Welcome to Diamonds In The Rough! In this series, I’ll be analysing and breaking down some matches which are under-appreciated, underrated, or just forgotten. Today I’m going to explore Jumbo Tsuruta and Mitsuharu Misawa’s September 1st 1990 bout, the rematch to their legendary June 8 Budokan Hall match from earlier in the year.
The art of the sequel is an incredibly difficult one to master. How do you make this match different than the first? How do you up the stakes from the last match? And most importantly, how does the match and finish continue the rivalry? Because of these expectations, very few of these matches live up to the initial encounters. But Misawa and Jumbo didn’t just meet expectations on September 1st, they rocketed past them in a blaze of glory.
Yes, it is my opinion that the September match is better than the June one. Both are undoubtedly some of the best matches of all time, but what makes the September match so genius in my eyes can be broken down into three key factors.
Tone and intensity:
The intensity of this match is almost difficult to describe with words. There is a sense of heated rivalry and genuine dislike from both men, but especially from Jumbo Tsuruta.
In their June match, the young upstart Misawa managed to defeat Jumbo Tsuruta. This result is one of the most important of all time, as it heralded a new era of wrestling in All Japan, signifying that the younger generation was coming for Tsuruta, and especially his title of Ace.
Even as Tsuruta enters, you can see the effect the June loss has had on him. He is all business tonight. His face exudes a seriousness absent from the June match, as he is walking in as a man without the pride Misawa stole from him in a single roll-up.
As the match progresses, Misawa and Jumbo fight for control, with notable moments being Misawa besting Jumbo in a test of strength, and Jumbo throwing Misawa to the outside, only for him to roll back in immediately to applause from the crowd. The crowd know who they are rooting for. Surely a subject of frustration and anger for Tsuruta, considering how long he has spent as the top man in All Japan.
Misawa manages to kick out of several of Jumbo’s big moves; the jumping body scissors, the butterfly suplex, a piledriver. This angers the Ace, making him go for a backdrop suplex which Misawa gets out of. He blasts Jumbo with elbow after elbow, the expression on Tsuruta’s face going from disdainful to utterly enraged.
Misawa elbows him again. Jumbo loses it.
Tsuruta loses all sense of wrestling intelligence and acumen, slapping Misawa repeatedly in the face until he falls to the ground; with Jumbo mounting his opponent, with repeated blows to the head that just look absolutely brutal. If Misawa can’t remember the power of the Ace on his own, Jumbo Tsuruta will make him.
It’s moments like this that really drive the atmosphere of seething resentment between the two that just hasn’t been given enough time to develop in time for the June match. But here, it flourishes.
There are references littered throughout this match which serve to call back and develop some of the themes and spots that were explored in the first encounter between the two.
The earliest reference to the June match occurs when Misawa comes off the top rope, only for Jumbo to plant him headfirst into the canvas in a truly savage display of power. This eerily similar to Misawa dodging a Tsuruta lariat only to send him crashing into the ropes.
This connection is admittedly loose, but while not being as direct a callback as some of the ones I’m about to discuss, it does serve to show Tsuruta has taken more of the tricks Misawa used in the June match to use against him.
One of my favourite moments in the match arrives when we get a reversed version of the finish of the June match, as Misawa reverses a backdrop suplex into a pin, only for Tsuruta to roll through and reverse the pin for the two count. This is such an excellent moment for a few reasons. Firstly, it continues this theme we are seeing of Tsuruta actually learning from Misawa, a very unusual dynamic in a veteran versus upstart feud like this one, at least on the veteran’s end.
Perhaps, even more importantly, it is moments like this that raise the stakes of this match beyond the first incarnation. Watching this, you feel like there is a sense of tangible history to this rivalry, and that it is something more than two wrestlers with no connection scrapping it out. That sense of connection and history is the most important element in constructing a believable rivalry.
The differences between the finishes of the June and September matches are really a microcosm of the differences between the matches as a whole. One is grand, epic and iconic, while the other is tense, brutal and effective. If June 8 is A New Hope, then September 1st is The Empire Strikes Back. While the finish of the June match is certainly more historically significant, in my opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to what they pulled off in September.
Tsuruta scouts Misawa coming off the top rope, and nails him with a superplex. He hooks Misawa up for his famous backdrop suplex. Hundreds of Jumbo Tsuruta’s matches have ended this way, with him planting his opponent’s neck into the canvas.
But not this match.
Misawa somehow finds the strength to kick out and the crowd go ballistic. They are desperate at this point for Misawa to beat Tsuruta and prove it wasn’t just a fluke in June. In his time of greatest need, Misawa goes to his old faithful; the elbows. He rocks Jumbo with an elbow strike, sending him crashing to the floor.
Jumbo’s selling of Misawa’s elbow really conveys how dangerous Misawa is, and how close he is to beating him. For one glorious moment, it seems as if the fairytale could come true once again for Misawa. But it was not to be.
Jumbo catches a charging Misawa with a decapitating lariat, and follows up with a backdrop suplex to earn the victory.
In a way, I think the ending to this match may be even more important than the Misawa victory in June. While Misawa may not have won here, he put up a damn good fight and was tantalisingly close to beating the Ace once again. This match served a very important role: prove that Misawa isn’t some lucky runt. He’s the real deal.
I adore this match, and it’s one I revisit often. It is a fantastic example of how to continue and develop a storied rivalry between two wrestlers, one of the most genuinely challenging things to do in wrestling.
There is a special kind of intimacy you experience when watching a match that you love. It’s a feeling of intense connection and emotion, like it’s taking you on its own little journey. And that is exactly the feeling I hope I can provide to all of you with this series.
If you would like to read more of my King’s Road ramblings, please check out the article I wrote for my personal blog here! https://wrestlingwithadolescence.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/the-magic-of-the-kings-road/