Gear4geeks looks at the legendary Japanese wrestler Hayabusa.
Born Eiji Ezaki on the 29th of November 1968 began his career in 1991 training at the FMW dojo in Japan, officially debuting on May 5th to fill in for an injured Akihito Ichihara. His second match would be a handicap match with Ichihara against The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) in a squash match designed to put The Gladiator over as a monster. Ezaki didn’t consider either of these matches to be his in ring debut as he was a last minute addition to both matches. On June 22nd Ezaki made what he considered his pro wrestling debut in a singles match against Yukihide Ueno. On November 24th he would face a man he idolised, Sabu, in a losing effort.
Ezaki spent the next two years improving and developed a high flying style, facing off against Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Masato Tanaka and others. In October 1993 FMW boss Atsushi Onita sent Ezaki to the WWA promotion in Mexico to learn the Lucha Libre style under Rey Misterio, the uncle of former WWE champion Rey Mysterio. Needing to fit in with the masked Luchadores, Ezaki developed the masked Hayabusa character (Hayabusa is the Japanese name for the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest bird in the world). In Mexico he would meet his favourite wrestler Mil Mascaras and his brother, Dos Carros, father of current WWE star Alberto Del Rio.
In April 1994 Hayabusa lost in the opening match of NJPW’s Super J tournament to Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger and returned to Mexico.Despite returning to Japan for another one off match, Ezaki was completely unaware of the huge following he’d gathered there from his Super J match. On August 28th Ezaki faced off against the man he’d modelled his style on – Sabu. During the match Sabu legitimately injured his back leading to Hayabusa gathering his first ever win in Japan.
On December 2nd Ezaki slipped while performing a new move, the Asai Moonsault and fell head first to the concrete outside the ring. Sadly this wouldn’t be the only time he would slip while performing the move.
In April 1995 Hayabusa returned to FMW to find himself in an unexpected position – Atsushi Onita had retired as an in ring competitor and sold his ownership of FMW to Vice President Shoichi Arai and now Ezaki was his hand picked successor to carry FMW forward. The two men faced off on May 5th in a match which was a symbolic passing of the torch despite Onita winning. Both men were hospitalised afterwards with Ezaki needing 67 stitches. Unfortunately, Onita putting himself over meant that many fans didn’t feel Hayabusa was good enough to fill Onita’s shoes so FMW began an angle playing off that feeling with Hayabusa losing to The Gladiator who then formed a heel stable who would call out Hayabusa as being incapable of heading the promotion.
The feud with The Gladiator would win the Japanese fans over as Hayabusa brought his arsenal of Lucha Libre moves to a crowd who had never seen the style before. Unfortunately during their May 30th clash, Hayabusa botched a Shooting Star Press, landing on his head but finished the match despite cracking a vertebrae. The footage of this incident is hard to watch and it’s incredible that Ezaki walked away. The Gladiator would get the best of the feud but Ezaki was now a legitimate star in the eyes of the fans. From there his bloody feud with The Gladiator’s Lethal Weapon stable would escalate until he was injured in January 1996 after taking a powerbomb into a barbed wire net covered with glass. After four months out of action, Hayabusa would return in May with his body displaying the scars of his January match.
It was at this match that Hayabusa would team with Masato Tanaka to face Mr Pogo and his mystery partner Terry Funk. Hayabusa would end up with a huge cut on his back from barbed wire and in a visually impressive spot had fire breathed at him by Funk. After the match Ezaki would end up with 110 stitches to close up the cuts he’d suffered in the match. Unfortunately from there injuries started to slow down Ezaki and his highly anticipated matches against Jinsei Shinzaki and The Great Sasuke ended up being disappointments and his matches were uneven through 1996 and 1997. In ’97 Ezaki made a number of appearances for All Japan Pro Wrestling but it wasn’t a high point as he lost most of his matches including three in one week and begun feuding with Atsushi Onita. Hayabusa finished off the year with an impressive moonsault off the top of the cage onto Onita in a Wargames match.
On April 30th 19’98 Hayabusa would win the Double Titles and seemed like a major star again. On May 19th he would have a classic match against Masato Tanaka and went on to a bloody Survivor Series type elimination match against Team No Respect in July. In August he teamed with Jinsei Shinzaki (WWF’s Hakushi) to challenge ECW tag team champions Sabu and Rob Van Dam at ECW’s Heatwave event in a match that didn’t click where they had the unenviable task of following a five star match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka. Unusually Hayabusa didn’t use many of his signature moves and didn’t come across as the major star that he truly was.
The rest of the year would feature impressive bouts including winning the Brass Knuckles Tag Team titles and Ezaki lost none of his star power when he lost the Double Titles in November. At the end of the year he would team with ECW’s Tommy Dreamer in a losing effort to Sabu and Rob Van Dam but this time Hayabusa was far more impressive.
1999 started out with Hayabusa vacating the Brass Knuckles titles but he and Jinsei Shinzaki would win the All Japan All Asian Tag Titles in February and put on an amazing 30 minute title defence in March against Masato Tanaka and Tesuhiro Kuroda. In May Hayabusa would again feature in one of the best matches at the All Japan Retirement Show for Giant Baba but then would drop the tag titles the next month when the agreement between FMW and All Japan came to end.
Ezaki then went on to feud with a reformed Team No Respect before winning the new Six Man tag titles and later picking up a 3rd reign as Bras Knuckles Champion. In a storyline feud with management, Ezaki would be forced to retire the Hayabusa character and would now appear maskless and known only as H. Long time rival Mr Gannosuke would steal the Hayabusa name and outfit continuing the feud between the management backed Team No Respect and Ezaki.
In October H competed against Masashi Honda in one of wrestling’s most bizarre spectacles, an Exploding Anus match. During the match ‘Hayabusa’ would run in to help Honda in lighting a bottle rocket in the anus of H. In November H would face ‘Hayabusa’ in a match refereed by WWE’s Shawn Michaels where H would revert to using his Hayabusa moves and vanquish the Hayabusa character. After the match Gonnosuke would turn face and side with H, leading to the two capturing the WEW Tag Team Titles.
January would see H go on to feud with an ECW invasion lead by Kodo Fuyuki with Axl Rotten, Balls Mahoney and female wrestler Kyoko Inoue. After a bloody match against Mahoney in February, Masato Tanaka returned from ECW to feud with Fuyuki claiming to represent the real ECW. Fuyuki would later challenge H, claiming he would retire if he lost but in a novel twist, after losing, claimed that he’d made the stipulation on April Fool’s Day so it didn’t count and he would never retire.
During an April match featuring H and Gannosuke against Tanaka and Balls Mahoney, H would be carried to the back following a top rope Nutcracker Suite from Mahoney. After a valiant effort at fending off both men, Gannosuke would be rejoined by Ezaki returning as Hayabusa. Bizarrely though Hayabusa would be pinned by Tanaka. In August Gannosuke turned heel joining WEW Champion Kodo Fuyuki in the newly formed Fuyuki Army. H would announce that he and a mystery partner would face Fuyuki and GOEMON – the mystery partner would be teased as Hayabusa. On June 16th H and “Hayabusa” would defeat their rivals and on June 21st following another successful match, “Hayabusa” would unmask to reveal that he was Japanese legend Genichiro Tenryu.
Ezaki would revert to the Hayabusa persona in July and would challenge Fuyuki in a ten man gauntlet match for the WEW Championship. Hayabusa would defeat 9 of the Fuyuki Army but then all ten beat down Ezaki to set up an easy win for Fuyuki, but before the match could end Masato Tanaka would return to attack Fuyuki. With victory now in his grasp, Hayabusa’s victory was stolen as he was attacked by a returning Jinsei Shinzaki.
In September Ezaki travelled to Roanoke to appear for WCW but his appearance was cancelled at the last minute. He and The Great Muta took the opportunity to announce to the Japanese press that they would be teaming up in January but it never materialised. Later that month Hayabusa defeated Fuyuki in a 15,000 Volt Thunderbolt Cage Match and then wrestle him again in a 60 minute Iron Man match that went to a draw. Unfortunately Ezaki’s hard hitting style meant that he had to undergo double elbow surgery in November and was out for 6 months.
In May 2001 Hayabusa would return to team with The Great Sasuke defeating Testsuhiro Kuroda and Mr Gannosuke in an Exploding Octagon Cage Death Match.Later that month Ezaki would defeat Kuroda to become WEW World Champion but lost the belt in August only to regain it on September 5th. Four days later Hayabusa would recapture the Six Man tag titles.
By October Ezaki had fallen ill with a fever and his nagging injuries were catching up with him but he continued to perform. On October 22nd before his match against Mammoth Sasaki, an angle was shot showing an “evil spirit” cursing Hayabusa, saying his career would be over in two years. Unfortunately this turned out to be accurate than anyone at FMW could have imagined.
During the main event that night at the ten minute mark Ezaki would once again slip whilst performing the Asai Moonsault but this time would land backwards on his head in one of the worst accidents in professional wrestling. Instructing referee Marty Asano that the match should continue, Ezaki had hoped to stall in order to recover so Sasaki stomped, choked and finally put Hayabusa in a rear chinlock to buy time. Unfortunately Sasaki didn’t know the nature of the injury and his actions were considered by some to have worsened Hayabusa’s injury. When it became clear that Ezaki hadn’t suffered a stinger and couldn’t continue, Asano called for the bell and paramedics. Many of the wrestlers came from the back to check on their injured co worker. Not wanting the crowd to go home on a bad note, Ezaki addressed the crowd asking them to continue to support FMW in his absence but that he hoped to be back.
Unfortunately the news was not good as Ezaki had broken his C4 and C5 vertebrae and was paralysed from the neck down. While there was a chance of recovery, his progress after 3 months would be as good as it got. Quadriplegics are at risk of dying shortly after their injury due to complications and infections; unfortunately Ezaki would suffer from a urinary infection that affected his kidneys followed by his fever getting worse and affecting his heart. On December 29th he underwent successful heart surgery and slowly began to regain the use of his arms.
On February 15th 2002 FMW closed it’s doors. Without Hayabusa the company had lost its fanbase, had gone into 2 million Yen debt (approx $20,000 US) and worse, could no longer pay for Ezaki’s medical care which had been 2 million Yen per month.The bad news didn’t end there as Kodo Fuyuki attempted to keep FMW going but was diagnosed with stomach cancer (he would die just 12 months later at the age of 42) and FMW’s owner Shoichi Arai committed suicide. Ezaki and Arai were close friends but Arai had ended his life so that his family would be looked after financially and out of guilt over Ezaki’s injury.
Mr Gannosuke would form a new promotion, WMF with Hayabusa as the face of the company. At their August 28th show, Ezaki called for the crowd to stand for a ten bell salute to the memory of Shoichi Arai after which Ezaki got up from his wheelchair and stood with crutches in an emotional moment. On December 12th Ezaki walked with crutches to the ring to address the crowd at Korakuen Hall. Sadly 2003 didn’t go well for WMF and the promotion folded in February 2004.
Ezaki then decided to concentrate on starting a music career releasing an album in May and performing his first concert in June 2004. During this time the pressure of Ezaki’s full time care led to the end of his marriage. From there, Ezaki would continue his musical career, appear sporadically at wrestling events and fund raise for those affected by the 2011 Japanese earthquake and Tsunami.
Eiji Azaki was found dead at his home on the 3rd of March from a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, a type of stroke that can be a complication from spinal injuries, aged only 47. Tragically he never realised his dream of being able to wrestle one last match as Hayabusa but left behind an exceptional legacy as a gifted high flyer who raised the bar for hardcore matches and is remembered as a true legend of Japanese wrestling.
Many thanks to the amazing BAHU’s FMW World, a website well worth exploring.