How sad is it that we usually only talk about some true greats when they die? Mitsuharu Misawa died after taking a belly-to-back suplex from Akitoshi Saito on Friday, June 12. Misawaâ€™s partner in this, his final match, was Go Shiozaki, while Saito teamed with Smith. For those unaware of Misawaâ€™s legacy, well, he might just be the best, most complete wrestler to ever step between the ropes.
Misawa was the second Tiger Mask, during the period where All Japan Pro Wrestling, henceforth referred to as AJPW, owned the name, but never really fit the junior style of his predecessor Sayama or those who would come after him. His real success came pretty much as soon as he dropped the mask. He became the young gun trying to unseat decades long AJPW Ace Jumbo Tsuruta. Misawa lead his young army against Tsurutaâ€™s stable of vets, putting on classic matches that would help pioneer the burgeoning Kingâ€™s Road style, notably Jumbo vs. Misawa from 6/8/90, a match rated 5 stars by Meltzer and pretty much anyone else whoâ€™s seen it. Kingâ€™s Road is a very stiff style wherein wrestlers would start slowly with small moves, wearing opponents down for nasty head drops, while displaying fighting spirit to prove who the best is. As matches and rematches occurred, wrestlers would learn from spots and build upon previous encounters in complex and satisfying ways. It was, to many, the best, smartest style of wrestling ever, and while Jumbo may have invented it, Misawa clearly perfected it, being the single wrestler in the most memorable, epic matches of that style throughout the 1990s.
After unseating Jumbo as Ace, Misawa would go on to feud with former protÃ©gÃ©â€™s Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada over the title of Ace for most of the remainder of the decade. It was, in fact with these men that he would put on what are generally considered the two best matches ever- 6/3/94 vs. Kawada and the 6/9/95 match with Kobashi against Kawada and Akira Taue (the final of what would become known as the four pillars of All Japan). During this decade he was in a record 22 five star matches as rated by Meltzer as the top draw of the company during the most successful decade for wrestling in Japanâ€™s history. There was a period in the mid 90s where Misawa was putting on a match that would be considered the best of nearly anyoneâ€™s career once every few nights.
Eventually, AJPW owner Giant Baba died and his wife took over the company. Being part a chauvinistic society and disagreeing with Mrs. Babaâ€™s idea for the future of the company, Misawa left All Japan and formed Pro Wrestling NOAH with pretty much all of the notable All Japan wrestlers (save Toshiaki Kawada). NOAH, with Misawa and Kobashi at their head, was probably the most successful Japanese wrestling company of the past decade. There an aging Misawa put on several more classics and had finally put the title picture behind him about a year prior to his tragic death. Given how long he was on top and that the once majestic Kingâ€™s Road style had devolved into a very head drop oriented style of work, itâ€™s not terribly surprising that he would pass this way- if asked to guess, itâ€™d be he or Kobashi that this would happen to, but since Kobashi has mostly stopped bumping after his bout with cancer- but for that it is no less tragic that one of the greatest wrestlers ever would die in the ring.
I was lucky enough to see Misawa when came to the states for Ring of Honor in November of 2007 for Glory by Honor VI Nights 1 and 2 (follow the link to buy the shows, Night 1 is currently only $10). On Night 1 he teamed with KENTA to face Marufuji and Morishima in what felt like the shortest 30 minutes Iâ€™ve ever witnessed at a wrestling show. Night 2 he put on a 4 star match with KENTA for his GHC Title (NOAHâ€™s top belt), showing that he could still go while thrilling the live crowd. As amazing as Misawaâ€™s matches are on DVD or when watched on the computer, his presence live was unmatched. He carried himself like what he was- one of the greatest wrestlers to ever walk this earth.
If youâ€™d like to see more of Misawa, whether through download or buying DVDs, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and Iâ€™ll let you know where to find it. Trust me, you will not regret spending the time honoring this man and his work. In fact, if you love wrestling, you owe it to yourself to.