Mitsuharu Misawa (1962-2009)
The Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Online reports that on June 13, 2009, the legendary Misawa received a wrestling maneuver that knocked him unconscious, causing him to suffer and die from a heart attack in the ring.
For 28 years, Misawa made his name not only as the second Tiger Mask or the innovator of many wrestling maneuvers (like the Tiger Driver and the Emerald Flowsion), but for his technical prowess and skill in the ring. His matchups with legends like Akira Taue and the late great Jumbo Tsuruta have made him a legend in the eyes not only of Japanese puroresu fans, but of wrestling aficionados all over the world. His rivals and foes in the ring read like a who’s who for any wrestling fan: Keiji Mutoh, Jun Akiyama, Kensuke Sasaki, and (arguably) his greatest rival to date, Toshiaki Kawada.
The long, storied career of Misawa led to many titles and honors; if there’s any debate on who was “the greatest wrestler in the world,” those in the discussion would make a grievous mistake to not include Misawa. Besides being a skilled technician in the ring, Misawa was also a wrestling promoter who took the Japanese puroresu world by surprise. After leading and leaving All-Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) after the death of Giant Baba, Misawa founded one of the most innovative and recognizable pro wrestling organizations in the East: Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Unlike the stereotypical pro wrestler, wrestling was the central point of Misawa’s career. Misawa won titles and the respect of the international audience for his skill and technique in wrestling. He had an extensive array of attacks and moves incorporated with technique that made him one of the premier wrestlers in the world. Stiff strikes, counter-wrestling, submissions, and innovative slams and suplexes were consistent in Misawa’s wrestling repertoire. Misawa was without peers as a singles wrestler, but shone through as a tag team specialist as well.
A wrestler’s wrestler, Misawa earned the pounds of gold he wore around his waist not because of storylines and gimmicky segment-breaks, but because of his wrestling style and skill that takes years to hone and master. For a time, Misawa was arguably the most famous and renowned wrestler in Japan, if not the world. Misawa was a multiple-time world champion with AJPW, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), and his own NOAH promotion.
The death of Misawa in a wrestling ring is tragic and saddening, but it again puts him in a place where he is without peers. In the tradition of Japanese wrestling, Mitsuharu Misawa now stands with icons who have departed this Earth, like Baba and Rikidozan. Yet Misawa stands alone, not only as a champion wrestler, an innovator of offense, or an ace promoter, but as one of the figureheads who brought a kind of sophisticated, professional, engaging wrestling back to the squared circle.
Mitsuharu Misawa will be missed, but his legacy will be remembered, continued, and will live on. Thank you for the wrestling, Mr. Misawa.