Friday, November 26, 2010

"Project 33" - Match #17 - Misawa vs. Samoa Joe

Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Samoa Joe
27 October, 2007
Budokan Hall; Tokyo, Japan
GHC Heavyweight Championship Match

Part 2   Part 3

The greatest in-ring performer in professional wrestling over the last twenty years is almost undoubtedly Mitsuharu Misawa.  Not only was he a great performer in the ring, but he was also a huge draw that commanded the respect of his peers.  When his mentor and employer for most of his professional career, Giant Baba, passed away, Misawa worked to keep his vision of professional wrestling in Japan alive - even going as far as splitting from All-Japan to form NOAH.

By 2007, Misawa was well past his prime, but was still able to put on exciting matches, and was still booked high on the cards.  When Naomichi Marafuji won the GHC Heavyweight Championship in early 2007, it was seen as the beginning of a new era in NOAH, but a few months Misawa defeated Marufuji for the championship.  Never before did someone seem so obvious a transition champion.  Only, it wasn't obvious who Misawa was transitioning to.

Enter Samoa Joe.  After an impressive showing in the US in a match against Kenta Kobashi, Joe was booked to challenge Misawa for the GHC Championship on a big NOAH card in Budokan Hall.  With Joe working part time in Ring of Honor, and full time for TNA, this was an odd booking - was Joe going to win the championship, to defend it in ROH?  Since Joe was unable to win the TNA championship, was he going to win the belt and take it to TNA?  Was there a working relationship with NOAH and TNA?

In reality, Samoa Joe was seen as a beast by the Japanese press and fans, because of his strong showing against Japanese stars in ROH, and because of the excellent matches he was putting on in TNA - he was a credible challenger to Misawa when NOAH didn't really have anyone to challenge Misawa.  It was the old "foreign challenger" that was a staple of Japanese booking, that American fans didn't seem to understand.

In the match however, Joe brought the pain.  In this twenty minute match, he beats the crap out of Misawa.  This was before Joe was exclusive to TNA and his style was neutered, so he works a very physical and athletic type of match with Misawa.  The younger Joe uses his power advantage to throw Misawa, and then wear him down with submissions.  Misawa fights back with his patented elbows, and Joe takes a beating of his own.  Joe throws a lot of really lound and painful looking kicks, and Misawa keeps getting up from them to lay in more elbows to Joe's face.

In fact, this is a good place to talk about Misawa's elbows.  Misawa's elbows were his gimmick.  He threw them really well, and he won matches by putting people down with them.  As a heavyweight, he threw them heavy, so that they made a sound and had a nice impact.  They were not used as transitions from one spot to another.  Misawa's elbows were over enough with the crowd, that everyone understood that he was using his elbow strikes to wear his opponent down so that he could daze them enough to hit a spine-jarring suplex, slam, or throw of some sort.  There are soooooo many US independent wrestlers that see Misawa or another Japanese wrestler throw these stiff elbows, and adopt them, without having the psychology behind it. Instead, they just go out and start throwing elbows willy-nilly like it is a half-assed punch.  Unless your elbow strikes are as good as Misawa's or are as over as Misawa's, then you probably shouldn't be throwing them as if you are Misawa. 

But anyway - this is a really good match, but not as good as Joe-Kobashi by any means.  It is a good match for what it was, and definitely something worth watching, but is by far the best work of either man.  What it is, however, is a good solid heavyweight championship match on a big card.  Both guys brought a good match to the table - not a great match, but a good one.  I would have loved to have seen Joe have a match with 1997 Misawa, but, I'll take this.

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