Sankan Heavykyu Senshuken Jiai:
Still partners at the time, Misawa & Kawada delivered the first of many great singles matches together. This was only the second time Kawada had headlined Budokan in singles, having failed to wrench the three belts from Stan Hansen 4 months earlier. Kawada was more than deserving of the spot, but obviously it's unfortunate that his headlining three of the next four Budokan spectaculars was due to Jumbo Tsuruta's Hepatitis B vanquishing him to the comedy pasture. Ironically, the one show Kawada didn't headline, 2/28/93, contained his greatest match of the group, a semi-final loss to Hansen that should be on everyone's short list of the most brutal matches of all-time.
Misawa & Kawada didn't give the slightest hint that they were partners or friends. They won the tag league two months later, but that was future business. Today, the titles were all that mattered.
These two were not as different as they would grow in later years. On the surface, that sounds like a bad thing, but in this case it wasn't. They were thinking along the same lines in these days, and that's what allowed them to take psychology, build, and selling to new and unsurpassed levels. Of those three, by far the strongest in this match was the selling. Kawada attacked Misawa's left (non-elbowing) elbow early on, and Misawa showed the pain and damage in so many different ways. The most impressive was when he got back to his feet after a submission. Before they locked up again, he wiggled his fingers, bent his wrist, and rolled his shoulder, making sure all the parts were still functional, and getting the blood flowing to them.
There was only one head dropping in the match, but it was right off the bat. Misawa headlocked Kawada out of a lock up, and Kawada shocked everyone by just whipping him over with a dangerous backdrop. There was one other headdrop attempt midway through the match, but Misawa blocked the suichoku rakka shiki no brainbuster. Kawada transitioned right into a wakigatame, which was his way of bringing the arm back into the match, and the first legitimate finishing attempt.
Surprise was an element Misawa used as well. Early on he made it look like Kawada seriously damaged his face, holding his hands over his nose. Kawada kind of stood over watching Misawa slowly get up only to have Misawa burst into a series of elbows.
Dangerous K was threatening from all places. One thing I really enjoyed here that I haven't seen Kawada do in ages is strike from his back. This can be a very important skill in PRIDE because your opponent has to be on guard at all times, they can't just walk in and impose their will on you. I guess it's still not cool to do in a work though, it might disturb your opponents posing or something.
Where the first Misawa vs. Kawada wasn't on the level with some of their later greater bouts was in the early to middle portion. Kawada's arm attack was early and at 16:00 and 18:00 (powerbomb near fall) he had his first near finishes, but in between there wasn't anything special going on. Misawa's acting was great, but his offense didn't have a lot of direction. He was awfully elbow happy. Misawa probably out acted Kawada, though Kawada was highly impressive near the end when Misawa really got his offense going, particularly in the way his head was bobbling around like Misawa's elbows had loosened it from his neck.
Kawada's wicked running lariat near fall at 21:00 was where they took the match to another level. The crowd either knew that was the spot or were so pumped up by it and didn't subside because Misawa & Kawada didn't give them reason to. Misawa did do his facelock, but in these days it was very over. Beyond the obvious of them going years without anyone submitting to it, perhaps the reason it went over well at this time was all the effort Misawa put into it; face grimacing and arms jerking, it seemed like Mitsuharu was using every ounce of energy to get the submission. Kawada was reaching out for the ropes, but he was a ways away and it's hard to move in the facelock. There's no intensity if the spot isn't believable regardless of effort, but this kind of effort makes you buy into a spot that you don't truly believe will end it. Throughout the match, their motions and expressions were so right on.
Brutality wasn't as prevalent in this encounter. Kawada used a wide array of strikes, my favorite spot being when Misawa put him down with the running elbow then set up another only to run into the ganmengiri. However, his move set wasn't as tight in those days. They both relied on power pins for finishers, with Kawada even using a Dragon suplex hold. After several bridging suplexes by both, Kawada succumbed to the Tiger suplex hold. Not as focused or deep as their later matches, but one move led to the next well and they had freshness on their side. 29:50. ****1/2