Hiroyo hair-whipping Mio Shirai in OZ tag bout
Photo by Takehisa Kashima
I am not an expert on the life and career of Japanese wrestler Hiroyo Matsumoto, but I'd like to be. Hiroyo caught my eye in April of 2010 when she made her first trip to SHIMMER in Berwyn, IL. I do not know whether she had traveled internationally to wrestle prior to that, but she made a hugely positive impression on the savvy SHIMMER crowd and was invited back for the September tapings. Unfortunately, due to injury, she could not attend in September of 2010. Many were eager for Hiroyo's return to SHIMMER and I had the good fortune to attend the SHIMMER tapings in March of 2011 and see her live for the first time. Two things impressed me immediately. She is a large powerful woman and like Manami Toyota has tremendous core strength, speed, and agiity. But unlike the great Toyota, Hiroyo is only 25 years old and at the peak of her physical abilities. The second thing I noticed was her electrifying smile, her natural laughter, her exuberant joy in life and her love of wrestling. Whether delivering a punch or taking one, Hiroyo Matsumoto obviously loves her work. She and Misaki formed the tag team 3S at SHIMMER and dethroned the Canadian Ninjas prancing through title defenses against Roxx and Ariel, and Brittany and Saraya Knight before losing to Haze and Nakagawa. Hiroyo led the team in putting on great hard-hitting matches each time, yet laced with "Be happy" joy and good humor. 3S wore their titles lightly and easily, the way the Brazilian national soccer team wears World Cup championship pressure -- as if it were just another day at the beach -- relaxed and happy. Hiroyo's favorite saying is "SUGOI!" or "Great!"
Hiroyo in OZ Academy ring last weekend
Photo by Takehisa Kashima
So how did Japanese women's wrestling get so fortunate as to find the galvanizing fan-favorite Hiroyo Matsumoto in its sorority? The story began when a vigorous, athletic 19-year-old was watching a wrestling match on TV. It featured two of the dominant men in Japan at the time Kobashi Kenta VS Kensuke Sasaki in Tokyo Dome during July of 2005. She said she was so impressed with the passion and commitment of the wrestlers that she was emotionally overcome and remembers crying in front of the TV. Such a powerful experience can change the course of one's life and it did for Hiroyo. She wanted to wrestle -- to feel the power, the violent contact -- to express herself physically, but also in her personality as a story teller. But where should she turn? She was in junior college at the time. How does one begin a career in professional wrestling?
Hiroyo after first match, age 20
She turned to the training school of Mariko Yoshida of IBUKI. Mariko saw her talent and nurtured it until she was ready to make her ring debut. Mariko had been a great technical wrestler for AJW in the exceptional period of the early 1990's. Later she joined Aja Kong in Arsion in 1998. And finally she moved to IBUKI, her own promotion. Yoshida is one of the smartest technical wrestlers and teachers in two decades and she became a great trainer. Hiroyo had sought out the best. The IBUKI trainer saw the great potential in young Matsumoto, nurtured her development, and guided her opening years in wrestling.
Mariko Yoshida, IBUKI trainer, former AJW and Arsion star
Ayumi and Hiroyo relaxing after SHIMMER
Photo by David Falcon
Hiroyo debuted in 2006 and has steadily grown in reputation -- for the two reasons I observed earlier: superlative athleticism and magnetic personality that exudes enthusiasm and positive energy. She is distinguished in both singles and tag action and holds the great Aja Kong as her role model in wrestling. Many facts from her six year career are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiroyo_Matsumoto From IBUKI to S-Ovation, NEO, OZ Academy, SHIMMER, Ice Ribbon, and now REINA, Freelancer Matsumoto destroys the opposition. The boisterous and joyous cry of fans "MATSUMOTO! HIROYO! DESTROY!" is something of a clarion call for the young star. She is only too happy to oblige her fans with a devastation shoulder charge or backdrop. Her skill set includes high-flying, submissions, strikes, and solid mat-work (thanks to the great Mariko). American Mia Yim, currently on a two-week tour of Japan with REINA, faced Hiroyo last week and said that Matsumoto twisted her into submission moves she had never before seen, much less experienced, in the ring.
Giving Mia Yim submission hell
Photo by Nobuya Iwatsubo
Mia's respect is universal. Every wrestler that faces Hiroyo leaves the experience with respect verging on "awe." The Destroyer is so skilled, so powerful, that every opponent breathes a sigh of relief if she can walk away from the ring under her own power. Last month in Atlanta, Hiroyo wrapped up her tour of the USA with a trip to Wrestlemania and the ROH show where she teamed with the other great joshi superstar, Ayumi Kurihara. They took on two teams in as many days and won the love and vocal respect of the great ROH crowd. Some fans called the matches the "best women's wrestling ever in an ROH ring."
With Jim Cornette and Ayumi Kurihara at ROH (Atlanta)