Puroresu Pulse, issue 151: Misawa’s career in 60 matches, Part 1

Columns, Features

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Two title defenses on the 5th. One by Hayashi over Mazada, the other by Suzuki & Kea over Mutoh & Kono.

Dragon Gate: CIMA retained over Arai, but he and Gamma failed to wrest the tag straps from Saito & Horiguchi.

New Japan: Several big results from 6/20. Taguchi & Devitt beat Milano & Ishikari to win a junior tag title shot; Tiger Mask won the mask of Black Tiger Takaiwa; 3D retained the tag titles over Bernard & Anderson; Sugiura upset Goto. In the main event, Tanahashi regained the title from Nakanishi. In the last day of round-robin matches for Best of the Super Juniors, Aoki beat Milano, Ibushi beat Liger and Kanemoto beat Taguchi. Semifinals had Devitt over Ibushi and Kanemoto over Aoki. Kanemoto won the final over Devitt, who survived several of Kanemoto’s leglocks. Devitt then headlined his second straight Korakuen show for NJ (on 7/5) as he and Taguchi took the junior tag belts from Shelley & Sabin.

NOAH: Akiyama vacated the GHC title due to a serious back injury. Shiozaki took his place and beat Rikio in a decision match.

Section 2- News

All Japan: They will have a ten-man (two blocks of five) junior singles league in the upcoming tour. Petey Williams and Super Crazy will be brought in for it. Two big matches are set for Sumo Hall on 8/30: Takayama defends against Suwama, and Masakatsu Funaki returns to pro wrestling as he tags with Mutoh against Chono and Funaki’s fellow Pancrase founder Minoru Suzuki.

Dragon Gate: The main event of the Kobe World Hall show on the 19th is Doi vs CIMA in a title vs title match. Saito & Horiguchi defend against Shingo and a face-turned Yamato. Gamma, Yokosuka & Kagetora vs Akebono, Mochizuki & Fujii will take place, with the winners getting a shot at the trios belts.

New Japan: Three title bouts are set for the tour-ender on the 20th. Taguchi & Devitt defend versus Milano & Ishikari; Tiger Mask defends against Kanemoto; Tanahashi defends against Sugiura. Also, Tenzan will get a chance for revenge in a chain match vs Iizuka. 12 of 14 G-1 participants have been announced: Tanahashi, Nagata, Nakanishi, Tenzan, Goto, Nakamura, Makabe, Yano, Iizuka, Bernard, Omori and Sugiura.

NOAH: No title matches on the next tour, but in addition to the junior tag league semis and finals (they’re doing semis in an 8-team tournament?!) on the final night, there will be an all-star 6-man of Kobashi, Akiyama and Saito versus Sasaki, Morishima & Sugiura. Akiyama will be on the whole tour despite his injury.

Other: Long-time indy referee Ted Tanabe, best known as the chubby face of the law in 1990s Michinoku Pro and recently of Osaka Pro, died of a heart attack suffered during a match. This happened on the night after Misawa’s death.

Section 2a- Meltzer News

Special page with information about Misawa’s life and death, mostly from Meltzer.

Dragon Gate: They signed a PPV deal with G-Funk for the US shows. There will be a 1 month delay between the PPV airing and the DVD release on top of the delay to the PPV airing, so they clearly view PPV as the main revenue source.

HUSTLE: Takada retires on 7/26 in Sumo Hall.

IGF: Takayama vs Naoya Ogawa has been booked for 8/9. Their young lion, Sawada, is currently training in ROH (I’d imagine Necro is the connection there).

New Japan: Yamamoto took a 60% pay cut when he signed his WWE developmental deal.

NOAH: They only drew 1500 for 6/4. Junior matches have packed Korakuen, but Marvin doesn’t have the reputation of putting on MOTYCs.

Section 3- Two Misawa columns & My brief thoughts

Glazer on Misawa.

Phil on Misawa.

Me on Misawa: I didn’t write a column immediately because I knew Meltzer would quickly release a slew of details (see my above link). On the news end of things I wasn’t comfortable coming forward with a lot of half-baked speculation. On the analysis end of things, there was nothing to add. Hashimoto’s death was easier for me to write about because nobody else much bothered with it. In Misawa’s case it’s all been said: a great career, but he took more big bumps than he needed to and paid with his life.

He’s one of my four favorite wrestlers, along with Tsuruta, Kawada and Kobashi, and after those four is a fairly significant drop. Having seen such a massive amount of Misawa’s work in the ‘90s it’s difficult to express just how consistent he was. Despite so many long matches he managed not to fall into an easy rut and fill time with rote sequences. There were flaws, oh sure there were flaws, just not the type of flaws many others had. He performed so well and laid out so many nearly perfect matches that he felt the only way to improve would be to add more spine-wrecking highspots. I happen to think there were other routes to take, for instance adding emphasis to submissions and mat wrestling in order to add to the number of possible finishers without adding to the danger. But what’s done is done, and thankfully the head drop escalation hasn’t continued.

I hope that regulations can be put in place to protect Japanese wrestlers. I also hope that Jun Akiyama will take some more freaking time off, but I’m going to keep my expectations nice and low. Pro wrestling has a way of making one cynical.

RIP Mitsuharu Misawa.

Section 4- 2009 Media Corner

Miyamoto & T. Sasaki vs Kodaka & Takeda, Big Japan May 28th.

Finals of the five month tag league. Kodaka & Takeda made the finals as an injury replacement. This builds off the March epic, and while it doesn’t quite reach that level it’s still worthwhile if you’ve been following this.

Sasaki & Nakajima vs Shiozaki & KENTA, NOAH June 22nd.

Ten pounds of strikes in a five pound bag. Awkward metaphor aside, this is action-packed and has that Korakuen Hall heat you know and love. One of the best of the year.

Section 5- Misawa’s Career, part 1 of 7

I’ll be doing this in the same format as the Kobashi series. I’d initially planned to do 50, but the additional matches help flesh out certain time periods. These are a mix of quality and importance, and even though certain ‘biggest’ and ‘best’ bouts are missing, this will give you a good sense of how his career went and why it was so impressive.

1. Koshinaka vs Misawa, April 22nd 1983
Importance: Finals of the ‘Lou Thesz’ young lions tournament, with Thesz himself as referee. This was the biggest chance for both young wrestlers to shine. Koshinaka had much more experience but less raw ability and fewer amateur accomplishments. More details on this match in the earlier link with Misawa’s bio.
Uniqueness: There’s next to no footage of Misawa during the early part of his career. He’s almost a different wrestler altogether than what he became.
Why it’s a good match: Nothing fancy, but solid from a technical standpoint.

2. Tiger Mask (Misawa) vs La Fiera, August 26th 1984

Importance: Misawa’s return to Japan. Even though it was clear he lacked Sayama’s antigravity properties, Misawa still showed a lot here and was accepted by the fans.
Uniqueness: Shows the huge change between where Misawa was before and after going to Mexico. In the coming years he would reduce the lucha influence, especially after his first knee injury, so it’s well worth seeing what Misawa was like during this period.
Why it’s a good match: Fiera, who trained Misawa in Mexico, does a wonderful job of leading the match and putting Tiger Mask II over.

3. Tsuruta & Tenryu vs Baba & Tiger Mask, June 11th 1987.

Importance: A battle between All Japan’s biggest native stars, during a time when Tiger Misawa was gaining prominence in the heavyweight ranks.
Uniqueness: Shows a more ‘heavyweight’ Tiger Mask holding his own amongst three of Japan’s biggest, when just two years earlier he wasn’t even a dominant junior heavyweight.
Why it’s a good match: Just way, way too much talent not to be good. At this point in his career Baba was problematic as a singles wrestler, but his charisma and intelligence allowed him to be quite effective in tags. Jumbo was finally comfortable with the faster-paced style Choshu introduced, and Tenryu had become a high-end wrestler, so that side of the equation is even better.

4. Tsuruta vs Tiger Mask, March 9th 1988.

Importance: The first iteration of the battle that would change Misawa’s career forever.
Uniqueness: One of many singles matches Tiger Misawa had against big names during the ‘80s, this is the only one I’d say really lived up to potential. More than any other Misawa match from the ‘80s, I think this one shows his potential as a main eventer.
Why it’s a good match: You get the style difference of younger, faster Misawa against stronger, more established Jumbo. Misawa does well for himself early on with simple holds, but also stays competitive in the closing stretch. It isn’t jaw-droppingly great, but it’s a sound foundation to build on.

5. Tiger Mask & Kawada vs Yatsu & Fuyuki, May 14th 1990.

Importance: I’ll say it’s important. This is the first show after Tenryu jumped ship, leaving a big opening for native talent. Tiger Mask takes advantage in a bold way, earning thousands of fans instantly and creating an opportunity that Misawa would capitalize on big-time.
Uniqueness: A much more ‘heated’ performance than one normally saw in Tiger Mask matches, with some cheap shots and nastiness. Plus there’s the big event, that’s unique.
Why it’s a good match: Nobody would confuse Yatsu and Fuyuki for Kobashi and Taue but they could bring some hate to the table when needed. Oddly enough they too were gone from the company in short order, joining Tenryu at the ill-fated SWS.

6. Tsuruta, Kabuki & Fuchi vs Misawa, Kobashi & Taue, May 26th 1990.

Importance: The opening salvo of the Jumbo vs Misawa feud, which would go for over two years and was at the heart of All Japan becoming as great a week-to-week promotion as ever existed. The style of the match borrows from the Jumbo vs Choshu and Jumbo vs Tenryu stable battles in the ‘80s, but would soon expand and improve on it. The most important thing to watch for is how Jumbo sells for Misawa, something that gave Misawa a huge amount of credibility right away.
Uniqueness: Taue on the babyface team? Great Kabuki? Yeah, this is a once-only 6-man lineup.
Why it’s a good match: Pretty much the Jumbo vs Misawa segments. Let us be thankful Kabuki left a few months later.

7. Tsuruta vs Misawa, June 8th 1990.

Importance: Misawa’s first big singles match, and one he got by making a challenge no less. If he wasn’t ‘made’ earlier in the tour, he certainly was afterwards.
Uniqueness: The last big match with Misawa wrestling a ‘Tiger Mask’ style, so it has a different feel from later Misawa main events while having much more of a ‘big fight’ atmosphere than he ever had under the hood.
Why it’s a good match: I’m someone who rates this quite a bit less than other puro ‘experts’, but even then I have it comfortably in Misawa’s top ten singles matches. Plenty of heat and energy, Jumbo provides the structure, Misawa goes from having main event ‘potential’ to being a main eventer, oh yeah you need to see it.

8. Tsuruta vs Misawa, September 1st 1990.

Importance: In the aftermath of their last battle, there was doubt as to who truly was the ‘ace’ of All Japan. What’s more, Misawa has now become more comfortable going toe-to-toe and dishing out elbows rather than relying on aerial attacks. If Misawa wins this, he’ll be in the driver’s seat mere months after being well out of title contention. If Jumbo wins, he eases doubts about his ability.
Uniqueness: Quite a lot of change in how Misawa wrestles and how the match is laid out from last time. This finally feels like the familiar Misawa, though he still hadn’t reached the level he would in years to come.
Why it’s a good match: Two words- Jumbo Tsuruta. I don’t think this match, in terms of analyzing it move-for-move, stands up compared to what would come later in the decade. However, Jumbo’s balance of fire and selling is so effective and deep that it almost transcends pro wrestling. It conveys strength in the present and doubts about the future. His reactions to Misawa’s elbows and toughness are absolute perfection, foreshadowing where the feud would go and making you want to watch the rivalry unfold. For my money Misawa looks better here than he did in June even though the June match is what everyone remembers. He’s clearly the future of All Japan, and the question is how long Jumbo could hold him off.

Next Time: More Misawa? Back to the interviews? Darned if I know.