Hello wrestling fans. Today’s column isn?t going to be in the usual format that you are used to reading. There will be no Quick Shots, no Reader E-Mail, no Feedback Question, nor any of the normal features that this column offers. The reason being is that this column is going to be a dedication column to one of the greatest wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, a man ranked number two on my top five favorite wrestlers of all time, and a man who has entertained me for years and has caused me deep sadness and sorrow over the news of his passing. This week, I dedicate this column to honor Mitsuharu Misawa.
En Memoriam: Mitsuharu Misawa
Born June 18, 1962, Mitsuharu Misawa grew up and entered the world of amateur wrestling and in 1980 he placed fifth at the World Freestyle Championship. During this time, he began training to enter the world of professional wrestling. He was trained by some of the best in the business which included Dory Funk Jr, and Shohei ?Giant? Baba.
All Japan Pro Wrestling
This lead to Misawa joining All Japan Pro Wrestling in August of 1981, which was owned and operated by Giant Baba. In 1984, After All Japan Pro Wrestling purchased the rights to the character from New Japan Pro Wrestling, Misawa donned the mask and became known as Tiger Mask II. As Tiger Mask II, he had a great match against Jumbo Tsuruta and little did people know that this would be the beginning of one of the greatest rivalries in not only Japanese Puroresu, but in the entire world of professional wrestling.
One of the most memorable matches for me when Misawa was under the mask was during a joint venture show with the WWF. Tiger Mask II wrestled Bret ?The Hitman? Hart in an absolute classic that ended in a 20 minute time limit draw. Although I don?t have the match, thanks to the magic of the internet, I was able to view and enjoy that match several times and it ranks up there with some of my favorite Misawa matches which I will comment on as the column progresses.
May 14, 1990: In a tag team match, Tiger Mask II and Toshiaki Kawada challenged Yoshiaki Yatsu and Hiromichi Fuyuki. During the course of that match, Tiger Mask II ordered Kawada to take his mask off. At that point, the people became familiar with Mitsuharu Misawa.
June 8, 1990: This was a day that will live in Japanese Pro Wrestling infamy as this was the day where Mitsuharu Misawa and Jumbo Tsuruta clashed for the first time in Misawa’s unmasked career. (Keep in mind they had wrestled previously while Misawa was Tiger Mask II). The match was one of MANY five star matches and this match was as good as it gets.
This is probably my all-time favorite match of Misawa’s. Wrestling in the United States in 1990 couldn?t compare to what we saw out of these two. Misawa and Tsuruta tore the house down, rebuilt it, and destroyed it again. Technical wrestling, submission wrestling, strong style, high flying, you name it, the match had it. Misawa even continued to use moves such as the Tiger Suplex, Tiger Suplex ?85, and the Tiger Driver during the match. It was an absolute instant classic.
September 1, 1990: THE REMATCH! Misawa and Tsuruta clashed again and while it was still a fantastic match, it was just a little less filling than the first, but that’s not me trying to take anything away from it. It was still a phenomenal match and still a very memorable one at that. In fact, their matches and rivalry was so intense and so well done it won the feud of the year award in both 1990 and 1991!
As early as 1990, Misawa had many tag team partners that would later go on to be some of his greatest rivals. Those would be the aforementioned Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, and Jun Akiyama. As a matter of fact on October 19, 1990 and on April 20, 1991, Misawa teamed with Kawada and Kobashi for a six man tag against Akira Taue, Masanobu Fuchi, and Jumbo Tsuruta. Both six man tags were given five star ratings and trust me? if you want to know what the perfect six man tag match would look like, research their two encounters. If there is anything in the world of wrestling that screams ?This is a six man tag like no other? it is these two matches.
I could fill up space going through each of their encounters, but Misawa has had 24 five star matches in his career, the most of any professional wrestler I have researched.
Misawa has won many other awards from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Most of them came from either tagging with or wrestling against Kenta Kobashi. Those two had an insurmountable chemistry between them that it seemed as if everything they touched was wrestling gold. Nine of Misawa’s five star matches came from tagging with Kenta Kobashi, and three of them came from facing Kenta Kobashi and not only did his matches against Kobashi earn five stars, but each match they had won Match of the Year for that respective year.
But while Misawa and Kobashi had their own special note in the history of professional wrestling, Misawa made personal history against another former tag partner and another of his greatest rivals: Jun Akiyama. Prior to his match with Akiyama, Misawa loved to use the Tiger Driver, Tiger Driver ?91, and various elbow strikes to finish off his opponents. That is until Akiyama felt the first ever Emerald Flowsion. This move became a staple in Misawa’s arsenal and as its creator, he used different variations whether it was from the vertical suplex position (Emerald Flowsion Kai), the Fireman’s Carry, or off the top rope (Avalanche Emerald Flowsion), he used this move to finish off opponents.
Not to side track, but I called Misawa number two on my top five favorites. Samoa Joe is my number one favorite, mainly because I see a lot of similarities between the two of them. In fact, prior to changing his finisher to the Muscle Buster, Joe’s primary finisher was the Emerald Flowsion, which American wrestling fans know as The Island Driver. Joe and Misawa also share the forearm topei suicida to the outside and the senton back splash. Both love to use a multitude of suplexes and submission holds as well as high flying abilities. Each have their own unique movesets, but their styles are almost mirror imaged. Joe is only higher on my list because I have more exposure to him being in the U.S. Unless I want to buy a region coded DVD player and pay import fees, I only have the internet to rely on for watching Misawa.
During his tenure in All Japan Pro Wrestling, Mitsuharu Misawa captures the Triple Crown a total of five times, the All Asia Tag Team Championship twice, the Unified World Tag Team Championship six times, as well as winning the Champion’s Carnival twice in 1995 and 1998. Misawa held a new title in 1999, though. Sadly, in 1999, Shohei Baba passed away and as a result, Mitsuharu Misawa became acting president of All Japan Pro Wrestling, however, this wouldn?t last too long.
In 2000, due to conflicts of interest between Motoko Baba (Shohei’s widowed wife), and Misawa, Misawa left AJPW and took a good portion of the roster with him and on August 5, 2000, the first show, entitled ?DEPARTURE?, was held for the newly formed Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Pro Wrestling NOAH
After founding Pro Wrestling NOAH, Misawa went on to become its first ever champion defeating Yoshihiro Takayama in the tournament finals. Misawa would then lose the title to one of his greatest rivals, Jun Akiyama. This wouldn?t be the end for Misawa, though, as he won the championship a second time in 2002 by pinning, once again, Yoshihiro Takayama and then pinning Naomichi Marufuji in 2006 for this third reign.
Mitsuharu Misawa brought in and helped develop some of today’s most exciting Japanese wrestlers. Wrestlers such as Marufuji, KENTA, and former ROH World Champion, Takeshi Morishima all stepped up to the plate in Pro Wrestling NOAH under Misawa’s guidance.
Singles titles weren?t the only titles to come to Misawa in NOAH. He teamed with his former AJPW Tag Team Champion partner, Yoshinari Ogawa, and captured the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship on two occasions there as well.
While Misawa still worked a full time schedule, most of his time was spent in the NOAH office on the business side of things. Part of that business was negotiating with Ring of Honor here in the United States and in 2007, Mitsuharu Misawa decided that he would make a very rare appearance in the United States for Ring of Honor’s Glory By Honor V weekend of events.
The first night of Glory By Honor V featured Mitsuharu Misawa teaming with KENTA to face Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji. The tag match was one of the best tag matches in ROH History and ended up with a 30 minute time limit draw. The next night, Mitsuharu Misawa faced KENTA in one on one singles action. At first, this was just an exhibition match, but Misawa made the decision to defend the GHC Heavyweight Title against KENTA on American soil. Misawa ended up winning that match.
Speaking of KENTA, Misawa had the honor of becoming part of wrestling history once again. Much like he debuted the Emerald Flowsion against Jun Akiyama, the roles would be reversed as KENTA used Misawa to debut the Go To Sleep move. That move has become a staple in KENTA’s arsenal and is even used by CM Punk as his finisher in the WWE.
The above are the major highlights of Misawa’s career. I know there is a great deal that I didn?t cover, such as Misawa returning to AJPW on two occasions for a couple of dream matches, his participation of the Global Tag League Tournament, the details of his Champion’s Carnival matches, his matches for AWA and NWA championships and so forth, but there is a lot of information to cover. All I have done is provided you with a start and I hope I have given you enough information to become interested enough in Misawa to check him out for yourself.
A lot of people throw the term ?greatest wrestler in the business? around a lot. They use it to talk about people like Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, etc. Mainly anyone who has made a major name for themselves, sooner or later, that title is used to reference them, but with Mitsuharu Misawa, I think he is the exception to that label. I don?t think that the label ?greatest wrestler in the world? is a gimmick label for him for I truly believe that Misawa could have very well been the reason why that label exists. Misawa was Japan’s version of Hulk Hogan except Misawa knew how to wrestle. Misawa could have any kind of match and make it look good. He knew everything about ring psychology, telling a story in the ring, all while putting on some of the best wrestling clinics that have influenced many wrestlers today.
It is because of the matches that Misawa had that lead to Strong Style Wrestling finding its way here to America. Many of the stiff matches you see here in America originated in Japan and Misawa was one of the pioneers bringing match styles to wrestling a years before their time. Japan and wrestling’s biggest feuds, most memorable matches, and unforgettable experiences were all thanks to Mitsuharu Misawa.
As a wrestling fan, to me, there is no one better. If you have never seen Misawa in action, you are missing out. Watch Misawa in the 90s in his prime and you?ll see exactly what I am talking about.
If I seem jumbled during this column or all over the place it’s because this was a hard column for me to write and as I continued to write it, memory after memory came back and some I wanted to get out onto the electronic paper and some I felt I would leave aside for others to research and discover on their own. I apologize for any disarray in the flow of the column.
While the column was titled En Memoriam, this is the second in my Wrestler Spotlight columns. Due to the positive feedback I received from the first one I did (which was on Samoa Joe), I?ll probably do another in the future. While I did want to space these out, I wanted to do one on Misawa for the simple fact that he was one of my favorites and I felt that it wouldn?t be right for me not to do one. At least for myself, that is.
Next week, I?ll write the column that I was going to do this week, which was a DVD Review of the YouShoot with Sabu DVD. I watched it and have my thoughts ready, but that will be next week’s column.
Until then, grab a cold one, raise it high, and play some Spartan X over the speakers. Misawa, there was no one better. Too many tears were shed, but they were shed because there wasn?t anyone who didn?t love you. May you find eternal peace as you rest in the house of the Lord, and there isn?t a thank you big enough to show our appreciation for what you have given us. You gave us your heart, your soul, and your life. We never asked for that much, but you gave it to us regardless. You are still loved and will be forever missed. Rest now and be at peace.