Mitsuharu Misawa (or Misawa Mitsuharu, if you prefer) is a Japanese professional wrestler who runs the Pro-Wrestling NOAH wrestling promotion in Japan. While he hasn't been around for as long as Ric Flair, there's really no other North American wrestler that would really stand up against Misawa's accomplishments in Japan. While a number of wrestlers have achieved comparable popularity, very few could really compare to Misawa in terms of match quality. He has demonstrated a profound grasp of ring psychology and match construction that makes his matches routinely excellent.
Misawa started out his career as the second Tiger Mask in 1984, after All Japan Pro-Wrestling bought the Tiger Mask gimmick from New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He wrestled under that mask until 1990, when he asked his then-partner, Toshiaki Kawada to unmask him during a tag match. After that, Misawa wrestled maskless. Not long after, Misawa and Kawada began a feud which continued off and on for the rest of the decade, with Misawa winning the vast majority of their battles.
Things ran smoothly in All Japan until early 1999, when Giant Baba, founder of the promotion, died at the age of 61. Motoko Baba, widow of Giant Baba, inherited ownership whereas the board of directors voted in Misawa as president of the company, with Kawada as a vice president. Tension built as conflicts arose between Misawa and Motoko Baba, until Misawa was removed from his position as president by a majority vote of the executive board. Two weeks later, All Japan held a board meeting where 6 members resigned from their positions. Three days after that, a total of 24 All Japan wrestlers had resigned, and Misawa held a press conference announcing that he and the other wrestlers would form a new promotion, which would come to be known as Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Most notable about these defections is the fact that out of the wrestlers who worked regularly for All Japan, every single gaijin, except one, Vader, stayed loyal to All Japan, whereas every single native Japanese wrestler defected, except for one, Toshiaki Kawada.
Since then, NOAH has been quite successful in its promotions. In his booking of NOAH, Misawa tried to correct some of the problems that had plagued All Japan, such as slow elevation of new talent, and poor handling of submission-style wrestling, to varying degrees of success.
Misawa is considered by many to be the greatest wrestler ever. Throughout the 90's, and even today, he consistently produces some of the best wrestling matches you could ever see, with opponents of varying skill. He executes some of the most truly painful-looking moves with precision, and takes just as much of a beating as he dishes out. His matches tend to have the often sought-after quality of telling a story, through use of ring psychology.
That said, some fans object to the exceedingly dangerous style that he popularized in All Japan in the mid to late 90's, which was known primarily for what came to be known in the smart mark community as "head-dropping". While Misawa had always used some moves that were particularly hard on the head and neck, such as the Tiger Driver and Tiger Suplex, the number of moves used and frequency with which they were used began to wear thin with fans. They feel that the art had been drained from the exhibition and that All Japan's upper card matches had turned into what amounted to a macabre spectacle.
However, even those who disapprove of the copious head-dropping can still acknowledge the numerous high quality matches produced by Misawa in the past and the present.
The Great Hisa's Puroresu Dojo. http://www.puroresu.com/ . June 10th, 2002