Scout Report by Wrestlingscout
Misawa-Kawada versus Flair-Steamboat
Feuds are one of the most essential aspects of professional wrestling. Though they are what keep wrestling alive and exciting week-to-week, it is the great feuds that people remember. Even if the storylines are new and exciting, it is the in-ring performance that must stand the test of time. Few feuds have been able to do that, but a few have over the years. If you ask anyone who lived through the glory days of wrestling in the 1980s, who is worth their weight in old WONs, they would say Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. If you asked anyone who is a fan of modern puroresu, they would certainly say Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada. Whose to say which is better? Not me, I think both have a lot to offer to fans young and old alike. I hope to draw a few differences and similarities between the two, which few could argue are the greatest feuds to date.
One of the biggest differences is how the men in these feuds came to fame. Flair and Steamboat were young men in the Mid-Atlantic territory, whose Television title matches catapulted them to the top of the card on the heel and face sides respectively. They had five National Wrestling Alliance World championship matches in 1982 through North and South Carolina and three in 1984 in addition to several United States title matches around the same time. Steamboat became one of Flair's greatest challengers, but left Mid-Atlantic to wrestle for the World Wrestling Federation. In contrast, Misawa and Kawada became tag partners. Misawa had been the second version of the famed Tiger Mask and Kawada had been half of the successful team known as Footloose with Ricky Fuyuki. While these two pairs were contrastingly brought together it was what they did together in their early years that allowed them a high profile forum in which their great matches took place.
Flair, since the early 80s had been a dominating fixture in the as the NWA World champion. Steamboat had sought success in the WWF, where he and Randy Savage had an exceptional series of match crowned by an Intercontinental title win for "The Dragon" at Wrestlemania III. Misawa and Kawada had been an awesome pair, who did everything from several tag titles and even some Real World Tag Team Championship tournaments.
Steamboat's return to the NWA was the catalyst for he and Flair's feud as he came back to challenge his old rival. Steamboat came back unexpectedly and pinned Flair in a tag match giving him the right to a title shot. He attacked Flair and ripped off his expensive suit in one of the most memorable main event build-ups ever on TV. This spelled for a heated and exciting match in Chicago's Rosemont Horizon at the Chi-Town Rumble. On the other side, Misawa's "upset" of Stan Hansen for the Triple Crown and Kawada's victory over Akira Taue made him the logical number one contender. Kawada had long been Misawa's second and this made for an anticipated meeting.
The first Flair-Steamboat match was momentous as Steamboat beat Flair with a small package to win the NWA title. Flair though had a reputation of losing, but returning to reclaim it in the rematch. The rematches were of great importance as Steamboat and Flair's next high profile match was shortly after at the Clash of the Champions in New Orleans in a "two out of three falls" match. In actuality the two had met eight times at house shows in key places like Greensboro, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, but the Clash match was the rematch. They met two more times before the last leg of the trilogy. In Nashville, at the Music City Showdown pay-per-view with judges (Lou Thesz, Pat O'Connor, and Terry Funk) there to prevent a draw, Flair regained the title. As only pro wrestling can do, the post-match established Flair's next challenger - Terry Funk. As quickly as Steamboat came and held the title, he was gone again.
Misawa and Kawada first met in grueling battle that ended with Misawa retaining his title following a Tiger Suplex. It was Weekly Pro Wrestling's match of the year, but only the tip of the iceberg. Misawa and Kawada would not meet in another singles match for another nine months. After Kawada and new partner Akira Taue defended their Unified Tag titles against Misawa and his new partner, Kenta Kobashi, Kawada received another shot. Misawa won again with a Tiger Suplex. Kawada had to rebound yet again. After beating Steve Williams to win the Champion Carnival, Kawada returned to get a third shot at the Nippon Budokan. This time he put his best effort fourth and many consider it the best match of the feud, but in the end he fell short after the infamous Tiger Driver `91. Kawada finally won the Triple Crown briefly after Misawa dropped it to Williams, whom he'd already beaten once. After losing it to Stan Hansen, Kawada gained his first pinfall over Misawa in a tag match between he and Taue and Misawa and Kobashi, which is consider the best tag match of the decade. After a fourth and failed attempt by Kawada he saw no such luck in 1996 as problems between he and All Japan direction cost him his push. When Kawada got back on track, he and Taue continued to dominate and he got a bittersweet Champion Carnival victory over Misawa. Finally in 1998 at the first Tokyo Dome show, Kawada defeated Misawa for the Triple Crown. After another brief reign, Kawada struggled through and got another crack at Misawa. Despite breaking his arm early in the match, Kawada won again with the insane Ganso Bomb. Kawada could not defend the Triple Crown with a broken arm, and was force to vacate the Triple Crown. Misawa won the Triple Crown again at the second Tokyo Dome show. Kawada and Misawa fought one last time before the All Japan-NOAH split. Kawada would fail yet again and Misawa retained.
These two feuds show bizarre stories, one that is long and hard, and one that is a brief and exciting. While the bulk of Flair and Steamboat took place in just over a three-month period, Misawa and Kawada had a long-running program that would span seven years. Steamboat was the hero returning to shock an old rival and win the World title, which he'd never done. In the end Flair got it back as he always did and went onto the next challenger, Terry Funk. Oddly enough Steamboat became one such challenger five years later. Misawa-Kawada on the other had been the story of Kawada's career. Misawa represented more than a great champion, he was the blockade for Kawada. Despite "Dangerous K's" work rate, his "Untouchable" rival was not only Misawa, it was All Japan politics. As Taue, Kobashi, and even Akiyama to an extent got their shots, Kawada was held back. In the end though he won out and is now the top wrestler in puroresu.
It is hard to argue that as both feuds went on the quality of the matches improved. It is perhaps easier to say the feud had a peak match and that match is what is debatable. Flair and Steamboat's first meeting was decent, but the least memorable of the three marquis battles. Dave Meltzer feels the "two out of three falls" rematch was better, while Pro Wrestling Illustrated felt the final match was the best. Not surprisingly, both sources voted the match they preferred "match of the year" and the other one was the runner-up. While PWI never acknowledged the Misawa-Kawada battles (no surprise there), Mr. Meltzer's favorite is the `94 match.
World Championship Wrestling reused the legendary feud in 1994 to help turn Flair before his big match with Hulk Hogan. Flair (then 45) continued to look past Steamboat (then in his early 40s) to Hogan, which was an insult to the challenger. They met at Spring Stampede in a good match, much better than Flair-Hogan, but it was a controversial draw, similar to the final fall in New Orleans with the double-chickenwing cradle. They met again in a rematch the following weekend, which was good as well, but probably the weakest televised match the had and unfortunately the last. Sadly, a back injury caused Steamboat to retire before the end of the year and Flair wrestled far longer than he should have. These nostalgic battles in the mid-90s were as good as any in the States at that time. One must ask, will see Misawa-Kawada in 2005? Misawa would be 43 and Kawada would be 44 and at their work rates and conditioning, such a match (assuming it was their first since `99) is not inconceivable.
(Triple Crown matches)
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