Misawa in 2007
|Born||June 18, 1962|
Yūbari, Hokkaido, Japan
|Died||June 13, 2009 (aged 46)|
Hiroshima University Hospital,Hiroshima, Japan
|Cause of death||Cardiac arrest|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Mitsuharu Misawa|
Tiger Mask II
|Billed height||1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)|
|Billed weight||118 kg (260 lb)|
|Trained by||All Japan Pro Wrestling|
|Debut||August 21, 1981|
Mitsuharu Misawa (三沢 光晴 Misawa Mitsuharu, June 18, 1962 – June 13, 2009) was a Japanese professional wrestler. He made his professional debut on August 21, 1981 for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). From 1984 until 1990, Misawa wrestled as the second generation Tiger Mask, as AJPW had purchased the rights of the Tiger Mask gimmick from New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). Following the death of AJPW head booker Giant Baba in 1999, Misawa inherited the position of AJPW President. After being removed as president by a board of executives, Misawa left AJPW in May 2000 to form Pro Wrestling Noah (Noah).
Misawa was an eight-time world champion in Japanese promotions, having won the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship five times and the GHC Heavyweight Championship three times, additionally being the inaugural holder of the latter championship. He was named Wrestler of the Year by Wrestling Observer Newsletter on three occasions (1995, 1997 and 1999) and holds the record for most Wrestling Observer Newsletter five star matches, with 24. Misawa is also one of only six wrestlers to have the distinction of being awarded a 6-Star rating for a match with Toshiaki Kawada in 1994. Misawa is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
Misawa was born in Yūbari, Hokkaidō, but soon moved with his family to Koshigaya, Saitama. He was a fan of professional wrestling, especially the All Japan product, from an early age, and wanted to drop out of school in order to begin his training. However, during an encounter with Jumbo Tsuruta, the latter convinced Misawa to complete at least his high school education, so he did. He attended Ashikaga-kodai High School in Tochigi, with future rival Toshiaki Kawada, who was only a year below him.
Professional wrestling career
All Japan Pro Wrestling (1981–2000)
Misawa was a successful amateur wrestler. Competing in the junior age group, he placed fifth at the 1980 freestyle World Championships. Misawa was trained in professional wrestling by Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer, Shohei Baba, and Dory Funk Jr.. He made his professional debut on August 21, 1981 for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), wrestling against Shiro Koshinaka. Two years later, on April 22, 1983 in the Nakajima Sports Center, Misawa made his televised debut in the final match for the Lou Thesz Cup (which Thesz himself refereed), again wrestling Koshinaka to a loss. He then traveled to Mexico where he wrestled for EMLL while improving his aerial skills under the guidance of La Fiera. For the rest of the decade, and into spring 1990, Misawa wrestled as the second generation Tiger Mask, succeeding Satoru Sayama, as All Japan Pro Wrestling had purchased the rights of the Tiger Mask gimmick from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Misawa debuted as the character by defeating Fiera at the Denen Coliseum on August 26, 1984. Over the next year, Baba would bring in top junior-heavyweight talents and high flyers to further establish the new Tiger Mask, including the Dynamite Kid and Kuniaki Kobayashi, the premier rivals of the original. On June 21, 1985, Misawa unsuccessfully challenged Kobayashi for the NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship in a match rated the best of the year by the readers of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. In the culmination of these programs, Misawa won the title from Kobayashi in an August 1985 rematch.
In 1986, Misawa graduated to the heavyweight class after five years as a junior heavyweight, and thus vacated the championship. He would not win another title for the rest of the decade, though he would receive several opportunities against American champions: an NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship match against Ric Flair in March 1987, an AWA World Heavyweight Championship match against Curt Hennig in January 1988, and a second NWA title shot against Ricky Steamboat in March 1989 (during a double main event at Nippon Budokan, the first of many times Misawa would headline a show at the venue). This era was also marked by his participation in the next three of AJPW's year-end World's Strongest Tag Determination League tournaments, in teams with Baba, Shinichi Nakano, and Jimmy Snuka, respectively. An elbow surgery after the Steamboat match would, however, sideline him until January 1990.
On February 10, 1990, Misawa would wrestle for the first time inside the Tokyo Dome, though not in an AJPW event. Mere weeks before a scheduled NJPW-WCW supershow (headlined by a Flair title match against Keiji Mutoh) on February 10, WCW management backed out, and Baba agreed to lend New Japan some of his own talent for their first Dome show, under the condition that the AJPW wrestlers would not be beaten or made to look weak. This would be honored, and thus Misawa teamed with Genichiro Tenryu in a victory by countout against George Takano and Riki Choshu. On April 9, he and Kenta Kobashi won the All Asia Tag Team Championship from the Can-Am Express, and four days later, he wrestled Bret Hart to a time-limit draw at the WWF/NJPW/AJPW Supershow in the Dome.
Later that month, Tenryu abruptly departed AJPW when he received a lucrative offer from Hachiro Tanaka, executive of eyewear company Megane Super, initially under the auspices of becoming an ambassador for the brand. However, the actual intentions of this deal were made clear months later by the formation of wrestling promotion Super World of Sports (and a resultant exodus of talent in its wake). Since this departure left Jumbo Tsuruta as the only native main event star that the promotion had, Baba made the decision to turn Misawa into his new rising star. During a tag match against Yoshiaki Yatsu and Samson Fuyuki on May 14, Misawa commanded his tag team partner (and future rival) Toshiaki Kawada to unmask him, thus abandoning the Tiger Mask gimmick after six years. After winning the match, Misawa challenged Tsuruta to a singles match. After a successful defense of the All Asia Tag Team Championship against Davey Boy Smith and Johnny Smith, Misawa and Kobashi would vacate the title. This foreshadowed Misawa's coming singles push, the seeds of which were shortly sown during the third in a series of six-man tags pitting Misawa and fellow young stars against Tsuruta's stable. During this match, at Korakuen Hall on May 26, Tsuruta bullied Misawa's partners, Kobashi and Akira Taue, by knocking them off the apron unprovoked, but when he tapped the active Misawa's shoulder minutes later, Misawa retaliated with an elbow strike that downed Tsuruta for several minutes. On June 8, Misawa would face Tsuruta for the main event at Budokan. According to a now-famous backstage story which has been recounted several times by journalist Dave Meltzer, Baba's decision to put Misawa over came during the event itself as, in the culmination of a trend that had been observed at house shows leading to this, Baba arrived at the venue to fans chanting "Misawa" outside, and noticed a significant boost in Misawa merchandise sales. Thus, Misawa defeated Tsuruta in a 24-minute match. This marked the beginning of a feud between the Super Generation Army (Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi) against the Tsuruta-gun stable (a mix of veterans like Tsuruta, Masanobu Fuchi, and Mighty Inoue, and younger talent like the defecting Taue, Yoshinari Ogawa, and late in the group's lifespan, a debuting Jun Akiyama), which would last into 1993.
Misawa made his first challenge for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship in July, losing to Stan Hansen in a decision match for the vacant titles after Terry Gordy was forced to vacate the titles. After losing to Tsuruta in a rematch on September 1, he teamed with then-regular partner Kawada to place third in the World's Strongest Tag Determination League, beating the team of Tsuruta and Akira Taue (who had defected from the Super Generation Army) on the final day. Misawa again challenged for the Triple Crown in April 1991, but fell to Tsuruta for a second time. Misawa continued his growth throughout 1991, pinning Terry Gordy in successive months in June and July, the second coming in a World Tag Team Championship match, where Misawa and his partner Kawada defeated Satsujin Gyorai (Gordy and Steve Williams). The pair made their first defence against the team of Tsuruta and Taue on September 30 at Nippon Budokan, with Misawa historically forcing Jumbo to submit to a standing variation of the crossface to end the match. The team vacated the belts for the 1991 World's Strongest Tag Determination League, in which they would place fifth.
On August 22, 1992, Misawa defeated Hansen to win the first of what would eventually be five Triple Crown championships. In his first defense, in the final card of the October Giant Series tour, he defeated his tag partner Kawada at Budokan. He and Kawada would later win the 1992 World's Strongest Tag Determination League, defeating Taue and Jun Akiyama (who had only debuted that September) and earning their second World Tag Team Championship as a result. They would again drop the belts Satsujin Gyorai, in their first defense on January 30. On February 28, however Misawa successfully defended his Triple Crown title against Taue.
The Misawa-Kawada team would soon end; as Jumbo Tsuruta's career in a main event wrestler appeared to be over (he had abruptly left for health reasons after completing the October Giant Series tour), Baba asked Kawada to take his place and team with Taue. Kawada and Taue ended their feud with a handshake after wrestling to a draw in the 1993 Champion Carnival, and shortly thereafter formed the Holy Demon Army. As a result, Kawada became Misawa's primary native rival for the next few years in singles and tag competition, and Kobashi would take his place as Misawa's tag partner. After a Triple Crown defense against Hansen in May, Misawa and Kobashi unsuccessfully challenged the Holy Demon Army for the World Tag Team championships (which the HDA had won from Satsujin Gyorai twelve days earlier, ending that team's fifth and final reign) on June 1. Misawa defended the Triple Crown three more times in 1993: against Kawada in July, Williams in September, and Hansen in October. Misawa and Kobashi then won their first World Tag Team championship together, defeating the Holy Demon Army (whose championship reign had ended in September, against Hansen and Ted DiBiase) in the finals of the 1993 World's Strongest Tag Determination League, and marking Misawa's second victory at the annual tournament. In May 1994, Misawa and Kobashi successfully defended the tag title against the Holy Demon Army. Two weeks later, on June 3, Misawa defeated Kawada, in Kawada's third challenge for the title, and the final successful defense of Misawa's first Triple Crown reign. This match was the first to receive a six-star rating from Dave Meltzer, and would be the only one to do so until 2016. Although he and Kobashi successfully defended the tag titles against the team of Steve Williams and Johnny Ace on July 22, Misawa finally dropped the Triple Crown to Williams six days later. At 705 days, Misawa's first reign is the longest in Triple Crown history.
Misawa and Kobashi vacated the World Tag Team belts for the 1994 WSTDL (the final time this practice would occur), which they would win for the second consecutive year against Williams and Ace. (Although they only defended the belts once, Misawa and Kobashi's first reign was the longest in the title's history for over a decade.) On January 24, 1995, they wrestled the Holy Demon Army on January 24, 1995 to a time limit draw, and defeated Williams and Ace on March 3. The next month, Misawa participated in the penultimate match of the Weekly Pro Wrestling Tokyo Dome Show, a six-man tag in which he, Kobashi, and Triple Crown champion Hansen wrestled to a thirty-minute time-limit draw against Kawada, Taue, and Ace. Ten days later, Misawa won his first Champion Carnival against Taue, and on May 26, he won his second Triple Crown championship, thus ending Hansen's then-record fourth and final Triple Crown reign. Misawa and Kobashi lost the tag titles when, on June 9, the Holy Demon Army defeated them at Budokan; what made this match particularly significant is that it was the first time Kawada got a pinfall over Misawa in their rivalry. However, this success would not repeat itself, and six weeks later Kawada fell short against Misawa once again, in the first defense of this Triple Crown reign. On September 10, Misawa defended the title against Taue, but on October 10, Misawa and Kobashi failed to win the World Tag Team titles back from the Holy Demon Army, in another sixty-minute time limit draw. Misawa won his first Triple Crown defense against Kobashi ten days later, but the two again entered the 1995 WSTDL as a team. While they defeated the Holy Demon Army, the final standings of the tournament had the two teams tied in points even after this final victory, and presumably for this reason the World Tag Team titles would not change hands. This was essentially the end of Misawa and Kobashi as a tag-team unit.
In 1996, Misawa became an inaugural member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. On March 2, he defended the Triple Crown against Gary Albright (who had signed with AJPW in late 1995 after departing UWF International), but on May 24, his second reign ended in a relatively abrupt 16-minute match against Taue.
Following the death of AJPW founder Giant Baba, Misawa inherited the position of AJPW president. After disagreements with widow Motoko Baba, and his removal by a board of executives in 2000, Misawa left All Japan Pro Wrestling in May 2000; followed by all but two natives (Toshiaki Kawada and Masanobu Fuchi) and two non-natives (Stan Hansen and Maunakea Mossman) to form Pro Wrestling Noah.
Pro Wrestling Noah (2000–2009)
Pro Wrestling Noah held its inaugural show, Departure, from August 5–6, 2000. Collectively, the shows featured the 23 other wrestlers that had resigned from AJPW. On July 18, 2004, Misawa returned to AJPW and defeated Satoshi Kojima at Battle Banquet; he would return once more on October 31, 2004, for the Keiji Mutoh: Love and Bump pay-per-view, where he and Mutoh defeated Hiroshi Hase and Kensuke Sasaki in what was billed as a "Special Dream Tag Match".
In 2005, Misawa and his long-time tag team partner Yoshinari Ogawa returned the GHC Tag Team Championship to Noah from the NJPW combination of Yuji Nagata and Hiroshi Tanahashi. From then until his death in 2009, Misawa continued to wrestle a full-time schedule, competing mostly in tag team matches. At the Nippon Budokan on December 10, 2006, he defeated Naomichi Marufuji to win his third GHC Heavyweight Championship. Misawa would go on to defend the GHC Heavyweight Championship against the likes of former ROH World Champion Takeshi Morishima, Takuma Sano, prominent gaijin Bison Smith and Akira Taue. On August 25, 2007, it was announced that Misawa would be on the November 2 and November 3 Ring of Honor (ROH) "Glory by Honor" cards in Philadelphia and New York City respectively.
On October 27, 2007, Misawa successfully defended the GHC Heavyweight Championship against Samoa Joe. The following week, Misawa traveled to the United States to appear at ROH's Glory by Honor VI weekend shows. On the first night, he teamed with Kenta to face Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji, wrestling to a thirty-minute time-limit draw. The following night, he successfully defended the GHC Heavyweight Championship against Kenta. On March 2, 2008 Misawa was defeated by Takeshi Morishima for the GHC Heavyweight Championship, ending his 16-month-long championship reign.
Misawa married his wife, Mayumi, on May 10, 1988. Together, they had at least one child, a daughter named Kaede. After his death, Mayumi became a majority shareholder in Pro Wrestling Noah. He is survived by at least one older brother. Very little else is known of Misawa's personal life. Misawa was well known to be a heavy smoker of cigarettes, according to Big Van Vader he smoked 40 a day. He was said to be private about his life outside of professional wrestling, to the point that wrestlers who had known him for decades had no idea that he had children. He was said to have been an avid video game fan, and at one point revealed to video game magazine Famitsu a list of his favorite video games.
On June 13, 2009, Misawa teamed with Go Shiozaki against GHC Tag Team Champions Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith in a title match at Hiroshima Green Arena. After taking a belly to back suplex from Saito, Misawa lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital. He was pronounced dead in the hospital at 10:10pm JST. He was 46 years old, five days before his 47th birthday. The cause of death was later speculated in the official police report to have been a cervical spinal cord injury that caused cardiac arrest; however, Misawa's family invoked a Japanese law that requested the police not publicly release the official cause of death. Misawa's death has caused several wrestling promotions to work toward a stronger approach to regulating professional wrestling in the country.
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Misawa's style of wrestling inspired many to call him one of the greatest of all time. Chris Hero adopted many of Misawa's forearm strikes into his moveset. Both William Regal and Bryan Danielson have cited Misawa as one of their heroes. Pro Wrestling NOAH holds a tribute show to him every June to pay their respects to him. "The Dynamite Kid" Tom Billington once cited him as one of the hardest workers in the business. For a short time, Yoshi Tatsu wore tights themed after Misawa's in late 2009. Kaito Kiyomiya also wore green trunks during his early career as a tribute to his idol.
Misawa holds the record for the most 5 star matches awarded by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, with 23. He was the along with Toshiaki Kawada to have the second ever 6 star match on June 3, 1994.
On June 30, 2017, Pro Wrestling NOAH held its first-ever Mitsuharu Misawa memorial tournament in honor of his career.
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- All Asia Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Kenta Kobashi (1) and Yoshinari Ogawa (1)
- Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship (5 times)
- World Tag Team Championship (6 times) – with Toshiaki Kawada (2), Kenta Kobashi (2), Jun Akiyama (1) and Yoshinari Ogawa (1)
- NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- PWF World Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Jumbo Tsuruta
- Champion Carnival (1995, 1998)
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League (1992, 1993, 1994, 1995) – with Toshiaki Kawada (1992), Kenta Kobashi (1993–1995)
- January 2 Korakuen Hall Heavyweight Battle Royal (1987)
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League Technique Award (1988) – with Jimmy Snuka
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League Fighting Spirit Award (1990) – with Toshiaki Kawada 
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League Skill Award (1991) – with Toshiaki Kawada 
- Nikkan Sports
- Match of the Year (1997) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 21
- Match of the Year (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31
- Match of the Year (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1
- Match of the Year (2007) with Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama on December 2
- Wrestler of the Year (2007, 2009)
- Technique Award (1996)
- Pro Wrestling Noah
- GHC Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- GHC Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Yoshinari Ogawa
- Global Tag League (2009) – with Go Shiozaki
- GHC Heavyweight Championship Tournament (2001)
- One Day Six Man Heavyweight Tag Team Tournament (2008) – with Takeshi Morishima and Muhammad Yone
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Tokyo Sports
- Fighting Spirit Award (1985, 1990)
- Lifetime Achievement Award (2009)
- Match of the Year Award (1995) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on June 9
- Match of the Year Award (1997) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 21
- Match of the Year Award (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31
- Match of the Year Award (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1
- Match of the Year Award (2007) with Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama on December 2
- Outstanding Performance Award (1997)
- Rookie of the Year (1982)
- Special Grand Prize (1992)
- Tag Team of the Year (1991) with Toshiaki Kawada
- Tag Team of the Year (1993, 1994) with Kenta Kobashi
- Wrestler of the Year (2007)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Best Flying Wrestler (1985, 1986)
- Best Wrestling Maneuver (1985) Topé con Giro
- Feud of the Year (1990, 1991) vs. Jumbo Tsuruta
- Match of the Year (1985) vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi on June 21
- Match of the Year (1996) with Jun Akiyama vs. Steve Williams and Johnny Ace on June 7
- Match of the Year (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31
- Match of the Year (1999) vs. Kenta Kobashi on June 11
- Match of the Year (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1
- Most Outstanding Wrestler (1997, 1999)
- Most Underrated Wrestler (1988)
- Tag Team of the Year (1991) with Toshiaki Kawada
- Tag Team of the Year (1995) with Kenta Kobashi
- Tag Team of the Year (1996, 1997) with Jun Akiyama
- Wrestler of the Year (1995, 1997, 1999)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)
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