(Misawa Tribute Show 1)
Welcome, cats and kittens, to yet another installment of the unusually somber Cewsh Reviews. This week, and also the last week in December, we will be celebrating the life of Mitsuharu Misawa, who sadly passed away this year, leaving behind a legacy of greatness and quality of the highest order. As we’re not exactly the classiest people on the planet, we’ve chosen to do this by letting the man’s legacy, Pro Wrestling NOAH, do the tributing for us, as we review the two tribute shows they put on in his honor. We also got our good friend Defrost, who knows more about Japanese wrestling than anyone else we’ve ever met, to give some back story to the momentous career of one of the greatest wrestling careers and lives that any man could ever have, as well as telling us the stories behind the matches here, and why they are so meaningful in the wake of Misawa’s passing. His knowledge is vast, and his telling of the story is long and rewarding. Frankly, we’re all very, very fortunate to have him to tell the tale.
Never fear, though. This isn’t going to be a huge downer review. Vice and I are here to put on the old razzle dazzle and send the Emperor of King’s Road off on his final journey with the humor, pizzazz, and style he deserves. And failing that, pictures of Captain Planet and cat macros. We’re still us, after all.
So without any further ado, let’s do a motherfucking review!
Defrost: It would be hard to argue that Mitsuharu Misawa is not the greatest professional wrestler of all time. Misawa was so good from the start that All Japan Pro Wrestling showed a huge amount of confidence in him right off the bat. Shohei "Giant" Baba, the legendary owner and booker of All Japan Pro Wrestling, had purchased the Tiger Mask gimmick from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Young Misawa was tapped for this role. Not many wrestlers could live up to the standard set by Satoru Sayama, just ask the guy doing it now, but Misawa had the talent to make it work. His ability would put him in the right place at the right time.
The departure of Genichiro Tenryu added to the murder of Bruiser Brody, and the fact that Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta were not getting younger led to the decision to unmask Misawa and create a new star. Misawa was instantly the most over wrestler in the company. As a matter of fact he got so hot so fast Baba ended up booking the most important finish in Japanese Wrestling history on the fly. That finish would usher in the era of the Four Pillars of Heaven (Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue) an era that would produce the greatest run of matches any wrestling company has ever seen. An era led by Mitsuharu Misawa.
As the undisputed Ace of All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1990s Misawa was the top draw and arguably top worker in the promotion. Maybe top worker in the world, and the most over. Twenty-Four of his matches were rated ***** by Cewsh's favorite publication, The Wrestling Observer Newsletter. That is the record. His match against Toshiaki Kawada on 6/3/94 is widely considered the greatest wrestling match of all time. Unless you are someone who considers Misawa/Kobashi vs. The Holy Demon Army (Kawada/Taue) on 6/9/95 to be the greatest match ever. Or, like me, you could view the finals of the 1996 Real World Tag League where The Holy Demon Army defeated Misawa and Jun Akiyama as the best match of all time. Getting the point yet?
Misawa was also looked upon by most of the native wrestlers as their leader. Following the death of Giant Baba in January 1999 Jumbo Tsuruta went to Baba's widow and convinced her that the wrestlers would only follow Misawa and he must be made President of the company. He was. She also promptly fired Jumbo. That was a symptom of a soon to be growing problem. Motoko Baba was known as the Dragon Lady to the wrestlers. Giant Baba was probably the most beloved wrestling promoter of all time. He was a national icon. The All Japan theme song was used as the theme for NTV, the network All Japan was shown on, a network the equivalent of a CBS or NBC in America. Giant Baba did not earn this reputation by being the bearer of bad news. His wife served as the bad cop. After Baba died there was no more good cop. Misawa immediately found working with Motoko impossible. Every idea he had to: expand the company, changes to the booking style, or to improve the working conditions for the wrestlers was shot down. Their relationship, at one point Motoko was basically a surrogate Mother to Misawa, quickly fell apart.
In almost the exact manner All Japan Pro Wrestling was formed 28 years earlier Misawa held a secret meeting with NTV and told them of his intention to quit from All Japan. Knowing that if Misawa left most of the locker room would follow a deal was struck. NTV would cancel the 28 year run of All Japan on its network in favor of a new promotion owned and operated by Mitsuharu Misawa to which NTV would not only provide the All Japan time slot but also financing. A catch on the deal was they had to wait to announce the deal out of respect to the late Giant Baba.
Then on June 15, 2000 all but two native wrestlers (Masa Fuchi and Toshiaki Kawada which is another story onto itself) resigned en masse from All Japan. The next day a press conference was held to announce the formation of Pro Wrestling NOAH named for the Biblical figure. Five days later the last episode of All Japan television aired after 28 years on the network. Misawa had led the biggest shakeup in Japanese Wrestling since the death of Rikidozan.
In what might be a record for a wrestler in a city Mitsuharu Misawa drew 61 sell outs in the major arenas of Tokyo. The Tokyo Dome, Tokyo Ariake Coliseum, Sumo Hall, and most important of all the Tokyo Nippon Budokan Hall. Budokan Hall was the home of all the major All Japan shows of the 1990s. And it always sold out. It always sold out because of the main event held in Budokan Hall on 6/8/90. Three weeks earlier Misawa had unmasked to a thunderous response from the fans. Now he was booked in the main event against Jumbo Tsuruta All Japan's ace. Giant Baba, who always hung around the merch tables at the shows, was stunned to see how over Misawa already was. All the fans streaming into the building were chanting Misawa and all of the Misawa merchandise had sold out.
Baba being an intelligent booker knew he had something and sent word to Jumbo that he was jobbing. That was an unheard of thing in Japan. Jumbo sent back word to Baba asking if it could be a count out. Baba sent back a one word answer, "No". After the match there were fans in tears they were so happy with the result. They also all ran to the box office to buy tickets to the next show in Budokan Hall. Thus starting a string of sellouts that would last for more than 10 years in the main arena of All Japan and now Pro Wrestling NOAH. It should also be noted that given the TV situation and the climate for wrestling in Japan this show may very well have been the final sell out in Budokan Hall.
Cewsh: ...with honor.
Cewsh: It’ll be hard to follow up that stirring introduction, but dammit, I’m a pretend journalist, and I’ll do my best. The show starts off with a video, showing the current champions and short clips of their recent defenses, and is opened by a screen stating “Mitsuharu Misawa, Always In Our Hearts”, in English. That really sets the tone for how this show is going to go. I’m going to have a lump in my throat the whole damn time.
Defrost: The first two matches on this show were for spots in the NOAH Jr. Heavyweight Tournament which was proposed by Vice President Naomichi Marufuji. The tournament was held in a round robin format reminiscent of New Japan's annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
By the way Junior Heavyweight = Cruiserweight
Back story on these guys. Ito is a low card job guy. He is a good worker that hasn't been around all that long so he may still move up. Genba is a comedy heel who has little direction at the moment. He was the second of the Jr. Tag Champions Kotaro Suzuki and Yoshinobu Kanamaru, but there was a series of face and heel turns in the Jr. Division a few months back that went nowhere and were just confusing and that has left Genba twisting in the wind.
Cewsh: The night begins with a match between these two lower card guys who, as Frosty said, represent very different directions in the company. Ito is clearly on his way up, and getting a pleasant reaction from the crowd, while Genba is clearly the mid card heel guy who the crowd get a kick out of for his wacky antics. As the match begins though, these guys are all business. Ito comes flying out of the gate with some fast paced offense, stunning Genba, including a springboard flip from the second rope to the outside and a beautiful Butterfly Suplex with a bridge that got the crowd interested.
Ito goes on, trying to ground Genba and stay ahead of him, but Genba uses his veteran wiles to keep himself out of the truly dangerous situations, maneuvering himself into a favorable position so that he can unleash…well, nothing really. Ito goes right back to pummeling him with fast paced move after fast paced move. From running elbows, to flying Frog Splashes, Ito works the old man over, putting him firmly in danger of being embarrassingly upset here against a lower card opponent. Finally he regains his senses, and control of the match, bullying the younger man around the ring, but every time he thinks he has the situation under control, Ito reverses something into a move giving him a chance, until at last the electric ending sequence gives us both men dropping bombs on each other (and Genba taking the time to totally psyche out Ito, drawing a laugh from the crowd) until Genba drops the holy fucking hammer on Ito, knocking the kid into next Tuesday (after tea time), and picking up the victory to advance in the tournament.
I had a lot of fun watching this opener, even if, objectively, there wasn’t anything really special to it. The match made Ito look like a fun youngster on the rise that needs some seasoning, and made Genba look like a dangerous veteran with a killer Lariat. Not much more to say about it, really. Just some good fun to start the show, and a welcome reprieve from the sober atmosphere of the night.
70 out of 100.
Defrost: As to the match it was a fun little opener. Slightly better than most matches you'd see on Raw or Smackdown. The match had some good high spots and the guys played their roles well especially at the finish. Nothing overly special that you'd have to rush out for, but a good showing in the opener.
Defrost: This match is the second of the Jr. Tournament participation matches and it was also put together at the last second. Aoki was originally supposed to wrestle Kento Miyahara but he got sick in the great H1N1 epidemic that ran through NOAH. Then Go Shiosaki got the mumps which I didn't even know people could still catch. Some kind of germ incubation going on in the NOAH locker room. Anyway on to the back story.
NOSAWA is another comedy heel. He is a member of GURENTAI the heel stable in All Japan which is led by Minoru Suzuki and Yoshihiro Takayama. He promotes his own shows called NOSAWA Bom Ba Ye which began as a parody of Antonio Inoki and his insanity and has since expanded to being a parody of wrestling in general. That Youtube video I posted on the Rajah forums a few months back of the parody of the Montreal Screwjob came from a NOSAWA show. He also seems to have worked for TNA a bit in 2003 and 2004 which I was totally unaware of. Aoki has gotten a recent push in NOAH. After making NOAH Jr Ace KENTA tap out twice he was made challenger to KENTA's GHC Jr. Heavyweight Championship. NOAH's Jr. Division is stacked and Aoki is in the midst of a big push.
Cewsh: NOSAWA comes out first, looking like a circus clown that wandered into Homicide’s locker room. NOSAWA is notable for several reasons to us Americans. Firstly, he wrestled for TNA for awhile back in the day. Secondly, he is awesome. But thirdly, and most importantly, he appeared as the ever disappearing NOSAWA on the shoot interview between CM Punk and Samoa Joe. If you have not heard that interview (from Straight Shootin’) then you need to beg, borrow and steal your way into a copy, because the story that contains NOSAWA is fantastic, and the chance to see those guys before the became industry leading pioneers is a rare treat. Aoki, on the other hand, comes out to Hotel California. Yes, that’s right. Hotel fucking California. Christ.
The match gets started and NOSAWA walks over and offers a handshake to Aoki. Aoki, being a silly babyface, accepts the handshake offer and NOSAWA immediately rolls him up for a count of about 2 and 19/20ths, before Aoki kicks out and looks around, stunned, completely taken aback by NOSAWA’s tactic, while NOSAWA grins and offers him another handshake. Aoki fakes like he’s going for the shake, and instead slaps NOSAWA in the face so hard that it actually physically lists NOSAWA off of his feet, and to the ground.
Then we get down to business as the two brawl around ringside and then back into the ring, with Aoki definitively in control. At least until NOSAWA plays possum AGAIN, taking advantage of Aoki’s gullibility to snatch control back and land some vicious shots, followed by some stiffs pins and an arm bar submission attempt. None of this is enough to stop the young bull, though, and before long they’re back outside the ring, brawling again.
The two go back and forth with some really great and exciting moves, and counters, and just when I think Aoki has it wrapped up as he slaps on his deadly arm bar submission move, NOSAWA reverses that shit into a roll up, again almost getting the win over a surprised Aoki. Not to be fooled and 4th time, though, Aoki takes NOSAWA’s school boy attempt and promptly shoves it right up his ass, reversing it into a vicious arm bar that NOSAWA taps out to immediately.
Frosty says that this was a thrown together match, but man it didn’t feel like it. This is what I think of when I think of how an opening match should be. Exciting, fast paced, but with substance, and these guys brought it. Just a great fun, little match, that made NOSAWA look like an amazing heel, and made Aoki look like a bulldozer. Great stuff.
77 out of 100.
Defrost: The match was basically a better version of the opener. Aoki is better than Ito and NOSAWA is better than Genba so that is not really much of a shock. I don't fault NOAH for this because this was a replacement match. The original match would have ended up being more of a classic type of Junior/Cruiserweight style of match that would have contrasted the opener. I will never complain about seeing NOSAWA though.
Defrost: This is the third consecutive Junior Heavyweight to begin this show. Jr. Heavyweights were never pushed in All Japan. When Misawa was named booker of All Japan in 1998 when Baba's health started fading one of the booking changes he had in mind was to build a strong Jr. Heavyweight division. NOAH has had a successful Jr. Heavyweight since its inception. Originally built around Naomichi Marufuji and Yoshinobu Kanemaru later KENTA and Marufuji and now KENTA and a cast of guys. NOAH in a lot of ways is booked very similarly to All Japan. The long term strength of a Jr. Division was a major difference implemented by Misawa.
It should be noted Misawa began his career as a Junior Heavyweight.
Cewsh: Words cannot express my adoration for Taiji Ishimori.
“Now Cewsh,” those of you in the know might be saying “isn’t he that guy who has failed out of every promotion he’s been in, and wouldn’t know how to put a coherent match together with a map, three hints, and a tour guide?” Well yes, oddly specific question asker, this is the same guy, but I just don’t care. Everything about the guy, from his off the wall look, to his lightning quick moves just enthrall the shit out of me, and he has quickly made it into my top 5 Japanese wrestlers list.
Here he’s teamed up with the much more subdued, King of Smooth, Ricky Marvin, whose main claim to fame is being so smooth and perfect at every move he does that he could probably take your virginity without you, or even him, actually noticing. Not that we should test that. Some tricky legality on that one. Anyway, they’re up against two dudes that I’ve never seen before, so let’s get into it.
The match starts with Ishimori pegging a roll of streamers at Kanemaru (it’s Japanese tradition to throw streamers into the ring to celebrate your favorite wrestlers), and hitting him directly in the face. This is just the prelude, however, to about a minute of Taiji Ishimori flying the fuck around the ring so fast that I can hardly follow him on the screen. He gets stopped and Kikuchi almost immediately nails him with a Fist Drop from the top rope. Vicious suplexes are being dealt out in the ring, and finally at this point, I take my first breath of the match, because Marvin and Ishimori are so exciting it’s hard to pay attention to anything else, while they’re wrestling.
Just as soon as I’ve finished my breath however, it gets stolen away as Ricky Marvin rattles off a series of moves that are so dazzling in their splendor and perfection of execution, that there’s really nothing to do but look on in awe as they take place. In order to slow things down a bit, Kikuchi then spends about 3 minutes just biting Marvin’s hand. Seriously, that was the duration of this offensive flurry. Belligerent hand biting in full view of the referee. For shame, you dastardly person!
More crazy fun moves follow, people get kicked in the face, etc, etc. You know the drill. There’s one ultra cool spot where Marvin has Kikuchi in the German Suplex position, and Ishimori jumps off the second rope to Sunset Flip Marvin, whose momentum gives a Super German Suplex to Kikuchi, completely annihilating him. Just breathtaking. Finally, sadly, Ishimori brings this match to an end by using Kanemaru’s finisher on Kikuchi, and giving him the signal to pay attention as he sits on top of him for the three count. Not sure what that was about, but it definitely LOOKED like something important going on.
Let me be honest. This match wasn’t really a match. This was an exhibition for Ishimori and Marvin, and man did they ever exhibit. Spectacular move after thrilling diving after clever tag team move, these guys really rolled out the red carpet and impressed the ever loving hell out of me. Due to Misawa’s death, and this show being the first half of his tribute, these matches are a big deal because they’re getting seen by a ton of people. Methinks Marvin and Ishimori just strutted their stuff on the biggest stage of their careers, and I’m excited to see where they go from here.
79 out of 100.
Defrost: This match is fine, but the thing that really stands out is the finish. NOAH doesn't have the best track record of following up on things. Ishimori finished Kikuchi with Kanemaru's finisher the Touch Out. Now in another company I would give the benefit of the doubt that it was leading to something or maybe it was designed to get heat on the tournament, but everything I have seen since tells me this really didn't lead to anything.
Defrost: A Trial Series for a wrestler is a stretch of matches for a young wrestler against guys higher on the card. It is designed to get guys they are high on in there with over guys and see if there is some kind of rub. The KENTA Trial series was the best I have seen. This match has kinda been viewed as an unofficial match in Taniguchi's trial series with it not being called a trial match because it is on a tribute show.
Based on the description above Taniguchi is obviously a young guy NOAH is high on, and Bison Smith is the top gaijin in NOAH. He is also the only gaijin in NOAH. NOAH has the kind of runway to the ring WCW had in the early 1990s. The use of it in this match by Bison Smith was great. His tossing around of Taniguchi was great. What one would expect in this type of match. What I really liked was Taniguchi coming back with suplexes instead of strikes as normally happens. Not just because it is different but because Taniguchi's strikes suck. I give this a thumbs up.
Cewsh: This is pretty much your boring slug fest, squash match for the evening. The young guy puts up a good fight, but this one is all Bison, and none of it impressed me even enough to bother with play by play. Bison beat him up, he did a few suplexes, Bison annihilated him with a devastating Lariat, and a version of the Styles Clash that he calls, to my amusement, the Bisontennial.
And that’s all she wrote for that one.
63 out of 100.
Defrost: This match makes no sense. No one could figure out why these teams were made in this way. It seems utterly random.
KENTA is the Jr. Heavyweight Ace and seems to hover around the main event and is the best wrestler in the world. He is teaming with two heavyweight midcarders from a heel stable. KENTA is not a heel. Not to mention that KENTA teams with Jun Akiyama in the main event of the second Misawa Tribute Show.
Jun Akiyama is a former tag team partner of both Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi then became a rival of theirs in NOAH. Kobashi and Akiyama's team was the first incarnation of Kobashi's Burning stable that is still going on and they defeated Misawa and Ogawa for the All Japan World Tag Titles, a title Jun had also held with Misawa. At the first NOAH Budokan Hall show, the NOAH first anniversary show, he defeated Mitsuharu Misawa to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
Minoru Suzuki could be the biggest heel in Japan. Famous as the co-founder of Pancrase with Masakatsu Funaki. Pancrase had Pro Wrestling rules, no clenched fists for example, but the matches were shoots. In 2003 he came back to wrestling as a freelancer and has worked for every major promotion winning the tag titles in NOAH, NJPW, AJPW, and winning the Triple Crown. One of his biggest feuds in NOAH was against Jun Akiyama. Who he is tagging with here for some reason.
Finally Cewsh Review readers may remember Suguira as Misawa's tag team partner from Wrestle Kingdom 3 NJPW's annual Tokyo Dome show which was reviewed by Cewsh and Vice.
As for the match all you need to know is that it involves KENTA and heavyweights that hit hard. That has never failed.
Cewsh: Sometimes, as the steward of these wrestling performances to you, our valued reader, it becomes incredibly difficult to even get across what a match is like. Some matches are so bad that they defy my vocabulary to explain, while some matches are so emotional and touching that English is absolutely the wrong language to attempt to convey them in. Then, on the other hand, there are other matches where it becomes virtually impossible to condense them into a few sentences, and even more impossible to do play by play for them, and this is, without a doubt, one of those.
These 6 guys spend the entire 25 minute duration of this match going 700 miles per hour, and fucked each other up in ways so vicious and badass that I have no reference for comparison. And I don’t mean that they did it with chairs and tables, I mean that using their feet and hands, these guys turned this match into a car crash in the best way possible, and the funny thing is that this isn’t even a great match by their standards. They’ve all (well, most of them) have had matches that outstripped this one by miles and miles, but that doesn’t make this match any less of a chaotic and testosterone filled ass kicking contest that I could have kept right on watching for another hour.
Not a lot of 25 minute matches should have gone longer. This one should have.
The funny thing is that, at various times, I have hunkered down over KENTA, Akiyama and Suzuki and called a man about some horses. But this time I’m seeing them in the environment I’m meant to see them in, and man, it works. It really, really works, especially the entire time that KENTA and Suzuki were in the ring just trying to out bad ass each other. Gave me, and the fans in attendance, chills, man. Chills.
82 out of 100.
Cewsh’s Download Seal of Approval.
Defrost: This is the exact match you'd get if they were to have done a Kensuke vs. Misawa six man tag with Tenryu taking the place of Misawa. An irony when you consider that when Tenryu left AJPW Misawa took his spot in the main event.
On an interesting note Kensuke beat Tenryu for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of the 1/4/00 Tokyo Dome Show.
Shortly prior to this show Kensuke and Morishima had won the GHC Tag Team Championship.
Kensuke and Morishima should be known to Western fans. Kensuke, on top of being one of only two men to be IWGP Heavyweight Champion, GHC Heavyweight Champion, and Triple Crown Champion, is a former WCW United States Hevyweight Champion having beaten Sting. He would lose that title in the last match of Starrcade 1995 to The One Man Gang. I also believe that there is a Steiner Brothers vs. Kensuke/Hase match on the WWE Tag Team DVD that was recently released.
Morishima had a run as ROH Champion and had an infamous WWE tryout where he was not hired for being a fat tub of shit. Yokozuna who? Morishima defeated Misawa to end Misawa's final run as World Champion.
Nakajima has been wrestling since he was 14. He is one of the best wrestlers in the world and the match where he dropped the Jr. title to KENTA is my MOTY. He has sorta been kinda adopted by Kensuke Sasaki and Akira Hokuto. Maybe because Kensuke feels bad for killing that guy. Or maybe he doesn't. The whole thing is kinda hazy.
Yoshinari Ogawa became Misawa's regular tag partner near the tail end of pre split All Japan and remained his partner from there on out. They were known as the Untouchables and were three times World Tag Champs and one time holders of the All Asia Tag Team Titles. He is known as Rat Boy for his devious tactics and because he kinda looks like a rat.
Kotaro Suzuki at the time of this show was one half of the Jr Tag Team Champions. And a top contender or the singles title in a division that is stacked as previously mentioned. While he was caught up in the quickly revolving door of heel/face turns he came out being pushed as the last Jr. protégé of Misawa and started using the Tiger Driver, a signature Misawa move, as his finisher.
And the lovable grumpy geriatric Genichiro Tenryu. He is 60 years old and awesome. He should also be known to Western wrestling fans. He came in for the WWF defeating Demolition with Koji Kitao and cutting a promo on Regis Philbin at Wrestlemania 7. He was also in the 1993 and 1994 Royal Rumbles. He pulled double duty in 1994 being one of the dastardly heels who helped Yokozuna beat The Undertaker.
His career in Japan in is more distinguished. He and Jumbo were the top guys in All Japan in the late 1980s feuding over the newly unified Triple Crown when a billionaire came to Tenryu with an unheard of offer to start his own promotion. So he bailed All Japan opening up a spot for Misawa in the main event, and leading Baba to vow that Tenryu would never be allowed to return. Meanwhile Tenryu started the SWS, Super World of Sports, which had a working relationship with the WWF. Problem was Tenryu was their big star and guys like Hogan and then Flair were not laying down for him. The billionaire pulled his support and the promotion died.
Tenryu would then start WAR, Wrestle and Romance later Wrestling Association R, which would be a far more influential promotion even if it wasn't all that successful. WAR gave breaks to such notable wrestlers as Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, and Ultimo Dragon. The WAR vs. New Japan feud was the inspiration for the nWo angle in WCW.
In a final bit of irony it was Misawa's departure that led to Tenryu's return. Following the split Mokoto Baba made two moves to try to save the company. Bringing back Tenryu was one of those moves. In a nice piece of symmetry it was Tenryu leaving that allowed Misawa to rise and it was Misawa leaving that allowed Tenryu to return.
And he may have had pearls implanted into his penis.
Cewsh: Completely unlike the last match, this match lasted entirely too long.
It’s not that this was a BAD match, as such, in fact it was quite good at points, but the match went on for a similar amount of time to the last one and just had none of the pizzazz that made that one special to watch. The parts with Tenryu were great, obviously, as he continues to completely defy the aging process (even if his saggy man breasts don’t) by being able to go at a high level after all these years. Morishima really showed up strong at the end, leading to a really exciting conclusion where the big man just took over and Godzilla’d everything in his path, and Sasaki and Nakajima were both good too, but on a show like this with matches as exciting and emotional as there were, this one just didn’t cut the mustard for me.
And, while I accept that I am more familiar with the American archetype of the super muscular wrestler with the great body, and Japan, who have idolized Sumo Wrestlers for hundreds of years, don’t see things the same way, the fact remains that if you stood Morishima next to the Goodyear blimp, you’d only be able to pick which was which because one of them would be floating towards the nearest Dunkin Donuts.
75 out of 100.
Defrost: This was my favorite match on this show. You got Nakajima and Suzuki bringing the workrate. You got ratboy being ratty. I was on the KenShima bandwagon from the start. But what really drove this match was grumpy old Tenryu. Tenryu teaching Nakajima a lesson after he was too pesky for his own good. Tenryu going after Morishima after that bully went after Tenryu's little friends. Tenryu and Kensuke going at it again. Tenryu has been grumpy for fifteen years and I for one hope he never cheers up.
Defrost: Kobashi vs. Mutoh. The Final Dream Match. Budokan Hall sold out in minutes after this match was announced. It was the first ever meeting of Kenta Kobashi and Keiji Mutoh. The last dream match to be made between the Four Pillars of All Japan and the Three Musketeers of New Japan Pro Wrestling. I have been trying to think of a parallel that most of the people reading this can understand. The best equivalent I could come up with is The Rock vs. Sting. I find that to be an unsatisfying comparison because this is a much bigger deal than that match would have been.
Keiji Mutoh, known better in some parts as his alter ego The Great Muta, helped lead New Japan's amazing run of success in the 1990s. In 1991 New Japan Pro Wrestling introduced the G-1 Climax tournament. Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, and Masahiro Chono made it to the final four of that tournament. The final between Mutoh and Chono is considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight match in New Japan history. Those three, who became known as the Three Muskateers, would be the spearhead by which New Japan would draw at least a half dozen stadium sellouts a year. For reference WWE can barely pull off one a year.
A year later Mutoh would become the first of the three to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In his Great Muta persona he defeated Riki Choshu to win the title as well as the Greatest 18 Club World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship. That was the first of three times he would hold two world titles simultaneously. Later in that same title reign he defeated Masahiro Chono to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Also in that same reign he was in a non title WWF Champion vs. IWGP Champion match against Hulk Hogan which led to the famous promo all over Youtube where Hogan buries the WWF Title in favor of the IWGP Title. Last year he was IWGP and Triple Crown Champion at the same time. All told he is a nine time world champion.
Other than Antonio Inoki he is probably the most famous living wrestler in Japan. The biggest match of his career was his defense of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Nobuhiko Takada at the Tokyo Dome on 10/9/95 that drew the largest Gate up to that point in the history of Pro Wrestling ($6,100,000) and also drew a monster TV rating (PPV is a nonfactor in Japan). I mention this for two reasons. One of which I'll get to later. The other is that Mutoh publicly and privately recognized Misawa as the bigger star and felt that if they were ever to have a singles match it would be proper for Misawa to go over. I felt that it was important to have a frame of reference to just how huge a star Mutoh was before mentioning that.
The second move the widow Baba made following the split was to start a working relationship with New Japan ending years of the isolation policy All Japan had employed. Keiji Mutoh spent a lot of time in AJPW in 2001 as a result. It started to seem that he was spending more and more time in All Japan. Then as 2002 started came the shocking announcement that Mutoh was leaving New Japan, and the increasing madness of Inokism, to work for All Japan. Not long thereafter he bought out Mokoto Baba and became President and owner of All Japan a position he still holds. A position he would not have had Misawa never left. Yet another huge event sparked by the actions of Misawa.
Mutoh would have Misawa return to All Japan. In 2004 four years after the split Misawa would team with Mutoh against Kensuke Sasaki and Hiroshi Hase in celebration of Mutoh's 20th Anniversary as a Pro Wrestler. In turn the first and only meeting of the two would occur at NOAH's first Tokyo Dome show where Misawa and Ogawa defended the GHC Tag Team Championship against Mutoh and Taiyo Kea.
When you go to the list, the short list of candidates for the greatest worker of all time, you don't get far until the name Kenta Kobashi shows up. The amount of flat out amazing matches he was a part of is only matched by the likes of a Misawa or a Kawada or a Liger or maybe a Flair. Kobashi began his career losing just about his first 100 matches. Baba's idea was that as Kobashi got closer and closer to winning a match the crowd would get progressivly more behind him. It worked. Timing also helped. When this streak turned for Kobashi he was ripe for joining Misawa's Super Generation Army in his war with Jumbo Tsuruta. Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi's battles with Jumbo's Army really set a tone for what was to come.
After the Misawa/Kawada tag team broke up Kobashi became Misawa's regular tag partner. Together they were twice the All Japan World Tag Team Champions and won the Real World Tag League three years in a row from 1993-1995.
Kobashi's matches over the Triple Crown against the likes of Misawa, Kawada, Stan Hansen, and others were legendary. However he never beat Misawa for the title. Both times he lost the Triple Crown in the ring it was to Misawa (He was Triple Crown Champion when the split occured and thus vacated the title never losing it). So the next booking idea they had was to give Kobashi a Misawa killing move. Thus was the Burning Hammer born. Kobashi used that move to defeat Misawa for the All Japan Tag Team Championship in the Burning vs. Untouchables tag match.
After the split and his return from injury Kobashi defeated Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight Championship and became the ace of NOAH. That match was really the last amazing singles match of Misawa's career. Kobashi's more than 2 year reign as Champion from 2003-2005 saw not only a string of amazing matches from a man who was a shell of his former, but in the midst of the downturn in wrestling's popularity Kobashi was the best draw in the world keeping fans coming to Budokan Hall and being a major reason for the success of NOAH's two shows at the Tokyo Dome.
Cewsh: What he said.
Kobashi and Mutoh are two of my favorite wrestlers of all time, and it’s not hard to understand why. It would be hard to name two guys who have been as good as they have for as long as they have, and even though Kobashi is obviously a shell of his former self after cancer and injuries ravaged his body, Mutoh is still going strong, even having a match that will be in consideration for our match of the year this year with Tanahashi in April. Taue and Takayama, on the other hand, are legends in their own right, though ultimately destined to play second fiddle to bigger names in Japanese wrestling history. They belong in this match as much as either of the other two, but I’d be lying to say that I had eyes for anybody but Kobashi and Mutoh.
Despite the fact that these are basically 4 broken down old men, they prove here that they still know how to put on a show whenever they want to, and show the youngsters a thing or two, and the match they put together here, really highlights the best of each man. Kobashi refuses to die, Mutoh is a funny bastard who will hit you out of nowhere, Taue is sneakily dangerous, and Takayama is just a fucking bull. There were a few spots, like Kobashi going for the moonsault that every single member of the crowd fell over themselves to mark out for, and Mutoh stealing the guy’s chair over and over, that were absolutely brilliant, and probably belonged in better matches between these guys in days gone past, but I’ll be honest. The appeal here isn’t that these guys are still their old selves. The appeal is having these 4 legends, celebrating their fallen colleague and each other in a fun match that nobody could have dreamed we would get to see 5 years ago.
Oh boy, I think I’m starting to feel a tear well up. Be strong, god dammit. BE STRONG.
80 out of 100.
Cewsh’s Download Seal of Approval.
Defrost: This match really shouldn't have happened. Five years ago it might have been something. None of these men should be full time wrestlers anymore. And really other than Mutoh none of them should be part time wrestlers. Kenta Kobashi is a shell of a shell of a shell of his former self. He missed all of 2001 and most of 2002 having dozens of surgeries on his knees. He came back from this and was still one of the best wrestlers in the world even if he wasn't what he once was. Then in 2006 he was diognosed with Renal Cancer and they removed one of his kidneys. This caused him to lose even more of a step, but he was still a part of some great tags even if most of the credit there should go to KENTA. The last straw came last year when he had to have reconstruction surgery on both of his elbows. When he came back he was booked like Jumbo Tsuruta was when he got sick and couldn't go anymore.
Kobashi was working comedy matches and won the Hardcore Title so it was obviously the end. Despite all that I'd rather be Kobashi than Yoshihiro Takayama. Takayama is most famous for his fight with Don Frye. In 2004 following a match with Kensuke Sasaki Takayama had a stroke. Not a little stroke, a full on stroke. Looking at him you can tell he had a stroke the way half his face looks melted. For some reason he has come back to wrestling and is taking head drops and the finishes to his last few matches have been recreations of Takayama/Frye. The man may have a death wish. As for Akira Taue he was not exactly agile as a young man and now he is older than dirt. As for Mutoh he is the only guy who can give Kobashi a run in the shot knees department. However, he is so charismatic that he can get away with a lot of shortcuts. Not to mention that his match with Takada was so huge he has been able to use the moves from that match to get pops, the finish was a dragon screw into a figure four, and his Shining Wizards to patch together watchable matches because that stuff is so over.
Now if you have come to terms with what these guys are in 2009 this is a fun and watchable match just because of how much charisma Mutoh and Kobashi have. Mutoh's running gag taking this one guy's chair was great. Taue's Shining Wizard was great. The moonsault teases were great. But if you go into this match thinking of the glory days. Thinking of 1997, then this match is depressing. These guys just are not anywhere near what they used to be, and really close to embarrassing at some points honestly. Personally I came to terms with this stuff awhile ago.
Defrost: It was a Backdrop Suplex by Saito that killed Misawa. It was an accident, but it didn't stop Saito from being devastated by it. This match was booked in part because everyone felt bad for him. In another part this is pro wrestling and running with the idea that killing a legend helped get someone more over would not be the most disgusting thing ever done. That suplex has gotten disturbingly over.
Go Shiosaki was Misawa's tag team partner in the match he died. He won the title on the show after Misawa died when Akiyama vacated the title and a decision match was set up between Go and Takeshi Rikio which Go obviously won.
A lot of people were upset with this match being booked, beyond moral reasons, because they wanted Go put over someone substantial. There is a line of thought that Rikio, Marufuji, and Morishima failed as World Champion by poor booking. This is going to be the highest profile match Go will most likely ever have, and Saito is a career midcarder. Think like Mark Henry level.
Cewsh: This is the emotional shit right here.
Go Shiozaki, the future and present of NOAH, against Akitoshi Saito, the man who was on the other end of the accident that took Misawa’s life. This is one of the oddest matches I’ve ever seen in that it’s both a match where Go is attempting to avenge Misawa’s death against the evil Saito AND putting on a show with the man to show that he is completely forgiven and loved. It’s about the strangest mix of a kayfabe and reality that I’ve ever seen, and it makes for a very interesting atmosphere. For all the talk about how the Misawa thing made Saito a huge heel, though, the crowd sure didn’t seem to get that memo, because they pop huge for him when he comes out, drawing the emotional strings tight before the match even begins. Then both men get to the ring and the match starts.
Now the story of this match is basically that Go is channeling the power of Misawa, and Saito is a killing machine (no pun intended). Saito trashes Shiozaki over and over, throwing him all over the ring and beating him all around ringside, and basically making himself look like an absolute monster. All of this is, of course, leading up to his attempt at using the Saito Suplex (the move that killed Misawa) on Shiozaki, which he does, and Shiozaki lies there for a moment as they pan to the picture of Misawa sitting over the entrance, and then Shiozaki promptly kicks out at one, Hulks up, and launches an all out offensive for the rest of the match, culminating in the unleashing of the legendary Misawa Elbows, Misawa’s Emerald Flowsion finishing maneuver, and, finally, Shiozaki’s own finishing move, the Go Flasher. With Saito defeated, and Misawa avenged, Go and the crowd show their absolute appreciation for Saito, insisting that he take a place of honor in the ring as they toll the bell and celebrate the life of Mitsuharu Misawa.
This was definitely the best match on the show, with Shiozaki showing a charismatic, dynamic side here that I’ve never seen from him before, and Saito playing the role of monster heel perfectly, despite how much it must have been eating him up inside. The crowd was hanging on every move, the atmosphere was perfect, and these two delivered a match that might even stand a chance of being remembered for its quality, instead of simply it’s significance. What more can I say than that?
84 out of 100.
Cewsh’s Download Seal of Approval.
Defrost: In the end this was probably the best match on the card. Go is a really good worker and Saito is a solid veteran so that it is little surprise the match was good. I liked Go being the one to use the Emerald Flowsion and Misawa Elbows to try and get him over.
Vice: I didn't review any of the matches themselves, because Cewsh and our lovely guest reviewer Defrost covered pretty much everything, I did watch the show with Cewsh though, because it had a good looking card and duh, it's a friggin' Misawa tribute show.
Some tribute shows are complete misses and some are spectacular. This was one of the spectacular ones. For some strange reason, I thought these guys were going to hold a lot back and play it safe, but bloody hell did they go crazy out there in the ring. They all gave it 110% and just put on great match after great match. There was so much emotion throughout the night. I loved how they kept showing the picture of Misawa during matches, as if he's watching over his boys in his ring. The only time I really did not approve of it was when Go took a really nasty Saito suplex, and they immediately showed the picture of Misawa and then panned out to show both guys laying motionless in the ring.
From the main event until the end of the show, it was just incredible. The match was great, but I loved the post-match stuff. Go falling to his knees in front of Saito, and then them shaking hands and hugging.. it almost got a tear out of me. I don't know the actual details, and maybe I'm looking into it a bit much, but it played out like Go forgave Saito for the tragic accident and letting him know that it could have happened to anybody, so he didn't need to be weighed down by guilt. Nearly got a tear out of me. I wish I knew Japanese for the promo that Go cut, because it too seemed very emotional. All the wrestlers coming from the back and gathering around the ring was just fantastic, and the tribute video they showed was simple and straight forward, which I liked, and really captured Misawa, which I also liked. Of course. Being halfway through my own Misawa video, this gives me some friendly competition.
Fantastic show and RIP, Misawa.
Defrost: There was nothing bad on this show. There was nothing great either, and great matches are traditionally a prerequisite for a big show at the Budokan. So it goes without saying that NOAH has run better shows than this. However it served well as a tribute. You had a packed house with some of the biggest names ever on the show and a string of matches that were all entertaining in some way or another even if the show didn't produce any MOTYC. An above average show. A thumbs up show.
Cewsh: This was a great wrestling show with almost no weaknesses, but in truth, the matches in the ring weren’t what this show was about. This show, the first of two, was about celebrating the legacy that Mitsuharu Misawa will leave behind, whether it be his friends (Kobashi, Ogawa), his protégés (Suzuki, Shiozaki), or simply the fans whose lives he touched with his work and his gift. We will never see another professional wrestler quite like Mitsuharu Misawa, and it was both a privilege and an honor to share this show with those people, and all of you.
What more can I say? It’s time to rest at last, Emperor of the Road of Kings. May you do so in peace and be proud. If this show is any indication, your legacy will be a great one.
There aren't any awards here tonight. Instead, allow us to treat you to a few images from this historical event.
Well that'll do it for us this week boys and girls. We hope you enjoyed our celebration of the life, the times, and the legacy of one Mr. Mitsuharu Misawa. I heartily encourage you to take this chance to search out the man's matches through the years, several of which are considered by many (including us) to be among the greatest matches ever wrestled. He can live on through our appreciation of his work. On a more positive note (depending on who you ask) next week we'll take things a little more to the extreme as WWE puts on their first ever Tables, Ladders, and Chairs extravaganza. Will it be awesome? Will it be a trainwreck? Will Casper The Friendly Ghost become the new WWE champion? Tune in, sports fans. Until then, asalways, keep reading, and be good to one another.