When you enter professional wrestling as an in-ring performer, it’s often understood that your in-ring duties may be dangerous to your health and physical wellness. For years, we have heard stories of wrestlers becoming paralyzed or severely debilitated, stemming from their days in the squared circle. Some people loath this aspect of the wrestling industry, others are more than willing to take that risk. In fact, some are so passionate about the wrestling industry that they would be willing to die for it. However, no one ever expected AJPW and Pro Wrestling NOAH legend Mitsuharu Misawa to bear that cross.
Mitsuharu Misawa Passes Away
On June 13, 2009, Misawa was scheduled to wrestle on the Road to Southern Navigation 2009 NOAH event in Japan. In this match for the GHC Tag Team Championship, champions Akitoshi Saito and Bison Smith defeated Go Shiozaki and Mitsuharu Misawa. However, this match would be cut short due to unforeseen and deadly circumstances.
Although the match was scheduled to last 37 minutes, it would end 10 minutes prior than expected. In the finish, Saito would drop Misawa with his patented Saito Suplex. However, instead of rising from the mat to continue the contest as he usually would, Misawa would lie motionless in the middle of the ring. Realizing that something was wrong, the referee would end the match and call for medical support.
After unsuccessfully attempting to perform CPR on Misawa, the wrestler’s body began to shift in color. Emergency medical professionals would attempt to revive Misawa with an AED, but by this time, it was too late. Misawa would be taken to the Hiroshima University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m JST. He was only 46 years old.
Speculative Cause Of Death
In the wake of this wrestling legend’s passing, Misawa’s family would invoke a Japanese law that disallowed the police from publicly releasing an official cause of death. Interestingly enough, the official police report “speculates” the death to be caused by a cervical injury. After his passing, Misawa was officially diagnosed with “cervical cord transection”. (In other words, the tearing of an individual’s spinal cord). While all of this is just educated speculation, it is the widely accepted reason for Misawa’s death.
The Fallout From The Tragedy
After it was announced that Misawa had died, the Pro Wrestling NOAH performers attended a tour bus meeting where the news was broken. However, as the company was on tour, the wrestlers were incapable of taking time to grieve. Instead, they would progress onward to their show the next night in Fukuoka, Japan. At this event, Akiyama was scheduled to defend his championship against Rikio. However, he was in too much pain after the events that unfolded the prior night. Misawa’s death eventually spurred Akiyama’s willingness to care more for his own physical health, which eventually led to the discovery of a hernia between his L4 and L5 vertebrates. Doctors believe this discovery saved Akiyama from suffering the same fate as Misawa.
After Misawa’s death, Akitoshi Saito and his family were harassed for his involvement in the match. While Misawa’s family did not hold Saito responsible, the Japanese public surely did. Saito admitted to having suicidal ideations during this period, stating he felt “severe guilt”.
The Legacy of Mitsuharu Misawa
Misawa’s passing would be the subject of Japanese news coverage for weeks on end. Wrestling promotions around the world would honor Misawa with ten-bell salutes and respectful statements posted on company websites.
A private funeral was held for the family and friends of Misawa with an attendance cap of 100. Two weeks later, Pro Wrestling NOAH would hold a public ceremony for the former Tiger Mask. While the company had only anticipated an attendance of 5,000, the event would draw a crowd of 26,000 individuals. Forming a 2.4-kilometer line, Misawa’s public ceremony was reportedly the second most-attended public funeral for a Japanese athlete (surpassed by Giant Baba’s funeral ten years earlier).
Misawa was survived by his wife, Mayumi; his daughter, Kaede; and his son, Shizuma. The three-time GHC Heavyweight Champion is remembered as one of the most prolific, hard-hitting, and legitimate professional wrestlers to come out of Japan. Though not as popular in the United States, Misawa’s style remains an influence on American professional wrestlers and Japanese wrestlers alike. With his hard-hitting strikes, intense speed, and superb in-ring psychology, Misawa is remembered as a professional wrestling legend in life and in death.
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