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Word on the Rings (8/28/15): Hayabusa Walks

In a most poignant moment, Hayabusa walks again: this time, to a wrestling ring. What does this mean for one of professional wrestling's greatest in-ring performers? 



In Japanese mythology, the phoenix is called the "Ho-oh." It is a rare bird that roosts above the torii (the gate that marks the boundaries of the sacred and the profane). Legend has it that the Ho-oh appears only when the a virtuous ruler is born, and like every phoenix myth in the world, rises from its own ashes.

For many wrestling fans around the world, that Japanese phoenix is represented by Eiji Ezaki: musician, actor, and the wrestling legend known as Hayabusa.

On August 5, 2015, Hayabusa walked again to a wrestling ring. Wearing his signature mask, the death-defying legend rose from his wheelchair, and with the aid of his cane, took his slow steps into the ring. The crowd clapped, cheering the name of a legend who once flew through the air with acrobatics yet to be seen from the time, and some of us take for granted today. The crowd wept, seeing the man take a walk that would take a healthy wrestler just a few seconds to traverse.

Slow and meaningful steps from a man who has been confined to a wheelchair for the better part of the past 14 years, due to a career-ending and life-threatening injury.


*****

It may sound cliché, but for me, it's a statement of fact: few people have changed the history of professional wrestling—both in theory and in practice—like Hayabusa did.

Eiji Ezaki debuted and wrestled at a time where professional wrestling was as parochial as it gets. At the turn of the 1990s, customs and traditions still lorded over the business: Ezaki lost almost all of his matches in his early career, and was sent to the United States and Mexico to further sharpen his abilities.

In 1995, Ezaki returned to Japan as Hayabusa, and made his name through acrobatic and death-defying maneuvers, coupled with sound technical wrestling. Hayabusa was the phoenix, and Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) was his roost. At a time where Japanese professional wrestling was marked by powerful strikes and shoot-style holds, Hayabusa stood out by running the ropes, overwhelming opponents with his speed, and captivating the audience with a very unique hybrid wrestling style that very few Japanese wrestlers had.

While most other high-flyers like him would be perfectly at home competing in standard rules, Hayabusa stood out by being the ace high-flyer of FMW. At the time, FMW pretty much defined "garbage wrestling:" while it had its own fair share of technical showcases, the promotion made its name in blood, explosive charges, and barbed wire.


Hayabusa not only wrestled in these settings, but excelled at them. The FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship was a top title that was always contested under hardcore rules: only Hayabusa and FMW founder Atsushi Onita have had three reigns with that title. For all his accolades, though, Hayabusa is perhaps best known for his feud with the promotion's top heel: Mr. Gannosuke.


FMW's greatest storyline—one that involved frustrations, unmaskings, character changes (where Hayabusa took the character of "H" after Gannosuke appropriated the Hayabusa gimmick for himself), and fireworks up the nether regions—culminated in perhaps the greatest match in the promotion itself. Refereed by none other than "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, the match proved FMW to be more than just a promotion for explosive spider-nets and broken fluorescent bulbs.

*****


On October 2001, Hayabusa's career was ended by a move he has done as frequently as the Phoenix Splash and the Falcon Arrow: his signature springboard moonsault. Hayabusa's gear slipped on the second rope, and just as he was to rotate on the backflip, he landed hard on his head and broke his neck. Hayabusa—innovator, aerialist, and in-ring legend after a relatively short career—left the FMW ring in a stretcher, and spent the next 14 years in a wheelchair.

*****

Eiji Ezaki walking to a wrestling ring is big news, because it attests to a story not often told well in professional wrestling: that of recovery. At the age of 46, Ezaki still has a burning desire to compete in the ring, but realistically that's something we probably won't see. The Phoenix Splashes, Falcon Arrows, and Firebird Splashes are best left to montage and dreams: the moves that made Hayabusa such a legend still live on in the next generation of high-flying wrestlers.



Still, recovery isn't a story told too well in professional wrestling, and I'm not talking storyline injuries or the things that are part and parcel of the game. We've seen alcoholic and drug relapses, amputations, and some of the worst wrestling tragedies. Recovery is a rare thing, especially for people who have suffered what Hayabusa went through. His legend, in many ways, was built outside the ring: the man who almost died in it, still has a desire to get into it.

In many ways, Hayabusa stood for the very legend by which his legendary wrestling career was built on. To walk after his injury is a miracle in itself, but to do so under his own power, with minimal assistance from others, is to see a phoenix rising again.

Hayabusa fought tooth-and-nail in the ring, but also fought talon-and-claw outside of it: with the sheer desire and motivation to get back to his roost: the very ring he competed on, and the very ring that took from him the peak of his career.

*****

Marck Rimorin (@marocharim) is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresu, lucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the overthink piece for Smark Henry: The Word on the Rings.

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