Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada

Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. Jack Brisco and Dory Funk, Jr. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Professional wrestling has had its share of classic in-ring feuds. Few, however, have come close to representing pro wrestling as well as that between Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada. Linked together from an early age, they went on to produce some of the best matches of all time. It is only appropriate that they are inducted into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame together.

Mitsuharu Misawa was born in 1962 and Toshiaki Kawada in 1963. They attended the same high school, where both won amateur wrestling championships. Misawa joined All Japan Pro Wrestling upon graduation in 1981, and Kawada followed him in 1982. Kawada would almost always be one step behind Misawa from that point on. Both Misawa and Kawada were identified as future stars, but it was Misawa who was groomed to be the next big thing and named Tokyo Sports’ Rookie of the Year. Both were sent overseas to learn their craft. Misawa went to Mexico while Kawada went to Canada. Both Kawada and Misawa returned to Japan at the same approximate time, but it was Misawa’s return that received all of the fanfare. He had learned the lucha libre style to differentiate himself from other young Japanese stars, and he was to become the second Tiger Mask.

The original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama, revolutionized professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Feuding with the likes of the Dynamite Kid, he was a hero to children and proved that light heavyweight wrestlers could be stars too. For All Japan to make Misawa the second Tiger Mask was a great honor, and Misawa capitalized on the opportunity. From 1985 to 1990 he rose up the card and became All Japan’s top young wrestler, beginning feuds and partnerships with Jumbo Tsuruta, Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi. Kawada occupied a lower spot on the card, winning the All-Asian Tag Team Titles three times as part of the Foot Loose with partner Samson Fuyuki.

In 1990, All Japan was reeling. It had been build upon older stars and was left in trouble when one of its top stars, Genichiro Tenryu, took a big money offer to form a new promotion. Giant Baba finally decided to elevate his younger stars to headlining positions. This move ended up being wildly successful. Kawada helped to untie the mask of Tiger Mask on May 14, 1990, and Mitsuharu Misawa revealed himself as the next great superstar of All Japan. Shortly thereafter, in a legendary match, Misawa finally pinned rival Jumbo Tsuruta to establish himself as All Japan’s top star. The next few years would be occupied by a feud over control of All Japan. Misawa and Kawada led the next generation of pro wrestling against Jumbo Tsuruta and his group. They would hold the All Japan World Tag Team Championship twice, and this was just the start of bigger things.

On August 22, 1992 Mitsuharu Misawa captured the All Japan Triple Crown Championship for the first time by defeating Stan Hansen. This was the start of the longest Triple Crown reign in history. Kawada defeated Akira Taue to earn a shot at the belt, and Misawa and Kawada would wrestle for the Triple Crown for the first time on All Japan’s 20th Anniversary show October 21, 1992. Misawa defeated Kawada in that match, and defeated him in a rematch on July 29, 1993. In 1994, Kawada won the prestigious Champion Carnival tournament by beating Steve Williams. That earned him a third shot at the Triple Crown against Misawa, but once again Kawada came up short.

While Kawada was unable to unseat Misawa, Misawa would fall victim to Steve Williams, losing the title July 28, 1994. That gave Kawada his opportunity, and he captured the Triple Crown for the first time by beating Williams October 22, 1994. Unfortunately for Kawada, he could not escape the shadow of Misawa. While Misawa had long, healthy runs as Triple Crown Champion, Kawada’s runs with the belt were brief and unsatisfying. Kawada quickly lost the title to Stan Hansen, and he would have only one successful title defense in his first four runs as Triple Crown Champion.

Misawa would once again rise to the top of All Japan by unseating Hansen for the belt. Despite having lost three title matches to Misawa, Kawada was determined to vanquish him. In a classic match on June 9, 1995, Kawada finally scored a pin over Misawa in a world tag title match where Kawada and Akira Taue stopped Misawa and Kenta Kobashi. This gave Kawada his fourth shot at Misawa’s Triple Crown Title on July 25, 1995. Again, Misawa would emerge victorious. Kawada was seemingly out of the title picture, but he once again would battle his way back. He scored a second pin over Misawa in a bout where Kawada and Taue defeated Misawa and Jun Akiyama. Then, in 1997, the Champion Carnival tournament came down to a three way final with Misawa, Kawada and Kobashi. After Misawa and Kobashi wrestled to a thirty minute draw, a fresh Kawada beat Misawa for the first time in a singles match. He then defeated Kobashi to capture the tournament. That set up Kawada’s fifth Triple Crown title shot against Misawa. Finally, Kawada would defeat his long time rival. Well, no. Misawa won, yet again.

On May 1, 1998 All Japan would run its first ever show at the massive Tokyo Dome. It was only natural that the main event would be Kawada once again challenging Misawa for the Triple Crown Title. In front of a crowd of 58,300 people and a $4 million gate, Kawada finally pinned Misawa to win the Triple Crown Title. Kawada was on top of the world, but unfortunately that high would not last long. He would lose the belt in his first title defense the next month against Kenta Kobashi. Misawa would beat Kobashi for his fourth title run, and that would set up his seventh battle with Kawada for the Triple Crown Title on January 22, 1999. In the match that perhaps best symbolizes their rivalry, Kawada beat Misawa but broke his hand in the process. He would be forced to vacate the title. Misawa won back the title from Vader, and the returning Kawada would challenge Misawa for the belt one last time on July 24, 1999. Misawa would beat Kawada for the title one final time.

In 2000, All Japan was coming apart at the seams. Following the death of Giant Baba, there was a struggle for power between Misawa and Baba’s widow Motoko. Misawa left All Japan to form Pro Wrestling Noah, and took with him just about every wrestler on the All Japan roster. One of only two exceptions was Toshiaki Kawada, who had resentment towards Misawa and loyalty towards Baba. Before Misawa left, he had one last showdown against Kawada, in the first round of the 2000 Champion Carnival elimination tournament. Appropriately, Misawa reigned supreme one last time.

Misawa and Kawada continue to wrestle professionally, but injuries have taken their toll. Misawa has held Noah’s GHC Championship twice, and currently holds the GHC Tag Team Titles along with Yoshinari Ogawa. They beat Keiji Muto and Taiyo Kea to retain those belts in the semi-main event of Noah’s recent Tokyo Dome show. Misawa is currently building towards a singles match with Keiji Muto. Without Kawada, All Japan likely would have collapsed. Kawada did good business feuding with New Japan, and upheld the All Japan name. He won the All Japan Triple Crown Title in a tournament in September of 2003, and still holds the title having defeated the likes of Mark Coleman, Don Frye, Shinya Hashimoto, Gladiator Mike Awesome, and Mick Foley.

The legacy of Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada will more than anything be for putting on fantastic wrestling matches. They are tied for the record with five All Japan Triple Crown Titles, and they are two of the biggest stars in recent Japanese wrestling history. They dominated the prestigious Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year award in the 1990s. More than anything else, they will be remembered for the feud they had with each other, which produced some of the greatest matches in pro wrestling history. It is our pleasure to induct into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame, Mitusharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada.

Still to Come: Freddie Blassie & The Sheik, Jumbo Tsuruta & Riki Choshu, Verne Gagne, Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, Gorgeous George.


Anonymous the masterbater said...

Just wanted to ask, you know what is the comparison of the WWE road schedule compared to Japan's road schedule. You do not hear that many deaths unless its cause of natural death among Japanese athletes. Though when I watch matches in Japan they seem more brutal and more from the heart than the WWE's type of wrestling or it could just be me.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

It varies by promotion, but one thing about Japan traditionally is that they have focused more on tours. Wrestlers will work for a certain number of dates, and then there will be a break before the next series. That gives bodies time to rest, and likely does make wrestlers less reliant on painkillers and the like and contributes to the disparity as far as premature deaths.

2:11 PM  

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