Hiro Matsuda Death – Cancer

Wrestler Hiro Matsuda in white and red ring robe

Hiro Matsuda was a Hall of Fame-level wrestler who also excelled as a trainer and manager.

1937-1999 (Age 62)

Hiro Matsuda was a wrestler from the territory era of the ’60s and ’70s, who trained some of the biggest names in wrestling. These stars helped wrestling transition from a collection of regional promotions into several large national ones (primarily the WWF).

Matsuda was known as a tough wrestler and someone who could be called upon to police the Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) promotion he worked in. Hiro would take care of business whether wrestlers gave the promoter trouble in or out of the ring.

Dreams of Baseball Stardom

Yasuhiro Kojima was born on July 22, 1937, in Yokohama, Japan. The future wrestler dreamed of traveling to the United States and finding success there. Kojima was a talented pitcher, but not talented enough to make a career of it.

However, a chance encounter led to him watching a crowd catching the famous match between Lou Thesz and Rikidozan in Japan. Matsuda found Rikidozan’s home and convinced him to become a wrestler.

Finding Success Overseas

After a falling out with Rikidozan, Kojima eventually found work wrestling in Mexico. He became Hiro Matsuda, named after two Japanese stars from yesteryear.

Matsuda worked a number of territories before settling in Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida, where he became a top star.

A talented technical wrestler, Hiro defeated National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Junior World Heavyweight Champion Danny Hodge, becoming the first Japanese wrestler to hold such a prestigious singles title.

Matsuda would have much-remembered singles matches with Hodge as well as Lou Thesz. In Florida, Matsuda teamed with his longtime partner Duke Keomuka to battle the team of Eddie Graham and Sammy Steamboat.

Duke and Hiro won one of the many versions of the NWA World Tag Team Championship, defending the belts in Japan and also holding Japan’s All-Asian Tag Team Championship.

Wrestler, Wrestling Promoter, and Wrestling Trainer

Over time, Duke Keomuka and Hiro would purchase a stake in CWF, helping protect kayfabe by punishing anyone who came to him for training. If a would-be wrestler was able to endure Matsuda’s beating and stick with it, he would eventually train them.

One such victim was Terry Bollea (the future Hulk Hogan) who came to Matsuda for training only to end up with a broken ankle. Bollea took the beating and returned after his ankle healed. Terry continued his training and became arguably the biggest star of the 80s and 90s.

In addition to Hogan, Matsuda trained many future legends including Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Riki Choshu, Ted DiBiase, Hercules Hernandez, Tito Santana, Ron Simmons, and many others.

Matsuda the Manager

After CWF went out of business, Matsuda showed up in Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), assisting Four Horsemen member Lex Luger during his feud against “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.

Later, when the Four Horsemen’s executive director James J. Dillon left the promotion, Matsuda began managing wrestlers under the banner of The Yamasaki Corporation.

In 1990, Matsuda wrestled his final bout, battling Osamu Kido in Japan.

Highly Esteemed by His Peers

Hiro Matsuda was a humble man whose contributions to the industry cannot be overestimated. Not only did he train many future stars, but he set high standards for excellence in the ring and for physical conditioning.

An article from SLAM! Wrestling features a number of accolades for the Japanese star, including this tribute from “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr.:

“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.”

Just one of many tributes to Matsuda the man and the wrestler.

Tough to the End

On November 27, 1999, Hiro Matsuda passed away at age 62 after a battle with colon cancer. The cancer had spread to Matsuda’s kidneys, liver, and stomach.

According to Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter obituary on Matsuda, the Japanese sensation was diagnosed back in February but did not reveal the diagnosis, refusing to tell anyone he was sick until a week before he died.

According to Meltzer, Matsuda had surgery to remove the cancer in February and began exercising one month later, reportedly doing 1,000 free squats a day.

The Associated Press would report on Matsuda’s surviving relatives, noting that “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.” Matsuda is believed to have been cremated.

Other wrestlers to pass in 1999 include Giant Baba, Gorilla Monsoon, Owen Hart, Rick Rude, and The Renegade.

What are your favorite memories of Hiro Matsuda? Let us know in the comments below.