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). In 2006, Misawa founded and served as the chairman of the Global Professional Wrestling Alliance (GPWA). 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. His impact was also recognized by critics, as he was also named Wrestler of the Year by Wrestling Observer Newsletter on three occasions and holding the record for most Wrestling Observer Newsletter five star matches, with 26. Misawa was regarded by many as the greatest professional wrestler in the world during the 1990s.
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. Apart from this, very little is known of Misawa's personal life. He was said to be private about his home life to the point that wrestlers who had known him for decades had no idea he had children. He left behind at least one older brother, his wife, Mayumi, whom he married on May 10, 1988 (now the new majority shareholder in Pro Wrestling Noah), and at least one child, including a daughter named Kaede. 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.
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. He then traveled to Mexico where he wrestled for EMLL while improving his aerial skills under the guidance of La Fiera. From August 1984 to May 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. In 1986, Misawa graduated to the heavyweight class after five years as a junior heavyweight. Between 1988 and 1989, he competed in championship matches for the AWA and NWA World Heavyweight Championships before a knee injury in March 1989 sidelined him until January 2, 1990. Upon his return, he wrestled Bret Hart to a time-limit draw on April 13 at the WWF/NJPW/AJPW Supershow in the Tokyo Dome. After Genichiro Tenryu's abrupt departure from AJPW later that month, Giant 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, 1990, Misawa commanded his tag team partner (and future rival) Toshiaki Kawada to unmask him, thus abandoning the Tiger Mask gimmick after six years. Weeks later, Misawa defeated Jumbo Tsuruta on June 8 in his first main event at Nippon Budokan. The match is seen as a turning point in the history of All Japan Pro Wrestling, with Misawa being established as a major threat and a new star. 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 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 anWorld Tag Team Championship match, where Misawa and his partner Kawada defeated 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 end the match. On August 22, 1992, Misawa defeated Hansen to win the first of what would eventually be five Triple Crown Heavyweight Championships. The first of these title reigns lasted for almost two years before Misawa dropped the belts to Williams. Misawa went on to dominate All Japan Pro Wrestling throughout the 1990s, with multiple World Tag Team Championship reigns, and feuds with Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama, Taue, and Williams throughout the rest of the 1990s. In 1996, he became an inaugural member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. Following the death of AJPW head booker 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 (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.
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. 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.
Misawa's style of wrestling inspired many to call him one of the greatest of all time. CM Punk paid a tribute to him for one night only by writing "MISAWA" on his wrist tape. Chris Hero adopted many of his forearm strikes into his moveset. Besides William Regal, Bryan Danielson cited Misawa as one of his heroes. Pro Wrestling NOAH holds a tribute show to him every (early-mid) June to pay their respects to him. Tom Billington once cited him as one of the hardest workers in the business. Dave Meltzer inducted Misawa in to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame classe of 1996 as number 74.
- Finishing moves
- Emerald Flowsion, sometimes from the second rope, or preceded by a fireman's carry – Innovated
- Emerald Flowsion Kai (Vertical suplex sitout side powerslam) – Innovated
- Rolling Elbow (Discus elbow smash)
- Tiger Driver (Sitout double underhook powerbomb, sometimes from the second or top rope) – Innovated
- Tiger Driver '91 (Kneeling double underhook ganso bomb) – Innovated
- Signature moves
- Boston crab, sometimes single leg
- Corkscrew plancha
- Diving, running, or standing elbow smash
- Diving crossbody
- Elbow Suicida (Suicide dive transitioned into an elbow smash)
- Corkscrew leaping flying lariat
- Multiple kick variations
- Drop, sometimes front missile
- Jumping to the chest of the opponent
- Multiple suplex variations
- Senton bomb to a standing opponent, sometimes outside the apron
- Somersault leg drop to a kneeling or leaning opponent
- Tiger Body Press (Frog splash)
- Tilt-a-whirl backbreaker
- "The Standard-Bearer of Future Generations"
- Entrance themes
- "Tiger Mask Theme" (AJPW; 1984–1990)
- "Red Zone Fighter" (AJPW; 1990)
- "Spartan X" by Keith Morrison (AJPW/Noah; 1990–2009)
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) – with Toshiaki Kawada
- World's Strongest Tag Determination League (1993, 1994, 1995) – with Kenta Kobashi
- January 2 Korakuen Hall Heavyweight Battle Royal (1987)
- Pro Wrestling Noah
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Ranked #2 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 1997
- Ranked #6 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Ranked #6 and #11 of the 100 tag teams of the "PWI Years" with Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada, respectively, in 2003
- Tokyo Sports
- Fighting Spirit (1985, 1990)
- Match of the Year (1995) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on June 9, 1995
- Match of the Year (1997) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 21, 1997
- Match of the Year (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31, 1998
- Match of the Year (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1, 2003
- Match of the Year (2007) with Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama on December 2, 2007
- Performance Award (1997)
- Rookie of the Year (1982)
- Special Achievement Award (2009)
- 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
- 5 Star Match (1985) vs. Kuniaki Kobayashi on March 9
- 5 Star Match (1990) vs. Jumbo Tsuruta on June 8
- 5 Star Matches (1990) with Toshiaki Kawada vs Jumbo Tsuruta and Akira Taue on September 30
- 5 Star Match (1990) with Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi on October 19
- 5 Star Match (1991) with Toshiaki Kawada and Kenta Kobashi vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi on April 20
- 5 Star Match (1992) with Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, Akira Taue and Masanobu Fuchi on May 22
- 5 Star Match (1993) with Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Yoshinari Ogawa on July 2
- 5 Star Match (1993) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada on December 3
- 5 Star Match (1994) with Kenta Kobashi and Giant Baba vs. Masanobu Fuchi, Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on January 29
- 5 Star Match (1994) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada on May 21
- 5 Star Match (1994) vs. Toshiaki Kawada on June 3
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada on January 21
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Steve Williams and Johnny Ace on March 4
- 5 Star Match (1995) vs. Akira Taue on April 15
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Kenta Kobashi vs. Akira Taue and Toshiaki Kawada on June 9
- 5 Star Match (1995) with Kenta Kobashi and Satoru Asako vs. Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue and Tamon Honda on June 30
- 5 Star Match (1996) with Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on May 23
- 5 Star Match (1996) with Jun Akiyama vs. Steve Williams and Johnny Ace on June 7
- 5 Star Match (1996) with Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on December 6
- 5 Star Match (1997) vs. Kenta Kobashi on January 20
- 5 Star Match (1997) vs. Toshiaki Kawada on June 6
- 5 Star Match (1997) with Jun Akiyama vs. Toshiaki Kawada and Akira Taue on December 5
- 5 Star Match (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31
- 5 Star Match (1999) vs. Kenta Kobashi on June 11
- 5 Star Match (1999) with Yoshinari Ogawa vs. Kenta Kobashi and Jun Akiyama on October 23
- 5 Star Match (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1
- 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 12, Tokyo, Japan
- Match of the Year (1996) with Jun Akiyama vs. Steve Williams and Johnny Ace on June 7, Tokyo, Japan
- Match of the Year (1998) vs. Kenta Kobashi on October 31, Tokyo, Japan
- Match of the Year (1999) vs. Kenta Kobashi on June 11, Tokyo, Japan
- Match of the Year (2003) vs. Kenta Kobashi on March 1, Tokyo, Japan
- 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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- Japanese Wrestling Legend dies after Suplex move . The News Chronicle (2009-06-15). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Molinaro, John F. 2000-06-15. Misawa's departure cripples All Japan . Slam! Wrestling. Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved on 2009-06-13.
- Schramm, Chris 2009-06-13. Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa dies in the ring . Slam! Wrestling. Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved on 2009-06-13.
- Masanori Horie 2000-04-10. Misawa vs. Kawada vs. Taue vs. Kobashi vs. Akiyama . Archived from the original on 2009-10-22. Retrieved on 2009-10-19.
- "Ditch" 2009-07-22. Notes on the life and times of Mitsuharu Misawa, mostly via. the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Abridged, added to and reorganized by Ditch. . Retrieved on 2009-10-19.
- "Smarketh." 2009-06-23. Re: Mitsuharu Misawa R.I.P. . Retrieved on 2009-10-19.
- David Oxford 2009-06-16. Late Japanese Wrestling Great Mitsuharu Misawa Loved Video Games . Retrieved on 2009-10-19. [dead link]
- Misawa dies after move . ESPN (2009-06-14). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- RIP Mitsuharu Misawa . Cauliflower Alley Club (2009-06-13). Archived from the original on 2010-01-16. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- CANOE – SLAM! Sports – Wrestling – Funk Jr. & Dibiase remember Misawa as a trainee, foe and friend . canoe.com.
- Mitsuharu Misawa .
- Emelett, Ed (September 1995). "Japan's Triple Crown: "It's the Most Important Title in the World!"". Pro Wrestling Illustrated. London Publishing Co.: 28. ISSN 1043-7576.
- Ayass, Dean 2009-06-13. Wrestling legend Mitsuharu Misawa has died in the ring aged 46 . The Sun. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Williams, Steve (2007). Steve Williams: How Dr. Death Became Dr. Life. Sports Publishing, LLC, 157. ISBN 1-59670-180-3.
- Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame . Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Hornbaker, Tim (2006). National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press, 328. ISBN 1-55022-741-6.
- Funk, Terry (2006). Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore. Sports Publishing LLC, 217. ISBN 1-59670-159-5.
- GHC Heavyweight Title History . Professional Wrestling Noah. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Misawa Passes Away After Backdrop In Hiroshima Match . Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Online (2009-06-13). Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Ayass, Dean 2009-06-17. Mitsuharu Misawa probably died from a cervical spinal cord injury rather than a heart attack, police reports from Japan indicate . The Sun. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- Shima, Yasuhiko 2009-07-15. Wrestling bodies to mull regulation of industry . The Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 2009-07-19. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
- OWOW profile .
- Cagematch profile .
- Puroresu Central profile .
- AJPW All Asia Tag Team Championship history .
- AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship history .
- AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship history .
- NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship history .
- PWF World Tag Team Championship history .
- Champion Carnival history .
- AJPW tournament listings .
- GHC Tag Team Championship history .
- 2009 Global Tag League results .
- Purolove profile .
- PWI Years listing .
- Misawa's awards in the 1990s .
- Misawa's awards in the 2000s .
- Misawa's awards in the 1980s .
- Meltzer, Dave (January 26, 2015). "Jan. 26, 2015 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: 2014 awards issue w/ results & Dave’s commentary, Conor McGregor, and much more". Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Campbell, California: 2–28. ISSN 1083-9593.