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Mitsuharu Misawa

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Misawa is someone I'm considering for number one. He has probably had more recorded ****+ matches than any wrestler in history. He's absolutely my pick for Wrestler of the Decade for the 1990s. It's lonely at the top, which is why I've always wondered if that's why many people gravitated more to Kawada and Kobashi. They were chasing the top spot and Misawa was already there, and it's easy to invest in the guys climbing the ladder. Attempts to transition to a new ace show how difficult that role was, as they always ended up coming back to him.

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I can't imagine my top ten without him. He could easily make my top five. He's someone who appreciate more and more as time goes on. Before his peak he's still an interesting wrestler to watch, his peak is as good as it gets, and I love him as a broken down old man. His selling is really nuanced and so unlike anyone else. A lot of wrestler will try to no-sell a suplex like Misawa but when they do it it looks like it didn't hurt. Misawa looks like he's pretending it didn't hurt but he's actually in pain behind that facade.

 

His greatest flaw is that he is prone to excess in some matches. This may be a weak defense but the biggest problem with that is that he's better at excess than his opponents. That no-sold half nelson on the floor notwithstanding, Misawa tends to keep selling that he's been mauled late in those matches and when he keeps throwing bombs he does look like he's trying to finish the job. It's Kobashi kicking out over and over, crying, and throwing a bunch of half nelson suplexes that never ever win a match that takes me out of those bouts.

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Probably the best seller I've seen. Like most people I found him stoic and uninteresting at first and was drawn to Kawada and his narrative, but once Misawa clicked for me, he clicked in a big way. Suddenly, I started noticing how amazing he was as an ace. I usually hate it when wrestlers spring a big move early (like the surprise German suplex in Joshi), but with Misawa it never felt like it was a shock tactic. He was always in complete control. He had that move in his arsenal and could hit it at any time. I have no doubt that put his opponent in two minds about how to progress with the match. But the most epic thing about Misawa was the beatings he would take. Man did he know how to lay himself out as an ace. Watching him teeter on the brink of defeat was something else. It was about as close as wrestling gets to actual sports.

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I'm putting myself out there on this one, so be kind. I'm mainly going to comment here at all because I think it's important for me to lay this out at the beginning of the project and we can look back at this towards the end and see if I feel differently. It should be fun at least. I participated in DVDVR's little remedial wrestling project on Misawa/Kobashi/Kawada/Taue recently and despite having been watching wrestling since 1990 or so, that was the first real meaningful time I watched Misawa. So I've got five or six matches under my belt but they're some that are considered all time classics.

 

My general impressions are thus:

-Explosive Execution. Absolutely and utterly explosive. Maybe more so than any wrestler I ever saw. He seemed to have this gear that was just inhuman. In the first match I saw, when he flipped over the top and hit his dive, it was chill-inducing. It was like watching a special effect in a movie. It was the same when he hit a big move. On an execution level, he's tremendously impressive.

 

-The Selling/Storytelling. I'm extremely impressed with the build between matches and over time, and to a lesser extent within the same match. There seems to be a throughline between many of his matches and one builds to the next and I appreciate that element of wrestling. For the most part, it's both in the intent and layout and also in the actual selling itself. On the other hand, I find a lot of the fighting spirit stuff to be frustrating. I'm not going to completely hold this against him, because it was expected in the style; it's a trapping, but I think I have to somewhat, because on the one hand, he makes such an effort to subtly sell something, to build things towards a moment, or to limit himself in one way or another, but then he gives in to the stylistic trope and just drops it all for a moment to hit his thing. I don't think you can have your cake and eat it too like this. I think that if you understand that first part, you'd see on some level why the second is problematic. There are outright resets in his matches where they drop it completely, and that bothers me way more than in lucha. Why? Because there's so much great selling and it's hindered by this, while in lucha, the selling just isn't as specific a lot of the time. If he wasn't so good at selling, it wouldn't bother me so much. I wonder if that make sense.

 

-Excess. Most of the forty minute matches would have been better served by being twenty minutes. Most of the matches would be better served by not going back and hitting three or four of the same move. Most of the matches I saw would almost seem to reloop around in circles by the end in a very "your move, my move" sort of way, without clear and meaningful transitions. The finishing stretches were lengthy to the point of being frustrating, maybe taking up half the match in some cases and I don't think it built well from the earlier parts of the match, though it may have, instead, built on earlier matches, which is interesting but only half the battle where a slightly higher attention to detail would have served to connect everything.

 

-Audience connection. The crowd believed in him. Completely. There's something to to that. He knew exactly what they wanted. He gave them what they wanted. They wanted the escalation. They wanted the finishing stretches. That's a pro, but I also think it's a con. It wasn't sustainable and it lead, more and more to injuries and matches where the narratives were hurt due to the need to top the last match. Sometimes, it's far more important to give the crowd what they need than what they want.

 

What I want to see more of:

-Older Misawa. I think he understood a ton about his craft. I'm curious if he was able or willing or brave enough to adapt when his body started to break down or when he was called upon for a slightly different role with different supporting player or if it was just a case of diminishing returns right up until his death.

-Younger Misawa. I'm curious to see how he developed into the wrestler he ultimately became and what was there from the start and what he grew into.

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I would recommend the 1/4/09 Tokyo Dome tag Misawa is in for old Misawa utilizing a more less is more approach.

 

Anyway, Misawa is another #1 contender for me. It is really tough to be the guy for that long and no reinvent yourself that much over. Misawa tried to forego that moniker but the crowd demanded they go back to him from time to time. Now, Misawa was at times protective of his role for sure, but I think he gave a lot as an ace and still was able to have absolutely spectacular matches with a vast majority of opponents up until his untimely death.

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-Older Misawa. I think he understood a ton about his craft. I'm curious if he was able or willing or brave enough to adapt when his body started to break down or when he was called upon for a slightly different role with different supporting player or if it was just a case of diminishing returns right up until his death.

This is a really good example of an older Misawa match I think you'd like: http://prowrestlingonly.com/index.php?/topic/25951-mitsuharu-misawa-vs-tahuma-sano-noah-spring-navigation-042807/ It's not very long and it's very focused. And there's a youtube link in the thread.

 

I'd actually really like to read your thoughts on this match: http://prowrestlingonly.com/index.php?/topic/25897-mitsuharu-misawa-yoshinari-ogawa-vs-akitoshi-saito-masao-inoue-noah-navigation-over-the-date-line-091004/

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I was also a contributor to that thread on DVDVR and would have the following notes.

 

1) I think Misawa's execution is some of the best I have ever seen. Not so much that everything looks effortless but that everything looks like the aim is to do damage. A lot of times on suicide dive, it looks like a guy is just trying to land in the right place. But Misawa actually delivers a blow that looks like he is trying to knock the other guy out cold. The way he lands on people with his senton and frog splash look like a ton of bricks are landing on the opponent. I've seen guys with 150 pounds on Misawa throw splashes that don't look they hurt as much. And the elbow is just such a cannon shot across the bow that you totally buy how much it is getting sold.

 

2) The fighting spirit stuff that I saw during that project was way less pronounced than I originally feared. I had been dabbling with New Japan stuff at the time and was totally sick of people forearming each other 15 times with no selling. Misawa (and the other guys) didn't seem to just wade through suplexes and strikes. They might hulk up out of a strike exchange, but it seemed way more earned. I think its a case where people took the trappings of the style and didn't really understand why it worked as well as it did.

 

3) He's a little too stoic for my tastes and his selling doesn't reflect to me a sensation of where we are in a contest all the time. I want to know that 'he's in major trouble now' and I don't get that sensation from him. His nervous tights-adjusting habit lends to this at times.

 

4) There are times when I don't get a sense of strategy from the matches lay out. Like it seems like if you were to pin down why he won match A and lost match B, it would boil down to reasons not presented in the actual match (that he is the ace is not good enough for me).

 

5) The ending sequences tend to be bloated which Matt covered. The peek of the action passing and the match still having another 6-8 minutes to go was a frequent concern of mine.

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To clarify off of what Goodear said, it wasn't necessarily the strike exchange part of the fighting spirit that gave me trouble but the popping up to hit something before selling bit, especially after some sort of limbwork crucial to the match that was sold as if it was crucial to the match.

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3) He's a little too stoic for my tastes and his selling doesn't reflect to me a sensation of where we are in a contest all the time. I want to know that 'he's in major trouble now' and I don't get that sensation from him. His nervous tights-adjusting habit lends to this at times.

 

4) There are times when I don't get a sense of strategy from the matches lay out. Like it seems like if you were to pin down why he won match A and lost match B, it would boil down to reasons not presented in the actual match (that he is the ace is not good enough for me).

 

 

On point 3, he wasn't a traditionally demonstrative seller, but if you watch him enough, you develop a sense of how he sold various levels of peril. As Matt suggested, it's a style that rewards attention over many matches and many years, whether you regard that as a good thing or not.

 

On point 4, his strategy was that he was the best. He had more weapons and more resilience in his tank, so it was the opponent's job to find a way to beat him, not vice versa. He was UCLA basketball at the height of the Wooden era.

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On point 4, his strategy was that he was the best. He had more weapons and more resilience in his tank, so it was the opponent's job to find a way to beat him, not vice versa. He was UCLA basketball at the height of the Wooden era.

 

 

First, in the name of this project, I will absolutely watch anything people want me to watch, within reason, and so far, all of this is in reason. I might just not do it today or tomorrow.

 

Second, I wonder if what Childs is mentioning here isn't sort of limited. I honestly don't know. On paper, I think it allows for less creativity in some way as a lot of what he would be forced to do would either be formulaic or reactive. Is that the case?

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I also think the Misawa matches with him being the heavy favorite allow different strategies to combat that. Do you try a series of your big moves like Kawada did. Do you have a knockout blow like Doc does with the backdrop driver. How about working over a body part to neutralize his attack (1/20/97). Also, you can attack him from the onset and try to win that way. These little differences make his run distinctive and different.

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I find that interesting. I wonder how much it puts the onus and thus the credit on the challenger or the opponent though. What comes to mind, actually, as a contrast, is Hulk Hogan's WWF run. Did his opponents come in with any different sort of strategies even though he was a nigh-undefeatable Ace? I don't remember anyone ever trying to take out the leg to eliminate the leg drop, for instance.

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It's a testament to Misawa that his matches still carried great intrigue and that despite being the best guy, he never seemed invincible. He could be beaten on the right night. Kawada and Kobashi would pin him in tag matches on rare occasions to keep the feuds alive, but they couldn't get the job done in a singles match. It took six years for Kawada to figure it out and even longer than that for Kobashi to put it together. What made Misawa so tough to beat was his determination to not lose. There were sometimes tactics he didn't use because he didn't have to use them. Notice he never targets Kawada's knee in the 12/93 and 5/94 tags even though Kobashi gave him openings. Kawada is throwing everything at him in the June match so Misawa has to go after the knee finally. And then nothing else works, so he has to bust out a move he hadn't used since 1991. I don't think he's comparable to Hogan's formula of suddenly being infused with the magical powers of Jesus and Ronald Reagan after taking a prolonged beating.

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I think the difference (well, one of many) between Misawa and Hogan is Misawa could take on all different sorts of challenges and actually show you he was the best. Hogan worked a far more basic formula in which he repelled every challenge almost by assertion rather than actually doing much. You never watched Hogan and thought gee, that guy's the best wrestler. Misawa wrestled like the best--not just the biggest star.

 

You mentioned wanting to see early Misawa, Matt. That's actually an interesting case. He took a long time to hit his stride. For most of the '80s, he was an obviously gifted kid stuck with the wrong gimmick under the mask. And he produced a lot of awkward performances. I would argue he didn't entirely earn his way to the top but totally seized the opportunity when he was put there.

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What about the excess? One thing that impressed me very much with Misawa and co. was that many things such as strike exchanges that we take for granted now because they have been copied to the point of losing their initial meaning felt so natural and organic and important. It wasn't even about forgiving them when we hold then against modern matches. They were just completely different.

 

The excess did not feel that way. In most of the matches I felt strongly like they should have been taking things home about 2/3rds the way through. Unlike the very visceral and meaningful strike exchanges that aspect seemed much like what many of us we criticize heavily today.

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There was definitely some excess, especially as the decade went on. They got into a destructive cycle of trying to top themselves over and over. But that was the ethic--show how much you could endure. In general, I think they had the depth of offense, commitment to selling and attention to detail in transitions to pull off those long, complicated matches better than any group of wrestlers I've seen. But they were taking such ambitious swings that the misses could feel fairly ponderous or over the top.

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That remedial thread was so different from how you usually watch wrestling (with a strong emphasis on context, etc.) Personally, I think you should watch the Jumbo & Co. vs. Misawa & Co. six mans as they're much more up your alley.

 

The matches getting longer was a natural progression of the same group of workers trying to top what they'd already done. I don't have any use for one hour All Japan matches, but I don't agree with you that a 25 minute tag needed to be a third shorter. Japanese fans love nearfalls. The whole reason the 2.99 culture exists in Japan is because Japanese fans love their nearfalls. They were giving the people what they want, and besides the style was basically about receiving damage (like the life bar in a video game) so there was that whole finish 'em video game vibe.

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Which matches would you say that most rings true for? It's definitely true in some cases.

 

This is relevant for the the 6/1/93 match (Which was the first one I saw of these guys):

 

"The major problem is that it just went on and on and on during the finishing stretch. If the thing ended with the moonsault after the tandem DDTs or especially Kobashi's powerbomb with the flip pin, I think I ultimately would have loved the match instead of just being happily surprised with some parts of it and frustrated with other parts. It just kept going and going after that though with a sort of escalation i wasn't feeling at all, and I had actually been REALLY into it when Kawada tagged in after Misawa's flying elbow to the floor. I thought they were going to take the thing home there because it felt really right to me and they just didn't."

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Here's everything I said about the 12/3/93 match:

 

12/3/93

"An really awesome 17 minute match and a very frustrating 30 minute match all in one!
Seriously, this one was more egregious than the last in losing me. I really sort of loved it right until the hot tag to Misawa and Kobashi fighting back and what not. The match should have ended there, or maybe i guess gone into a second FIP or something, like in AWA matches. Instead, they just hit things in and out of giant moments and by the missed Kobashi moonsault I was done. It's really frustrating too because there are so many great little moments and really clever bits and very strong selling and facial expressions and the stuff just looks so good, but when half the match is this back and forth big bomb finishing sequence where they've given up on working any sort of tag team match after spending the first half of the match working a really great tag team match, I just get desensitized.
I sort of love each guy in his role. Taue as a big man bully asshole is really great. Kawada is the surliest wrestler ever and a stubborn idiot to boot. Kobashi is a good FIP with these fiery moments of really quick offense and MIsawa is one of the best hot tags ever because his execution and the energy and emotion he's able to put behind it is just so iconic. You really get the feeling that this person is a PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER and not just someone pretending to be one.
That said, everything just fizzles apart for me. My gut tells me that everything's come to a head and that they should bring the match to a conclusion and you know what? Fifteen minutes later they do."
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3/6/94

3.6.94

Misawa vs Kawada

 

This is not the best match of all time.

 

This might be the first draft for that match, though. Jingus or John could talk more about this, but I think I read of the idea that in any novel or screenplay or whatever else, the first draft is always 30% overwritten. That is incredibly true for this match and it's such a damn shame. Unsurprisingly, most of the bloat comes towards the end and I just wish there was someone out there with a cosmic editor's pen who could have made a red line through a few of Kawada's jumping kicks and one of the rolling ones and that god damn second powerbomb before the stretch plum and Misawa's spinning clothesline and his late match crossface and them rolling out of the ring and one of the Germans in the match.

 

The first twenty minutes was almost picture perfect to me. The only thing I would have changed would be to give Misawa a few more hope spots that got harshly cut off by Kawada to make the switch to the leg by Misawa all the more meaningful. Hope spots are, again, one of those primal tools of pro wrestling and they make everything mean all the more and it was pretty much all one-sided without them for that otherwise excellently worked first chunk. The way they built to blocks and some of the reversals was just awesome. The build to the first Kawada powerbomb was downright legendary.

 

That's the thing that kills me about this match. They didn't need that particular finishing stretch. It wasn't even a case of them going home earlier like in other matches where if they just ended it after a certain move the match would have been so much better. It was just a case of them compressing and removing some things. It wasn't about earlier here, it was about tighter, about extracting a lot of the waste that didn't necessarily build to bigger moments. I really, truly think they could have gotten away with a block on a second rolling kick instead of a third and it would have helped the match, not hurt it. They could have gotten by with the brilliant moments and the amazing execution and the incredible selling, but instead, they just tacked on all of this other stuff in the last fifteen minutes and it kills me. Not enough that i want to try to video edit the match (but i bet someone could make another studio "Cut" of this and it'd be the best damn thing ever, and i'm not sure I've ever felt that way about a wrestling match before). What an incredible pair of performances and what a damn shame of a match. They had art there and they squandered it.

 

 

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You get the idea after this. These could go into yearbook notes, but I know you were curious so I just posted a bunch. I'll go post the 6/9 one in the yearbook note.
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Also, I do plan on seeing some of those six mans. It's a great way to see a bunch of guys at once after all.

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