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[2001-04-15-NOAH-Navigation For The Victory] Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama - GHC Heavyweight Title Tournament Final 04/15/01


NOAH has existed since August of '00 based on a hot Kobashi/Akiyama feud, but eventually they would need a champion of their own. We see trusty Misawa pitted against the best native heel in Japan in the early '00s, Takayama. Misawa delivers a quintessential Misawa performance pretty much getting his ass kicked for 20 minutes before making his comeback with his elbows to fell the giant. In watching Misawa vs Takayama and Kobashi vs Takayama matches so close together, I believe the reason why Kobashi delivered better matches with Takayama is because he is more of a prototypical face (histrionics, fire and selling). Whereas, Misawa excels better at the nominally face vs face matches, but Doc, Taue or Kawada plays a more subtle heel where Takayama plays a more overt heel. Thus the more overt babyface Kobashi seems to have more classic matches. I am not saying this is a bad match, but I don't think it was anywhere near the '00 Kobashi match because Misawa's stoicism limited him against Takayama.


Takayama has such a great aura about him with the bleach blond hair and just how he carries himself. He feels like a big star. We get a slow start on the mat and it seems like Takayama gets the better of it at first and does his arrogant cover. Misawa elbows him out and hits his diving elbow. Misawa goes to his top rope diving elbow, but Takayama catches him with a knee lift and thus triggers the heat segment. They do a bit where Takayama is willing to take a countout or knockout victory to win the title instead of pinfall or submission. Misawa attempts to use the elbows as an equalizer, but ends up on the ramp where he eats a back drop and a huge knee to face back into the ring. That was a wicked, out of control knee. Takayama begins to trash talk Misawa and that incites a flurry of elbows from Misawa and a leg lace. Takayama cuts this off with a knee lift, but it is the wrong knee and he sells it! However, he gets a big boot and a roundhouse kick that totally puts CM Punk's to shame. Takayama looks to polish him off with two Everest German Suplexes but this is Misawa baby! The match picks up when Takayama kicks Misawa so hard in the neck that blood just starts pouring out of Misawa's neck/ear region. It is a nasty visual. Misawa is pissed and hits his double elbow connection that always looks brutal. Misawa decides he is going to attack the arm with some takedowns, which really went nowhere in the long run. Takayama hit a powerbomb out of a triangle choke which is always a cool visual. Misawa hits his Tiger Driver for 2 and we know that we are in the middle of Misawa's finish stretch, Takayama one-ups him with a release Tiger suplex but still only gets two. We get our first slugfest and it pits Takayama's big boot against Misawa's elbow. Is there anything more powerful than Misawa's elbow? Misawa hits this absolutely wicked elbow connection (the spinning back elbow was beyond sick) and then polishes him off with Emerald Flowsion.


The '01 match featured more of a Misawa beatdown, but a more compact Misawa comeback. The arm work at the end seemed so strange. It did not add anything. I am not saying Misawa has to hit all his moves in every match, but this felt like a mid-90s Savage match where he just takes heat the whole match and hits three moves to win. The '02 match has more of a struggle to it, but they run out of gas towards the finish. This one starts slow, but gets to a pretty satisfying conclusion. If forced to choose I would say the '02 match, but they are in same class of match. ***3/4

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Very slow start. Crowd isn't into a lot of early Takayama nearfalls and it makes sense. Misawa decides to fix that and start the finishing run by attacking Takayama's leg to weaken the kicks/knees. This may seem trivial but it is HUGE. Misawa very rarely attacks a limb. He throws lots of elbows until he can tigerdriver/suplex an opponent. When he attacks limbs, it means he's feeling the damage and wants to contain it. Up until that point it was standard Misawa vs. way lesser opponent match number whatever. Watch your Akiyama vs. Misawa pre-2000 to see what those look like. So Takayama tries a few kicks and doesn't like how that's working on the leg and switches to big Germans. A busted open Misawa counters by going after the arms, further putting Takayama over as a threat. Misawa's nearfalls are interrupted by a big Takayama tiger suplex for a nearfall. Takayama does the most invisible kickout ever on a Misawa running elbow that makes me love him so much. Misawa busts out the emerald frosion or however you spell it for the win. Really great match with Misawa doing a little work to put over Takayama instead of just handing him big suplexes and head drops before he finishes him.

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I like Misawa vs Takayama more than Takayama vs Kobashi. This is the first epic NOAH main event and one of the best matches they ever promoted. Takayama finally looks like the force of nature he'd be for the next few years in this match. Part of that is just how brutal his offense was but a lot of that is Misawa's incredible selling and the very nasty hardway blood. What I really love is that we get to see Takayama plugged into a great Misawa main event formula. Those submissions may not be your typical Misawa offense but they are plugged into one of those classic comebacks. Misawa comes out looking like he's still the man because he survived a beating at the hands of the next big thing. This is probably my Japanese MOTY for 2001.

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On rewatch I really love how this match plays out. Takayama plays smart and keeps things slow and not too strike-oriented to wear Misawa down. The crowd likes it, but it's not anything great until Misawa flips the switch. Huge strike exchange followed by Misawa attacking the leg briefly. Takayama decides he's not letting Misawa back in so easily and hits him with the big offense. And Takayama's big offense is all incredibly simple stuff done really well, love it. Misawa finally gets back in it by attacking the arm in desperation just to slow Takayama down. Not many nearfalls for a NOAH main, but Misawa makes an almost last-moment kickout on a German that really cranks the crowd up. Takayama's kickout right before the finish is one of those invisible, oh-it's-over kickouts that makes a match. I had this at 15 going into rewatches, but 14-5 are gonna have to hold up big for this not to jump up huge.

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As I was progressing through the years, I could feel that I really short-changed this match.There is nothing from my initial review that really warrants such a low rating. I think I picked up on a lot more little details and totally agree that this should be a lot higher. Even if it was a slow start, it was a start that established Takayama was going to use his size to control Misawa on the mat and avoid the strikes. That is a pretty different game plan than I have seen against Misawa. We have seen Kawada attack the elbow and Kobashi just fight fire with fire. This is a more conservative that could pay dividends. The problem is Takayama's hubris gets the best of him. He goes for the one foot cover and then kick to the back and this wakes Misawa up. However, Takayama always has a cutoff. In this case, he catches Misawa off the top with a kick to the midsection, which Misawa sells really well. Another case was Takayama putting his hand over Misawa's mouth and talking trash. if you really think about it, there is something naturally upsetting about someone having their hand over your mouth. They are in a position of power and are controlling your ability to breathe and talk. So Misawa elbows the fuck out of him and then goes to the leg with a legbar for maybe 20-30 seconds. Takayama sells the leg better than pretty much any Tanahahasi opponent that has had his leg worked on for 5-10 minutes. Again Takayama has the answer with the knee lift, but can't fully capitalize due to that bad knee. Then we get that nearfall stretch with the struggle on the Everest Germans and Takayama's realization he is not just in there with anyone he is in there with Mitsuharu Fucking Misawa. The blood that stems from the kicks by Takayama is just the cherry on top to incredible heat segment that had stretched the entire match. After being covered with one foot and his mouth covered, this blood was the last injustice Misawa would suffer and he unloads with absolutely fucking sick two elbow to Takayama's face. It is a short and compact Misawa finish run, but it is one that is satisfying and appropriate. This is a lock for the teens of my top 100 now, but misses the Top 10 because my slight, slight issues with the slow start and the Misawa arm work that really did not feel as heated as the Elbows or go anywhere. I am picking nits, but you have to for the Top 10. ****3/4

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Misawa's strategy to switch it up and try more subs and mat stuff in his Takayama matches is always great. I think this one progresses a bit more "cleanly" than the 02 match and just like that match it has a pretty phenomenal final stretch. The crowd seemed kinda confused by the Fujiwara armbar attempt but when Misawa dragged Takayama back into the middle for that reverse armbar the crowd ate it up. Misawa with the blood streaming down his chin and chest is quite the visual. Truly great match, not sure what I like more from 2001 that I've seen.

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Probably the match that made Takayama into a single main event star. Slow start, with Misawa letting himself mauled. One could say Takayama kinda dropped the pace at one point with a sleeper hold that seemed needless, but after that point, it builds into a legit great match. Misawa, again, was a brillant worker as showed by what seeds he planted and how he attacked the big log and Takayama was excellent, bringing in the big spots and strong selling. Tons of credit to Misawa with NOAH because he sure wanted to go in another direction than the late AJPW excess at first, building Takayama, using Ogawa on top and only putting the belt on himself, da boss, to be able to drop it himself to someone else. And despite being banged up, he was still an amazing worker. That flurry of elbows at the end, just like the sudden counter of Takayama's big kick are wonderful to watch and made sense in the context of the match, not just as "spots". I had kinda forgotten about Misawa's greatness, honestly. And Takayama was a breath of fresh air in the early 00's.

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The match was everything I hoped it would be. Takayama has an air of violence to him very much like Fujiwara. He certainly delivered on that. It was really quite excellent in its layout and it really propelled Takayama as a budding main eventer and gave Misawa the vulnerability that he needed in this portion of his career. The match on a whole really put the GHC title into the class of the Triple Crown. Excellent performance by both guys. Classic match.

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Yeah, this match is indeed great. Nice and slow build leading to the epic finishing stretch. Misawa getting busted up really add to this. Great match indeed.

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This turned into quite the match after a dull opening, with Takayama cutting off Misawa with the big knee and basement dropkicking him out of the ring. The pacing/structure of the match was a little clunky, with the submission work never feeling that believable -- like I don't need to see Misawa working an armbar. But the strikes really heated up -- the elbows from Misawa and the kicks/knees from Takayama. Whatever strike combo cut Misawa's chin made it look like his throat had been slashed or something. Takayama's first big German suplex nearfall was awesome and then the whole finishing stretch really brought the match home, with Takayama looking completely out of it and drooling after the running elbow smash before Misawa puts him away for good.

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Slow, methodical and boring. There were some exciting moments towards the end but it took way too long to get there. Takayama was in control for too much of the bout. Unless he's being brutally savage that's generally not a good thing. And this wasn't exactly prime Misawa when it came to selling either. 

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