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  Nov. 28, 1999

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Hiro Matsuda remembered


At 62 years of age, it seems only fitting that after years of battling the rigors of colon and liver cancer, Hiro Matsuda would go out fighting.

 The wrestling world was saddened to hear about his passing this weekend. Many in the wrestling business reflected on his special career.

  For his entire career, Matsuda (real name Yasuhiro Kojima) was considered a wrestler's wrestler. Known for his incredible cardiovascular fitness inside the wrestling ring, he was one of the toughest wrestlers in the business.
Hiro Matsuda. Photo courtesy the wonderful Puroresu Hall of Fame.

  Away from the ring, his friends and peers remember him as a class act.

  "Hiro was a prince of a guy to meet and know," Dory Funk Jr told SLAM Wrestling from his home in Ocala, FL. The former NWA World Heavyweight champion wrestled Hiro several times, including a one hour draw in his father's Amarillo promotion im 1968. He also worked side by side with Matsuda during his stint as booker for Eddie Graham's Florida Championship Wrestling.

  "He was the premium athlete (and) Eddie Graham built his Florida territory around his skills. He was a real tough guy, but (away from the ring) he was a quiet, nice man."

  Matsuda was the top star in Graham's promotion, regarded as the top wrestling office during wrestling's territorial days, before Jack Brisco came along. A two time NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion, Matsuda was also a wrestling trainer, giving stars such as Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Ron Simmons and Paul Orndorff their start. He also trained Japanese stars Riki Choshu and Keiji Mutoh (Great Muta).

  "I've known him since I was a kid," said former WWF star Bob Orton Jr. "He trained me when I started. He worked me very hard and very intensely. He was a quiet guy and he had a lot of class. He was a real gentleman and a pleasure to be around."

  After settling in the Tampa Bay area in 1962, he went on to train neophytes at the old Sportatorium in Tampa, home of the Championship Wrestling from Florida television program.

  "We referred to it as the dungeon," said wrestler Brian Blair. "That's where Hiro put us through the mill. He taught us discipline."

  Blair trained with Matsuda for two summers 20 years ago. He remembered that about 100 wrestlers tried out under Kojima those two years. Only Blair, Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), Paul Orndorff (Mr. Wonderful) and Ray Hernandez (Hercules) stuck it out, he said.Kojima wouldn't allow them to enter the ring until they'd done 1,000 pushups and 1,000 squats.

  "We never knew wrestling as sports entertainment," Blair said. "He trained us to believe we'd have to fight for our lives. He used to kick us and say, 'Come on, boys, I'm an old man and you can't even keep up with me.'"

  "He was my best friend over the last few years," said an emotional Howard Brody, president of the NWA. "He was very private, very disciplined and he didn't take to burden people with his problems. He was just thankful for the life that wrestling had provided him."

  Brody was also business partners with Matsuda from 1993 to the early part of 1999, syndicating English versions of New Japan Pro Wrestling shows in Europe. Despite having seen Matsuda perform, Brody remembers Hiro Matsuda the man.

  "My fondest memories of Hiro have nothing to do with wrestling," admitted Brody. "We had traveled to Europe (to syndicate the show) and I just remember travelling with him to France and Monaco and seeing the sites."

  Matsuda was renowned as a solid mat technician who knew his way around the wrestling ring and someone you could learn from.

  "You really could learn from Matsuda just by watching his matches," admitted Funk. "I, myself, learned a lot from watching Hiro work inside the ring."

  Matsuda wrestled all over the world, including Japan, Mexico and Peru. Trained by Rikidozan (the father of Japanese pro wrestling) and Karl Gotch, Matsuda was a an archetypal performer.

  "Hiro was like the Bret Hart of his era," opined Funk. "He had a knowledge of what made a good wrestling match and he knew what wrestling fans wanted to see in a match. He combined wrestling with showmanship like nobody else."

  Kojima is survived by his wife, Judith; daughters Heather Kojima of Venice, Calif., and Stephanie Kojima of San Francisco; and a sister, Hatsue Yokotsuka of Yokohama, Japan.

  -- with files from Canoe wire services