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Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jun Akiyama (7/27/01)

First and last time, I'm going buy from a certain tape trader who will remain unanimous (note: great quality doesn't make up for order mistakes, but free matches sometimes do). I received this match, free of charge for whatever reason and was pretty happy about it. Although it was JIP (as in jip-ed out of seeing Kobashi's big-popped return to TV), I only about five minutes tops.

Starts with Akiyama doing a little armwork, but he hasn't learned to attack the right arm! Misawa hits some elbows and then slows things down. Aki comes back and no-sells and answers a few elbows, but they're Misawa's and he has to succumb to their might. Misawa continues to be one step ahead, until he hops to the second turnbuckle and is dropkicked to the floor.

Aki follows up with the old Dick Murdoch Calf-Brand (Driving Kneedrop) and regains his composure. Misawa crawls back and Jun is all over him with Cradle Tombstone for a nearfall. He goes back to matwork, this time Triangle Chokehold. The Champ slugglish rolls to the ropes for the break and finds himself getting pummeled in the corner and then the opposite one with elbows and knees. Misawa selling starts to look weird and then he comes out of the corner like an annoyed old man and the elbows start to fly. Misawa's are just "untouchable" and he knocks down his challenger.

Aki valiantly climbs to his feet and is sent back down twice. Misawa follows up with a lariat and his Stepover Facelock and lays Jun down for a two count. The aging champ's facials are really good, but he shows his roots with a rana counter to a powerbomb and his trademark Elbow Suicida, which looks as good as ever. Misawa comes back in with a Flying Elbow for a two count and then goes for the Tiger Driver. Aki fights it, but it just suplexed instead. Misawa comes in for another elbow and gets hooked. Akiyama tries to hit his Exploder, but can't so he locks on Nagata Lock II (apparently not to the surprise of the on-looking Yuji). The fans cheer their champion, who fights his way to the ropes.

Aki picks it back up with a Jumping Knee and then a DDT on the rampway. They fight around on it and tease both an Exploder and German Suplex off it to the floor, but Misawa knocks Jun off instead. Misawa misses an elbow and finds himself receiving his first Exploder of the night on the floor! Back inside, Jun looks confident. He rushes Mitsu with a knee to the spine and hits another Exploder for a 2 ½. He looks spent though and caught by Misawa.

In unquestionably the biggest flaw of the match, they struggle on the buckles for almost a minute. Then Misawa hooks the arms and hits a Super Tiger Driver!! Despite the awesome pop, the move looked hideous and really wasn't necessary, in fact it was burdensome. A long stall wouldn't fly in the US, but in Japan the fans are standing awaiting the cover. 1..2..no, only 2 9/10 on that baby. Misawa slowly hooks the arms again, but is driven back into the corner. He fires back with stiff elbows and fells his young challenger and gets another nearfall. This time he's more determined and Aki's softened up for a Tiger Driver, but alas it only get about a 2 ½. Misawa waits for Jun to rise and rushes him with an elbow and goes for Emerald Fusion, Aki slips over though and hits the third Exploder. Misawa recovers, but runs into a fourth.

"Misawa, Misawa," rallies the champion up and into a knee followed by a Brainbuster for a nearfall. The fans are getting into now, more than before, but it's still not All Japan. Aki then locks on his dreaded Guillotine Choke and Misawa appears to be out. The challenger rolls him over, 1, 2, foot on the rope for like a 2 9/10. Jun's going to have to go up and notch and does with his Exploder `98! This beat Misawa over a year ago on the Excite Series 2000 Tour, but not this time. Akiyama lifts him up and hooks him up, but Misawa has a little bit left to reach for the ropes. Aki grabs the free arm and hits another Exploder `98 for a decisive win at 24:11. After the match he offers his hand to Kobashi, who excepts it with a smile on his face (I marked out for that). Nagata congratulates his future partner backstage and the torch has been passed.

I had mixed expectations for this one and gladly was able to see a Top Ten MOTY for certain. I thought Misawa worked his tired ass off and Akiyama did his part, but let Misawa have his day. I don't recall their 2000 match as well as their 1998 one, which I thought this was superior to for sure. Complaints first: bad heat for a match of this magnitude, too many elbows for my liking (I'm estimating in the high twenties), and that Super Tiger Driver was enough to burn half a flake off my rating. The psychology was there and so were two of my favs: Kobashi and Nagata. I think anyone who knows these two know **** is not asking too much. I hate to dock points for not living up to potential, but when it's of this caliber it must done. In comparison to Muto-Tenryu, who were working above their level, these two were slightly below.

Rating: ***3/4

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