A great and yet unsung Japanese mat technician, Hiro Matsuda may go down in history as a trainer of champions.
Real Name: Yasuhiro Kojima
Stats: 6′ 0″ 235 lbs.
By Steve Slagle
Over the last twenty years or so, for whatever reason (be it a result of the ever-changing fanbase, the lack of emphasis placed on it by the promotions, or just an overall lack of interest) the history of pro wrestling has often gone forgotten or under appreciated by the current sports entertainment fan. As a result, there are, unfortunately, a great number of ‘unsung heroes’ in the “sport” of pro wrestling…men who were absolutely pivotal to the direction and success of the modern product. Yet, while these talented, innovative performers forever changed the business we know as pro wrestling, there names are, generally speaking, unknown to the vast majority of people who would otherwise consider themselves to be big wrestling fans. Hiro Matsuda, the Japanese technician who would, in many ways, revolutionize pro wrestling is truly one of those unsung heroes of the mat game…
Matsuda, born Yasuhiro Kojima, was a native of Yokohama, and began his career in late fifties. By the early sixties, he had relocated to the United States, and made a name for himself around the country using the traditional ‘evil Japanese’ wrestling gimmick. Yet, despite being pigeon-holed by the constraining, stereotypical persona, Matsuda was nevertheless able to allow his vast knowledge of mat wrestling and technical prowess to shine through. Without a doubt, Matsuda was hated by the audiences he performed in front of during the sixties and seventies — there were few foreign wrestlers of the day who attracted more negative reactions from the fans. However, in a true testament to his ability as a heel, many of those same fans also held a great deal of grudging respect for the devious & unmerciful, yet highly impressive and talented Matsuda. As a Junior Heavyweight (the equivalent of today’s Cruiserweights) Hiro was one of the elite in his field, and a multi-time World champion who wrestled and defended the title in territories across the U.S., as well as in Japan, Mexico & Canada. The rivalry between Matsuda and Danny Hodge, who was by all accounts the best junior heavyweight of his era (and perhaps of all time) was truly legendary, and their classic matches helped keep the fledgling weight division in the eyes & minds of the wrestling world.
Hiro wrestled throughout the country, primarily for the National Wrestling Alliance, and was a top heel for regional promotions such as Central States, Stampede Wrestling, Tri-State (McGuirk) and especially Florida during the sixties and seventies.
Following a noteworthy career, Matsuda suddenly retired from active competition in the late seventies, although he did continue to wrestle sporadically through to the early eighties. However, despite the fact that he was no longer on television, Matsuda was still very much a part of the wrestling world. As a trainer, Matsuda was one of the most demanding — and successful — in the business. A master of his craft, Matsuda tutored clumsy young men who would later go on to become some of the top stars in the business; Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Scott Hall, Ron “Farooq” Simmons, The Great Muta, Riki Choshu, Lex Luger, Hercules Hernandez, Brian Blair and many other future stars were all trained by Hiro Matsuda.
Ironically, but, given the nature of the wrestling business, not surprisingly, Blair later admitted that Matsuda never received a dime for the countless hours he spent in the gym training these men for their careers in the wrestling industry.
In 1985, following the unexpected and tragic suicide of Florida promoter Eddie Graham, Matsuda stepped in and tried to help fill the huge void left by Graham’s death. Along with partner Duke Keomuka, Matsuda bought out the territory, and ran the NWA’s Florida promotion — once one of the most successful of all the NWA’s many groups — beginning in January of 1985. However, the fallout from Graham’s death combined with heavy competition from the ever-invading WWF eventually forced Matsuda to sell the promotion to Jim Crockett’s NWA group in February of 1987. The next time Matsuda was seen on a national scale was in 1989, when, following the departure of Four Horsemen manager J.J. Dillon from the NWA to the rival WWF’s front office, Matsuda appeared as NWA World Heavyweight champion Ric Flair’s (as well as then-U.S. champion Barry Windham’s) post-Horsemen manager, and was a key player in the top storylines of the NWA/WCW during the late eighties.
With the new decade of the nineties came new challenges for the respected Matsuda, most notable of which was his role in launching Ring Warriors, which was the European television version of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Ring Warriors was a fairly big success on European tv, but online, it’s website was also a true innovator in the field; Ring Warriors was the first website (by several years) to feature streaming video of its wrestling product.
Following his association with Ring Warriors, Matsuda withdrew from the wrestling scene. For much of the latter part of the decade, little was scene or heard from the one-time ‘marquee player’ (as his former protégé Flair would say) and most simply figured he was enjoying a healthy retirement. Unfortunately, the were only half right…
Hiro Matsuda, Yasuhiro Kojima, died on November 27, 1999 following a long (and private) battle with colon cancer. Matsuda was 62 when he passed away. When the news of his death spread, many who knew him had a hard time believing that Matsuda, who was always the picture of health, was actually gone. However, his wife Judy later stated that Hiro did not want his friends and fans to worry about him. “He didn’t want others to know, or feel sorry for him,” she explained after Matsuda’s funeral.
A man who genuinely contributed to pro wrestling not only as a successful wrestler & World champion, but also a top-level trainer and promoter, we at The Ring Chronicle are proud to induct the great Hiro Matsuda into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…….