Notes on the life and times of Mitsuharu Misawa, mostly via. the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Abridged, added to and reorganized by Ditch. Updated July 22nd, 2009.
-Misawa, growing up, was a big fan of All Japan and especially Jumbo Tsuruta. He wanted to drop out of high school to start training, but Jumbo told him to graduate first, so he did.
-Misawa used green tights because early on he was a big fan of Horst Hoffman, a German who did several tours of Japan during the '70s.
-Misawa and Kawada went to high school together. Misawa won the '80 national wrestling championship in his weight division, then gave Kawada his school jacket. Kawada won the national championship the next year. Kawada wanted to go to New Japan, but Misawa convinced him to go to All Japan. At some point in the '90s they had a falling out, including an extended backstage fight that had to be broken up.
-New Japan wrestler Masakatsu Fukuda, who died in the ring in 2000, also came from the same high school. His death came in his first match back from an injury, and in that case the doctors pronounced him able to return.
Early Career & Big Break
-Misawa's match with Koshinaka on 4/22/83 was his first televised match, in the Lou Thesz young lions tournament with Thesz himself refing. The winner would go overseas for training (Mexico), but Misawa looked so good in defeat that both went. Misawa returned as Tiger Mask II after only a few months in Mexico. Knee problems forced him out of the junior division in late '85.
-After his match with Steamboat in March '89, he had elbow surgery and missed 9 months.
-New Japan had Flair vs Mutoh booked as the main event of the 2/10/90 Tokyo Dome show, but something came up and the match was scrubbed. NJ, desperate, had Sakaguchi ask Baba for help. Baba agreed. The NJ/AJ cooperation was a sensation even without what one would normally call a dream match, and it sold out based heavily on Tenryu & Tiger Mask (Misawa) vs Choshu & George Takano. The famous (or infamous) Tyson vs Buster Douglas for the world boxing title at the Dome the next night only did a half-house. The success led to more AJ/NJ cooperation on April 13th, with WWF added in as well. That show featured Tiger Mask Misawa vs Bret Hart, both a short time away from big-time success.
-On 5/14/90, Misawa removed his Tiger Mask gimmick and challenged company leader Jumbo Tsuruta to a match. The fans recognized Misawa immediately because of his publicized wedding (sans mask) a few years earlier. On the 26th, during a 6-man tag with Misawa and Tsuruta on opposite sides, the reaction to them going at it was electric. Between that, reactions to Misawa on the tour, and spontaneous "Misawa!" chants before the big match on 6/8/90, Baba decided to seize the moment and have Misawa pin Tsuruta. Because stars in Japan usually need several opportunities like that before getting their first big win, this was a huge upset. When Tsuruta was told of the finish he asked that it be changed to a countout, but Baba turned him down.
-Meltzer was live at 6/8/90, and said he's never experienced an atmosphere like that.
-6/8/90 came a few hundred short of a sellout, but after that the company had 200+ sellouts in a row in Tokyo, lasting until the March '96 Budokan show (Misawa vs Gary Albright). 6/8/90 started a trend of fans buying huge numbers of tickets for the next Budokan show without so much as a single teased, let alone announced, match. All Japan didn't just sell out, but usually sold out well in advance.
-The facelock hold was put over as a finisher in 1991 so that Misawa wouldn't have to rely on big moves and could last longer (he'd already had two big joint injuries), but the move quickly became an afterthought.
-For Champions Carnival '94, Baba didn't want Misawa to win the tournament but didn't want to have him lose a singles match, so they did a worked neck injury off a Doug Furnas frankensteiner. They even worked the roster, and Furnas got heat for injuring Misawa. Misawa had Furnas brought to his dressing room, cleared everyone out, and took his neck brace off to show Furnas that it was a work. Furnas told Hansen in order to lessen his heat, but Hansen didn't believe him.
-Weekly Pro 4/2/95 dome show set a gate record. Misawa got the biggest reaction of anyone on the Weekly Pro 4/2/95 Tokyo Dome card, which brought together big names from nearly every promotion in Japan. This despite the fact that New Japan, not All Japan, regularly filled the Dome.
-Despite how popular All Japan was in the early-mid '90s, with Budokan shows selling out well in advance for years in a row, Giant Baba refused to do Dome shows because he didn't ever want to have one show be so big that it made Budokan cards seem small. When he finally consented in '98 they drew 48,000 despite being well past the peak of popularity.
-Misawa vs Kawada from 1/22/99 got a 5.4 rating *after midnight*, or roughly a 50 share.
NOAH & Tail end of Career
-Mokoto Baba actually ran the business end for AJ in the '90s, akin to Linda McMahon. After the death of Giant Baba she became the sole owner and had complete control. Initially she named Momota as the new president of the company, but Tsuruta went to her and told her it should be Misawa, who had been in charge of booking shows in the year before Giant Baba's death. A few months later the change was made and Misawa became president.
-Misawa wanted to expand and invest in order to grow, while Mokoto thought that wrestling had peaked years ago and thus didn't want to upset the profitability. Misawa also wanted to add health benefits, which is part of why so much of the roster sided with him in the conflict.
-Eventually, Misawa decided that he couldn't work with Mrs. Baba and that he would need to start his own promotion. He went to NTV executives and told them of his plan. They were supportive, but also defensive, not wanting to look as though they were betraying a widow immediately after her husband's death. The plan was for NOAH to be announced in mid-2000, and NTV would follow a few months later.
-NOAH's debut show was at Differ Ariake rather than Budokan "to create an illusion". Scalpers got $2700 for ringside and $800 for SRO, so the show would have likely sold out Nippon Budokan.
-NOAH's first Tokyo Dome show, on 7/10/04, drew 52,000. The semi-main event was Misawa & Ogawa vs Mutoh & Kea, the first time Misawa and Mutoh were in a match together. They would have done a singles match, but felt that they couldn't do such a match justice considering how broken down they were and how high the expectations would be. Mutoh said that if the singles match had taken place, he wanted Misawa to win because Misawa was the better performer.
-NOAH's second Dome show, on 7/18/05, was headlined by Misawa vs Kawada and drew 45,000.
-First he wanted to retire in 2007, but Kobashi got cancer and business slumped. Then he wanted to retire when Kobashi was back and healthy, but Kobashi never got to 100% and then hurt his hand. Misawa finally gave in to reality and planned to retire this year, as shown by how much he was out of the ring during the 5/6 Budokan main event. He didn't want to do a retirement tour, possibly out of expectations for his big-match performances of old.
-NOAH lost its spot on national television network NTV in spring 2009. This added to a problem they had going back to All Japan in the early '90s, with wrestling getting less time, worse timeslots and less promotion. By the time NTV began airing NOAH in 2001, the timeslot was after midnight and thus there was no way for the promotion to create stars with mainstream recognition. Misawa and Kobashi were by far the most known wrestlers on the roster, so they felt a heavy burden to work through injuries.
-Misawa and Nakata were working with sponsor Leave Life 21, a rental home company, with the idea of setting something up for wrestlers to do after they retire from the ring.
-NOAH's house shows are mostly 'paid' shows, meaning someone in the area (usually an old rich guy) pays a flat fee and then sells tickets. Misawa is especially important there, as the people behind the paid shows tend not to be familiar with anyone besides Misawa and Kobashi. NOAH got less money for shows when Kobashi left, and if Misawa went out it would have been an even bigger blow despite his declining performance.
Death & Aftermath
-Misawa's neck was badly injured, diagnosed in early '07 but almost certainly having happened before then. Misawa might have had an additional shoulder injury earlier in the tour.
-Misawa only used things like chriopractors and accupuncture to relieve his injuries, rather than surgeries which would have led to huge time off and possibly forced retirement. He was also a heavy smoker.
-Ten minutes before the planned finish of the tag title match of Saito & Smith vs Misawa & Shiozaki, Saito delivered a backdrop suplex to Misawa. Somehow, Misawa took the move wrong and had his spinal column severed. This caused his death. It is most likely that the neck damage turned the bump deadly, as opposed to just the botched landing. It's worth noting that the match was planned to go 37 minutes, and even though they went almost 30 minutes on 5/6 while protecting Misawa there was simply no way to completely keep him out for another match of that length. (You might ask why, then, would they have the match last so long. Good question).
-Akiyama was in so much pain from the herniated disc that he collapsed backstage after his match, and he wasn't even able to come to the ring after Misawa collapsed. He went to the hospital afterward. While at first it seemed that Akiyama vacated the title because he was scared by Misawa's death, there's a strong chance it would have happened anyway. He might need surgery, but decided to be on the next tour anyway.
-There was lots of symbolism in Misawa dying from a backdrop, which was the first big finishing move in Japan due to Lou Thesz using it when wrestling first got big there in the '50s.
-NOAH didn't have a doctor for the show, and asked if any were in attendance when they realized the severity of the situation.
-Misawa was by far the biggest star to die in the ring. Meltzer: "Misawa was the first to die not from trying to be a champion, nor from the lifestyle of the spoils from that success, but because of being the champion." (He didn't do hard drugs, didn't go overboard with roids or HGH, and didn't weigh over 300 pounds. Few guys with that degree of 'clean living' died young like this).
-Kazuo Tokumitsu of NTV, the 'Japanese Walter Cronkite', was the only major media figure to give Misawa's death press. He got his start doing announcing in JWA, and was one of the few staunch supporters of wrestling on NTV as they reduced wrestling's role over the decades.
-NOAH's Hakata Star Lanes show the next night drew 2600 with a big walk-up; the fact that a scheduled title match was almost certainly far from selling out a venue of that size is exactly why Misawa feared leaving the company.
-There was a Misawa chant at a fireworks show in Dusseldorf, which has a large Japanese population.
-Hall of Famer Masakatsu Funaki, who just agreed to his first pro wrestling match in well over a decade, said he'd hoped to wrestle Misawa because Misawa was "the best worker" during the '90s (Funaki's heyday).
-Misawa was private to the point where wrestlers who knew him for decades had no idea he had children.
-Kawada and Mokoto Baba were both at the memorial service.
-Saito was said to be suicidal at first, but he seems to have recovered from that line of thinking. His family got harassed, which didn't help, but live crowds have gone out of their way to support him and he acknowledged this as having been a significant help.
-On June 18th there was a meeting convened by Hase with the heads of NJ, AJ and NOAH, plus wrestling-friendly government figures like Shinobu Kandori (now a senator) to discuss regulating pro wrestling. Hase had a heart scare in 1990 which led to NJ having a doctor at ringside, but no other promotion does this. The promotions were all enthusiastic, and considering that they're also on good terms there's a chance this will lead somewhere. Interesting to note that Dragon Gate, which currently draws better than All Japan, wasn't considered worth bringing to the table. Regulations would include licensing, annual medical exams, and pensions for retirees.
-Taue has been named the new president of the company. Akiyama has said he doesn't want the position, and they don't want it to be Kobashi because he's under enough stress as it is. Kobashi and Marufuji are the new VPs, with Momota choosing to step down from management.
-Momota left the company altogether. He wanted Kobashi to be a VP, but didn't think it would be at his own expense.
-Misawa's public funeral had 26,000 people attend, only a little less than Baba's. The line to get into Differ Ariake went for 3 miles.
-Mayumi Misawa, his wife, is the new majority shareholder in NOAH. She does not currently plan to sell her shares.
-Misawa had planned for Marufuji to take over for him. The thinking now is that Taue will be a caretaker president until Marufuji is ready.
-Misawa's 53 Budokan sellouts are "likely" a record for selling out a building that size (15,000+).
-Kobashi's return on 12/2/07 was the last time Misawa headlined a sold out Nippon Budokan. They had 2500 people in standing room, at which point they finally stopped selling tickets. This set a record for wrestling at Budokan. In addition, they turned away thousands.