Samoa Joe vs Mitsuharu Misawa – The Match That Really Happened
Many fans remember Samoa Joe’s famous ROH match with Kenta Kobashi. That match has long been considered arguably the best ‘indy’ wrestling match ever. But that match was the start of something bigger. It started a long working relationship between ROH and Pro Wrestling NOAH that would lead to many more famous inter-company matches.
Most of them achieved fame because they took place stateside. Matches like Joe vs. Kobashi, Danielson vs. KENTA, and Danielson vs. Morishima, are all still talked about among hardcore wrestling enthusiasts.
But what many people forget was that American wrestlers went to Japan as well.
Samoa Joe vs. Mitsuharu Misawa –
Samoa Joe was with TNA in 2007 when this match took place. he was already an indy wrestling legend for his work in ROH and was considered a rising star in TNA. And thanks to his previous big matches, word spread to Japan and to NOAH. His reputation granted him bookings on one of NOAH’s tours and eventually, Joe earned a shot at NOAH’s coveted GHC Heavyweight Championship.
This was a big deal because the GHC title was a protected title and it carried a degree of prestige. It was also a big deal because at the time, the champion was none other than NOAH founder Misawa himself.
Joe, like many turn-of-the-century indy wrestlers, was a big fan of All Japan’s King’s Road style and its wrestlers. He adopted several of All Japan’s Four Pillars’ moves into his own arsenal when he wrestled. He used moves like Misawa’s elbow suicida, Toshiaki Kawada’s step-kicks, Kawada’s folding powerbomb, and Kawada’s seated chop/back kick combo. At one point, he even used a variation of Misawa’s Emerald Flowsion as one of his finishers, which he called the Island Driver.
For Joe, this was not only a chance to increase his international exposure as a wrestler. it was also a chance for him to wrestle one of his idols. But for Misawa, it was a different sort of challenge.
Misawa was GHC Champion more out of desperation than due to his own skill. Although it can’t be denied that Misawa was a world-class wrestler, he was a different person in 2007. Years of wrestling the taxing King’s Road style and taking bumps that Dave Meltzer described as “psychotic” had taken their toll on him.
He never took time off, especially since NOAH’s live gates suffered if he or Kobashi weren’t on the cards. Plus, the man he beat to become champion again, Naomichi Marufuji, hadn’t been the draw he hoped to be. So Misawa put the title on himself, hoping that someone credible would come along and beat him for it.
It was unlikely for Joe to be that man. As good as he was, Joe wasn’t going to stay in Japan long-term and defend the GHC title while still signed to TNA. And NOAH wasn’t big on transitional champions, either. So when Misawa faced Joe, few people expected Misawa to lose. The real question, then, was how far would Misawa have to go to beat Joe?
The world found out on October 27th, 2007.
Misawa vs. Joe: Legend vs His Fan
Joe brought the fight to Misawa almost right away. Since Misawa was the emperor of King’s Road, Joe was expected to his hard and pull no punches. He did exactly that, hitting stiff boots and a Misawa-style elbow suicida on Misawa within the first two minutes. He proceeded to do what so many have done before: he beat the crap out of Misawa.
Of course, this time around things were far worse because Misawa had osteophytes, which caused him to feel incredible pain when doing simple things like putting on a coat or brushing his teeth. Yet here he was being kicked, chopped, elbowed, head-butted, and throws by a 280-pound Samoan.
There was little Misawa could do for most of the match. Joe was bigger, stronger, and healthier. He had a strategy which involved out-powering Misawa and weakening his arms. Joe threw everything he had at Misawa, including both a Muscle Buster and an Island Driver.
But despite Joe’s many advantages, Misawa still had two things. He had his tenacity and John Cena-like penchant for kicking out at two…and he had his elbows. Misawa’s elbow strikes were legendary and lethal. And really that’s all it took. Misawa made a comeback out of nowhere with a few perfectly-timed elbow strikes.
He smashed Joe’s head in with them, landed an Emerald Flowsion, and then wrecked Joe with an elbow to the back of the head to win the match. Just like that, Joe’s chance of becoming GHC Heavyweight Champion disappeared.
Did it live up to expectations?
Most fans out there see this match as a bit of disappointment. It’s not hard to see why; compared to Joe vs. Kobashi, this is slightly above average, at best. Although the right elements were there, the match just didn’t live up to the hype. Misawa was old, worn-down, and in constant pain.
He couldn’t live up to his own lofty standards, even with a wrestler as talented and cooperative as Joe. And Joe, for all his skill, had an off day here. But it wasn’t his fault, exactly; the NOAH audience just didn’t care about him at all. Since no-one bought the idea that Joe could win the title, they saw this as a placeholder title challenge and nothing more.
Worse, Joe tried everything to get a reaction from them. But doing so was like pulling teeth. Joe did the same stuff he did in his big American matches and even busted out some King’s Road memories to add something special and personal to the match. But again, no one cared. Reactions to the biggest moves were middling at best.
This wasn’t a case of the clichéd “quiet, polite, respectful Japanese audience” trope. Any video from 1990s All Japan and even early 2000s NOAH will quickly dispel that notion. It was just a case of fans not caring enough about a match to care. And even though there have been cases of matches with quiet or even on-existent crowds being great.
This wasn’t the case. This match was just structured poorly. Joe had control for 90-95% of the match and Misawa just made a random and unearned comeback. He barely did anything to really hurt Joe that badly. although Misawa’s minimalistic approach once again sold the lethality of his elbows, it also made Joe look like an easy challenge.
That’s hardly the kind of message you want to send when trying to put over a challenger as a big deal.
Is it worth seeing?
Yes, though more for its novelty than for any special quality. Joe vs. Misawa was a great idea on paper that didn’t live up to the hype in execution. It was alright but nothing special. And again, it wasn’t even on the same planet as Joe vs. Kobashi, much less in the same atmosphere.
But this is indeed a match that happened, so any fan curious about following Joe’s pre-WWE exploits will find something interesting here.
Forbidden Door is a new series here at ProWrestlingPost. In it, we look into obscure and forgotten matches between big stars that deserve revisiting. And we start off with one of the most ‘wow, that really happened?’ matches of the 2000s: Samoa Joe vs. Mitsuharu Misawa.