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[2003-03-01-NOAH-Navigate For Evolution] Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi

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GHC Heavyweight Champion Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi - Budokan 3/01/03

 

This is how you seize the torch. Finally, Kobashi takes the mantle from Misawa as the full-fledged ace and embarks on a magnificent heavyweight title reign. Very rarely in wrestling and sports is a there a "torch passing" moment so when it does happen it truly feels like a special match. So when you take an extraordinary match add this touch of gravitas you have the makings of a Match of the Decade candidate. I would argue that this is the most famous match of the era and thus will come under extra scrutiny. After watching the match for either the fourth or fifth time, I believe it warrants inclusion among the best matches produced in Japan in the 00s.

 

The story of this match was Kobashi would not be denied on this night. After years and years of proving his mettle, he was ready to defeat Misawa definitively. For Misawa, it was his last stand as The Man of Japan. It was a fitting climax to the story of two great, competitive rivals. The beginning of the match is Misawa establishing control and setting the pace with his elbow. After scoring the first bomb (a backdrop driver), Misawa stymies Kobashi at every turn with the elbow while focusing on Kobashi's arm removing the lariat and chop from the arsenal. Kobashi sells the arm like a champ as he cant apply the sleeper due to the arm work. When Misawa has the opportunity to hit his customary diving elbow, he was not expecting to crash and burn into the railing chin-first coming up with a nasty gash. Much like the chin-first drop toehold in the amazing '00 Akiyama match, Kobashi sees his opening and pounces. Everything is focused on debilitating the neck of Misawa. If you have control of the head & neck, you have control of the body. Kobashi paces his work a little better than Akiyama reserving his bombs for later content for using cravats and DDTs. The best spot of the segment is when Misawa goes for the monkey flip and Kobashi just falls back and eats turnbuckle. Kobashi starts to chop the fuck out of Misawa's neck, but Misawa ain't having any of it. We were one muscle flex away from Misawa doing his best Luger impression. It does not matter if it is Greensboro Coliseum or Budokan Hall, that spot is over like rover. The playing field is levelled after a trading a spinning back chop and a Roaring Elbow,

 

Misawa is first up, but Kobashi still has fight left in him and Misawa elbows him back in the head. He rattles off his finishing sequence that has culminated in so many victories. He goes for Emerald Flowsion, but Kobashi desperately shoves him into the turnbuckles to save himself and hits a half nelson suplex. Kobashi will not be denied as he fights through elbows to hit a LARIATOOOOOO! The struggle over a suplex and MIsawa suplexes him on the ramp then dives through the ropes to elbow Kobashi on the ramp. After 25 minutes, they are both out on the ramp and I just wondering what is going through their minds knowing what the next spot will be. In the spot of the match, Misawa Tiger Suplexes Kobashi off the ramp onto floor. I still lose my shit when it happens. "KO-BASH-I" chants ring out in the Budokan and they tease the double countout finish to really put over that spot. Misawa only gets a two. To steal a phrase from DDP, this crowd is JAAAAAAAAACCCKED!!! Both men selling the fatigue and battle wear like champs. Kobashi throws wild chops, but Misawa catches him with nasty back elbows. Kobashi is falling over himself on jelly legs and finally Misawa hits it. The end all be all: Emerald Flowsion. 1-2-KICK OUT CROWD LOSES THEIR SHIT~! Delayed brainbuster triggers the MI-SA-WA chant. This crowd does not want it to end. Burning Hammer brings the match and the rivalry to a fitting conclusion. Kobashi grabs the reins from the Misawa in a classic barnburner. *****

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This will almost certainly make my ballot, and has a good chance at top 75... but not so much at top 50. Much like their 10/31/98 match, they do a hell of a lot right in the first two-thirds: exchanges, payoff/learning spots, teasing, gradual escalation. And then there's one big move and everything gets way way sluggish. I have no problem with selling a bomb, but when there's like 10 minutes of time containing about 1 minute of action, that's a bit much. A good comparison is 10/21/97, which had considerably less downtime, plenty of bombs, and is rarely mentioned as a MOTDC or a super-classic. To say nothing of 1/20/97, which had much more substance in the middle and was every bit as epic (if not more so).

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This was a really, really great opening build. Misawa's early control, the big crash and burn leading to Kobashi's comeback, those are amazing. About the 4th half nelson I start to scale back my opinion of the match. Too many head drops overall, but it actually did work on a storytelling level. Also, Kobashi getting his definitive win over Misawa is huge and awesome moment. I get down on Kobashi a lot, but he worked hard and when he didn't go overboard was an incredible wrestler. This comes in below a lot of stuff for me because of the excessive head drops. I get the downtime late after being dropped on your head that often. This was their best match since 1997 though.

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This match is really good but it's just so BIG that it's not the kind of match I can watch over and over again and that hurts it. I think they pulled off the escalating action very well and I don't really have a problem with any of the selling but it's scale just makes it feel like work to watch it. This is a lock for a top 100 but I'm more likely to put a fun match that I know I'll watch again and again in front of this.

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Upon my latest viewing, I'd be very comfortable with this as my number 1. I reckon it will be no worse than top 3 if it's not number 1.

 

I viewed the last ten minutes completely differently to Ditch. The "sluggishness" as he called it was great in my opinion - everything after the Tiger Suplex felt like I was watching an incredibly dramatic movie. Kobashi's face told the most wonderful story as he first had to regain his senses, then figure out where he was, then find a way to stop this guy delivering more punishment to him, then start to dish out some meaningful offense of his own and finally get in a position to deliver his kill shot and end the madness.

 

It was amazing.

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This may be the best passing of the torch/final showdown match I've seen. By this point, Misawa was on his last legs and puts in a heck of a performance, doing all of his usual flying. There is a lot of head dropping but at this point, especially in retrospect but even in 2003 context, it is done much better than Misawa/Kawada 6/6/97 or Misawa/Kobashi 6/99. The Tiger Suplex off the ramp is the memorable spot of the match and it is sold well enough, getting a decent near fall once both guys make it back into the ring. Misawa's eyes when he just can't put Kobashi away is an awesome visual. It may have been a result of his body being totally wrecked but nonetheless it was impressive. MOTYC for 2003.

 

This is why we need the Yearbooks for 2000-2004. 2003-2004 was the beginning of the transition from tape to DVD and though the big matches (like this) were well circulated, I'm still not sure that all the big matches have been seen, not to mention the hidden gems.

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The Apex of the old AJ style. The best passing of the torch match ever. Misawa's eye for little details is just amazing. Forget the headropping (which is overstated to a point, some of those huge suplexes look actually quite safe in that the body is doing a full twist without the head being compressed at all, or the bump clearly being took on the shoulders before folding the neck), what made the style was the selling of those huge spots (which of course, is a thing that has been completely lost by the indies just cosplaying the big spots), the sense of escalation, the incredible dynamic those guys established over the years (the argument of "they always worked against the same opponents" is really poorly thought out to me, it's like criticizing Sonic Youth for never switching band members and playing funk or something). Kobashi is awesome, but I thought this match really was about Misawa looking like the greatest pro-wrestler ever one last time. All time classic. MOTD. *****

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This is an amazing piece of work that would make my all time Top 50. Very different from their other matches too with a urgent, almost desperate Misawa vs. a more cerebral Kobashi. Two points stand out: Kobashi managing to make a comeback after the ramp tiger suplex and him finally hitting the Burning Hammer. Combined with Misawa's look after the Emerald Flowsion kickout, they make for the ultimate passing of the torch moment. ****5/8

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Given that this is the last match of this historic rivalry, one filled with classic bouts that are among some of the greatest matches of all time, this just might be the best out of the lot. It has a high barrier to overcome with Misawa who was declining and almost everything they could’ve done with this pairing has been done more than once. Well, except one thing. And that’s to pass the torch. Onto Kobashi to take the mantle as the main. But I thought Misawa was the driving force of the greatness behind this match. He was not going down easily. Despite getting dominated early on and splitting the inside of his mouth open, he fought with everything he could. Misawa would eat Kobashi’s neck chops only to fire back with wicked hard elbows. He matched Kobashi’s suplexes and escalated the danger of them using the ramp. The whole set up of the ramp was fantastic. First a suplex on the ramp, then a tope elbow through the ropes knocking Kobashi for a loop and finishing it off with a tiger driver off the ramp with Kobashi landing right on the neck. Each spot was sold really well by Kobashi and each spot had time to breathe and be soaked in because each one was a killer spot and we got three in a combo. Kobashi channelled the the crowd’s energy to match his great performance, fighting from beneath. The finishing stretch was brilliant. Both men are selling their fatigue, Misawa’s face when Kobashi kicks out of the Emerald Flowsion, realising that it’s not his day, Kobashi making a quick comeback with a brutal brainbuster and then following up with the Burning Hammer. The match really works on every level. The apex of the old classic All Japan style and perhaps the best of their style NOAH would try and emulate for the next decade and a half. *****
 

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