It’s been a pretty terrible day all-around. The morning news cycle was dominated by yet another mass shooting in the United States of America, this time a gunman took down a newscaster and her camera man on live TV. Later, social media was abuzz as the shooter tweeted a video of himself performing the act. Thanks to the lovely advent of Auto-Play videos, I had no choice but to witness the point of view of a man about to kill two other humans. It was a dire way to start the day and the news put me in a state of depression for the entire day.
Even #NationalDogDay couldn’t get me to shake off the horror of seeing people shot while doing their jobs this morning in Virginia.
Thankfully, our good friend @SenorLARIATO tweeted the perfect thing to get me out of the funk:
The GIF above shows Hayabusa (real name Eiji Ezaki) stepping into a pro wrestling ring on August 5, 2015. The outpouring of emotion even from that brief GIF is nothing like the full video where wrestlers — some of the most badass, strongest ones you’ve ever encountered — are openly weeping. Genichiro Tenryu, one of wrestling’s legendary ass kickers, can’t keep his emotions in check, nor should he.
In October 2001, Ezaki suffered a career-ending and life-altering injury. While attempting a springboard moonsault — a move he likely did thousands of times throughout his lengthy career — Ezaki slipped, landed on his head and cracked two of his vertebrae. The video of Ezaki’s injury is every bit as disturbing as what we saw today in Virginia.
A man who spent years participating in cage, barbed wire, explosive (and sometimes all of the above) matches was, for the first time in his career, unable to get up. One of the most dynamic, fluid and graceful high fliers of all time was unable to move, Ezaki was paralyzed.
Hayabusa was one of my first paths into Japanese professional wrestling. I don’t recall exactly how it happened but one of my earlier web video memories was watching Hayabusa highlights. I’m sure I downloaded them via Napster, Kazaa or whatever SpyWare-infesting file sharing client was the rage that week.
What I saw absolutely blew me away. While most of the stuff Hayabusa does now seems tame in a world with the likes of Ricochet, at the time I couldn’t comprehend what he was able to do.
One of the first New Japan Pro Wrestling matches I ever saw featured Hayabusa taking on another masked legend Jushin Thunder Liger in the 1994 Super J Cup.
Years later I discovered not only was this Hayabusa’s New Japan debut, it was the debut of the masked Hayabusa character. What was one of my favorite discoveries as a kid now became even more important of a memory.
I don’t know what it was that attracted me to Hayabusa. Was it the high-flying, the aggressiveness, maybe it was because he bore a strong resemblance to Hannibal in WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (teenage me finally made the connection)? I always loved the mask, I loved the colors, I loved the ring attire… I mean, I loved it all.
As file sharing became easier, I consumed any and all Hayabusa matches I could find. Again, I’m 13-15 years old at this point so anything “Exploding” or hardcore from FMW (Hayabusa’s most frequent stop) was the cherry on top.
Early on though I realized while I enjoyed Hayabusa’s more hardcore matches, I was really attracted to his more pure wrestling matches.
I was ecstatic when I found out that Hayabusa had wrestled a match in my favorite promotion at the time, Extreme Championship Wrestling. When I finally got my hands on a VHS copy of ECW’s Heatwave 1998, I immediately fast-forwarded Hayabusa’s match with Jinsei Shinzaki vs. my favorite at the time, Rob Van Dam and Sabu. You can only imagine the amazement on my 13-year-old face as I watched Hakushi team up with Hayabusa to take on Rob Van Dam and Sabu. I couldn’t believe it.
While the match wasn’t that great (Dave Meltzer gave it two stars and I can’t disagree), it remains one of my favorite matches of all-time just for how it made me feel at the time first watching it.
I always like to think that if Hayabusa wasn’t paralyzed in October 2001 that I may have stuck with Japanese wrestling more. Once I knew he wasn’t going to be around, I just stopped pursuing it, stop watching it and stopped caring. My favorite was gone, how can I keep watching? Who would be better? Why even bother?
It wasn’t until late 2010-early 2011 at the behest of my now VOW co-owner Joe Lanza that I got back into Japanese wrestling. Had Hayabusa not slipped on that rope in October 2001, I may have not needed the kick in the ass to get back into it.
Anyway, I didn’t have a huge point I wanted to get across with this piece. I saw that video and needed something to cheer me up today. Sure, this isn’t the first time Hayabusa has walked or stepped into the ring since his tragic accident but it’s definitely the most poignant
With no help from anyone, Ezaki rose from his wheelchair and made the most important steps of his life. Hyper focused, the camera zoomed in on his eyes and even as they welted, he was determined to climb into that ring on his own power. Dragon Gate’s Dragon Kid is shown, completely overcome by emotion seeing his friend and colleague (Hayabusa and Kid recorded an album called Trust” in 2012).
It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen and something I needed on a day like this. I don’t know the guy and am fairly certain I never will. Yet on a tragic day like this, one spent arguing with friends and colleagues about the state of the nation I live it, I finally had a reason to smile.
Thank you Hayabusa.