Mitsuharu Misawa passed away on June 13, 2009, in Hiroshima, Japan when he lost consciousness after taking a backdrop in a tag team match. Misawa never came around and was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:10 p.m. JST that night. Days later, his death was attributed to spinal damage caused by the move. He was 46.
Mitsuharu Misawa started his career as a promising amateur wrestler, placing fifth in his age group at the 1980 freestyle World Championships. Shortly after, due to his dislike of amateur wrestling, he pursued a career in professional wrestling, a growing sport in Japan. In 1978, he had visited Jumbo Tsuruta, a Japanese wrestling star, at the All Japan Pro Wrestling offices who told him to finish high school before joining the pro wrestling circuit. In 1981, he was trained by puroresu (name for pro wrestling in Japan) legend and All Japan Pro Wrestling owner Shohei "Giant" Baba and gaijin stars (foreign wrestlers in Japan) "The Destroyer" Dick Beyer and Dory Funk Jr. On August 21, 1981, he made his in-ring debut in Urawa, Japan, against Shiro Koshinaka. Then in 1984, he was awarded the Puroresu Award for Rookie of the Year. He continued to work on the Japanese circuit waiting for his break when he and Koshinaka were sent by AJPW to EMLL, the leading lucha libre in Mexico where he competed as Kamikaze Misawa on a tag team with Koshinaka who competed as Samurai Shiro. Later that year, he returned to All Japan where he was given a new gimmick, Tiger Mask II. The original Tiger Mask had left pro wrestling and Misawa was chosen as his predecessor when AJPW bought the rights to the character from rival promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling. The following year, he was moved to the heavyweight division by AJPW management, a move disapproved by many.
In 1990, top AJPW Genichiro Tenryu had decided to leave the company and left a void in the main event. With that Misawa had the opportunity of a lifetime. On May 14, 1990, he teamed with Toshiaki Kawada to face Yoshiaki Yatsu and Hiromichi Fuyuki. During the match he commanded his partner Kawada to unmask him, thus abandoning the Tiger Mask gimmick. Then a month later on June 8, he got his first major singles victory since his unmasking by pinning the Tsuruta, a top AJPW star. This was also the first match in which Misawa wore green, in tribute to one of his idols, the late German wrestler Horst Hoffman. In 1992, Tsuruta fell ill with severe liver problems caused by a Hepatitis B infection, and his career was virtually over, making Misawa the main star in All Japan. On August 22, 1992, he became the AJPW Triple Crown Champion, the company's highest honor, for the first tim when he defeated Stan Hansen in Tokyo, Japan.
Also during Misawa's rise to fame, he had formed a tag team with Toshiaki Kawada that resulted in several titles and accolaids, such as winning the World's Strongest Tag Team League. By 1993, though, the group had broken up. Their breaking-up and ineveitable feud lead to one of the biggest power struggles in puroresu's history. The feud would come to be between the Shitenno Puroresu, or Four Heavenly Kings of Pro Wrestling. Misawa, Kawada, Akira Taue, and Kenta Kobashi would take their feud all over Japan for many years. No one outside the Kings would hold the Triple Crown Misawa's second reign in 1995 until Vader's victory four years later. From 1994 to 2000, Misawa would win the Triple Crown five times for a total 1,799 days, a thousand days more than Kawada who has held it second most for 743 days.
On January 31, 1999, Giant Baba, owner, founder, and booker of AJPW, passed away and left Misawa the role of head booker. However, tensions began to arise that year between Misawa and Baba's widow Motoko. The struggle reached its climax with Misawa's decision to leave the company in April 2000 (every April, all AJPW contracts were up for negotiation). His decision to depart from the promotion was followed by his decision to open up his very own company. Once Misawa decided to leave All Japan, he was followed by all AJPW natives excluding Masanobu Fuchi and Kawada. His promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH, named for the wrestlers' exodus, debuted on August 5, 2000.
Since 2000, NOAH has grown to become one of the two biggest promotions in Japan along with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Misawa held the Global Honored Crown Heavyweight Title (NOAH's top singles honor) three times and the GHC Tag Team Titles twice with Yoshinari Ogawa. In 2007, Misawa made two appearances for Ring of Honor Wrestling in 2007. Earlier this year, Misawa, along with partner Go Shiozaki, won the Global Tag League in NOAH.
Misawa's death comes as a complete shock to the entire wrestling industry. With over twenty-eight years experience, he was still at the top of his game, competing for NOAH's top honors. In his journey through pro wrestling, Mitsuharu Misawa left a large mark on the business. His influence has been felt by wrestlers of all paths, espeacially those in puroresu, a sport he helped keep alive during its slow period in the 1990's. His impact will also be felt by anyone who recognizes the Pro Wrestling NOAH logo. He isn't known as the Standard Bearer of Future Generations for no reason. Rest in peace Mitsuharu Misawa. フレッシュな運命を楽しんでください.