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Old-school wrestling trainer dies

Published Sep. 30, 2005

Yasuhiro Kojima, 62, worked with the likes of Hulk Hogan before the sport became entertainment.

Yasuhiro Kojima, who trained and coached such big names in wrestling as Hulk Hogan and Lex Lugar, died Saturday of colon and liver cancer. He was 62.

Known by his stage name as Hiro Matsuda, Mr. Kojima, who died at his home in Carrollwood, came to the United States in 1961. He started wrestling on a circuit that took him through Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. He settled in the Tampa Bay area in 1962, and later trained neophytes at the old Sportatorium in Tampa, home of the Championship Wrestling from Florida television program.

"We referred to it as the dungeon," said wrestler Brian Blair of Tampa, known as Killer Bee. "That's where Hiro put us through the mill. He taught us discipline."

Blair, 41, trained with Mr. Kojima for two summers 20 years ago. He remembered that about 100 would-be wrestlers tried out for Mr. Kojima's coaching those two summers. Only Blair, Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), Paul Orndorff (Mr. Wonderful) and Ray Hernandez (Hercules) stuck it out, he said.

Mr. Kojima wouldn't allow them to enter the ring until they'd done 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 squats.

"We never knew wrestling as sports entertainment," Blair said. "He trained us to believe we'd have to fight for our lives. He used to kick us and say, "Come on, boys, I'm an old man and you can't even keep up with me.' "

At his physical peak, Mr. Kojima stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 240 pounds. He never stopped training, said Blair. Even in his 60s, he could do hundreds of push-ups and squats.

When Mr. Kojima started wrestling, arms and legs could be broken if the wrestler wasn't able to overcome his opponent. He didn't like the way wrestling turned into entertainment, with scantily clad women, foul language and sexual innuendo, Blair said.

"He was the old school," Blair said. "It was totally different in those days. He taught us the hard style."

Other wrestlers who trained with Mr. Kojima include Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), Mike Graham, Steve Keirn and "Dirty" Dick Slater.

Mr. Kojima played baseball in Japan but came to the United States because wrestling was his first love. The sport was more developed here.

He is survived by his wife, Judith; daughters Heather Kojima, 32, of Venice, Calif., and Stephanie Kojima, 29, of San Francisco; and a sister, Hatsue Yokotsuka of Yokohama, Japan.

Glass Funeral Home is handling the burial. Arrangements are pending.

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