wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 06.14.10: Mitsuharu Misawa Matches

June 14, 2010 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

This edition of the Contentious Ten is not like others: due to the relative difficulty of finding videos that I can embed into the column, this isn’t necessarily a “Best Of” list. There are certainly some of the best matches ever on this list, including a few five-star classics. Of course, if you aren’t familiar with Misawa’s work and are just clicking to see what the fuss is about, you won’t even notice. This is both a tribute to the life and career of Misawa, and an introductory piece for those who don’t know. ARIGATO!

Other Misawa Matches You Should Watch: Misawa & Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue – 12/03/93, Misawa & Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue 05/21/94, Misawa & Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue – 01/21/95, Misawa & Akiyama vs. Williams & Ace – 07/07/96, Misawa vs. Kawada 06/06/97, Misawa & Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue 05/23/96, Misawa & Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue 12/06/96, Misawa vs. Kobashi 10/31/98, Misawa & Taue vs. Kobashi & Akiyama 08/05/00

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Stan Hansensize=6>
AJPW Triple Crown, August 22, 1992size=4>

It only makes sense to start with Misawa’s first World Title Win. Stan Hansen is a guy you’ve probably heard of, but he was definitely a bigger star in All Japan than he ever was in the states. If you wonder why so many Japanese and independent wrestlers use lariats, Hansen is the reason. This was the start of a two-year reign for Misawa in which he would firmly establish himself as the Ace of All Japan for the 1990s. Not Misawa’s best match, but it’s certainly one of the most important.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jun Akiyamasize=6>
GHC Heavyweight Championship, July 27, 2001size=4>

In my view, Misawa’s biggest contribution to wrestling in the new millennium was separating from All Japan and starting Pro Wrestling NOAH. In the early part of NOAH, he proved to be a very successful booker, and that can be seen in his booking of Jun Akiyama. Akiyama had been pegged for success from a young age (mostly because he’s awesome) and had been a partner to Misawa and Kenta Kobashi in All Japan Pro Wrestling, but never really got a chance to break out. Misawa did all he could to establish Akiyama as the Ace of NOAH, and this is the culmination of that effort. After this match, Misawa really started to decline in the ring, so I’m glad he put over Akiyama while he could still go.

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Mitsuharu Misawa & Jun Akiyama vs.
Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue
December 5, 1997size=4>

Misawa and Kobashi had wars with Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue in the first half of the 1990’s, producing a series of classics that stand the test of time as some of the best tag team matches ever. Once Kobashi left the nest, Misawa elevated Akiyama to his partner, and formed a tag team that was equal, and arguably better, than the Misawa-Kobashi tandem. Misawa and Akiyama faced The Holy Demon Army in a series of classics from 1996 to 1997, and this is one of them.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawadasize=6>
AJPW Triple Crown, July 24, 1995size=4>

Long story short, Kawada HATES Misawa. The long story is that Misawa and Kawada used to be tag partners; Kawada was the guy who took off the Tiger Mask mask so that Misawa could rise to stardom on his own name. Misawa became the top guy, and Kawada wanted to be the top guy. But he never could; Misawa always beat him, in singles matches and tag matches. Other guys beat Misawa, and Kawada even beat those guys, but he couldn’t beat Misawa. This was right after Kawada had gotten his victory over Misawa in a tag match (which I’ll be talking about later) and Kawada’s getting his title shot. If you are wondering if the kind of sick bumps and stiff hits are typical of Misawa matches…yes and no. Yes, they tried it a lot. No, it was never better than when it was fresh and based on Kawada’s loathing for never being able to beat Misawa.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashisize=6>
AJPW Triple Crown, June 11, 1999size=4>

If anyone ever asks what Misawa and Kobashi can do, this is the go-to match. It’s a long one, but it’s well worth it; Kobashi and Misawa throw everything they have at each other in this one, starting with basic chain wrestling and working their way through their big moves. Misawa in particular has to bust out almost everything he has in here, including the rarely used Tiger Driver ’91 and Tiger Suplex ’85, since Kobashi is pretty much the heir apparent. Those moves don’t put Kobashi down, but the Emerald Frosion secures another victory for Misawa. This simultaneously showcases the best and worst of Misawa; the tremendous in-ring product he puts out, and the fact that he never seemed to put anyone over.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Akira Tauesize=6>
April 15, 1995size=4>

This is one of my favorite Misawa matches, for the simple reason that it is a near five-star match with Akira Taue. No disrespect to the man, cause I love Taue’s work, but it’s a lot easier to have a five-star match with a Toshiaki Kawada or a Kenta Kobashi than an Akira Taue. Taue has never been a particularly athletic, graceful or skilled wrestler, but he’s always made up for it with his incredible grasp of psychology and his hard work. A lot like Mick Foley, but without the barbwire. Here, he gave his absolute best effort, and Misawa was game as well. A career match for Taue and another classic Misawa match during his best period.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashisize=6>
GHC Heavyweight Championship, March 1, 2003size=4>

I watched this match a few years ago and absolutely loved it, but I’ve kind of soured on it since that initial viewing. I certainly don’t hate the match by any means, and make no mistake, this a great match with lots to enjoy. It’s just not on my “greatest ever” list anymore. I give this one credit because it was, much like the Jun Akiyama match, a sign of Misawa passing his torch to the next generation of main eventers. It is an epic match and one of the most important in NOAH history, and if you haven’t seen it, you should at least once. This was also pretty much the last time I actually cared about Misawa’s in-ring product.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Toshiaki Kawadasize=6>
AJPW Triple Crown, June 3, 1994size=4>

The fact that this isn’t #1 is probably sacrilege to some, as it is considered in some circles to be “The Greatest Match Ever”. And make no mistake, it’s a great freaking match that builds and builds, and the last ten minutes are some of the most exciting in wrestling history. Also, credit to these guys for having a finish that managed to top everything they did in the match (the Tiger Driver ’91). However, to me, the big appeal behind the match is watching Kawada, Misawa’s eternal rival who was never quite able to take his spot as the #1 guy in AJPW, come so close. I got emotionally invested in Kawada’s quest to become a champion and beat Misawa, and the ending, sick move aside, always leaves me deflated. But then, if Kawada had won here, the next match wouldn’t have quite the impact it has, so it all worked out for the best. Definitely a historic match for AJPW and it’s the best one-on-one Misawa-Kawada match, which is the definitive rivalry of Misawa’s career.

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Mitsuharu Misawa & Kenta Kobashi vs.
Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue
AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship, June 9, 1995size=4>

So after Kawada failed to defeat Misawa for the Triple Crown, things continued to get worse for him. But in this match, he was presented with a rare opportunity; Kobashi, the one who was always getting in the way, had an injured leg, and Misawa had injured his orbital bone. There was never a better opportunity for Kawada to get his pin over Misawa, and he finally seized it in this match. This match is a flat-out WAR, and has all the stuff you want in a match; action, selling, and some of the best drama and storytelling you will ever see. My favorite match ever. I keep waiting for the day that this match doesn’t make me mark out. Hasn’t happened yet.

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsurutasize=6>
June 8, 1990size=4>

In my opinion, I don’t really have to talk about the quality of that match, since it’s flat-out amazing. But the context is what makes it truly special. Jumbo Tsuruta was THE Guy in All Japan from the late 1970’s and all throughout the ’80’s, and is arguably the most consistent in-ring performer of all time. If you can imagine a mixture of Hulk Hogan’s company importance mixed with Ric Flair’s work rate, you have a pretty good idea of Jumbo. Tsuruta had just lost the All Japan Triple Crown to Terry Gordy (of Fabulous Freebirds fame in the states) mere days before this. Misawa was a hot prospect at this point, having recently ended his run as the second Tiger Mask. While he was talented, nobody expected Tsuruta to lose two big matches in a row. Misawa’s victory here was significant because it made it clear that Tsuruta was being phased out, and Misawa was going to be the new top guy. Imagine Bret Hart getting a fluke roll-up on Hulk Hogan on RAW after Hogan lost the title to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1994. That’s what this was like. And unlike most other matches where “the torch is passed”, Tsuruta was able to give Misawa the match of his life, and Misawa would move into his role. Other matches on the list may be a little bit better, but this is where the Misawa legend truly began.


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Aaron Hubbard

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