When people say things like "the storytelling was key in Misawa/Kobashi, the kickouts just added to it as an expression of the story" I just...like, that is exactly how I would describe Shawn/Taker or Hunter/Taker. People acting like they were kicking out of moves in a vacuum is preposterous in the extreme to me.
That's a good point. One thing that matters is I think Shawn is great at milking those kickouts and timing them to a ridiculously perfect fraction-of-a-second level. Doing a bunch of kickouts is simply a tool; the skill in execution comes in deciding when, where, and how to kick out of things.
Then again, Jimmy is right when she says that it is a matter of investment. I love Austin and prime Rock, so I mark out like crazy whenever I watch the WM 17 main event, despite the fact that it probably has more nearfalls than HHH-Taker, a match I loathe. I will say that the logical reason for those nearfalls in WM 17 was that it was a story of how Rock had caught up to Austin, making Austin paranoid and making him agree to a Faustian deal. But I am sure such arguments can also be made by fans of HHH-Taker.
Another thing is that Austin/Rock was simply wrestled with much more energy and intensity than Trips/Taker. Austin and Rock rarely had any downtime in their match; even the most heavily-sold moves only kept them down for like ten or fifteen seconds, tops, before they were up and going to the next spot. And those two guys in their prime were brilliant enough in their planning and pacing that it never felt like they were no-selling or prematurely blowing off the previous spot just because they had Stuff To Do, every action grew organically out of whatever had just happened before.
In comparison, Trips/Taker was fucking slow. They'd stall, pose, circle, do a staredown, and then do one move and sell it for the next minute straight. That's a big part of the "self-conscious" style in my mind, when they take forever to oversell every spot as if it were the greatest thing that ever happened. Diamond Dallas Page used to be bad about that in his shittier matches, he'd do a couple of regular spots and then be crawling around and gasping for air as if he was in the final stretch of an hour broadway. It's hard to act like a tombstone-to-pedigree reversal is the most amazing spot of all time when it's sloppily done at half speed, as opposed to Shawn's much more fluidly-executed spots with Taker in their matches. Shawn's botches tend to look crisper than Hunter's cleanest-hit spots.
The big AJPW epic encounters of the 90s however have a much deeper, more human 'feeling' about them. It's something that is impossible to exactly put your finger on, or put into words what the real difference is, because it's beyond words. It is just something that is just there.
I'll put a finger on it: it was the first time people were wrestling that style. Nobody had ever really done the house style of "hit a BUNCH of patented finishing maneuvers, and you never know which one will finally end the match" before. There had been isolated incidents of wrestlers occasionally doing that for a big match, but it had never been done so commonly that the audience had come to expect it as the regular way things were done. Misawa & Co. basically invented that entire genre of wrestling, where the crowd was hyper-educated about each different wrestler having half-a-dozen different moves which were proven capable of pinning the other guy.
In comparison, the American matches of the 21st century feel like a wannabe ripoff because they are a wannabe ripoff. They're copying the style, and often missing a bunch of the important details about how and why the All Japan guys did what they did. "Big moves and kicking out at 2.999999" is cool and all, but you're missing the other hundred nuances that made King's Road into what it was.