The Beautiful Thing looks at the Greatest Rivalry of All Time


Kawada vs. Misawa: The Greatest Pro Wrestling Rivalry of All Time.

On July 18, 2005 at the Tokyo Dome, Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada are going to face off one more time.

What is your reaction to that news?

Maybe it was something like, “Who cares? Mexican wrestling sucks. USA! USA!”

If so, I’d like to help you.

Maybe your reaction was something like, “OMG, this sucks! They are going to crap all over their legacy. I hope the big payday is worth ruining our sacred memories of 6/3/94, 6/9/95, and 12/6/96.”

If so, I might be able to help you, too. It might take me a few weeks to get to that point, though.

Who Are These Guys?

To put it very simply, Kawada and Misawa are two of the very best professional wrestlers of all time.

Misawa is a very rare example of a wrestler who has mastered every aspect of his art. Whether it’s brawling, high flying, mat wrestling, psychology, stiffness, bumping, selling, big power moves, high spots, story telling, pacing, work rate, crowd involvement, or sheer entertainment value, Mitsuharu Misawa belongs on any reasonable short list of the greatest practitioners. In terms of in-ring ability, he is the real total package.

Kawada’s mastery is, if anything, more focussed than Misawa’s. Kawada may very well be the all-time king of stiffness, selling, psychology, and story telling. He is, without a doubt, one of the most intense competitor/performers to ever step into a ring.

The two of them had undeniable ring chemistry. Almost every serious wrestling fan who has been exposed to their rivalry considers their June ’94 match one of the greatest men’s heavyweight singles matches of all time. Many people, myself included, would call it the best match ever. They were also involved in two of the consensus greatest tag team matches ever, and I feel pretty confident calling their rivalry the greatest in the history of pro wrestling.

If They Are So Great, Why Hasn’t Vince Brought Them To America?

I am far from alone in thinking that Pro Wrestling reached its greatest peak around the years 1993 through 1998 in a promotion known as All Japan. The style of wrestling being practiced there is almost shockingly different from what was happening in North America at that time. The focus was not on silly characters nor was it on predictable and repetitive crowd-pleasing high spots. The focus was on telling a compelling and believable story in the ring. Matches ended with a clean winner or with a time limit draw. There were no ref bumps, no run-ins, and no screw-job finishes. The top wrestlers hit harder, took better bumps, and sold more convincingly than at any other time in wrestling history. Misawa and Kawada are almost freakishly well suited to working the 1990s AJPW style. They elevated that style of wrestling, and being able to work in that elevated style is what made them stars. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I think it’s a safe bet that they would not have been as comfortable working in any of the far more limited styles that have dominated North American Corporate Professional Wrestling since the Hogan years. I am also quite sure that they would not have been ideally suited to working in the Hardcore style, since I sincerely believe that both men have a deep and abiding respect for the purity of the athletic aspects of their chosen profession. Kawada, for example, was opposed to bringing Japanese Death Match legend Atsushi Onita into All Japan after the NOAH split. (If that doesn’t mean anything to you, I apologize. I will try and explain it further in a future column).

The one North American style that might have allowed Misawa and Kawada to flourish was the Bill Watts/Mid-South/UWF style, which was similarly built around believable athletic action, solid psychology, and compelling stories told mainly in the ring.

If Vince had brought them to America, it simply wouldn’t have worked. If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, you will need to deal with finding tapes or DVDs of matches from Japan. The commentary and the deeper match psychology might both, initially, be slightly difficult to get used to.

Please, however, trust me on this one: The tremendous rewards are well worth the minor effort.

Next Week

I really hope I’ll be able to find the time to cover this topic in a bit more depth. 90s All Japan in general, and this rivalry in particular, should be experienced by all true wrestling fans. I’m as excited about sharing my love for this as I would be about a great novel or film that I wanted a close friend to read. Maybe even more so.