Mitsuharu Misawa: The Day the Wrestling Died
by dynamite kido
Recently I was thinking that Iíve been a professional wrestling fan for the last twenty years of my life. Thatís a lot of championship matches, tape watching and Pay Per Views to say the least. But it always amazed me at the way watching wrestling for me has changed over the years. Like many, I grew up watching every Saturday on TV, as well as watching ďPrimetime WrestlingĒ on the USA network on Monday Nights. Those were the days before Monday Night Raw was even a thought, but it would help sculpt me as a wrestling fan. Little did I know at the time there was a completely different form of professional wrestling going on across the world from my little home in Pittsburgh. Later I would become familiar with Japanese pro wrestling or ďPuroresuĒas it is known through the pages of wrestling magazines or ďPro Wrestling IllustratedĒ to be exact. I wondered at their greatness in those pages not having a clue what it really meant. I would find out first hand just how great it was and as a wrestling fan, itís something Iíll never forget.
Eventually my wrestling fandom would lead me to the world of tape traders and dealers, with footage of wrestling from all around the world. Itís people like this that not only introduced me to that world, but showed me the way as far as some of the greatest wrestling matches I had ever seen. This all started with me at an ECW show in Pittsburgh reading through the names of the tapes they had on their display. One of the tapes there that really caught my eye was a ďBest of Dynamite KidĒ VHS that featured his entire feud with the legendary Tiger Mask. After taking the tape home and watching it my and my friends were hooked. As time passed and so did life I managed to get to tape traders throughout the internet, leading me to even more good stuff. But out of all of the great wrestling that I was introduced and rediscovered this way, I managed to see something that would change my wrestling life forever. All Japan Pro Wrestling. Not only was All Japan nothing like anything I had ever seen before, it featured a lot of the wrestlers that my old Pro Wrestling Illustratedís covered. One of which was Mitsuharu Misawa, who I vividly remember stirred my interest upon being included in the top 10 of Pro Wrestling Illustratedís Top 500 issue.
I remember I was first introduced to the work of Misawa through his excellent feud with another Japanese wrestling legend, Kenta Kobashi. Misawa and Kobashi had easily one of the greatest if not the greatest feud in the history of not just Japanese wrestling, but the entire world. These two didnít engage in some hokey feud over someoneís girlfriend, a lost title, or some other spat that weíre used to seeing in American wrestling. They fought over honor and to find out who was the best. Now I know youíre probably thinking that wrestling is predetermined right? Well, sure it is but thatís not all that this is cracked up to be. Itís clear that the endings were predetermined, but with all of the rough and tough action in these matches it would turn just about anyone into a believer. These two men fought with such tremendous workmate that it might even be safe to say that itís never been matched to this day, by anyone.
Later I actually found out that not only was I familiar with Misawa prior to my tape trading days, but he was much more of a household name than I ever thought. See, Misawa was part of a Japanese wrestling tradition well before he was headlining title fights for the All Japan Triple Crown Championship. He was the second incarnation to the famed Tiger Mask gimmick in Japan. He donned the Tiger Mask himself and managed to be one of the great light heavyweight competitors as well. This actually lead to him wrestling in America at the AWA Wrestlerock 86 show But eventually he would unmask and start his career under Mitsuharu Misawa.
Misawa came up quick and established himself as a major threat to them champion and legend Jumbo Tsuruta. He had some great contests with Jumbo over the course of 1991 as well as with others like Stan Hansen. He won his first Triple Crown Championship in 1992 and would completely dominate throughout the rest of the 90s as the greatest Heavyweight of the decade.
Throughout the years Misawa had great feuds and matches against Kobashi, Hansen, Jumbo, and on June 3rd 1994 however, he made history. In my opinion and many others this was the date he would wrestle Toshiaki Kawada in the greatest match in professional wrestling history. To this day Iíve never seen another match like it. It had edge of your seat excitement and was one of the greatest back and forth athletic battles Iíve seen in the history of professional wrestling. It was truly a pinnacle for the sport and for me as a fan.
The legendary All Japan Pro Wrestling is where it was at for wrestling fans and wrestlers in Japan alike, but things would eventually come to a close. Legendary wrestler Giant Baba was in charge of All Japan Pro Wrestling, which was a good mixture considering how respected he was as well as being a great business man. When his health turned for the worse however, his wife took over the company. This lead to a lot of disagreements and issues with Misawa (who was also one of the people in charge in All Japan Pro Wrestling) who would eventually leave All Japan Pro Wrestling to start his own company Pro Wrestling NOAH. In a surprise move just about all of the All Japan talent roster left with him to the upstart company, making it a powerhouse wrestling company almost from itís very start.
Misawa continued on with his new company putting everything on the line to make sure that the company was a success. He even renewed old feuds with Kawada, Kobaski, Jun Akiyama and others that he headlined with in their All Japan days. For years people would talk about when Misawa would wind it down and call it quits, to run his company as the respected former grappler that he was sure to become. That unfortunately would never happen.
On June 13th 2009 Mitsuharu Misawa was scheduled to do what he has done so many times before, to go to the ring and perform. Little did we realize that it would be the last time he would do so. In the match Misawa was suplexed and in the course of taking the maneuver was killed in the ring. Some detractors say that it was from a long career of putting his body through a tremendous amount of punishment, others thing it was for other reasons. But the fact of the matter is that on that faithful June evening we managed to lose one of if not the greatest professional wrestler of all time. In a business where drug related deaths seem to be the norm, this is not the case with Misawa. Misawa will go down in history as a man who gave more than he needed, but did it for the fact that he loved what he did and what he was. The man was a warrior in every true sense of the word. He gave his last breath for the business of professional wrestling.
Itís sad to sit here as a fan and explain what Misawaís work has meant to me, but I think that without guys like Misawa that none of us would be here watching any of this to begin with. Sure we all understand that guys are doing this to make a living or to do something that they really love. But itís a completely different thing when you actually transcend what you are doing and become something totally different. That is what Misawa was to me. He was a mark or a great example of what was right with the professional wrestling business. The man gave everything to entertain and put his life on the line many times to do it. So as a fan Iím going to do the only thing I can. Thank you Mr. Misawa for all of the great matches, the blood, sweat and tears that you poured on that wrestling mat. Iím forever indebted to you for doing so. R.I..P. Misawa
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