team Championship Tournament (2000) – with Akira Taue
- GP Tournament (2008)
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Nikkan Sports
- Pro Wrestling Zero1
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Tokyo Sports
- Outstanding Performance Award (2004)
- Fighting Spirit Award (1994, 2000)
- Tag Team of the Year (1991) with Mitsuharu Misawa
- Tag Team of the Year (1997) with Akira Taue
- Match of the Year (1992) vs. Stan Hansen on June 5, 1992
- Match of the Year (1995) with Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi on June 9, 1995
- Match of the Year (2000) vs. Kensuke Sasaki on October 9, 2000
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- 5 Star Match (1988) with Genichiro Tenryu vs. Stan Hansen and Terry Gordy on December 16
- 5 Star Match (1989) with Genichiro Tenryu and Samson Fuyuki vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu and Masanobu Fuchi on January 28
- 5 Star Match (1990) with Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi on October 19
- 5 Star Match (1991) with Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue, and Masanobu Fuchi on April 20
- 5 Star Match (1992) with Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi on May 22
- 5 Star Match (1993) vs. Kenta Kobashi on April 13
- 5 Star Match (1993) with Akira Taue and Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, and Jun Akiyama on July 2
- 5 Star Match (1993) with Akira Taue vs. Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa on December 3
- 5 Star Match (1994) with Masanobu Fuchi and Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, and Giant Baba on February 13
- 5 Star Match (1994) with Akira Taue vs. Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa on May 21
- 6 Star Match (1994) vs. Mitsuharu Misawa on June 3
- 5 Star Match (1995) vs. Kenta Kobashi on January 19
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Akira Taue vs. Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa on January 24
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Akira Taue vs. Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa on June 9
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Akira Taue and Tamon Honda vs. Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, and Satoru Asako on June 30
- 5 Star Match (1996) with Akira Taue vs. Jun Akiyama and Mitsuharu Misawa on May 23
- 5 Star Match (1996) with Akira Taue vs. Jun Akiyama and Mitsuharu Misawa on December 6
- 5 Star Match (1997) vs. Mitsuharu Misawa on June 6
- 5 Star Match (1997) with Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa and Jun Akiyama on December 5
- 5 Star Match (2000) with Masanobu Fuchi vs. Takashi Iizuka and Yuji Nagata on December 14
- Tag Team of the Year (1991) with Mitsuharu Misawa
- Wrestler of the Year (1994)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1997)
- "Pro Wrestling llustrated 500 – 2004 :6 Toshiaki Kawada". Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, United States: Sports and Entertainment publications LLC. October 2004. p. 22. December 2004.
- "AJPW All Asia Tag Team Championship history".
- "AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship history".
- "AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship history".
- "Champion Carnival history". Archived from the original on 2013-11-09.
- "AJPW tournament winners".
- "All-Japan Other Tournaments". Wrestling Information Archive. Archived from the original on 13 August 2011.
- http://www.wrestlingdata.com/index.php?befehl=turniere&turnier=350[unreliable source?]
- "Purolove.Com". Purolove.Com. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
- "2000 New Japan Awards". Strong Style Spirit. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
- Nikkan Sports Awards - 2000. wrestlingscout. February 14, 2016.
- "Zero1 World Heavyweight Championship history". Archived from the original on 2011-09-30.
- "The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo : Puroresu Awards: 2000s". Puroresu.com. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
- "The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo: Puroresu Awards: 1990s". Puroresu.com. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
- "Wrestling Observer Newsletter 01/01/2001". members.f4wonline.com. Retrieved 2018-04-30.