Over at Death Valley Driver Video Review they have decided to honor the memory of their longtime friend Justin Newbould with the DVDVR 1001 Matches. It’s a countdown of the 1001 matches that wrestling fans need to see before they die. It will no doubt be an eclectic list full of great, odd, unique, and fun wrestling.
Unfortunately the boys at DVDVR have said they will not be adding any new reviews to the matches selected for the list. While I know I am no Phil Schneider, Dean Rasmussen, Phil Rippa, Rev Ray et al. I decided that writing reviews for every match in the DVDVR 1001 Matches would be a great project for myself at Wrestling with Words. I’m starting with match number one on their list and working my way through the entirety of said list in order. It will take many years and the journey will be worth it, I’m sure, but I’ll get is to the finish line.
Without any further ado, here is my first entry in the DVDVR 1001 Match project.
There are matches that come along and they are transcendent. People latch onto those matches. They praise them, write many superlatives about them, and always speak of them in reverential tones. Those are the matches that are always the hardest to write about. It’s hard to write about those matches because the inherent problem is what to say about a match that everyone else has already thoroughly explored? It’s something I know I struggle with, in the few instances where I come across a much heralded match and feel the same as everyone else.
What does one do when the above is the case but the match is perhaps the most heralded of all time? My answer is to speak from the gut. No deep analytics or academic thinking for this review. Nope, instead I’ll be writing a few words about why the match had an impact on me. That’s the best one can do for such a match I think, or at least that’s what I tell myself to get through the review.
To call this iteration of Mitsuharu Misawa versus Toshiaki Kawada art is to aptly describe the match and to sell it very short. This is a match that makes watching wrestling feel like a worthwhile endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of facets of wrestling make it a worthwhile endeavor. But, it’s rare when they all come together and the end result is damn near perfect. Misawa versus Kawada evokes the highest highs of the artistic venture known as professional wrestling. It is two of the greatest artists in their field producing possibly the greatest work of their careers.
There are ebbs and flows to this match. Control sequences, comebacks, and flourishes. It is very much, ahem, a wrestling match. The structure is there, there’s no denying that. At the same time there’s something more taking place. A higher goal is being reached for, not just the brass ring but the keys to the entire kingdom. This is Kawada and Misawa attempting, and succeeding, to let the world know that they are on another level and their style of wrestling is the very best one can hope to witness.
It begins in a controlled manner, with Kawada exerting surprising dominance over Misawa. Then Misawa does something unusual, he attacks a weak spot with vigor. It’s not so much the act of the attack, but the reason for the attack that is surprising. Misawa is desperate, he is being overwhelmed by the attack of Kawada and he has no choice but to go after the weak leg of his opponent. He’s pretty vicious in his attack, but at the same time Kawada cuts him off before any serious long term damage can be inflicted.
However, what the leg attack accomplishes is to reset the match. It’s not domination anymore, but a spirited back and forth. The remainder of the match is about Misawa proving he is the ace and Kawada proving he should be the ace. Misawa survives Kawada’s killer moves, and Kawada forces Misawa to go through his entire repertoire of match enders. They are laying it all on the line, and it’s like two giant bulls crashing into one another over and over again.
The end run is among the best I have ever seen in a professional wrestling match. Everything is hit crisply yet with a harshness that makes the moves as believable as possible. They call back to earlier in the match, as well as to earlier in their careers. Each nearfall seems to be the end and they had myself, and the live audience, enraptured by every single one. When the Tiger Driver ’91 is hit the match seals its fate as an iconic masterpiece.
Misawa and Kawada pushed one another as hard as they have ever been pushed, up until this point at least. Maybe Kawada should have gone over, but it’s not a booking decision that hurts the quality of the match in my eyes. The entirety of the match is executed exactly as it should be. Crisp at times, rugged at others, and engaging throughout. This is one of the best matches of all time. As the great Dean Rasmussen once wrote about it,
“It’s ethereal and great and it’s art and you should fucking see this match.”
I can’t phrase it any better than that. This match is special in every way I was able to express and even more that I couldn’t express.