Puroresu Pulse, issue 154: Misawa at the peak

Columns, Features

Section 1- Results

All Japan: Suzuki & Nosawa retained the All Asia tag titles against Nishimura & Soya.

DDT: The big result from their Sumo Hall show is Ibushi over Harashima. They claimed 8865 for the attendance and it appears to be legit. They will be doing it again next July.

Dragon Gate: World-1 retained the trios titles on 8/16. I know you were all holding your breath on that one. Shingo & Yamato won the tag league, beating Mochizuki & Nakajima in the final.

New Japan: Makabe won the G-1, beating Sugiura in the semis and Nakamura in the finals. Nakamura beat Tanahashi in the semis, and in the process broke Tanahashi’s orbital bone with a kick. Makabe and Tanahashi wound up tied in their block, and Makabe won a coin flip to determine who faced who in the semis. The last day of round-robin matches included Sugiura over Goto and Tanahashi over Tanaka, plus Mistico beating Tiger Mask 4 to win the junior title.

Section 2- News

Dragon Gate: Saito & Horiguchi vs Shingo & Yamato is set for 9/17.

New Japan: Tanahashi will be out long enough that he was forced to vacate the title. 9/27 at Kobe World Hall will have a Nakamura vs Makabe rematch to determine the new champ. This likely kills any chance of Tajiri getting a title shot. Chono has made a title challenge for the 10/12 Sumo Hall show, with the implication that it would be his last. Taguchi & Devitt vs Shelley & Sabin for the junior tag titles will happen again on 9/13. Tenzan got hurt again during the G-1, gutting it out through the tournament and missing his scheduled tags on the last two nights. Tenzan hasn’t been healthy in some time and might be out a while (see below).

NOAH: Kanemaru & Suzuki vs Nakajima & Miyahara for the junior tag titles is set for 9/12. 9/21 has KENTA defending vs Aoki and Saito & Smith defending vs Sasaki & Morishima.

Zero-One: Makabe vs Sai (G-1 vs Fire Festival winners) will take place on Saturday. I can’t say that I like Sai’s chances unless there’s a 30 minute time limit.

Section 2a- Meltzer News

All Japan: They only drew 1250 at Korakuen for the junior tournament final and Takayama/Suzuki vs Mutoh/Suwama.

Misawa fallout / testing regime / Tenzan: There are plans for extensive physicals in the major promotions to start in fall. Meltzer speculates that Tenzan would be kept out for a very long time as a result, since he has so many serious injuries. Imagine how bad he must be if he’s ahead of Kobashi on the “most physically destroyed” list. In addition to normal joint damage from doing top rope moves, Tenzan botched a moonsault very badly seven years ago and didn’t take time off until late 2007, so he likely has some seriously degraded spinal discs. In other words he’s the most likely person to suffer Misawa’s fate unless he gets very serious work done.

New Japan: The G-1 was disappointing from a business standpoint, especially the shows in Yokohama and Hiroshima. The first Sumo Hall show only drew 6000 and even that was heavily papered. However the second night drew a legit 11000, and both Sumo Hall shows did better than last year.

NOAH: Shiozaki specially requested the match with Saito. It was agreed to as a way to give Saito encouragement.

Section 3- Tropic of Shillation

Phil covers the G-1 in detail so I can focus on shilling Misawa. Okay maybe that’s not the actual reason why he wrote it, but that’s the result.

Section 4- Media Corner

Best of 2000

SUWA vs Dragon Kid, Hair vs Mask, Toryumon August 24th 2000.

The #2 man in Crazy Max and the #2 man in Toryumon’s babyface group were natural feud material. Add in SUWA’s attitude and bullying style, contrasted against Kid’s small build and fan-friendly moves, and this really was an ideal matchup. SUWA controls most of the way and lays out by far the best singles match in Toryumon to this point. They run an angle halfway through to add to the drama, and that gives the second part a could-end-any-time feel. Not an epic for the ages, but something that most any wrestling fan can easily enjoy.

Kawada vs Sasaki, New Japan October 9th 2000.

One of the definitive dream matches in wrestling history. Kawada, long the #2 man of All Japan and now its standard bearer, goes against Sasaki, the ace of New Japan and the heir of Choshu. The usual talking point about this is that Kawada carried Sasaki to his first good match, but Sasaki was hardly ‘bad’ at this point in his career. Tenryu vs Sasaki from nine months earlier was a fun slugfest, and Sasaki had other good outings throughout the year. That said, this match was an order of magnitude better than anything Sasaki had been in before. The atmosphere is thrilling, the stiffness level is way up there, and the match is laid out just the way it should be. One of the ‘big three’ of 2000, and just two points shy of winning the DVDVR vote, this is must-see.

2009 Ongoing

Nakamura vs Makabe, G-1 Final.

One imagines Nakamura as a natural face and Makabe as a natural heel, yet they produce a far better match with the roles reversed. Nakamura is much better at a beatdown, and Makabe is better at a fiery comeback. This isn’t a G-1 final for the ages but it’s one of the 20 or so best matches from Japan this year.

Section 5- Misawa’s Career, part 4 of 7

The halfway mark. This set is easily my favorite, with 6 of my top 20 from All Japan in the ‘90s and both of the top 2. And that’s without the “bonus”. Plus there are several on the cutting room floor that are better than the best match for the vast majority of wrestlers. My server is finally up and running, so be sure to go back to the last issue for matches that were unavailable.

BONUS MATCH: Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue, tag titles, January 24th 1995.

Importance: I initially had this on the cutting room floor, but decided to include it based on quality. The importance comes from what they managed to do with the given length.
Uniqueness: It goes long, but has a remarkably low number of big moves. They rely on their best-in-the-world tag wrestling to keep things interesting.
Why it’s a good match: There’s the usual strike exchanges and toughness displays. What makes it high-end is the structure and transitions. The way Misawa gets cut off repeatedly, then comes in and manages to cut off both Taue and Kawada at the same time, is attention to detail that so few wrestlers are capable of. I mentioned that Misawa vs Kawada 6/3/94 is about a struggle for control. Well, so is this, albeit not quite at the same quality level.

26. Misawa vs Kawada, Champions Carnival 1995.

Importance: An injury in the early stages of the match would become a focal point in the months to come.
Uniqueness: Misawa gets his orbital bone broken right away, takes a short breather, then gets back in the ring and wrestles without letting on one bit. That’s grit.
Why it’s a good match: One of the weaker matches on the set due to the amount of downtime, this is Misawa’s gutsiest performance. He gets kicked directly in his broken face several times and keeps going. The attitude that cost him everything in the end but also earned him immense respect from fans and within the business.

27. Misawa vs Taue, Champions Carnival 1995 final.

Importance: Misawa’s third final, after losing the ’92 and ’93 finals to Hansen. Taue’s first final. Thus we’re guaranteed a first-time winner. Taue came on strong in the tournament thanks to his new Dynamic Bomb finisher, and thus was far more of a threat to Misawa than he was in the past. Worth noting that at this point Taue had never gotten a fall on Misawa.
Uniqueness: It’s Taue’s best singles match. Sort of like how Misawa was in Kobashi’s best singles match and Kawada’s best singles match and Akiyama’s best singles match. Quite a coincidence, no?
Why it’s a good match: They play off Misawa’s injury, which provides a focal point. But even beyond that it’s a great performance from Taue, and Misawa is at his best as the ace who acts as a base for his opponent to work off of. Yes: he’s the ace of base. I peg this as the 5th best singles match from All Japan in the ‘90s and the best Champions Carnival match ever, so don’t let my ‘90s dance music reference keep you from watching it.

28. Misawa & Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue, tag titles, June 9th 1995.

Importance: The climax of this epic tag rivalry. The most dangerous Kawada and Taue had ever been. One of the three definitive Misawa matches. A historic finish. Yes, I think this qualifies as ‘important’.
Uniqueness: The specific things that happen in this match aren’t unique. It’s that they’re done so well.
Why it’s a good match: I’ve written about this match so many times that I’m not sure what to say. It’s something that is both my favorite match and is in my opinion the best match ever. It isn’t perfect, but it has hardly any flaws and a number of exceptional traits. It’s got storytelling and psychology out the wazoo. It’s got cool exchanges and sequences. Brilliant spots. Sustained drama. Blazing crowd heat. Heart-stopping close calls. I could write a whole series of columns breaking down the meaning behind things and why certain moments are so smart, but it isn’t necessary. The match sells itself, and it holds up on repeated viewings after you see more of the backstory. You don’t have to agree that it’s the best ever, but it’s impossible to deny the quality.

29. Misawa vs Kawada, Triple Crown, July 24th 1995.

Importance: Follow-up to the above tag. And if anything makes you want to watch this, it’s the 6/9/95 tag.
Uniqueness: It really has a different feel than other Misawa vs Kawada bouts. It’s better-executed than their first few outings in ’92 and ’93, and doesn’t have the shortcomings of their later bouts. It’s very distinct from the 6/3/94 epic, and doesn’t try to be a sequel.
Why it’s a good match: Well-structured, with wonderful selling and reams of psychology. Topped off with some enormous bumps. Just a hair behind the above Taue match, this is a strong second in the Misawa vs Kawada singles series. That this is the 5th best match in this set is incredible; it would be the best Japanese match in most years of this decade.

30. Misawa vs Taue, Triple Crown, September 10th 1995.

Importance: Eh, it’s not really important in the big scheme of things.
Uniqueness: It’s more like a US babyface champ against a heel challenger, as opposed to the All Japan Ace against a top contender. Taue sets up his offense with cheapshots rather than punishing strikes. Yes, very unique.
Why it’s a good match: Taue uses two different weak points to perfection and is a magnificent bastard throughout. As with their last match Misawa is there to play his role while letting Taue have the spotlight. This has my favorite rolling elbow, as Misawa gets ‘inside’ and totally blasts Taue with it. Very entertaining, very smart.

31. Kawada & Taue vs Misawa & Kobashi, tag titles, October 15th 1995.

Importance: Last time these teams met with the titles on the line, and the last title shot for Misawa & Kobashi.
Uniqueness: Best match of its length in the last twenty years, and remarkably different from the June match.
Why it’s a good match: It’s a better version of the January match, which was great to begin with. There’s more excitement, more drama, stellar build to nearfalls at the end, and all the top-notch fundamentals. If it had a better crowd and a bit more in the way of ‘story’ this would be an all-time great outing. It’s still incredible.

32. Kawada & Taue vs Misawa & Akiyama, tag titles, May 23rd 1996.

Importance: Akiyama’s first big title shot, and a big result.
Uniqueness: The bulk of the Misawa set has been two or four top names going at it. Here we have a much weaker wrestler (Akiyama) trying to hang with the big, established veterans.
Why it’s a good match: The main story is Kawada vs Akiyama. In fact, I included this primarily because it sets up later matches in the series rather than as one of Misawa’s best performances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quality professional wrestling, but Misawa isn’t the focal point. Even Taue gets the spotlight more as he joins Kawada in bullying the young phenom.

33. Kawada & Taue vs Misawa & Akiyama, November 29th 1996.

Importance: A round-robin match in the tag league, so it isn’t THAT important. However it does set the stage for one of the best matches of all time.
Uniqueness: As much as any other match, this exemplifies the potency of The Misawa Comebackâ„¢.
Why it’s a good match: Kawada and Taue control the middle, almost desperate in their attempts to keep Misawa from taking over the match. If they can keep him from taking control of the match, they can win. If they can’t, their best efforts are all but doomed.

34. Kawada & Taue vs Misawa & Akiyama, Tag League 1996 final, December 6th 1996.

Importance: Last of the big three All Japan ‘90s matches (along with 6/3/94 and 6/9/95). A must-see.
Uniqueness: About as good a use of continuity as any match out there. They build from the year-long Akiyama storyline, they build from 6/9/95, they even touch on the Tag League 1988 last match where Kawada was the young star trying to hold up his end. It’s a five-star match WITHOUT the backstory, and manages to get better if you know the history.
Why it’s a good match: Tons of story, tons of drama, incredibly well-paced, and all the hard-hitting action you come to expect from ‘90s All Japan. Misawa has the most physically demanding role and he plays it to perfection. Despite being in the ring for the vast majority of the time and never gets blown up or sloppy. The other three bring more fire but I don’t think any other wrestler in history could take Misawa’s place in this.

NEXT TIME: If things go according to plan, a very unique interview with someone you almost certainly have never heard of