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Mitsuharu Misawa

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Misawa matches I enjoyed (or did not) from the 90s:

 

Misawa vs. Hansen 7/27/90
Misawa/Kawada vs. Gordy/Williams 7/24/91
Hansen vs. Misawa 8/22/92
Misawa/Kawada vs. Williams/Gordy 1/30/93
Misawa vs. Kawada 3/27/93
Misawa/Kobashi/Akiyama vs. Kawada/Taue/Ogawa 7/2/93
Misawa vs. Kawada 4/11/94
Kobashi vs. Misawa 3/26/95
Misawa vs. Akiyama 4/8/95
Misawa/Kobashi/Asako vs. Kawada/Taue/Honda 6/30/95
Misawa/Kobashi/Akiyama vs. Kawada/Kikuchi/Ogawa 7/8/95 - pissed off Misawa!
Kobashi vs. Misawa 10/25/95 - this one gets me because it starts the really bad trends that Misawa and Kobashi continue on and off, it was

necessary when it was done because of the difference in stature between the two though
Misawa vs. Kobashi 3/31/96
Williams/Ace vs. Misawa/Akiyama 6/7/96
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Williams/Ace 9/5/96
Williams/Ace vs. Misawa/Akiyama 11/16/96
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Kobashi/Patriot 11/22/96
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Williams/Ace 11/30/96
Misawa vs. Kawada 4/2/97
Akiyama vs. Misawa 5/27/97
Misawa vs. Kawada 6/6/97 - finish derails an otherwise great match
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Williams/Albright 8/25/97
Misawa/Kawada/Hase vs. Kobashi/Taue/Akiyama 9/15/97
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Johnny Smith/Wolf Hawkfield 11/17/97
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Kobashi/Ace 11/23/97 RWTL
Misawa vs. Akiyama 1/26/98
Kobashi/Ace/Smith vs. Misawa/Akiyama/Kea 2/14/98
Misawa/Akiyama/Asako vs. Kobashi/Omori/Ogawa 8/23/98
Holy Demon Army vs. Misawa/Shinzaki 1/15/99
Burning vs. the Untouchables (Misawa/Ogawa) 3/6/99
Vader vs. Misawa 5/2/99 - must see
Kawada/Kobashi vs. Misawa/Taue 6/4/99 - must see
Misawa vs. Kobashi 6/11/99 - odd match that works until they just cycle through their bobms for nearfalls
Misawa vs. Takayama 9/4/99
Burning vs. the Untouchables 10/23/99
Misawa vs. Vader 10/30/99
Misawa/Ogawa vs. Vader/Smith 11/99
Burning vs. Untouchables 11/20/99
Misawa/Akiyama vs. Vader/Taue 1/17/00
Kawada/Taue/Fuchi vs. Misawa/Kobashi/Shiga 3/11/00
Kobashi vs. Misawa 4/2000 Champion Carnival

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I can understand that argument because the driving force behind the way All Japan (and later on NOAH) evolved was the way Misawa was Mr. Invincible for so long. It went from no natives being able to beat Misawa for so long to them slowly catching up to his levels of invincibility, which led to longer matches with more ridiculous nearfalls off of head drops and refusals to submit afterwards. Then you get to NOAH and midcarders are surviving big amounts of damage like that and things have spiraled completely out of control. I don't know if I necessarily blame Misawa for all that came after, because a lot of it was everyone trying to be Misawa. I have a hard time separating the influence, positive or negative, from the great performances he did put on entirely. I still rank Misawa really, really high, but I think that some of what he did was really bad for wrestling as a whole. I felt like there was this competition between the Misawa/Kobashi/Akiyama school of big match wrestling vs. the Kawada/Taue "less is more" approach that one side was destined to win before it even started. And I can't help but think it was the wrong side. That doesn't keep me from loving a lot of what Misawa did, but it leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings about the way things played out.

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Kawada and Taue were not "less is more" - compared to Kobashi and Misawa their movesets are smaller, sure, whose aren't?, but on an all-time heavyweight scale they're both top 10 in terms of their moveset size/variety.

 

And I'm not going to hold his death/the rise of dangerous moves/etc against him (or Kobashi). One can certainly argue that a Tiger Driver off the apron or a Tiger Suplex off the ramp is far more physically-risky than a wrestler ever needs to be... however... in both their 10/98 and 3/03 matches said spots are built to perfectly, utilised within the story/structure for their full potential, and, in their own way, necessary for the purpose/narrative/etc of the match(es). I've pushed the 10/98 match as a classic for several years without doing a full breakdown on why and this poll is, I suppose, as good a time as any. But I mean, the long-term selling in those (and other) matches, that they rarely if ever degenerated into the now-common your-move-my-move 2.99 routine... and it's not as if Misawa's (or Kobashi's) moveset was top-heavy: they had way more low-mid-level moves than anyone else too.

 

What absolutely shouldn't be overlooked with Misawa (and to a lesser degree Kobashi - especially as GHC champ - but it's a Misawa thing) is that he worked the babyface comeback better than anyone else. For as cool as "Lawler pulls down the strap!" is, etc... (NB: I realise the superman comeback is entrenched in US wrestling and I'm not going to hold it against someone for working it that way) the way Misawa would prolong it over a gradual four/five minutes is on a different level of work for one, and both more dramatic and offering up more dramatic possibility (think 12/96) for two.

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He was always my least favorite of the AJPW guys. I remember arguing with Loss about him a few years back, with me saying his lack of emotion or reaction often took me out of the matches. He responded with "You just don't get it, he is stoic" to which I responded "I get why he does it, that doesn't mean I have to like it", no idea why I remember that exchange.

 

Anyway, he has grown on me since then but it is pretty hard to watch him taking all the huge bombs given what happened, and I would still put him individually behind Kawada, Kobashi and maybe even Akiyama, despite the fact that out of all of them he likely has the most amount of great matches. Should probably watch some more Jun from the last few years, loved him in 2004-2007 when he decided to play the grumpy old bullying hoss. There is one tag match I remember where he is just an absolute cunt to one of the younger guys.

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I think what it comes down to is that Misawa and company were too good for their own good. Wrestlers who could work at the level they were operating at were hard to come by, so they had to continually up the ante to keep repeated matches between the same three or four guys interesting.

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The idea that AJPW style was going way overboard right before the split is one of the worst myths. If you actually watch the stuff from after they brought in Vader, you'll see that they went in the opposite direction by focusing more on the fundamentals as the bodies of the big stars were clearly breaking down. That they recognized things needed to be toned down may have been why they brought him and the shoot-style guys in in the first place. There were some matches in Misawa's 2nd reign that go a bit far (1/98 vs. Akiyama, 2/98 vs. Ace) but if you watch the more conservative first Akiyama TC match and see how poorly he comes across you'll see it was more about trying to keep Misawa strong without burying his challenger rather than any inherent problem with the style.

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I am pretty sure people are starting the peak of insanity around the debut of the Burning Hammer through the Ganso Bomb. They may have toned down after that but it isn't wrong to say they were getting into some dangerous territory at that point.

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The issue shouldn't be the moves (they're dangerous, not convoluted/ridiculous) but rather how they're used. As I remember the 1/99 match, it's an inferior retread of the Misawa/Kobashi match three months earlier, with the Ganso Bomb in place of the Apron Tiger Driver, and I don't recall Misawa doing anything offensively afterwards. I also don't recall the Burning Hammer being used as anything but Kobashi's Ultimate Death move nor it having ever been kicked out of. There've been plenty of equally risky or even riskier bumps in wrestling, many of which purely for shock value. These guys aren't Vic Grimes.

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Whenever I think about who my #1 is, I automatically go to Kobashi and have done for a long time. It's my default.....but Misawa...what a wrestler...the sheer volume of quality matches he has been in, the execution, the intensity, the crowds...just everything about Misawa suggests that he absolutely has what it takes to be the #1 guy.

 

Tough choices to be made.

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The AJPW style that everyone who was a fan of from the 1990's basically ended after the 1/20/97 match with Misawa and Kobashi. That transitioned into the head drop heavy stuff that permeated the rest of the decade, and while the 1/20/97 match was the start, the 6/6/97 Misawa/Kawada match basically confirmed the direction they were going in and the Kobashi rematch in October kicked it into overdrive.

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I would agree that the final year or so of All Japan was toned down, but once NOAH took off it started again and continued to get worse. I don't know if the younger wrestlers within NOAH (who had all been training while watching their heroes work in All Japan) just didn't get the reasons why Misawa and co. were toning things down or really wanted to get the big pops that the big guys got and went ahead with it anyway. Either way it stuck. And I wonder if Misawa couldn't have been a bit smarter and forced a general toning down of the style given it was his company.

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I think 01/22/99 is the most underrated match in the Misawa/Kawada series. Maybe just the pure intensity of watching after the broken arm. Almost wish it was the first time he had pinned him 1 on 1 because the finish is almost cathartic.

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Preface: I love Misawa and he will be in my Top 5 unless something crazy happens. I just am looking to promote an interesting discussion is all. Selfishly, I would also like to see what people thought of Sasaki vs. Morishima because I thought it was crazy awesome.

I just watched the GHC title matches from 2008 between Misawa vs Morishima and then Sasaki vs Morishima. The Sasaki match blew the Misawa match away. I think it was a complete smokeshow. I do not think there is one person that would posit it Sasaki is a better worker than Misawa. So what happened?

I think Sasaki respected Morishima and how Morishima was different. He took what Morishima brought to the table: that he is fucking huge and used to create an amazing match. Where he, the veteran and great powerhouse, was totally overwhelmed by this behemoth. He kept preserving looking for those young champion mistakes and changing his strategy. The match started to tip in his favor forcing Morishima's hand into attempting a big bomb (moonsault) misses and bingo Sasaki is in the driver's seat.

In the Misawa match, Misawa did not respect Morishima. He treated him like he was Kawada. Kawada and Morishima are two very different wrestlers. Misawa's elbow was still the equalizer and he was still content to do his extended comeback. Misawa did come up with neat ways to get Morshima in Emerald Flowsion other than that it is just seemed ho-hum. Misawa match had some non-layout issues: they kept selling just by laying around and Misawa just was not in very good shape.

 

Should we chock this up to post-prime Misawa or is this systemic from basically wrestling the same handful of guys for a decade? Is this why the Hansen matches are not that well received (have not watched them in ages)? The questions is twofold. How do weigh the fact that Misawa really did not have a wide variety of opponents against the versatility of others? Secondly, is Misawa guilty of plug and play on a systemic level?

 

I will come to Misawa defense in this post by offering up the '94 Dr. Death match. I felt like Misawa treated Dr. Death as a unique entity. Doc has a unique brand of power and explosiveness. Misawa felt like he was always trying to contain that and never let match get away from him. Whereas the Kawada and Kobashi matches, never felt like Misawa could be so readily overwhelmed. You just wish you could get more non-Hansen/Non-Doc/non-Corners matches so you could compare Misawa to those with a wider vocabulary.

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The thing to keep in mind with late Misawa matches is that he was probably in the worst shape of any guy to ever wrestle a full time schedule. He mentioned in his book that not only did the 2008 Morishima match send him to the hospital, but his body was in such pain by that point that he couldn't even do basic things like brushing his teeth or washing his face. I think he deserves credit just for being able to do a reasonably good of maintaining the illusion of still being The Man, even if he couldn't do GOAT level matches anymore.

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I think the lazy Misawa stuff came more as his body started to break down, at least in the sense that it was really obvious. He had different matches with Kobashi, Kawada and Taue throughout the 90s and worked a little differently for each of the big gaijin. But my feeling is that by the time he reached NOAH there were only a few matches he really got away from the Misawa formula. Don't know if the physical toll that had been taken on him was the deciding factor, but it certainly seemed to me that his willingness to deviate from his standard match was less frequent as time went on. Not that it produced terrible matches all the time.

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I just watched the GHC title matches from 2008 between Misawa vs Morishima and then Sasaki vs Morishima. The Sasaki match blew the Misawa match away. I think it was a complete smokeshow. I do not think there is one person that would posit it Sasaki is a better worker than Misawa. So what happened?

 

Misawa was beaten up and a decade past his prime, after working the most physical style in wrestling history for twenty years?

 

This is really akin to saying that Kane had way better matches with Chris Jericho in 2002 than Ric Flair did. Just a case of Flair being in horrible shape and having little confidence, and Kane being carried to something reasonable. Nobody would use it to even play devils advocate on an argument that Kane is better than Flair.

 

 

 

but his body was in such pain by that point that he couldn't even do basic things like brushing his teeth or washing his face.

 

The guy was genuinely crazy and/or addicted to wrestling. How the fuck do you decide to go and work a match against a monster with a violent, loose style when you are in pain just brushing your teeth? Undertaker by most accounts did the same thing against Brock Lesnar, but at least that was a one time deal. Misawa was still working a reasonable scheduele at that point wasn't he?

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I don't think he took any significant amount of time off from wrestling. He's a guy who you almost wish would have suffered a broken arm or leg or something and been forced to take time off (even if it was only 9 months or so). I mean, Kawada broke his orbital bone and he finished the damn match. And continued touring. If you don't think he's a little crazy after that I'm not sure what your criteria is.

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