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[2002-09-23-NOAH-Great Voyage] Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama

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GHC Heaveyweight Champion Yoshihiro Takayama vs Mitsuharu Misawa - Budokan 09/23/02


The most in-demand puroresu star of 2002 continues his run of excellent matches against NOAH ace, Mitsuharu Misawa. Takayama won the GHC Title from Yoshinari Ogawa and was used as a high-profile transitional champion to Misawa to set up the famous 03/01/03 Misawa vs Kobashi encounter. In their match from 2001 to decide the first GHC Champion, I found the first half of the match to be sluggish before the dramatic home stretch seeing Misawa crowned as the GHC Champion with Emerald Flowsion. In this match, they cut a quick pace from the outset of this match and never really let up even though towards the end they did seem fatigued. This featured a great Takayama heel performance, which makes Misawa's famed extended comeback all the better. It all boils down to Misawa's elbow versus Takayama's size. Takayama started off dominating Misawa with an assortment of kicks that sent him out of the ring and reeling into the corner at different moments. Takayama boots him off the top turnbuckle. He sends him crashing into the railings before clobbering him with the big boot over the railing. Early on, it seems the size and power of Takayama will be too much for Misawa to handle. Takayama, cocky as ever, covers Misawa with one foot in the ring. They go back to a test of strength something Takayama had won early, but this time Misawa executes a fireman's carry out. During a Misawa chinlock, Takayama feigns choking so as to get the ref to break it. Takayama is fuckin awesome. Takayama dumps Msiawa out onto the apron only to be hit by a short-arm elbow and a running elbow over the top rope. A dropkick to the outside sets up Misawa's diving elbow, which looks particularly brutal given how Takayama lands and Misawa follows this up with another elbow from the apron sending Takayama through the railing. Misawa effectively began to use his elbow as his equalizer against Takayama. Takayama as devastating weapon of his own: the kneelift. He catches Misawa coming off the top with a wicked kneelift triggering big Misawa chants. Takayama hits a bridging butterfly suplex, never seen that one before, for two. There is a lame sequence of kicks that just kinda ends with a Misawa single-leg takedown. Here comes the Misawa offensive onslaught: roaring elbow, German, Tiger Driver, Frogsplash and facelock. Takayama throws him off on Tiger Suplex attempt. A roundhouse kick to the head ends a elbow versus boot exchange and gets two. Takayama just fucking unlodas with knees driving Misawa into the corner. He hits a dropkick to Misawa's face and another knee only to get two triggering more Misawa chants and causing a bloody lip. Takayama has proven he has bombs of his own that can counteract Misawa, but has not yet put him away. He signals for the German suplex; he hits it, but rolls through to hit another one and Misawa gets his foot on the rope. He goes for a capture German suplex, but Misawa turns that into a double underhook overhead belly to belly suplex (is there a shorter name for that. It feels like one of the IUPAC names for an organic molecule). You know they do a reverse tombstone piledriver spot in WCW. Well the try to do the same thing but with the Emerald Flowsion version of that and fuck it up resulting in a bloody nose for Takayama. They run through a sequence, but they seem blown up at this point. Misawa takes home with elbows and after a barrage of them wins his second GHC title. ***3/4


They lose a bit down the stretch, but it was a dramatic thrill ride as Misawa was able to vanquish the Bleach Blond Giant of Japan with his trusty elbow. Takayama laid a pretty damn good beating on Misawa. Those Takayama kneelifts were bitchin' as all hell. It is too bad they botched the Emerald Flowsion shot as it seemed to mess up their finish, but it was a very well built match.

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Great, great build up until about midway through the finishing run. Misawa really puts Takayama over as a huge threat and Takayama sells when he needs to. Not sure if Misawa, Takayama or both started blowing a lot of the spots, but there were at least 4 over the last 8 to 10 minutes. Still loved the first 3/4 of the match and it'll probably make my ballot somewhere in the lower 50.

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I really like both of these Misawa vs Takayama matches. The 2002 match is a rather grotesque spectacle. In some ways it feels like a hybrid of a King's Road match with a wrestler vs shooter match like Hashimoto vs Ogawa or Cena vs Brock. Misawa has his hands up to block strikes and even busts out some leg kicks and there are a few rough uncooperative moments as well as really violent strikes. Great match.

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I loved this match. They’re so gassed by the end but it almost adds to the story of the match. It’s old Misawa and giant Takayama going 20+ minutes – of course they’re gassed!!! The finish is so perfect with Misawa walking through all that Takayama had left to offer and landing the kill shot himself. They built this perfectly, it was intense, the crowd loved it and it was STIFF. Maybe top 30 for me.

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If you combine the beginning of this match with the ending of the 2001 match, you probably have at the very worst a Top 5 Match of the Decade if not the best Match of the Decade. I really understood and was engaged by the beginning. This time Takayama is not trying to avoid the strikes Misawa. He is engaging Misawa head on as an equal. He is kicking his ass in a kickboxing match and in tests of strength. I loved Misawa restoring to a tight, tight headlock just to end the onslaught. Then when Takayama is being a dick about his chinlock and kneeing him in the head, he gets pissed and starts kneeing Takayama in the head. We never see that from Misawa. I loved Misawa diving elbow through the ropes. Takayama catches Misawa with a knee lift off the top and then sick butterfly suplex bridge and those wicked knees in the corner. At this point, I really thought this had Match of the Decade Contender written all over it. Then they just blew up. It was such a shame. It was still violent and really showcased Misawa overcoming Takayama. If only they had just enough gas to finish it out. I project this in the 30s.****1/4

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Man, Misawa and Takayama had some great chemistry. The opening stretch with TKO teases and grounded Misawa ruled. Plus the elbow suicida Misawa hits in this looks like it's threatening to cut Takayama in half. There's definitely a section where they start moving at a bit of an awkward pace (Misawa has a elbow smash spot where it looks like he's going in slow motion), but I think they do manage to get a second wind for the final stretch. And I feel like the strike exchanges in that portion of the match were incredible, like a wrestling version of Hunt/Bigfoot with Misawa finally getting the win. Great match, although I feel like I'm leaning towards their first GHC match being better.

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Misawa is fascinating to watch when it's been a while. He does so many little things right. And damn, these elbows. This is not as great as their previous match together, but this is even more of a slugfest, which gets ugly in a good way toward the end. I don't even get the whiole "they blew up" argument. Hell, maybe they did, but it only made it look more real anyway, considering they were just smashing themselves in elbows and kicks. Finally, Takayama just doesn't have enough in him and even old gassed up Misawa can deliver an elbow that looks like it will knock the fuck out of anyone. Great ugly match. And now Misawa can do the job to yet another of his guys, trying to pass the torch because he's old and doesn't want to be that Ace anymore.

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I'm a mark for unconventional match structures, so I really loved watching this. They basically take the King's Road formula and fuse it with a PRIDE paint coat. Instead of having long control segments, here it's more back-and-forth with the emphasis being more on momentum rather than individual big moves. This allows them to work in some great failed rallies from both guys. Also, they play even more emphasis on strikes here than usual, throwing all kinds of stiff shots with reckless abandon and even often using them as transition moves. You just know from how it's worked that the finish is going to involve someone getting knocked out by a strike, and that's exactly how it goes. 

The beginning of the match with Takayama letting Misawa hit him with several hard elbows without flinching is really good at getting over the match's dynamic. Takayama wants everyone to know he's the new sheriff in town, and he's not going to be backing down from a shootout with the old gunslinger. Misawa takes Takayama down, but he gets put into an armbar for his troubles. His next few minutes of trying to work the mat don't prove any more fruitful, and eventually Takayama applies Misawa's own facelock on him. That spot deserved way more of a reaction than it got. From there, they seem to take notice of the dead crowd and start wailing on each other. The story of the early going is all about Takayama having an answer for pretty much everything Misawa tries. There's this great spot where Misawa switches to a kickboxing stance and start throw leg kicks just for Takayama to switch to the same stance and destroy Misawa with kicks.

The way that they build to Misawa's comeback is really well-done. When he initially starts stringing together elbows you think the tide might be turning, but he goes for a top rope move just to get kicked off by Takayama and eating a hard bump on the outside. It's creates just a little bit of doubt that maybe Takayama really does have an answer for everything. But it also shows that Takayama really isn't immune to Misawa's elbows and the tide just might turn if he can keep hitting them, which is what eventually happens. Later, there's an amusing spot where Misawa, seeming like he might be a little desperate, pulls out a rear chinlock that Takayama sells like it might be a little too close to the neck, but it's Misawa's company so the ref doesn't care.  Another spot I love was when Misawa did a flying elbow to the outside that Takayama sold by arching his back across the guardrail. Made the move look so brutal.

Takayama rallies for the finish run and we're treated to all-out brutal strikes from both guys. Takayama sure can throw some hard knees. Such a spectacle to see Takayama beating the hell out of Misawa while the crowd goes nuts chanting Misawa's name. A damn great nearfall happens when Takayama hits two consective Everest Germans, but makes the mistake of being too close to the ropes and Misawa survives by getting his foot on the ropes. Unfortunately, I kind of agree that the match falls off the rails a bit by the end. The finishing stretch just doesn't have the sort of drama or intensity you'd like from a match like this, as it's pretty clear Takayama has nothing left and Misawa isn't too far behind. I'd go ****1/4. Most guys should be proud to have a match that good, but for this I can't help but be a bit disappointed as they clearly had an all-timer in them. The world needed way more PRIDE Takayama vs. old man Misawa.

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This had its moments, but I wasn't really into it. I liked Misawa's elbows and Takayama's knee strikes and kicks, but I was disappointed by the overall dynamic. Takayama should have been more aggressive. I have no idea why he holds back so much. He comes across as this huge dude with no killer instinct. Misawa took too much of the offense, and to be honest, a lot of the time it felt like he was going through the motions. Misawa was never really great against opponents like Hansen, and I felt like Takayama was also somewhat incompatible. It's strange because it really shouldn't be that way. Misawa was one of the all-time great sellers, and one of the reasons why he was so great at selling a beating was because he had that deep offensive arsenal to draw upon when he needed a counter punch. There's no reason why he couldn't have taken a mauling from Takayama, sold it like hell, and pulled out an elbow or suplex right when he needed to. Instead, he works from the top and winds up gassed. Everybody gets old and slows down. I guess I shouldn't hold Misawa to such impossible standards, but this feels like one of those matches that he got through, instead of a match where he showed his genius. 

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