Mitusharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta is seen as a turning point for All Japan Pro Wrestling. It was the moment when the supremely talented Misawa stepped up to take his place at the top of the company. I’m by no means an All Japan historian, though, so rather than setting up this scenario myself, I’ll point you in the direction of this article which does the job wonderfully.
Misawa vs. Tsuruta is a classic wrestling story. It’s the powerful older man against the faster youngster. Early on Tsuruta uses that power to his advantage, essentially bullying Misawa and getting a two count off a stiff lariat. When Misawa gets a bit of space, though, he is able to fight back. Faking a dive to the outside before hitting a two-footed dropkick from the apron to the floor. Rip Rogers would have been very disappointed.
Back in the ring, the two men grapple for control with the continuing story being Misawa outmanoeuvring Jumbo with his quickness and intelligence. Things begin to heat up when Misawa slaps Tsuruta across the face a couple of times, and Jumbo gets angry, but no matter what he does he can’t get his hands on the younger man.
It turns this match into a tactical affair. When Jumbo is in control, he is slow and methodical. Overpowering Misawa and using his strength to dictate the tempo. It’s the moments where Misawa bursts into action that it gets exciting. As mentioned in the article I linked above, he is still using some of his moves from his time as Tiger Mask II, and the bursts of pace bring the match to life.
Towards the end of the fight, the story begins to change. Jumbo’s power starts to pay off, and suddenly Misawa is surviving rather than thriving. He kicks out after a big elbow off the top rope followed by a vicious looking powerbomb. Misawa is forced to take more risks to get back into the match, and he hits a huge crossbody from the top rope to the floor.
By this point, the crowd are electric as they chant Misawa’s name. Jumbo misses a big knee against the ropes but is able to go for a suplex. Misawa slips out to go for one of his own, but Jumbo reverses it into a crossbody. Yet, with a wriggle of his body, Misawa slides out from that pin attempt and into one of his own stealing the three count and a monumental victory.
The truth is that for a lot of this encounter this didn’t feel like a five-star match. The action was solid, but I felt that out of the context of the story it wasn’t quite working. That was until the final stretch. The crowd during the run in are incredible, and the storytelling is right along with them. Tsuruta throws everything he’s got at Misawa, but he takes it and at the very end steals a victory from the brink of defeat. It establishes Misawa as being up there with the best, but at the same time, it doesn’t diminish Jumbo Tsuruta. It sets these men up to fight again, and I can’t imagine anyone had a problem with that.