Stan Hansen is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. His work wasn’t the cleanest, the prettiest, the most scientific, and there was definitely some potatoing and slop involved, but god damn there’s very little better to me than a Stan Hansen slugfest. It gets me going and pumps the blood. Watching him in the ring with a Tenryu, or a Tsuruta, or Terry Funk, etc. just duking it out, roughing each other up, and beating the hell out of each other? All of that is the good shit.

So today on a slow Friday morning I asked myself, what is Stan Hansen’s best match? Was it his tag team work with the likes of Brody? Was it perhaps some of his work in the years of NJPW such as against Andre The Giant? Surely his best work didn’t come in America, although he did do some good things in America?

No, his best match was a singles affair in his home territory of AJPW. That match happened later in his career, 1993 at that. That match was against the one-day-to-be legendary Kenta Kobashi. This was the first Stan Hansen AJPW match I ever got to watch, and it influenced my views, thoughts, and opinions on wrestling significantly. It is also up there with one of my favorite Kobashi matches (although admittedly Kobashi has many that were far better).

Why do I enjoy this match? One of the things that makes this match work is Kobashi isn’t afraid to take it to Hansen. Kobashi doesn’t have the status, legend, or presence of Hansen at the moment, but he is building his credibility, building his legacy, fighting and gaining more and more credibility and favor (and at this point he already had his share). From the opening bell, he TAKES it to Hansen with no fear, no retreat, no fucks given. Kobashi knows to beat Hansen, he has to fight Hansen, and he can’t let up, and that completely rules. Kobashi lays in the slaps, lays in the hits, and doesn’t give a single inch cause he knows if he does Hansen will push him off the cliff.

That’s one of the main reasons this match works because for a period of time Hansen is on the ropes. You are so used to hearing/knowing/seeing Hansen as the aggressor, the one doing the clubbing, and the opponent surviving. In the opening moments of this match, it was the opposite, Kenta Kobashi giving Hansen a taste of his own bitter medicine, and watching Hansen have to suck it all down is one hell of a delight. I didn’t even think of these things when I first saw this match. When I first saw this match I thought one thing only, and accurately: Kenta Kobashi was a badass.

But aha, I’m calling this my favorite Stan Hansen match, and you can’t call it your favorite Stan Hansen match without highlighting Stan Hansen. Of course, he’s not afraid to take it to Kobashi, Hansen is never afraid to take it to anyone. Hansen puts over Kobashi’s assault in the opening minutes. You can feel his surprise, his reeling back at being on the defensive. He’s completely caught off guard, and at first can’t get any momentum in return. His small attempts at offense keep getting cut off by a relentless Kobashi who has no desire to give Hansen control because he knows once he gives Hansen control, Hansen will never give it back.

But Hansen DOES get control, and when he does Kobashi is in for it. Kobashi goes to assault Hansen in the corner and gets a vicious bruising boot to his cheek for his troubles. Hansen even dives through the ropes at one point to level Kobashi. Hansen does what Hansen does best: club, assault, beat up, and hurt poor Kobashi. Kobashi ends up being in survival mode, the mode he’s been in before against Hansen and it never (up to this point) goes well for him. Hansen powerbombs him on the concrete and it’s vicious as hell. Hansen is in his territory now; the territory of control, the territory of being in charge, and this is where he eats poor souls up and spits them out in pieces. This is Kobashi though, and he’s not being spit out in pieces without having a proper say in the proceedings.

Things go back and forth, both competitors masterfully building the match from the foundation they started. As the match goes on you begin to believe, perhaps foolishly, perhaps desperately, this is Kobashi’s time. This is the time he will finally vanquish Stan Hansen, get that major victory against Hansen he has always been crawling for, but has always come quite short of. He gets closer and closer, inching painfully near achieving this goal, but it’s Stan Hansen we are talking about. He’s not the unsinkable battleship for no reason. He takes shot after shot, hit after hit, and you can feel his body wanting to say “just stay the fuck down.” Kobashi’s body is telling him that also, and there are points you want Kobashi to listen to it. Because you all know it’s lying in wait, the kill shot. The match ender, the lariat is loading up throughout the match. You know it’s coming, but the question is when and where?

It’s of course the end of the match where it happens, but how it happens isn’t expected. Kobashi is on the top rope preparing for an aerial assault when Hansen steps to the outside and begins to headbutt poor Kobashi. Then in one of my favorite match endings of all time, he reels back and LARIATS KOBASHI OFF THE TURNBUCKLES ONTO THE CANVAS. You can feel the breath come out of the entire crowd. Hansen knows it’s over, the ref knows it’s over, the crowd knows it’s over, and you the viewer know it’s over. Hansen makes it through the ropes and covers Kobashi for the three count. You don’t even need to count along, you don’t even hold your breath hoping for a miracle kick out. There is no joy in Mudville tonight, Kobashi has been knocked unconscious. What a hell of a finish!

This match will always hold a special place in my heart. The performance of Kobashi increased his legacy, popularity, and resume with this defeat. Despite losing he took it to Hansen, never backing down, never wavering, never showing cowardice or fear. This was fighting spirit at its finest. Hansen proves once again why he had the status he had earned, and proved once again that (at least on this night) he was still above Kobashi. That would one day no longer be true! The building drama, the excited crowd getting even more excited as the match went on as they awaited the result, and then the reality crashing down when Hansen hits the lariat of all lariats to put an end to the match.

For all those reasons this match holds a special place in my heart. It was what made me seek out more Hansen and become a huge fan of his work, but it also made me a huge fan of Kobashi and seek out more of his work. More importantly, it was THE MATCH that introduced me to the 90s style of AJPW, and I became a huge watcher and fan of that era as a result. This match had a huge impact on me and I became a huge fan of many a match that felt more like a fight, more like a struggle, and an onslaught against each other. There’s nothing pretty about this match, nothing scientific, just two men not backing down, demanding a fight, and giving it to each other. This match rarely has a slow period, rarely lets up, rarely lets you breathe, and when it does you feel the impact of EVERYTHING that had happened. Hell yeah, that is pro wrestling at its best.

This is my favorite Stan Hansen match and I watch it several times a year just to feel its significance and impact wash over me once again, and it never fails to do so. I absolutely encourage you to seek this match out and watch it and I hope, even if you don’t hold it in high regard as I do, you can at least understand why a younger me would’ve watched this and why it would’ve had such an effect on me. It truly is something special.