Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D and occasional guests write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

1994 Match of the Year

Toshiaki Kawada v. Mitsuharu Misawa AJPW 6/3/94

PAS: This is pretty much the most consensus pick we have on the list. For the last 20 or so years when you asked serious wrestling fans what the best match ever was, this would be the family feud answer. It has been a long time since I watched this match, well before Misawa died, and my tastes in wrestling have shifted, I was interested to see if it held up. For the most part it did, this is an undeniably great match, pretty much the peak of the All Japan style, and it still really held my interest even though I have soured a bit on that style as a whole.

I really found my self invested in the awesome striking here, Misawa's elbows look awesome and I love how he can use them like a jab, holding someone off, and as a KO shot. Kawada is an amazing kicker, his timing and precision on kicks are perfect and he has a bunch of different variations. I loved how he transitioned from the early feeling out period of the match by obliterating Misawa with a spin kick. At one point Misawa gets his ear bloodied and Kawada spends much of the match trying to kick his brain through the opening. Kawada also lands a kick onto a diving Misawa which was a nasty counter, he is always able to land that big kick to counter Misawa. The match has some great near falls which it is know for, although honestly I might have liked this match even more if they had trimmed some of the dangerous suplexes and just gone toe to toe. The finishing Tiger Driver '91 was super nasty looking, but I think it would have been better if there hadn't been a bunch of almost as nasty looking headdrops earlier, although I admit that might be a reaction to Misawa's death as much as the match.

ER: This was that legendary Japanese match that was supposed to act as a gateway to the magical workrate land of Japanese wrestling. The first Japanese wrestling tape I owned was a 6 hour deathmatch compilation. I'd be willing to wager that a LOT of people's first Japanese wrestling tape was a 6 hour deathmatch compilation. So my first exposure to Japanese pro wrestling was lumpy men fighting in a supermarket, or Poison Sawada holding a cobra, or a ring outdoors at night fully engulfed in flames, or two morbidly obese twins rolling around in glass, or Pogo twisting a sickle into someone's forehead, or Onita riding in a boat to a ring. As far as I knew, half of the matches in Japan didn't even take place in a ring.

Some time in summer '98 while browsing magazines at Sawyer's News (RIP) I was thumbing through a PWI and saw a feature on Misawa/Kawada, because there was a big triple crown match and they had a storied history, and they were treated like such an important deal...and I had never heard these names before. I had never heard of the Triple Crown, and the only reason I had heard of All Japan was (hilariously) because WWF had done a feature on The Patriot and shown some brief clips of his time there. But PWI talked so reverently about these two that I became obsessed with seeing them wrestle. So I went online (after literally having been "online" for only a few months at that point. My first email address was!!) and bought a 6 hr. tape containing 3 AJPW comm tapes, including 6/3/94. So after thinking Japanese wrestling was all guys cutting each other, my first AJPW experience was actually a six man with Rusher Kimura and Haruka Eigen and mummy Giant Baba. So before getting to Misawa/Kawada I was really confused about what Japanese pro wrestling actually was. But I wasn't prepared for what I got. At that time, being maybe 17? my idea of a great wrestler was fast with cool moves. WCW cruisers were my bread and butter. So when I heard of two legendary Japanese wrestlers I'm certain I assumed "Their moves will be the best", as I was prizing move innovation over storytelling at that point in my fandom. And as you know the match doesn't really provide hot movez action. But there were tons of things that resonated with me that first viewing.

The crowd was electric, there was this great sense that - even though I had no history with these two - that they had a great history with each other, and knew what to expect from the other. There were no cutesy I reverse U reverse spots, more like physical chess with both of them knowing what to expect two moves from now. There were elements to the work that I had never really seen before, simple things that I loved, like putting your forearms up to block an elbow strike, or dropping down to a knee to sandbag a powerbomb. Every guy I saw attempt a powerbomb before then had either hit that powerbomb right away, or got backdropped over. An actual struggle over a big move was a bit of a revelation to me. Seeing Misawa drop to a knee, widen his base, grab onto Kawada's leg, anything to keep him from being powerbombed, that was eye opening. The strikes landed harder than anything else I had seen (pretty sure my VHS copy was one of the ones where they had slo mo highlights after the match, so you can see guys' necks compress and see their face get moved around their skull), and well, I had never seen a man bleed from his ear before. I don't think anything good ever came to anyone after bleeding out of their ear.

And all of that stuff still holds up as special. It's a great match. The level of improv based around things you can't plan (where a guy falls after taking a move, the position he winds up in), all of the ring positioning, it's all impressive stuff. You can see gears working when a strike was supposed to land harder and it didn't, and you can watch some sequences get kind of reworked and changed and added to without ever altering the course of the match. Kawada's kicks all land sharp, with that early thrust spin kick especially looking like it decapitated Misawa. I actually remember seeing people call "resthold" as a complaint in this match, but I'm sorry to watch each man's respective hold and to be so disbelieving seems a bit cynical to me. Misawa's face lock looked like he was clearly trying to block Kawada's breathing with his arm, and Kawada's stretch plum looked as if he was trying to separate Misawa's neck from his shoulders. There was nothing restful about either of those holds. We get some crazy moments like Kawada punching Misawa out of the air off an apron drive. Misawa actually changes trajectory in mid air from being punched! Kawada finally hitting that folding powerbomb was a huge moment and a great nearfall (of several), and while I didn't find the head drops excessive, that Tiger Driver 91 is still shocking. It really is quite the door slam to the match. I hadn't watched this match in probably 8+ years, and at this point I'm not seeing a reason it won't keep holding up.


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Anonymous Homewood said...

I just hope that when enough years are covered, we are going to get a Segundacaida MOTY comp! You could even run a bonus disc with the contenders...

3:38 PM  
Blogger EricR said...

This is actually a great idea, that I somehow hadn't thought of until you mentioned it.

4:25 PM  

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