On September 6, 2003, Toshiaki Kawada won the Triple Crown for the fifth time in a one-night tournament defeating The Gladiator and then Shinjiro Ohtani in the tournament finals. Kawada finally regained the Triple Crown he had to vacate in March 2002 after a knee injury. Kawada would then go on to have a 529-day reign as Triple Crown Champion, ending on February 16 2005 when he lost the title to Satoshi Kojima. During this reign, Kawada would make a record ten defenses during a single reign, beating Mitsuharu Misawa’s previous record of eight.

That record of most defenses in a single reign still stands today. In February 2020, Kento Miyahara tied, but could not break that record.

I’ve gone through all of Kawada’s title matches from this record-breaking reign here, and have included a couple of matches that I thought were worth watching from that period even though they were not title matches.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENT FINALS
TOSHIAKI KAWADA VS. SHINJIRO OHTANI
AJPW
9/6/2003

Did this hit the heights that Kawada vs. Ohtani could have even in 2003? Not quite (though the closing stretch and Ohtani’s selling during it was tremendous). But this is still a great match in the ********1/4 range. What sets this apart from the other matches on this list is just how much of a pure babyface Kawada was here. This was the finals of a one-night four-man tournament to determine the next Triple Crown Champion as Shinya Hashimoto had to vacate the title due to a shoulder injury. All Japan and ZERO-ONE had been feuding since late 2002 so this was a particularly important match in that feud. Kawada was finally trying to win the Triple Crown again after having to vacate it due to injury while Ohtani was defending the honor of Hashimoto and ZERO-ONE. But this being in an All Japan ring in the Budokan wasn’t the only reason that Kawada was such an amazing babyface here. In the first round/semi-finals of the tournament, Kawada defeated The Gladiator Mike Awesome in only 3:26. So during the introductions in the final match The Gladiator attacks Kawada and injures his knee which Ohtani then targets during the match. While the match spent a bit too long with the participants doing holds on each other, the crowd heat for Kawada having to overcome his injured leg and win glory for All Japan is what really made this match. Kawada finally broke his string of bad luck in tournaments and was now about to embark on a record-setting Triple Crown reign.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. DON FRYE
AJPW
10/26/2003

Frye had just passed his peak as an MMA fighter and a pro wrestler at this point. He had lost his two last MMA fights going into this and lost several matches in New Japan at this point. However, he was still a big name and bringing him in for this match for All Japan’s 31st Anniversary shows demonstrated that the company was serious about Kawada’s Triple Crown reign. Kawada controlled a lot of the early match, kicking at Frye’s leg. Frye to his credit, sold Kawada’s big kicks like the Gamengiri very well. Kawada no sold Frye’s punches for a bit but then in Kawada fashion, acted like he had been destroyed by them. Frye got in his fair share of shots but Kawada was relentless here. It was surprising just how dominant Kawada was here against an opponent where he could have easily played the underdog. Kawada got the referee stoppage with the Stretch Plum. This was technically good for what it was but was, but for as much as Kawada almost squashing Frye seems like a way to establish Kawada, this match could have been a lot more if it was a real back-and-forth. ***1/2

TOSHIAKI KAWADA VS. NAOYA OGAWA
ZERO-ONE
12/14/2003

This is the first of a couple of matches in this second installment that were not Triple Crown matches during Kawada’s title reign that I’m covering here. Ogawa was never very much of a worker, but Kawada got something out of him here as they had compatible styles. This ended in a double count-out for obvious political reasons. Still, it’s worth a watch for the novelty of it, it had its moments and the crowd was hot. I’d go about ***1/4 on this one.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. GENICHIRO TENRYU
AJPW
1/18/2004

This was far from their October 2000 match, but is still important for one major reason: Kawada finally gets his big singles victory over Tenryu in a Triple Crown match. By 2004, Tenryu was not the Tenryu of 2000-2001, but he was still a surly bastard that knew how to put a good match together with lots of stiff strikes, even though this one only went 17:59 signaling his days of 30-minute matches were over. Though Tenryu was finally starting to show his age these guys still had a **** affair here. I’d also deduct some marks here from Kawada for throwing his selling of his leg out the window towards the end of the match.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. SHINYA HASHIMOTO
AJPW
2/22/2004

Hashimoto faces Kawada here to try to regain the Triple Crown that he had to vacate due to a shoulder injury. And Hashimoto’s shoulder was taped up here. It was an injury that would plague him until his untimely death in 2005. So this match was not what it could have been five years before this, let alone ten years. However, there are points of greatness in this match when these two are kicking each other. But ultimately a banged-up Hashimoto prevented this from becoming a true classic. The finish was political as well. Hashimoto’s corner through in the towel as Kawada had the Stretch Plum locked in on his bad shoulder. You still have to check this out as this was their only singles match, and was still a great match at ****1/4 even if it wasn’t legendary.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. MICK FOLEY
HUSTLE
5/8/2004

Yes, this match actually happened.

No, it was not that good.

In fact, it is probably the worst match that I will have on this list. Kawada was originally supposed to face Goldberg in the main event of HUSTLE-3. However, Goldberg got injured while training. Mick Foley was offered the same amount of money to appear in this match as Goldberg as a last-minute replacement, but was only weeks removed from his No Holds Barred match against Randy Orton at Backlash 2004. Foley was banged up and hadn’t been able to train since the Orton match. However, he accepted it purely for the money as he says in his third autobiography, The Hardcore Diaries. Kawada was not particularly enamored with Foley and called him a garbage wrestler and claimed not to remember his appearances in All Japan in the early 1990s as Cactus Jack.

In the match itself, Kawada didn’t look like he wanted to be there and he stiffed Foley so hard that Foley got a concussion that caused him to vomit after the match. Kawada was so rough in this match that Foley had to be taken to the airport in a wheelchair after this match. Despite Kawada’s unprofessionalism and the fact that Foley was banged up going into this match, while not great, it was not a total infamous debacle either. I include this on this list, not just to cover Kawada’s entire Triple Crown reign, but because I can never truly hate a match against two of my all-time favorites. They somehow managed to have a **3/4 match under the circumstances.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. JAMAL
AJPW
6/12/2004

Between his runs in Three-Minute Warning and as Umaga, Jamal became a fairly big player in All Japan for a short time as part of TAKA Michinoku’s RO&D stable that also featured other ex-WWE wrestlers like D-Lo Brown and Bull Buchanan. He also won the World Tag Team Championship with Taiyo Kea during this time.

This match was a lot of fun. Kawada worked over Jamal’s bicep (how often do you see that?) and they got to throwing bombs at each other. Jamal got to kick out of a lot of Kawada’s big move before Kawada put the Stretch Plum on Jamal’s worked-over arm for the referee stoppage. Just a match that you’d never think existed and had some great action, which is what makes it such a fun watch. ****1/4

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. TAKAO OMORI
AJPW
7/18/2004

I have always had a soft spot for Omori, and have always wondered about what would have happened to him if he didn’t end up in the doghouse in Pro Wrestling NOAH and eventually left there to become a journeyman wrestler.

While this match is very good, they tried to do the classic All Japan big match formula here and Omori didn’t quite get to that level. Don’t get me wrong here, this is a ****1/4 match for me, but they are unable to get to the kind of level that would have demonstrated that Omori had what it took to be a main eventer. Though Omori definitely had his fair share of fans in this Sumo Hall crowd and it was arguably still his best singles match.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. OSAMU NISHIMURA
AJPW
9/3/2004

If you don’t like Nishimura’s style you might not like this match, but I thought it was awesome. Nishimura and Kawada managed to get their styles to gel, in part by masterful work by Nishimura who knew when to slap on holds and counters at the right time for maximum effect. Nishimura was also more aggressive than usual in this match and immediately attacked Kawada at the bell which added to his aura in this match. Nishimura was so awesome here that later on in the match while Kawada has him in a Cobra Twist, the crowd starts chanting for him even though he is the outsider. Nishimura also wrestled this match in bare feet as he was doing some sort of angle at the time that doing so made him some sort of more serious wrestler. Yeah, I don’t get it either. If you dig a traditional mat-based style, you will love this match. I went ****1/2.

TOSHIAKI KAWADA & TAICHI ISHIKARI VS. GENICHIRO TENRYU & KATSUHIKO NAKAJIMA
AJPW
9/25/2004

This match was really about the young wrestlers Taichi and Nakajima. They wrestled the majority of this match and both showed great potential. Say what you will about Taichi, but as a young wrestler, he had solid fundamentals and despite what you may think of his character work, he has always been a good wrestler. The other highlight of this match was the Kawada vs. Nakajima sequences. Kawada just brutalized the then 16-year-old with lots of kicks. Taichi got the win over Nakajima here with what would become the Black Mephisto. Just a fun match featuring two prospects with the older guys adding lots of brutality. ****1/4

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. TAIYO KEA
AJPW
10/31/2004

I feel about Kea much in the same way I feel about Takao Omori. Both are wrestlers I like, who are pretty good, have had some awesome tag team matches, but in the singles realm they can’t quite get up to elite status with their work. Like the Omori match, this match had its moments but when all was said and done, it was good but not match of the year territory. The structure of this match was in part the problem. Kawada took way too much of it to save for some big moments from Kea towards the end. Kawada never really felt like he was in any big danger of losing. This match should have had a lot more Kea in control, especially since he was losing but you wanted to establish that he put up a valiant fight. That approach should be done here given he was being pushed as a major part of the RO&D stable. The last couple of minutes of the match are decent though. ***1/2

TOSHIAKI KAWADA VS. KATSUYORI SHIBATA
NJPW
11/3/2004

This might be the best seven-minute match ever.

Shibata ambushed Kawada before the bell and Kawada sold it really well. There were plenty of crazy stiff forearms and slaps in this match. Kawada stomped and kicked Shibata on the ground a lot in this. And even Shibata managed to get in a control portion despite the short length of this. The finish was also awesome with Kawada pulling out the closed-fist punch to the face and a kick to the head to teach the young upstart Shibata a lesson. ***3/4.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. HIROYOSHI TENZAN
AJPW
12/5/2004

Kawada and Tenzan have tangled before in great matches, but in 2004, Tenzan was at the peak of his career. This was on another level from their previous matches. Tenzan controlled most of his match working over Kawada’s head and neck and even busted him open hard way. Kawada would eventually fight back with lots of backdrops and kicks until Tenzan stayed down. This was an awesome match and a demonstration of just how great Tenzan was in the mid-2000s. Even at over 32 minutes, this match never felt like it dragged on. ****1/2




TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © KENSUKE SASAKI
AJPW
1/16/2005

While this had lots of stiff strikes, these two tried to wrestle a more traditional match than their previous meetings. The result is pretty good, but it lacked the intensity of their previous matches. There is nothing wrong with the work per se, but it just did not feel epic. The ending was also botched so I can’t go any higher than ***3/4 for this one. These two would meet one more time in 2007 while Sasaki held the Triple Crown.

TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOSHIAKI KAWADA © VS. SATOSHI KOJIMA
2/16/2005

This was not Kawada’s last great match but probably Kawada’s last classic MOTY-level match.

This had been built for months and was to mark Kojima finally winning the Triple Crown after chasing it for basically the last three years. Kawada was near perfect here being the grumpy veteran that kept kicking at Kojima and seemingly extinguishing any hope Kojima had at winning this. But eventually, Kojima slowly worked his way back and won after managing to unleash a flurry of lariats. This is the kind of match you want when it comes to a passing of the torch. Kawada even personally handed the Triple Crown belts to Kojima and put them on him after the match in a classy move. ****3/4