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, and has the distinction of having competed in 17 matches that were given a 5-Star Rating by Wrestling Observer Newsletter writer Dave Meltzer; he is third behind long-time rivals Kobashi (23) and Misawa (24).
Professional wrestling career
All Japan Pro Wrestling (1982–2005)
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 Jushin "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, 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 pro 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 AJPW 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 Real World Tag 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 Unified World Tag Team Championship twice, as well as the 1992 Real World Tag League. He gained his first Triple Crown 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's Carnival and ended their feud with a handshake. In their first title match as a team, Kawada & Taue defeated Unified World Tag Team Champions Terry Gordy & Steve Williams. Immediately afterwards, they successfully defended the titles 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 AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championships with Taue six times.
Kawada won the 1994 Champion's 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 Real World Tag 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. He also inadvertently invented what many call the most dangerous finisher in wrestling history- the ganso Bomb. Kawada was attempting a powerbomb on Misawa but couldn't lift him high enough because of his broken arm and dropped him on his head. 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 Unified World Tag Team Championships 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's Carnival and World's Strongest Tag 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 & Naoya Ogawa of the HUSTLE Army to join the dastardly Monster Army, led by Nobuhiko Takada & 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, ran 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 Unified World Tag Team Championship; this win gives Kawada his 9th reign with the championship, as well as Kea's 5th reign. From March 26–30, 2007, Toshiaki Kawada competed in the year's Champion's 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 Unified World Tag Team Championships at PRO WRESTLING LOVE in NAGOYA '07 (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 All-Japan for Kojima to lead 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 Unified 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 will challenge for the title at All-Japan's 35th Anniversary "PRO-WRESTLING LOVE in YOYOGI" show on October 18, 2007. Kawada will also team 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 Misawa Mitsuhara 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 on February 28 beating Takeshi Morishima in 10 minutes. Two weeks Later, Kawada would then be announced as a part of NOAH's Inaugural "Global League" tournament.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- "Dangerous K"
- "Hustle K"
- "Monster K"
- Entrance themes
- "Last Battle"
- "Holy War 21"
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- AJPW All Asia Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Samson Fuyuki
- AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (5 times)
- AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship (9 times) – with Akira Taue (6), Mitsuharu Misawa (2), and Taiyō Kea (1)
- Champion's Carnival (1994, 1997)
- World's Strongest Tag Team League (1992) – with Mitsuharu Misawa
- World's Strongest Tag Team 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
- HUSTLE GP Tournament Winner (2008)
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- Singles Best Bout (2000) vs. Kensuke Sasaki on October 9
- Nikkan Sports
- Match of the Year (2000) vs. Kensuke Sasaki on October 9
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #42 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003.
- PWI ranked him #6 in their PWI 500 in 2004.
- Tokyo Sports Grand Prix
- Performance Award (2004)
- Fighting Spirit (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 awards
- 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
- 5 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
- Tag Team of the Year (1991) with Mitsuharu Misawa
- Wrestler of the Year (1994)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1997)