Mitsuharu Misawa (June 18, 1962 - June 13, 2009) was a Japanese professional wrestler, primarily known for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling during the 90's and Pro Wrestling Noah in the 2000's. Misawa began his career as one of the many men under the Tiger Mask gimmick that AJPW had licensed, but his talent was clear and his ability to carry and control a match's storyline had caught the attention of the booker, Giant Baba. Baba, who had just found himself without a big new star to build, decided to take a chance on Misawa, unmasked him, and began his first truly big feud; vs. Jumbo Tsuruta, and eventually got Misawa to be the first "Heavenly Pillar" of AJPW, when he got a shock win over Tsuruta in 1990, and created his "Super Generation Army", and it all could've been a mere "what-if" had Giant Baba not heard the raucous reaction that he generated before the show even began.
Throughout the 90's, Misawa was unquestionably one of AJPW's Ace. His never-say-die attitude, his ability to fight through any sort of danger and his well-rounded abilities meant he was without peer and the few times he ever lost AJPW's Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship were largely tainted by outside interference or by injury, and he almost always won it back to the adulation of his fans, and there were a lot of them.
But as the new millenium approached, the punishment he had put himself through throughout his career had become a major problem for him, as he'd have to take extended breaks to heal his knees and his myriad other injuries. Further, he was beginning to disagree with Giant Baba's business acumen, having to plead with fellow wrestlers to do a Tokyo Dome show, and had found his way into a booking role in order to help the ailing Giant. In 1999, he finally dropped his belt for good to Toshiaki Kawada...only to find out a week later that Giant Baba had died. And his wife, Motoko Baba, was now head of the company, and Misawa was now Company President.
This was a problem for both, as Motoko was infinitely less of a risk-taker than her late husband, and she and Misawa hated each other's guts from long-before either were in any position of power. Finally, Misawa could stand no more, and in a power play the likes of which hasn't been replicated in wrestling to date, he announced to AJPW's TV company that he was going to leave AJPW, and take a good portion of the roster and production crew with him to start his own promotion: Pro Wrestling Noah. They agreed, and it was done.
From there, it was like the action of AJPW never ended, as he was finally able to do the things he had felt were necessary to make the wrestling he wanted to see a priority, and made NOAH must-watch TV with the successful pushes of many supremely talented individuals and often collaborating and competing directly with other companies in inter-promotional feuds. Unfortunately, by the mid-2000's Misawa had run into a problem: while he had a slowly growing audience, his core fanbase was...Misawa fans. And while he had resisted being champ again, he put the belt on himself in order to keep the lofty ambitions of NOAH afloat and keep the money coming in. He decided that he was going to retire by the end of 2009, spending the remainder of that time getting over his hand-picked successor Go Shiazaki.
Tragically, he would never get to see Go win the GHC World Heavyweight Championship, as on June 13th of 2009, in a tag team match, Misawa took a back suplex, and never got up again. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Misawa's death sparked numerous promoters and wrestlers in Japan to begin taking injuries more seriously, and sent shockwaves throughout the Puroresu community.
Misawa is considered one of the greatest professional wrestlers of the 1990's and early 2000's, having the largest amount of recognized five star matches in history, and having been so decorated in AJPW and NOAH that it's almost impossible to successfully recount them all.
Tropes associated with Mitsuharu Misawa:
- The Ace: Misawa almost never lost, and he was booked as a wrestler who could do anything and everything. But to be fair; in his prime, he was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time; who really do anything and everything.
- Alliterative Name: Tiger Mask excepted.
- Arch-Enemy: In-ring, it was Jumbo Tsuruta, who resented that this young upstart was muscling his way into his position as Ace in All-Japan to the point of having a Villainous Breakdown over it, and Misawa didn't take kindly to the fact he was knocked unconscious by a Folding Powerbomb at his hands and had something to prove. Outside of the ring, it was unquestionably Motoko Baba, who never believed in him and early on objected to his push; something it's implied he never truly forgave. It got even worse when they were competing executives.
- Author Avatar: Misawa, towards the end of his tenure in AJPW and especially in NOAH, was this.
- Badass Beard: Every other year he seemed to alternate on whether he was going to shave or not. Pretty much always shaved when wearing the mask.
- Captain Ersatz: Fire Pro Wrestling has them both for him and for his Tiger Mask gimmick. Misawa has been named a few times though.
- Casualty in the Ring: His effort to keep his company going strong ended up costing him his life, but despite its decline NOAH did continue.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Emerald green, as evidenced by his ring gear and the color of the NOAH ring mats.
- Cool Mask: During his tenure as Tiger Mask II.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The Tiger Driver '91, so named for its debut in a 1991 match against Akira Taue. This variant of the Tiger Driver was created by Misawa keeping the butterfly lock applied while Taue was in midair, causing him to land on his neck and shoulders. He wouldn't use it again for three years, and from then on only on special, dire occasions.
- Dented Iron: By the late 90's, Misawa's body was very beaten up, and he often had to take long absences from the ring in order to heal up, and a big part of why he resisted a third run as GHC Heavyweight champ was the toll the 20+ minute matches took on his body.
- Determinator: Misawa wrestled long past the point he should've been in the ring and he paid dearly for it.
- This was also applicable in a kayfabe sense; Misawa never submitted, at least not during his peak run. (Baba infamously despised submission finishes, and while he still used them up until around 1992, one of the defining characteristics of the Four Pillars era is that there was a good five-year stretch where no main event match finished on a submission.)
- '80s Hair: It wasn't ever too big but up till the mid nineteen nineties he had what was frighteningly close to a mullet.
- Finishing Move: Several, including the Emerald Flowsion, Tiger Driver (and its aforementioned variant, the Tiger Driver '91), and the Rolling Elbow (sometimes known as the "roaring elbow" by way of Japanese language, which would still fit him given his time as Tiger Mask II.)
- Hard Head: Hard enough to ignore headbutts from Samoans like Joe.
- Iconic Outfit: His signature Green-with-white tights and White-with-green Coat, at least later in life.
- Lightning Bruiser: While he got his start as the high flying Tiger Mask II, Misawa was a talented heavyweight whose primary finishers were a Powerslam variant and a Powerbomb. Ironically, this change in style made him closer to the original manga character then all the other Tiger Masks before and after him.
- No-Sell: Including no selling moves that had spectacularly taken him down earlier in the match, though usually it's explained as Misawa seeing it coming the second/third/fourth time and plowing through it, rather than just arbitrarily ignoring offense.
- Ominous Fog: Preceding his entrances, especially in NOAH.
- Retirony: He intended to retire by the end of 2009 as he was realistic about how much damage his body had been through and didn't believe he could keep it up at 48. He was right.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After Giant Baba's death in 1999, conflicts with Baba's widow, seen as the real power behind the throne in AJPW, led to Misawa leading an exodus of wrestlers out of AJPW and to Misawa creating Pro Wrestling NOAH.
- Signature Move: