I was completely saddened at the news that Japanese legend, Hayabusa passed away from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 47, reports Tokyo Sports. It’s a passing that happened too soon and a career that ended even sooner, as the innovative aerial competitor was paralyzed after he slipped from the ropes during an attempted moonsault in 2001. I’m not sure if anything I can say will truly summarize the impact that Hayabusa had on the sport, as tapes of his matches influenced an entire generation, many of whom are wrestling on national TV today.
Hayabusa would ascend through the ranks to become the top star for Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling, the group that influenced much of what ECW did in the 1990s, but before he worked in front of packed crowds at Korakuen Hall, Eiji Ezaki began training at the FMW dojo in 1991, where he was considered one of the star students. The following year, Ezaki was working as a preliminary wrestler for the company’s tour of the United States and Mexico, which provided a major inspiration for him. He saw Mil Mascaras preform on the cards and formed the concept for his own eventual mask. In 1993, he returned to Mexico, where he debuted the Hayabusa character and when he took the gimmick to Japan, it made him extremely popular with the FMW fan base. Along with the mask and face paint combination, he brought many of the skills that he learned wrestling the lucha libre style during the previous tours of Mexico.
As time went on, Hayabusa thrilled audience with spectacular high flying offense, including a match with the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger at the well known Super-J Cup 1994 tournament that elevated his profile in Japan and moved him into the main event scene in FMW. In 1995 when the FMW founder Atsushi Onita claimed he was going to retire, he booked himself in an exploding barbed wire cage match against Hayabusa and the bout was considered a “passing of the torch” so to speak as Ezaki became the center piece of the organization. In the years that followed, FMW continued to present wild and dangerous barbed wire matches, which drew major crowds in Japan and generated a cult following in the United States through various tape traders. Among his many great matches in FMW, Hayabusa had a memorable series of matches with Mike Awesome, who worked under the name “The Gladiator” at the time. Ezaki displayed amazing skill using his risky style, including the Phoenix splash, which Seth Rollins has preformed in WWE, to become one of the top stars in Japan in the 90s so he often competed for other promotion as well. In 1997, Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki won the All Asia tag team titles in All Japan Pro Wrestling.
The pair would also form a team in America when they wrestled Rob Van Dam and Sabu at the Heat Wave pay-per-view in 1998 for a notable match that is still talked about today. The next year in Japan, the FNW owner Shoichi Arai, who bought the company after Onita’s initial retirement, signed a deal with Direct TV for FMW distribution. Along with the new deal, Arai attempted a new business strategy that included more entertainment aspects ( the phrase FMW Entertainment was used for the promotion of many of the Direct TV ads) of the organization instead of the death match style that fueled the popularity of the group. Along with the increased exposure, Arai made a series of unwise business decisions that effected revenue and was also rumored to owe money to the yakuza. Despite the behind the scenes turmoil, FMW embarked on expanding distribution with Tokyo Pop bringing FMW DVDs to America with English commentary to capitalize on the wrestling boom of the late 90s in the United States. In 2000, Hayabusa made an appearance in the United States to promote the project, which typically featured the older death matches from the group. The following year during a match with Mammoth Sasaki, Hayabusa suffered the previously mentioned neck injury and it would be a decade before he could walk again.
Hayabusa had carried FMW for the majority of his career and after his injury, the group folded within a few months. Arai, who was still in debt to the yakuza, hung himself a few months after he declared bankruptcy. After Hayabusa began recovering from the accident, he started a singing career and released a CD in his native country. He would continue to sing for many years and even performed at a Pro Wrestling Unplugged show in the United States in 2006. While visiting America, Hayabusa was a guest at a few WWE events and was well received by his peers backstage. He also met Vince and Shane McMahon, who posed for a picture with him. The admiration he received at the WWE shows is a sign of how respected Hayabusa is for his contributions to the industry. When he returned to Japan, Hayabusa began working with the Dragon Gate promotion and traveled with them for some of their tours. In 2011, during Mil Mascaras’ 40th anniversary show, Hayabusa took his first steps publicly since his injury with assistance from a cane and wrestlers on the card. Hayabusa walked to the ring for the first time in ten years for a photo-op with the legend that inspired him in his own career. When FMW was relaunched in 2015, Hayabusa signed on to be the executive producer and worked in a promotional role for the group. Later that year, he walked to the ring with only the assistance of a cane and many legends, including Genichiro Tenryu, Kenta Kobashi, and The Great Muta were in attendance to honor him. As he walked into the ring for the celebration, many fans in the venue were overcome with emotion as Hayabusa kept his promise of stepping into the ring again. The video of the scarred warrior willing himself up a small set of steps to stand in the ring is an amazing show of courage and determination. One of the main aspects of Japanese culture is fighting spirit and one of the phrases during Hayabusa’s career was “The phoenix never dies,” and Ezaki certainly represented both of those when he walked again.
Hayabusa was a tremendous competitor that took the FMW promotion to its peak and he inspired an entire generation. He obtained legendary status in Japan and his career ended too soon. Many national stars praised his work on social media last week and his influence on the sport will be seen for years.
Hayabusa has passed away, but the phoenix never dies.
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Until next week
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