There may never be a wrestler who personifies “Burning Spirit”, heart and determination in and out of the ring more than “The Perfect Champion”, Kenta Kobashi. A 23-year veteran of the sport, Kobashi first broke into wrestling in 1987 when he was accepted into the All-Japan Dojo, making his debut in February 1988. He was booked by Shohei “Giant” Baba to lose his first 63 matches (all singles bouts). It was all part of Baba’s master plan: even in defeat, the fiery, charismatic Kobashi shined, and his gutsy, never-say-die efforts earned him the Rookie of the Year award from the Japanese press. Kobashi won his first match in May 1989 (against Jim Crockett Promotions jobber Mitch Snow). During 1989, when the Road Warriors were in AJPW, they taught Kobashi the “Road Warrior Workout”. He first gained some prominence as member of Mitsuharu Misawa’s faction during Misawa’s feud with Jumbo Tsuruta. Kobashi during this period played dual roles according to who his partners and opponents were. When teamed with the higher ranking Misawa or Toshiaki Kawada, Kobashi would play the gutsy underdog. At the same time, when teamed with the much smaller Tsuyoshi Kikuchi, he would play a “big brother” role, coming in to try to save the day after Kikuchi had been worked on for a while by the opponents. Eleven months later he won his first title, the AJPW All Asia Tag Team Championship with Tiger Mask II (Misawa). Over the next two years, Kobashi held the All Asia belts with Johnny Ace twice and with Kikuchi once. The title win with Kikuchi over Dan Kroffat and Doug Furnas took place before a rabid crowd in Kikuchi’s hometown of Sendai on May 25, 1992; the match quickly gained legendary status among tape-traders, and was voted 1992’s Match of the Year by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
1993 saw Kobashi become Misawa’s main tag team partner, a pairing that led him to his first All-Japan World Tag Team Championship. In 1994 he got his first shot at the Triple Crown, and while he lost he still had a series of highly regarded singles matches against the likes of Stan Hansen, Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada. He earned another Triple Crown shot in January 1995, but again came up just short, going to a 1-hour time limit draw. Soon after he suffered the first of what would be many knee injuries through his career, but worked through it. The breakthrough came in 1996 when he finally won his first Triple Crown, a reign that lasted 6 months. Although he lost the title to Misawa in January 1997, a couple months later he would finally beat Misawa for the first time. Although he regained the Triple Crown in 1998 the reign was short due to another knee injury. A 3rd reign came in 2000 but it ended quickly as Kobashi was part of Misawa’s mass talent exodus from All-Japan to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. He gave up the title but the Japanese press had noticed his amazing strength, endurance and toughness, and thus he was called “the perfect wrestler” for the first time.
While the knee injuries got worse and required more time to recover, Kobashi continued working through them in NOAH’s early days. He had up and down results in 2000 before, at the end of the year, even the mighty Kobashi could no longer work through the pain. He would be forced out of the ring for 13 months and several surgeries, but returned in 2002 to team with Misawa once again, but the knees failed him again and he would be out another 5 months after the match. But upon his return in 2003 he cemented his legacy as “The Perfect Champion” by winning the GHC Heavyweight Championship and reigning for an almost-unheard-of-now 2 years. He would also defend the title an equally-impressive 13 times before finally losing the title to Takeshi Rikioh in March 2005. As 2005 continue don he would compete in the USA for the first time and begin mentoring the wrestler who has come to be known as his protege, Junior Heavyweight sensation KENTA. Matches in Europe, Germany and a GHC Heavyweight Tag Title reign followed into 2006, but then the darkest day came with the news that stunned the wrestling world-Kobashi had been diagnosed with cancer. Now he wasn’t just fighting for titles or wins, he was fighting for his life. But Kenta Kobashi was no ordinary wrestler, and just 6 months after the diagnosis and while undergoing treatment he made an appearance before the fans at NOAH’s 2006 year-ending event at Nippon Budokan and vowed he would return “without fail”. One year later the promise was fulfilled-in December 2007, Kobashi made a triumphant return to the ring while he & Yoshihiro Takayama lost to Misawa & Jun Akiyama Kobashi received a rousing ovation from the fans on his return. His legend had grown even bigger. He would work sparingly while recovering from the cancer treatments per doctor’s orders to be sure he could handle the stress of wrestling and to build himself back up, primarily in tag matches, but another setback came in September 2008. Kobashi underwent emergency surgery on both of his arms. The surgery was successful, and Kobashi was expected to make a full recovery. Projected recovery was one year or more, but again this was Kenta Kobashi, and he was back in just 6 months. He began climbing back up the singles ladder with a GHC Hardcore Championship win in June. He continues to utilize a stiff power game in the ring today although it’s his “Kobashi Chops”, both single chops and fast repeated chops that almost resemble rapid slaps to the chest, that have become his new trademark and which elicit the biggest response from the fans, who cheer loudly and in harmony with the chops when Kobashi performs them on a cornered opponent.
With all he has accomplished in the ring and overcome outside of the ring, there is no doubt that Kobashi will be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. The only question is what part of his legacy will be the biggest-his many titles and accolades he won in the ring or his indomitable spirit and the legendary comebacks from cancer and the many injuries he’s suffered throughout. Kenta Kobashi is not only a legend in wrestling, but he’s also an inspiration, a reminder that when the odds are against us we should never give up and keep fighting until we are victorious.
Kobashi made special one-time appearances in both New Japan and a return to All-Japan in summer and fall 2009 to great fanfare for special matches honoring fellow puro legends Keiji Muto, Shinya Hashimoto and Masa Chono.
Unfortunately 2009 ended on a somewhat bad note for Kobashi, as he suffered an elbow injury on one of NOAH’s final shows, a recurrence of a prior injury. It’s too early to speculate on what this means for 2010 and beyond, but if anyone can make a comeback it’s Kobashi. The injury will likely cost him most or all of 2010…and possibly his career, but it’s too early to speculate beyond one thing-Kobashi will be back in the ring if he’s able to be when it’s all over.
Kobashi married Japanese singer Mai Mizuki in October 2010, at the time of his marriage he again reiterated his desire to return to action as soon as possible and noted that he was continuing rehab on his shoulder with some moral and dietary support from his new wife. That long-awaited return came on July 23, 2011 after 577 days on the sidelines.
Stats & Info:
Weight: 274 pounds/124 kg
Experience: 23 years
Finsihing Move: Burning Lariat
Current affiliation: NOAH
Ring entrance theme: “GRAND SWORD”
3-time All-Japan Triple Crown Champion
6-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
4-time All-Japan All-Asia Tag Team Champion
1-time GHC Heavyweight Champion
1-time GHC Hardcore Champion
2-time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999 World’s Strongest Tag League
2000 Champions Carnival
Won Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award 5 times (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2005)
23 Wrestling Observer Newsletter 5 Star Matches
2004, 2005 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Box Office Draw
1998 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Wrestling Maneuver
1992, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match Of The Year
1990 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Improved Wrestler
1993, 1994 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Outstanding Wrestler
1995, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Tag Team Of The Year
1996, 2003, 2004, 2005 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler Of The Year
Inducted into Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame in 2002
Ranked #4 in 1996 PWI 500
Ranked #6 in 1998 PWI 500
Ranked #4 in 2000 PWI 500
Ranked #8 in 2003 PWI 500
Ranked #4 in 2004 PWI 500
Ranked #8 in 2006 PWI 500