Our younger readers in the UK may not quite know how lucky they have it. Even if they do nothing but moan about how bad Monday Night Raw every week the fact is that viewers in the UK get it live and don’t have to wait three or four weeks for a tape delayed show. And if they find the WWE isn’t to their tastes there has literally never been as much wrestling from around the world available at the click of a mouse button.
It wasn’t always that way.
Two decades ago you had to seek out a mysterious “tape trader” and hope that he/she got in the shows that you wanted.
So in the 1990s the reputation of a non WWE/WCW wrestler would often reach these shores long before any footage did. One such performer was Hayabusa.
Although he had been around for a couple of years in Japan and Mexico and was seen in the opening round of the 1994 Super J Cup (losing to Jushin Liger) there was not that much of a buzz around Eiji Ezaki in my circles until he returned to Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) in 1995.
FMW was a bloody promotion built around insane gimmick matches involving steel cages, barbed wire and explosions. Indeed in 1995 the most famous FMW wrestler of them all, Atushi Onita has his “retirement” match with a young talent called Hayabusa in an exploding ring, barbed wire Steel Cage match. It was to be the start of Hayabusa becoming the face/franchise player of the promotion. But whilst he continued to take part in the gimmick matches that the promotion was built upon, it was clear that he was not a star who needed to take part in bloody spectacles to camouflage his lack of ability or remain relevant. The guy had talent in spades.
A graceful and innovative high flyer, Hayabusa had a style that would influence a generation of wrestlers across the globe. Like the Dynamite Kid a decade before him he was a man arguably ahead of his time. Sadly, just like the Dynamite Kid, that desire the push the boundaries and excel at his chosen profession would lead to living life in a wheelchair.
The irony is that it was one of the “simpler” moves in his arsenal that led to the incident that left him with a broken neck. During a match with Mammoth Sasaki in October of 2001, Hayabusa was attempting an Asai Moonsault when he lost his footing and landed horrifically on his neck and face with extra impact on his back, which observers likened to a folding accordion. Two cracked vertebrae meant that even complex and intricate surgery could not overcome the seriousness of the injuries and left Hayabusa paralysed.
Quite apart from the devastation it caused the man himself, it virtually signalled the end of FMW as a going concern too, such was the importance of the man to the company. FMW promoted its final show just four months later, with owner Shoichi Arai declaring bankruptcy (amid rumours of owning the equivalent of a million dollars to the Yakuza). Arai would later commit suicide in the hope that the life insurance payout would enable his family to pay off this debt.
There seemed as if there would be some form of happier ending for Hayabusa. Within a year he had regained some feeling back in his legs, although still wheelchair bound, and as well as pursuing a career in music he was involved in creating his own promotion (WMF – Wrestling’s Marvellous Future), had involvement in Dragon Gate and was even able to visit backstage at some WWE events.
Even more miraculously in 2015 he was able to walk again, albeit with the aid of a cane. Although still wheelchair bound for the most part, it was a day that many observers thought would never come.
And that’s perhaps why his death hit me harder than many wrestling deaths. Ezaki had seemed to come through so much and be in a better place than he had been in years. In a small way it was like the death of Chris Candido, who had fought substantial inner demons and come out the other side only to die as the result of a freak accident in a wrestling match.
As Hayabusa’s high profile performances in North America were restricted to a one-off appearance at ECW’s Heatwave 1998 PPV (where he teamed with Jinsei “Hakushi” Shinzaki against Rob Van Dam and Sabu) he would have remained a name that people had heard of, but probably rarely seen. In a modern day setting, with scores of footage available on demand, he probably would have been in great demand for independent dates across the English speaking world. Hell, he may well have been a perfect addition to the NXT Roster, or the upcoming Cruiserweight tournament on the WWE Network.
The sheer number of WWE and wrestling stars who took to social media to pay their respects to the man and his family shows that whilst he may not have been a household name in foreign climates, he was an immensely respected performer and man. Many fans will watch the wrestling of today unaware that some of the moves they still see were created or innovated by Hayabusa. But those of us who were trading grainy VHS’s in the mid-late 1990s know the truth. And we’ll be ever thankful that we were able to see how truly great he was.
Rest in Peace.