Wrestling 365 – 4/15

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Mitsuharu Misawa vs Yoshihiro Takayama

GHC Heavyweight Title Match

04/15/01

Following Misawa’s departure from All Japan and subsequent creation of Pro Wrestling NOAH, there became a need to create new championships, especially the main heavyweight title. Over a month long tour, sixteen men were whittled down to two who would compete in the first ever GHC Heavyweight Title Match. Having taken a significant majority of the talent from AJPW, the entrants to the tournament didn’t lack for star names – Jun Akiyama, Akira Taue, Vader, Takeshi Rikio and Takeshi Morishima all took their place alongside other notable stars of puro.

The final came down to Misawa – perhaps unsurprisingly – and Yoshihiro Takayama. During the tournament, Misawa would despatch Akitoshi Saito, Yoshinari Ogawa and Jun Akiyama; Takayama would defeat Jun Izamida, Kentaro Shiga and Vader. Most notably, Misawa would have to spend a significant amount more time in the ring on his route to the final, with none of Takayama’s matches going into double figures. However, history was on Misawa’s side; Takayama had lost the last two times the two men had met.

With the pomp and circumstance surrounding a title match over (and the new belt getting a respectful response from the crowd), Misawa and Takayama were ready to collide. Takayama would walk across to Misawa’s corner as his name was announced; Misawa would passively stare straight past him. The crowd were firmly in Misawa’s corner, though seemed in awe of the raw power that Takayama brought in opposition. They knew he was a legitimate threat.

The feeling out process saw both men grapple on the mat before colliding mid-ring in a test of strength. Takayama would turn this into a suplex and get the first pin attempt of the match, a one count that never really troubled Misawa. A rear chinlock put Takayama’s bulk squarely on Misawa’s back, before an unceremonious kick seemed to light a fire under both men. Punches were fired off at a rapid rate, a flying forearm dropped Takayama to the outside and Misawa launched himself between the ropes with a suicide dive. A resulting jump off of the top was met by a Takayama knee, however, leaving Misawa writhing in agony at ringside.

He wasn’t safe. Takayama landed a baseball slide before dropping Misawa hard on a ringside announce table. Several hard kicks to the chest shortly after saw the referee intervene with a count, though Misawa easily beat the ten. The rampway would be the next weapon used by Takayama, a back suplex on the brilliant white path followed by a huge running knee up against the ring ropes that just failed to lift Misawa back into the ring. The concerted beatdown on Misawa had silenced the crowd, with just the odd call for Misawa penetrating the silence.

Even when it seemed Misawa was threatening to come back into the contest, Takayama’s strikes constantly cut him off before he could press home the advantage. A kick to the back of the head got Takayama a two count, whilst a German suplex that followed had the crowd biting on a nearfall. For good measure, Takayama would drop him with a second German suplex for the same result. Frustrated by his inability to put Misawa away, Takayama took his annoyance out on Misawa’s chest and back with several stiff kicks.

Blood covered Misawa’s chest from a cut seemingly on his chin, but the sight of claret gave him a second wind as he went after Takayama’s arm with several submissions. Two forearms opened the way for a Tiger Driver, but Takayama kicked out at two and blocked the second attempt, landing a dragon suplex of his own for two. The match was in the balance as both men unleashed their big guns, quite literally for Misawa as a Roaring Elbow and running elbow got him subsequent two counts, much to the crowd’s surprise. However, Takayama couldn’t kick out of the Emerald Frosion, crowning Misawa the first ever GHC Heavyweight Champion.

With NOAH still a fledgling promotion, having Misawa on top made sense from a prestige and name value perspective. However, as could be seen in his match with Takayama, Misawa could definitely still go, and even at the age of thirty eight, still had enough to offer in ring as well.

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