An accident inside of the wrestling ring claimed the life of one of Japanese pro wrestling’s biggest stars. Mitsuharu Misawa died in the ring Friday night after taking a dangerous suplex. It is a bit of sad irony that someone who innovated one of pro wrestling’s most dangerous styles died from it.
Mitsuharu Misawa’s death occurred on Friday night at a Pro Wrestling NOAH event. Mitsuharu Misawa is also the president of NOAH. After being dropped on his head via a back suplex, Misawa reportedly went into cardiac arrest and became unconscious. Misawa would spend his last moments alive in the ring.
I was completely blown away when I first heard the news. I have always been a big fan of Misawa. I became disillusioned with pro wrestling in the 90s thanks to the WWE and WCW. It was when I discovered All Japan Pro Wrestling and the classic Misawa-Toshiaki Kawada feud that I became a fan again.
I can’t even begin to write about how much of an impact that Misawa had on the entire industry. Many of today’s WWE superstars grew up watching his tapes and trying to imitate the moves. When I was on the road with ECW in the mid-90s, the guys would always huddle around and watch Misawa tapes before the show. He was truly idolized within the industry.
Misawa and the All Japan style became known in the business as Strong Style. Strong Style has completely changed the way that wrestlers all over the world work. Strong Style is a very real wrestling where wrestlers punch and kick and drop each other as hard as they can. While the matches are worked, there is very little fake about Strong Style Wrestling.
One of the most watched tapes among tape traders for years was a Steve Williams-Kenta Kobashi All Japan match from 1993. The video is legendary for one particular move. Steve Williams drops Kobashi flat on his head with a backdrop driver several times. It is sick! Ironically one of the pioneers of that style would die from a very similar move.
Wrestling fans and critics often point to Ricky Steamboat-Ric Flair as the greatest series of matches. I would argue that the Misawa-Kawada series from the 90s may be the greatest series of matches in wrestling history. You will never look at wrestling the same after watching one of these brutal matches.
I know many wrestlers that hate this style of wrestling. Critics argue that wrestling should be worked and safe. Critics contend that there is no art to performing dangerous moves and hitting your opponent as hard as you can. Misawa’s death will only encourage these critics to become more vehement about this style.
This also argues for the safer WWE style of wrestling. A lot of WWE wrestlers have told me over the years that they were handcuffed by things they weren’t allowed to do in the ring. Most fans of Strong Style find WWE wrestling boring. Boring yes, but the risk of a stiffer style on a regular basis would cripple these guys or sadly, kill them.
In the States, Ring of Honor is the predominant Strong Style company. I have argued amongst friends for years that the style is very unsafe for the wrestlers and for the business. You can only tuck your head so many times after being dropped on your head. I shudder to think of the conditions some of these guys will be in ten years from now.
Another bit of irony here is the UFC argument. Opponents of UFC will argue about how unsafe and dangerous it is. Nobody has ever died in a UFC match. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Dana White or UFC proponents cite Misawa’s death in defending UFC vs. pro wrestling.
In the Japanese wrestling culture or puroresu wrestling, it is the ultimate honor to die in a wrestling ring. It is bitter sweet that the ultimate honor befell one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all-time.
NTV news has footage of the incident.
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