Remembering Mitsuharu Misawa: Man. Icon. Inspiration.

Posted: June 18, 2012 in Columns, Wrestling
Tags: , , ,

Today would have marked the 50th birthday for Puroresu (Japanese Professional Wrestling) legend, Mitsuharu Misawa. A man whose life was cut short doing what he loved most and that was putting on the best performance he could for the crowd. To those who may not know Misawa, he influenced the current generation of young wrestlers today such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Samoa Joe with his athleticism and showmanship. A consummate in-ring worker, he was one of the all-time greatest big match wrestlers of the past two decades, putting on stellar bouts ranging in arenas from the Nippon Budokan to Korakuen Hall.

Misawa was a 1980 National High School wrestling champion, which caught the eye of Shohei “Giant” Baba and was recruited to All Japan Pro Wrestling. He started to gain exposure as the second incarnation of Tiger Mask, but failed to reach the success of the original (Satoru Sayama) and his predecessors. It wasn’t until he unmasked himself and began a lengthy feud with then All Japan ace, Jumbo Tsuruta. Misawa would team with two young allies in Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi to lead their charge against Tsuruta’s veteran army, producing a series of classic 6-Man Tags. Misawa’s match with Jumbo on 6/8/90 was given 5-Stars by Dave Meltzer and was marked by many as the match that solidified Misawa as the Ace. While Jumbo went on to create the King’s Road style of Wrestling, Misawa surely perfected it and made it one of the smartest Professional Wrestling styles today.

During his time with All Japan, he feuded with former partners Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi and had two of the greatest matches ever with a 6/3/94 bout with Toshiaki Kawada and a 6/9/95 Tag with Kobashi against Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue (with the latter crowning them as the four pillars of All Japan). Misawa was held as one of the best wrestlers in the 90s and having some of the most consistent performances in his career.

With the death of Giant Baba in the late 90s, Misawa took control as AJPW President. Following disagreements with Makoto Baba (Giant Baba’s wife), Misawa split with All Japan in 2000. He then went on to create Pro Wrestling NOAH, taking almost all of the All Japan roster (sans Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi). He would make sporadic returns to All Japan defeating Satoshi Kojima at Battle Banquet and teaming up with another former All Japan president Keiji Mutoh against Kensuke Sasaki & Hiroshi Hase.

In NOAH, Misawa continued to put on excellent performances though there was noticeable aging on his body. In what many considered his best match in the company was against Kenta Kobashi on March 1, 2003 in where Kobashi finally defeated him in a championship singles match. Misawa would win the GHC Heavyweight Title on three occasions, with his last reign lasting nearly two years.

He would wrestle for the first time on US Soil in 2007, working on Ring of Honor’s Glory by Honor weekend. On Night One, he teamed up with KENTA wrestling Naomichi Marufuji & Takeshi Morishima to a draw and he defended the GHC Heavyweight Title against KENTA on Night Two.

Misawa’s career is highly decorated. He holds the record for most 5-Star matches awarded by the Wrestling Observer with 24, WON Wrestler of the year in 1995, 1997, and 1999, a 5-Time All Japan Triple Crown Champion, 1995 and 1998 Champion’s Carnival Winner, a 3-Time GHC Heavyweight Champion, a 10-Time Tag Team Champion in All Japan and NOAH respectively. The list goes on…..

On June 13, 2009 Mitsuharu Misawa collapsed after receiving a belly-to-back Suplex from Akitoshi Saito in a Tag-Team Title Match in Hiroshima. Misawa teamed with Go Shiozaki while Saito teamed with Bison Smith respectively and the match was stopped 17 minutes in after the incident. While lying in the ring, paramedics tried to revived him with CPR as he stopped breathing and The crowd began to chant his name, hoping that their hero would get back up. Misawa was turning purple and he was stretcher out the ring and rushed to the hospital. He was later pronounced dead on 10:10 p.m. (Japanese Time), just 5 days shy of his 47th Birthday.

He will be greatly missed not only for his in-ring work, but for the admiration from his peers and fans alike. While I was more influenced by the style and grace of Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada respectively, I couldn’t help but to admire the work ethic and ability of Misawa. A craftsman in the very essence, his work could very well put the likes of Ric Flair to shame.

Long Live Mitsuharu Misawa, and Long Live the Emerald.

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