Mitsuharu Misawa was the founder of NOAH and also a legend of puroresu in his own rights. Considered one of the best wrestlers in professional wrestling history, Misawa was a five-time AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion, three-time GHC Heavyweight Champion and was named Wrestler of the Year by Wrestling Observer Newsletter on three occasions. He made his professional debut on August 21, 1981 for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). From 1984 until 1990, Misawa wrestled as Tiger Mask 2, the second incarnation of the legendary masked wrestler, as All Japan Pro Wrestling had purchased the rights of the Tiger Mask gimmick from New Japan Pro Wrestling. After being unmasked as TM 2 in 1990 upon request by then-tag team partner Toshiaki Kawada, Misawa’s career took off. 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 AJPW Triple Crown in July, losing to Stan Hansen in a decision match for the vacant titles after Terry Gordy was forced to vacate the belts. After losing to Tsuruta in a rematch on September 1, he teamed with then-regular partner Kawada to place third in the Real World Tag 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 an AJPW World Tag Team Title 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 AJPW 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 AJPW World Tag Team Title reigns, and feuds with Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama, Taue, and Williams throughout the rest of the 1990s.
Following the death of AJPW head booker Shohei “Giant” Baba in 1999, Misawa inherited the position of AJPW president. After being removed as president by a board of executives including Baba’s widow Motoko, Misawa left AJPW in May 2000 to form Pro Wrestling NOAH. In 2006, Misawa founded and served as the chairman of the Global Professional Wrestling Alliance (GPWA). Misawa would return to All-Japan for a pair of special matches in 2004.
In 2001, Misawa created NOAH’s first singles title, the Global Honored Crown (GHC) Heavyweight Championship and became the inaugural champion. He would soon drop the title but win it a second time in 2002, and finally win it a 3rd time in 2006. He also achieved continued tag team success with now-regular partner Yoshinari Ogawa, winning the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship twice. In November 2007, Misawa again made major waves by making what would be his first and ultimately only in-ring appearance in the USA, working 2 dates for Ring Of Honor. He faced NOAH talent in both matches, including defending his GHC Heavyweight Championship against Junior Heavyweight sensation KENTA. He would reign until March 2008, when he dropped the title to the massive Takeshi Morishima, a big man who had been groomed to carry NOAH into the future.
Sadly, it is a future Misawa will not see. On June 13, 2009 during a tag team match with Go Shiozaki against Bison Smith & Akitoshi Saito, around the 20-25min mark, Misawa received a belly-to-back suplex from Saito. The referee asked Misawa whether he could move, to which he responded by saying, “ugokenai” (cannot move). He immediately lost consciousness and was taken to Hiroshima University Hospital, where his death was confirmed at 10:10 PM Japan time, news that sent shockwaves throughout Japan and beyond. In fact, Misawa had recently revealed that he planned to retire from active competition within a year. The cause of death was later determined to be a cervical spinal cord injury. Misawa was only 46. NOAH has since reorganized amidst rumors that the promotion could be forced to shut down following Misawa’s death, and has since continued on with tributes to Misawa at every show on the subsequent tour and memorial shows in late 2009.
There is little doubt that Misawa will be considered one of the greatest ever, even though he almost never competed outside Japan. He was many things-wrestler, champion, Hall Of Famer, pioneer. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.
Mitsuharu Misawa, Always In Our Hearts!
Misawa was posthumously honored by Tokyo Sports during its annual puroresu awards in December 2009 with a Special Service Award.
Stats & Info:
Died: June 13, 2009
Age: 46 (at time of death)
Weight: 240 pounds/109 kg
Experience: 26 years
Finishing Move: Emerald Fusion/Flowsion (sitout side powerslam)
Current affiliation: N/A (Deceased; Founder Of NOAH)
5-time All-Japan Triple Crown Champion
6-time All-Japan World Tag Team Champion
2-time All-Japan All-Asia Tag Team Champion
1-time NWA International Junior Heavyweight Champion
1-time PWF World Tag Team Champion
3-time GHC Heavyweight Champion
2-time GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
1992 World’s Strongest Tag League
1993 World’s Strongest Tag League
1994 World’s Strongest Tag League
1995 World’s Strongest Tag League
1995 Champions Carnival
1998 Champions Carnival
2009 Global Tag League
Ranked #2 in 1997 PWI 500
Ranked #3 in 1998 PWI 500
Ranked #3 in 1999 PWI 500
Ranked #8 in 2001 PWI 500
24 Wrestling Observer Newsletter 5 Star Matches
1985, 1986 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Flying Wrestler
1985 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Wrestling Maneuver
1985, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match Of The Year
1997, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Outstanding Wrestler
1988 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Underrated Wrestler
1995, 1996, 1997 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Tag Team Of The Year
1995, 1997, 1999 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler Of The Year
1996 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame Inductee
1985 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Fighting Spirit Prize (as Tiger Mask 2)
1990 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Outstanding Performance Prize
1992 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Special Grand Prize
1993 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Tag Team Prize (with Kenta Kobashi)
1994 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Tag Team Prize (with Kenta Kobashi)
1995 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (with Kenta Kobashi vs. Toshiaki Kawada & Akira Taue)
1997 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (vs. Kenta Kobashi)
1997 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Outstanding Performance Prize
1998 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (vs. Kenta Kobashi)
2003 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (vs. Kenta Kobashi)
2007 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Best Bout Award (with Jun Akiyama vs. Kenta Kobashi & Yoshihiro Takayama)
2007 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Most Valuable Player Award
2009 Tokyo Sports Grand Prix Special Service Award (Awarded posthumously)