Triple Crown Heavyweight Title Match:
A much better match than their excellent September 1997 Triple Crown match. The work was tremendous. Misawa’s bumping was awesome, and his selling was in fine form, making Jun’s selling look pretty weak in comparison. The main difference was just how much Jun has improved and grown up since their last meeting. Jun wasn't even competitive there, so they were hell bent on justifying his position as a singles main eventer, and kind of got carried away, which was good for the match quality, even if not the brightest idea, long term.
I know I'm not supposed to love this match because Misawa is too lazy to craft a man against the up and coming opponent storyline, or even something else of any real depth, but Misawa isn't Jumbo Tsuruta. When Misawa doesn't have any great ideas, he does a spotfest, and when Misawa doesn't have any particular ideas on how to get his opponent over, he makes them look great by doing a beautiful job of taking everything they can throw at him. So yeah, this may not be Jumbo vs. Toshiaki Kawada 10/24/91 (or if we exclude the title, Jumbo vs. Kobashi 5/24/91), but it's every bit of Misawa vs. Taue 9/10/95, except that Akiyama is a better, more exciting worker than Taue.
The main psychology, such as it is, is Jun trying to debilitate Misawa’s neck, a continuation of the injury he gave Misawa during last year’s Champion Carnival. The storyline of the match was to show that Jun has got to the point where he has a legitimate chance to beat anyone at any time. The storyline was a logical continuation of their last match, but the storyline of their last match was faulty because they tried to play it like Jun was a contender when he wasn’t at that point yet. By having Jun be too competitive in his first Triple Crown match then having his second Triple Crown match come so soon, he had to once again be more competitive than he had a right to be. It made for a great match, but if this continues the point where Jun can’t gain anything in a loss to the top guys will be reached too soon.
As far as the match itself goes, both the storyline and the psychology really worked even though they were standard because the work was so exceptional few people cared to notice. Even though Jun came into this match with no push, he was so over from the get go, partially because he was so motivated. The fans were chanting Misawa and Akiyama’s names before the match started, and their support was about equal, so you heard some interesting sounding things like “Misayama.”
The opening was really hot and excellent. They did great spots, but the execution of everything was so tremendous that you could mark out for a headscissors because the transition into it was so good. Unlike their September TC match, Akiyama was really aggressive here, coming out with all guns blazing and hitting his jumping knee attack, which lead to teases of both men’s finishers. Akiyama dropkicked Misawa off the top to the floor for a big pop, and Misawa began selling his neck. Misawa tried to come back with a running elbow, but Jun flattened him with a lariat. Akiyama tried his diving elbow, but Misawa elbowed him in midair. Misawa’s forearm was hurt on this, so he sold the damage as well. Misawa made the most of every second he was on offense, using the down time to sell his forearm injury. Jun blocked Misawa’s Tiger driver, then turned Misawa’s running elbow into his exploder. Misawa escaped to the floor, but Jun followed him out and hit a deadly tombstone on the floor, leading into the main storyline.
Jun took it to the mat at 4:45, applying a figure 4 headscissors, since he doesn’t have any submissions moves that are over, to further the psychology of debilitating the neck. The facials of both men during this spot, but more so Jun, were pretty nonexistent. The spot would have been more effective if Jun showed that he was really trying to either win or further injure Misawa with this hold. The result of the weak presentation of the move, was that a rapid crowd suddenly got very quite. Jun’s neckbreakers worked, but his reverse chinlock was the same problem as the figure 4 headscissors, and the front facelock didn’t advance the match at all.
Misawa tried to comeback with a reverse rolling elbow to the throat, but Jun weakly sold it, then had a sudden recovery and went back on the offensive. Misawa tried to come back with his regular elbow, but Jun stopped it and used Misawa’s own Tiger driver on him, with Misawa kicking out at 1. Jun elbowed Misawa, but Misawa’s gave Jun a priceless look saying, “I’m the one who knocks punks out in these rings, kid.”
Misawa did his only sequence of matwork in the match, and like Jun’s short mat sequence earlier, this didn’t work either. The reverse chinlock was such an obvious rest hold and the crowd reacted as such, not even getting hot when he turned it into the famous facelock. Misawa needs to either lose the facelock or beat someone notable with it to get the heat back on that spot. He also needs to at least crank the submissions from time to time to at least give the appearance of caring about them.
The match picked up just after the 11-minute mark with Misawa’s elbows, and stayed hot for the duration. Jun came back catching Misawa off the ropes in spinebuster position, but dropping him on his neck instead, which Misawa sold incredibly well. Akiyama popped the crowd with his rolling lariat, and followed with his Northern Light suplex for a near fall. He teased another Tiger driver, using the pedigree instead. Misawa got up on one knee, cringing in pain with his hand on his neck, only to have Jun crush him with a diving enzui elbow. After they teased it once, Jun got a rolling German suplex, which he soon turned into his blue thunder for a hot near fall. There were more loud chants for both men. Misawa tried to come back with his elbow again, but Jun once again fought off the famous Misawa comeback. Jun tried another exploder, but Misawa countered it.
Jun got so aggressive that he was caught with a back body drop to the floor. Misawa attacked Jun on the floor with his elbow suicida and an awesome slingshot body press plancha, the later of which goes back to his Tiger Mask II days (I think Sayama invented the spot). However, the highlight may have been Misawa’s senton because it resulted in great selling by Jun, making this face that looked like he had a really bad case of indigestion, which was the peak of Jun’s selling in this match. Misawa was working pretty fast for him during his comeback, but nothing close to what Kanemoto or Otani do, and he was still selling the previous damage when Jun was down. Jun was able to kick out of Misawa’s German suplex, then both sold.
Jun came back with a Dragon screw that wasn’t that impressive, and both sold again. Jun’s next barrage of moves to Misawa’s bad neck began when he cut Misawa off on the 2nd rope, got Misawa on his shoulder, and dropped Misawa forward onto his head. Jun followed with another great, superbly executed addition to his arsenal, doing a Jumbo suplex (powerbomb position into an overhead throw, named after Jumbo Hori) but throwing Misawa face first onto the top turnbuckle for a big pop. Jun immediately dropped Misawa on his head with a dangerous released German suplex for another big pop. All these big spots to the neck were working because Jun’s credibility was increasing to the point the fans believed, to the extent that you ever can when Misawa is in the match, that Jun might win. Jun hit yet another jumping knee attack for an even bigger pop. Jun then hit his exploder and covered, with the house ready to come down if the ref’s hand went down for three, but Misawa kicked out at 2 9/10. Another exploder! 1....2....9/10 again. Another chant of both names erupted from the audience as Jun paused to figure out what he could possibly do to beat the man. He still had one major spot left, the one that injured Misawa last year, and that is what Jun tried. He set up the nadare shiki no exploder (exploder off the top), but Misawa fought it off and Jun had to settle for an overhead bodylock superplex. Jun, like Kawada in June, pulled out a suichoku rakka DDT, covering Misawa twice in a row, but he still couldn’t get over the hump.
Jun was really frustrated now because he'd used everything he can think of on Misawa. He tried yet another exploder, but Misawa countered by kind of turning it into a cartwheel. It didn’t work the way it was supposed to, but it was ample enough to set Misawa on his way to comeback by flattening Jun with his rolling elbow. Both sold after this spot, of course, because Misawa had plenty of previous damage to put over and Jun was nearly KO’d by one huge shot. Misawa got his revenge, dropping Jun on his neck with a high impact version of the side suplex drop.
As with the 9/10/95 Misawa vs. Taue match, the finish wasn't the greatest, as Misawa kind of decides he's had enough of the selling, and quickly dispatches of the opposition. This had every reason to end easier than the Taue match, as Taue was a much more experienced and battle tested wrestler than Akiyama, but the bar had been raised so much in the few short years that, apart from Akiyama having taken so little in the first 20 minutes, he ultimately took a bit too much.
Misawa hit his Tiger driver, which had always been enough to beat Jun, but this time Jun not only kicked out, but came back with a belly-to-belly suplex and tried for the KO. Misawa fired back though with more powerful elbows, putting Jun down, but Jun was still “conscious” enough to kick out. Seeing that Jun had withstood two of his favorite finishers in a row, as well as a German suplex earlier, Misawa decided it was time to raise the bar. He invented a new finisher, called the Misawa special, which he set up kind of like a running powerslam, but dropped Akiyama straight down on his head like a Northern Lights bomb (later named the emerald flowsion).
Jun lost, but was really over by giving such a great performance and doing as much as he possibly could, really more than the fans could have asked for, to beat Misawa. He threw so much out that they made the match great, but the match would have worked better in the grand scheme of things if he wasn’t so competitive. Jun can still push Misawa further on offense, but obviously aside from actually winning, which won't happen anytime soon, most of the improvement that is left for him to show in future matches is showing he can withstand more of a beating. The fact that Misawa had to create a special move to beat Jun makes the match notable and shows just how tough Jun has become. It also shows that the booking is screwed up because going from winning with the trusty old Tiger driver to having to create a new move is like skipping step B, C, D, & E and just jumping from step A to step F. 23:09. ****1/2
Note: This turned out to be the best of the Misawa vs. Akiyama matches, and probably Akiyama's best singles match of the decade.