Not Just the Fourth Pillar: The Essential Akira Taue

Few things in wrestling fandom grind my gears as much as Akira Taue slander.

If you only have a cursory knowledge of Akira Taue, then you might know him as “The Fourth Pillar.” For much of the last two decades, there has been a general assumption among most fans of the famed King’s Road era of 90’s All Japan that Akira Taue is the least of the Four Pillars of Heaven. Where Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, and Toshiaki Kawada are so often held up for their contributions to pro wrestling as individual performers, Akira Taue often gets cast as a mere supporting player of that era.

There are those that believe that Taue was simply in the right place at the right time. A great talent, sure, but one bolstered by his proximity to three all time legends. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Akira Taue is an excellent professional wrestler with a career that rivals even his more famous contemporaries. His accolades are just as impressive as any of the other Pillars—seven times AJPW World Tag Team Champion, a single run as Triple Crown Champion, even a late career run as GHC Heavyweight Champion for NOAH, and a multiple 5-star match recipient from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

One need only watch any of his most famous matches, or even any of the hidden gems scattered across his near three-decade career, to find that Akira Taue was no passenger being dragged along by the talent of his fellow Pillars. True to his nickname, Taue was a dynamic and thrilling performer all on his own, and possibly one of the greatest that the industry has ever known.

To give you all a taste of what Akira Taue could do as a pro wrestler, I selected three matches from his storied career to examine. I’ll be discussing these in chronological order but I feel that all three show a different dimension to Taue’s game.

Akira Taue vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW 1/15/1991)

No other wrestler is more closely tied to Akira Taue’s best work than Toshiaki Kawada. While they would become partners later on in the 90s as the Holy Demon Army, both men first began building their reputations as viable singles stars for All Japan by feuding against each other at the start of the decade.

Toshiaki Kawada was the second-in-command in Mitsuharu Misawa’s Super Generation Army, a stable of young up and coming wrestlers looking to topple the old guard at the top of the roster. At one point in time, Akira Taue had been part of that very same stable before turning his back on them to defect to the enemy: Tsuruta-gun, the army led by All Japan’s ace Jumbo Tsuruta.

With Misawa and Jumbo leading their respective factions into war, Taue and Kawada became natural rivals for each other. They must have wrestled hundreds of times in the early 90s in a variety of tag and singles setting. The one that I consider most worthy of attention, however, is their effort from January 1991.

I love this match for how atypical it is of the 90s All Japan style. It’s a bloody, heated, and compact brawl the likes of which only grew rarer with time in All Japan. It’s also incredibly short, marking it as anomaly in matches between the famous Pillars. More than any of that though, it’s one of the most lively and energetic Akira Taue performances out there.

Taue bleeds so much throughout this whole thing and watching him fight through that damage to try and knock Kawada down is truly excellent stuff. There are few things in wrestling I love more than hitting a bleeding man so hard that the blood mists into the air, and this match has that. It’s fantastic stuff and a wonderful little match to instantly shut down the idea that Taue didn’t have a lot to bring to the table as a performer in his own right.

Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa (AJPW 4/15/95)

This might just be Akira Taue’s most famous singles match in his long career. This is the finals of the 1995 Champion Carnival, All Japan’s annual singles round robin tournament. Neither man has won the tournament before and this is Taue’s first time making it to the finals. To do so, he’s been dropping opponents with a brand new finisher, a sitout powerbomb that he calls the Dynamic Bomb. Add on top of that the fact that Misawa comes into this match with a broken orbital bone, and the deck is stacked in favor of Akira Taue.

Taue understands this comes out of the gate with a lot of aggression, doing anything he can to bust up Misawa’s already damaged face. This includes catching Misawa doing a flying lariat and ramming him face first into the mat, hitting his patented Snake Eyes into the turnbuckles, and clawing at Misawa’s face at any possible moment.

This might be one of the best individual heel performances in the entire run of King’s Road classics. Taue retains all his wonder power-based maneuvers, but never once loses sight of the damaged body part that he’s attacking. The match is at its best when Taue is able to combine this targeted attack with classic heel tactics to put himself over as a monstrous threat to the ace of All Japan. One excellent example of this comes early in the match when Taue actually utilizes Misawa’s very own face lock technique to wear down the ace.

Taue’s dedication to attacking Misawa’s face really adds so much structure and nuance to the standard King’s Road formula. While limb work and targeted attacks weren’t uncommon in this era of All Japan, Taue embracing his heel persona and combining that with a thoughtful set of offense really elevates this particular match. Even in the deep waters, after these two have nailed massive offensive moves, when Taue finds himself backed up by Misawa, his first instinct is to squeeze at Misawa’s face to create some distance.

That is an attention to detail and heel work that makes Taue so great. And it works wonders in this match, not only adding meat and substance to the Misawa-match layout, but also drawing huge heat from the crowd in attendance. The Budokan faithful are livid every time Taue dares to attack Misawa’s face, it’s excellent stuff.

 

Holy Demon Army vs. Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama (AJPW 5/23/96)

Akira Taue is probably best remembered as one half of the Holy Demon Army tag team alongside Toshiaki Kawada. There are many, many classic matches that those two have as a pair against a variety of teams through the mid to late 90s, but I’ve selected a match from their 1996 rivalry against Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama.

While Taue’s size means that he often plays the tank on his team with Kawada, this match demonstrates a whole other side to him. In the first act of this match, Taue plays a very convincing bump monkey during Misawa and Akiyama’s babyface shine. In just the opening five minutes, he does a great job stooging for them, bumping all over the ring for a wild flurry of tandem offense. Even in the later stages of the match though, Taue bumps big for a lot of Misawa and Akiyama’s offense and looks great doing it the whole time.

Later in the match, Taue presents the polar opposite emotional tone. When Akiyama hits one too many slaps to Taue’s face, his expression perfectly captures the kind of simmering indignant rage that a veteran might feel for a fiery upstart.

When the Holy Demon Army are firmly back in the driver’s seat of the match, Taue returns the perceived slight tenfold, repeatedly slapping a downed Akiyama on the mat. It’s a brutal little spot, dismissive and petty all at once. One gets a very real sense of humiliation on Akiyama’s behalf, but also vindication for Taue. A spot like that does so much to raise the emotional stakes for a match like this, and it’s that ability to take already great wrestling and breathing even more life into it that makes Akira Taue an all-time legend.

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