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Grimmas

Mitsuharu Misawa

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Many of us (I guess, since I was part of it) were fans of cool heels too, and this is probably why all these workers were pimped the way they were (Shimoda, Takako, Suzuki were all pimped more as bitchy heels then they were when they worked babyfaces, when they did).

 

I'm sure there was an element of digging the cool heels, but when you find a heel worker so sympathetic that you watch matches from their POV that is not standard pro-wrestling storytelling. Maybe heel fans do it all the time, but I can't remember seeing it when people discuss US wrestling, for example. Have you ever seen anybody talk about Tully vs. Magnum from the POV of Tully, or Dibiase vs. Duggan from the POV of Ted? It doesn't seem to happen.

 

 

A chunk of fans in Japan watched matches from the heels POV. I mean... what the fuck do you think was going on in New Japan in 1983-84 when Choshu was clearly the heel but just as clearly had a big fan base behind him. In turn, Tenryu was the hell when going opposite Jumbo, but ended up have his own large fan base.

 

Fuck standard pro wrestling storylines. If the heels had large fan bases, as they did in those two feuds, it didn't matter as long as the company was making good money. Which was the case.

 

Kawada was quite literally Tenryu's heir. That he ended up playing the exact same role as Tenryu, leaving a succesful partnership with the ace of the promotion to go opposite of him in a heated feud, really couldn't get the storyline across anymore clearer to fans who had watched Jumbo-Tenryu the decade before... and had seen all the Choshu stuff.

 

If Kawada was somehow the creator of a new kind of heeldom opposite the established face ace and his group, then I could understand not getting that he was actually a heel. But since the role he played went back 1983 in Japan, I'm not sure why anyone who claims to follow Japanese wrestling over that decade would view him as something different. I mean... not rocket science.

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My impression watching All Japan from 70s-90s has been that there are no faces and heels as such, just guys who are cheered more. Stan Hansen gets pops for example, even though he's clearly "a heel", he's not booed.

 

The only exceptions seem to be Abdullah the Butcher and The Sheik.

 

Choshu was cheered vs. Jumbo, Tenryu was cheered vs. Jumbo, Jumbo was cheered vs. Misawa, Kawada was cheered vs. Misawa.

 

It's just that in each of those cases, the ace was cheered more most of the time.

 

That's why I see something like the Jumbo vs. Tenryu feud as being about a clash of VALUES as opposed to good vs. evil.

 

This analogy is a bit off, but the Japanese crowds are a bit more like the crowd at Wimbledon. Like at Wimbledon, the crowds are polite, you'll never hear tennis players getting actively booed, the crowd is respectful. But it's CLEAR that they love Roger Federer, any British player, underdogs, etc. etc. It's also clear that they don't like the Williams sisters that much. It just comes down to who gets the louder pops and bigger reactions, but they'll even cheer the players they don't like "respectfully".

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Kawada even does the full chickenshit routine at the start of the 5/94 tag. He's 100% bona fide heel. However, that doesn't mean he can't be sympathetic, or rather that you're prohibited from viewing his chase from his POV. 12/6/96 is evil triumphing over good, they take advantage of every opportunity to cheat, there's not one time Kawada gets under the kosh that Taue isn't running straight in there to regain the advantage for them... they couldn't be heel anymore clearly, but, Kawada's also human, an underdog, and got a big win.

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My impression watching All Japan from 70s-90s has been that there are no faces and heels as such, just guys who are cheered more. Stan Hansen gets pops for example, even though he's clearly "a heel", he's not booed.

 

 

I don't mean to single Parv out, but this, to me, was the attitude of a lot of people who got into AJPW in the early 00s prior to the GWE voting in 2006. I know MJH has made the argument many times that there were clear heel/face roles, but that it in itself illustrates the fact it as a talking point. I think evil prevailing over good in the '96 RWTL is a big call. Kawada and Taue may have done things to Misawa and Akiyama that were disrespectful and downright nasty, but evil?

 

Anyway, on my last major viewing of All Japan, Misawa was the best of the lot. His selling was sublime and the way he'd manage the superiority of the ace coupled with extreme vulnerably when he was nearly beaten showed far great range than the other roles on display.

 

 

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This analogy is a bit off, but the Japanese crowds are a bit more like the crowd at Wimbledon. Like at Wimbledon, the crowds are polite, you'll never hear tennis players getting actively booed, the crowd is respectful. But it's CLEAR that they love Roger Federer, any British player, underdogs, etc. etc. It's also clear that they don't like the Williams sisters that much. It just comes down to who gets the louder pops and bigger reactions, but they'll even cheer the players they don't like "respectfully".

Japanese crowds are passively racist and Kawada's straight outta compton . . . he's looking like my number 1 vote now

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Incidentally, I don't think dislike of Williams sisters is race related, but because British (or at least that middle-class Wimbledon crowd) perceive them having a bad attitude, whereas someone like Roger is nice and humble, and gracious. Even Andy Murray isn't over with everyone because of attitude (and Scottishness). Also with Williams sisters, especially Serena, just a bit too dominant, Federer always had good competition. Love of the underdog is strong, so the crowd usually go against Serena.

 

No passive racism at all imo. Like none. I know you were joking, but still.

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Attitude is always shaky ground, but like you said, it was in jest. I don't think race is a complete non factor, but I also don't think England is living in the 1600s either . . . this is getting off track

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My main point was that Japanese crowd dynamics are a bit like that Wimbledon crowd. At least that's how it comes across to me. Will wait for jdw or whoever to come along and tell me someone thought that in 1993 and how it has since been proven to be wrong.

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"Evil" in the loose, simple sense of "they're the bad guys" rather than "EVIL". They're bad guys, who do bad things, which pay-off, and they win (by bending rather than breaking the rules).

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He went too far into the headdropping at one point. And it killed him, litteraly. For that reason, I'll drop him down one spot, and put Tenryu above him. #6 or 7

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He went too far into the headdropping at one point. And it killed him, litteraly. For that reason, I'll drop him down one spot, and put Tenryu above him. #6 or 7

 

You've made this point here and in the Tenryu thread, and I'm not sure if you're being flippant or serious when you mention that you are lowering Misawa because he "died for the sport". Is that seriously something you're judging him on? I think Tenryu is great and there are many reasons I could see someone ranking him ahead of Misawa, but I'm not sure that would be one of them. Our guilt at watching a style of wrestling that was tremendously popular prior to our understanding of head trauma and its long term impact shouldn't influence the vote, I don't feel. The vast, vast majority of people nominated for this have destroyed their body and brain to some degree. Is that really something we want to judge people on? It seems foolhardy, and a slippery slope to boot.

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We knew at the time it was a dangerous style. We also knew enough about head trauma in the 90s that people already appalled by chair shots, and there was talk about Kikuchi suffering from head issues all the way back to 1993. Perhaps some can absolve themselves with "we didn't know any better", but plenty of us did and talked/wrote about it. In contrast to folks who got hard ons over the "he's killing himself for us!" mentality.

 

Edit add: Jerome was around for many of those discussions, so this isn't anything new for him either.

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Perhaps I was being a bit too general, because I think my point was missed a little bit. I am interested in what El-P has to say because style guilt wasn't something that occurred to me as a reason for someone being lowered on a ballot. I know we have talked the out of ring morality stuff to death with Benoit and some other notables, and that I understand that things like murder make objectivity an impossibility (or I should probably say more of an impossibility). I certainly wasn't trying to imply that I think Misawa "killing himself for us", as you so eloquently put it, was honorable or smart in any way, I just don't see how that aspect impacts the work in any way.

 

I'm not trying to question anyone's voting criteria. Everyone can vote however they like. I also won't deny that personal taste influencing our final tally is an inevitability.

 

As an aside, jdw, I think you're being a bit dismissive if you don't think that our cultural knowledge about things like CTE and head trauma now compared to 1995 is tremendously different. Of course we knew concussions were bad, and we knew that things like pugilistic dementia existed. That doesn't mean they were regarded and treated in the same way they are now. Not trying to get in to an argument, please don't take it as such, just trying to get my point across a little better.

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Perhaps I was being a bit too general, because I think my point was missed a little bit. I am interested in what El-P has to say because style guilt wasn't something that occurred to me as a reason for someone being lowered on a ballot. I know we have talked the out of ring morality stuff to death with Benoit and some other notables, and that I understand that things like murder make objectivity an impossibility (or I should probably say more of an impossibility). I certainly wasn't trying to imply that I think Misawa "killing himself for us", as you so eloquently put it, was honorable or smart in any way, I just don't see how that aspect impacts the work in any way.

 

The "killing himself for us" is a play both on your prior "died for the sport" line and also a pretty direct quote/paraphrase of what people use to say in the late 90s / early 00s about wrestler doing dangerous stupid stuff for "our" entertainment.

 

On guilt, I'm not sure there are a massive amount of miles between the vibe of watching Benoit and the vibe of watching Misawa, at least for me. It's not really a guilt thing. I avoid Benoit matches simply because ones thoughts quickly go to the deaths. I spent enough time pondering the issue at the time, and don't need a reminder. With Misawa, one also is quickly drawn to thinking about his death, especially when one gets to the headdrops. It's an uncomfortable vibe for me. Doesn't mean that I haven't watched his matches since he died, but there is a different vibe over them than when I originally watched them back in real time.

 

 

As an aside, jdw, I think you're being a bit dismissive if you don't think that our cultural knowledge about things like CTE and head trauma now compared to 1995 is tremendously different. Of course we knew concussions were bad, and we knew that things like pugilistic dementia existed. That doesn't mean they were regarded and treated in the same way they are now. Not trying to get in to an argument, please don't take it as such, just trying to get my point across a little better.

 

 

I didn't say it's different.

 

But it's a bit like steroids in baseball, and people trying to draw lines in the 00s or in the Mac-Sosa post-strike years. Those of us who knew about steroids from other sports, or pro wrestling, or our own person experiences, knew about what was going on in baseball comfortably before "our cultural knowledge" caught up with reality.

 

I cited Kikuchi in 1993. It was talked about, to the degree that there might even be a read-between-the-lines comment in the WON by Dave, if not an explicit one. He certainly was explicit with me, as was someone at the time who worked with him a lot in those years.

 

We talked about Foley at the time. The chair shots, hell in the cell, the Rumble against Rock. We knew enough at that point that a lot of people were talking about the stupidity of unprotected chair shots.

 

We also talked about the dangers of All Japan's style, the narrow margins of error, about what a physical mess most of them were, etc.

 

These were things we talked about long before Misawa died: a decade before. When he did die, my mailbox, PM boxes, and phone had a pretty fair number of "this is sad... but we could see it coming with someone, and he was as likely as anyone".

 

So when Jerome makes his comment, it's not really with 2015 CTE eyes on. It's something that a lot of us at the time worried about, talked about... and Misawa was one of the guys at the center of it. :/

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"Style guilt" is a pretty poor term to use to describe El-P's argument given that it's entirely possible to have King's Road style matches with no head drops at all if you're just more creative with the big spots and place some emphasis on selling, as Akiyama is showing us by continuing to pump them out at the same age Misawa died at. The CTE thing also isn't that relevant given that Misawa's death had more to due with accumlated damage to his neck, and you don't need cutting edge scientific research to see how head drops might not be good for the neck.

 

I think El-P actually raises an interesting point. It's been argued plenty of times here, including against Misawa's peers, that dangerous spots can be seen as a crutch for smarter work, yet the guy who exhausted that crutch until he could no longer move seems immune to being criticized for it. Not only that, but there had been years of warning signs ignored by him, as we saw with him coming back from the neck scare against Morishima in their 2007 to wrestle the Sano match, where he just let the guy brutalize him for 20 minutes until hitting a couple moves for the comeback win.

 

I really have no idea what to think was going through Misawa's mind those last few years, whether he legit didn't know how to start working safer like Akiyama has or if he was just insecure about doing such and felt he owed that brutality to the fans.

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I doubt he put as much thought into it as he did into meetings with sponsors and similar stuff that came with being NOAH's president.

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So for years I totally had Misawa as my #1 favorite Japanese wrestler(and the GOAT). But a few months ago when I was laid off and started watching wrestling way too much and coming here a lot, I got way into Kobashi again. I guess I also was watching some stuff from like 06-09 NOAH and Misawa is so hurt and broke down and downright scary looking too. I had Kobashi as #1 just like a month ago in the 4 Pillars thread. I've started rewatching a lot of the stuff I hadn't see in forever or ever, and I remembered why I thought Misawa was the best, and he is by far.

 

Now first thing first. Can we please not be lames and devalue someone's life work because they had an accidental tragic death? I mean downgrading him for dying really?

 

Since I'm not a puss and all, I still love the style and the man as a Legend and artistic genius. Sure maybe they went too far and such, but hindsight and all. I really wish he would have retired from after 03.01.03 vs. Kobashi. Or definitely after the Final Kawada match in 2005. Or pretend to and build to one last Career match with whoever you want to give that push to....

 

See I just wrote that out of repetition of wanting to correct and change certain things in wrestling, because we enjoy that. But really Misawa was a mans man and he wanted to keep wrestling. And shit happens and he got caught. But I'm not going to discount the coolest, best wrestling in the history of the sport. I'm not going to lie, occasionally I have thought about his death when he's selling the neck(probably didn't even need to sell, that shit hurt). But seriously, you think he would want everyone being pussies and "uncomfortable"(lol). No he'd want you to love the badass stuff he did for a living.

 

EDIT: I really am not pointing this at anyone here in, just generally.

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Kawada even does the full chickenshit routine at the start of the 5/94 tag.

 

I remember looking for this based on you saying it before when I watched the match and not finding it. Can you pinpoint what he did, exactly, because I didn't see it.

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I won't be able to sit down and watch the match for a few days, maybe not until this weekend, but I've always remembered the first 6/7 minutes going thus: Kawada/Kobashi start, Misawa tags in, Kawada wants no part of him, and when Kobashi comes back in Kawada/Taue work over him (Kobashi); Kawada spends as much time taunting Misawa, building to the switch-high kick off the apron they re-used at the start of 6/95, which Misawa sells on the floor for a minute before storming back in to kick his ass. Perhaps 'chicken-shit' gives too strong an impression of begging off, Flair on his knees saying "nooooooooooo!", but the whole opening segment is based on the same principle of avoidance-gloating-comeuppance. The greater point - Kawada is distinctly, clearly the heel - remains.

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I binge watched a bunch of Tiger Mask II stuff recently and honestly thought it was great, sure it didn't have the depth of his 90s work but what does really? He had the benefit of Baba bringing in a who's who of great workers and really took full advantage of it. Thought his match vs. Shiro Koshinaka from the Lou Thesz Cup was awesome as well, it was really interesting to see him work such a stripped down style.

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Misawa has fallen more than just about anyone with me. He's still ranked incredibly high, more than likely in my Top 15, but I projected him to be a #1 contender and he has not delivered in that regard. It's a weird thing to complain about, I know, but I've been really disappointed with a lot of Misawa I've watched recently.

 

The 9/6/97 match with Akiyama is when I began to sour on him. That's Misawa at his worst. His charisma was gone, his offense was bland, and he was a far cry from peak, say, 6/3/94 Misawa.

 

I watched a lot of Kawada/Misawa tags recently and I came away liking Kawada more in nearly every one of their tag matches. For some reason I don't have the date in my notes but there's a MVC vs. Kawada/Misawa tag from the 1990 Tag League that Kawada blew me away in. Misawa was so often playing second fiddle and while he was great occasionally, I can comfortably rank him behind Kawada and Kobashi.

 

NOAH Misawa is fun when he's on. I love his two GHC matches with Takayama. Anything he did with Ogawa, Kobashi, or Akiyama was a blast, also. And the 2004 tag w/ Ogawa vs. KENTA and Marufuji is not only one of my favorite matches ever, but it's probably the last incredible Misawa performance other than his 2008 match with Morishima, which is remarkably great.

 

I love Misawa. He's an all-time great, but not someone that I can put in my Top 10 after going through this stuff. He'll fall behind Vader, Akiyama, Mochizuki, and a few others but I don't see anyway he ranks worse than #20.

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Misawa's biggest quality for me is that even his disappointing matches are ones I would gladly revisit and figure out why they didn't work out, and also can usually come up with at least a solid excuse for that happening. Whereas if an Akiyama match bombs (which has happened plenty of times, and I wonder if the amount of footage that isn't online anymore may result in a skewed view of him later) it's usually dull as shit and not something I want to watch ever again. Maybe that's because of how great Misawa's offence is.

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In creating my own list, my top 3 comes down to Hansen, Kobashi, and Misawa. At the end of the day, I'm more inclined to go Misawa for a couple of reasons

 

  • Took part in some of the greatest singles if not THE greatest singles matches of all time.
  • Took part in some of the greatest if not THE greatest tag matches of all time.
  • Had a case for best in the world for close to a decade.
  • Was an offensive dynamo with incredible execution yet still a masterful storyteller.
  • Could still put on an entertaining and logical match past his prime.

While late-90's AJPW could get a bit excessive with multiple kick-outs and false finishes, Misawa (and to their credit the other 4 pillars as well) knew how to build up to those moments. Almost everything he did made sense and made those spots like the tiger suplex in the '98 Kobashi match really feel as big as they were. He was also a fascinating worker to watch outside of those big epics, especially as an underdog where he had to resort to the forearm simply because it was the only thing that could hurt guys like Morishima or Vader.

 

Simply put, Misawa was awesome.

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