A sad end to The Voodoo Murderers gimmick - All Japan's lead heel faction of the last six years. (Wikimedia Commons)
A hugely underreported story so far on the American wrestling websites, given that it is mainstream news in the Japanese sports media and provides yet another lesson in the dangers of head trauma in professional wrestling, is the scandal that has engulfed Keiji Mutoh's All Japan Pro Wrestling due to the circumstances leading to veteran Nobukazu Hirai's (aka Super Hate) brain bleeding. Coverage has largely been restricted to Dave Meltzer's short lead story in the subscriber's only June 2nd Wrestling Observer Newsletter and updates by Zach Arnold on his Puroresu Power message board.
In a story reminiscent to the brain injuries suffered by Naohiro Hoshikawa and Yoshihiro Takayama amongst other Japanese wrestlers
, Hirai is believed to have suffered an acute subdural hematoma during or soon after a physical match with former international rugby union player and clumsy WWE wrestler Kenzo Suzuki, who is now billed simply as Kenso, on May 29th in Kobe. It's worth noting that this isn't the first serious brain injury that has involved someone working with Kenso - it is believed he was forced to leave Riki Choshu's short-lived World Japan promotion in 2003 for being the trainer responsible for the accident where trainee Giant Ochiai similarly suffered an acute subdural hematoma and shortly thereafter died. Following the pattern for these type of injuries, Hirai couldn't get up after his match with Kenso and had to be helped to the back where he black vomited before passing out. He was rushed to the nearest hospital where he required emergency brain surgery. Even after such surgery Hirai as of last word was still in bad shape, as he isn't fully conscious and cannot speak, though he can at least breathe without the aid of a ventilator and is responsive to some external commands.
Hirai's acute subdural hematoma seems to have been caused by the effects of repeated traumatic blows to the head. The stroke happened just over a week after Hirai had been hospitalised for hardway bleeding from a hard chair shot to the head. He didn't miss any dates. Allowing Hirai to continue working after likely suffering a concussion would be bad enough for the promotion, but that wasn't the only head trauma he suffered before his match with Kenso on the 29th. Earlier in the day Hirai had been assaulted with repeated punches to the head by fellow wrestler TARU in a backstage fistfight while fellow Voodoo Murderers teammates Minoru, Kono and Mazada looked on, who were apparently all fed up at Hirai's alleged drinking problem and subsequent in ring laziness. Trying to save face for a backstage mugging happening under their watch, All Japan management indefinitely suspended Taru three days after the fight that may have helped lead to Hirai's stroke and disbanded the Voodoo Murderers heel faction, so Minoru, Kono and Mazada's futures with the promotion are also up in the air. However, this hasn't helped the promotion much as the major national sports newspapers like Tokyo Sports are still running with the story, which has become a black mark on the stagnant and contracting puroresu industry. Worse news could be on the horizon for All Japan, as they may have to pay out money to Hirai's family for their failings in this case and the police may get involved.
Just before I was going to publish this article, Zach Arnold sent me a message about what angles I should concentrate on when writing this story. I've included what he's said here with permission to give our readers a second, more informed, alternative take on this unique situation. Of course, what Zach says is based on what has been alleged and reported in the Japanese press, but you can't always believe what you read in the papers:
Things to focus on: why won't the police arrest TARU? Their public line is that until Hirai gives them a statement that they can't do anything. Well, how the hell is he going to give a statement when he's nearly dead in a hospital bed? In my opinion this is classic cover-up stuff.
The beating. TARU beats the guy up in front of the Japanese guys but chases the gaijin away (Joe Doering & Rene Dupree). Tokyo Sports paper says he whacks Hirai, then is heard screaming allegedly 'bring the pipe!" and the attack is stopped when Kyohei Wada (greatest ref of all time) rushes in to stop everything.
The debate in Japan has been on many issues. Hirai is an old-school veteran. He worked for Genichiro Tenryu in WAR for goodness sakes. Hirai was always the bland undercard guy who was serviceable for 2-3 star matches. Now he's stuck in TARU's group as a Japanese Goldust with MMA gloves and board shorts instead of spandex. The motive: What happened? There are two rumors in the tabloids: 1) TARU got mad at Hirai's match performance. 2) More likely, TARU got mad at Hirai over business dealings. It has long been rumored over the last couple of years that currency for All Japan wrestlers is often tickets. Like some US independent groups, you sell tickets and get paid that way. Did that happen here? There was public notation that TARU & Hirai had heat from All Japan's May tour series in Kyushu (Western Japan).
Also, take note that Minoru (long time veteran), Masayuki Kono, and MAZADA (another veteran) all basically watched. The standard line is that they didn't attack or do anything. In the end, this was a gangland-style beating on Hirai, who then 'reconciled' with TARU afterwards and TARU went out as the guy's ring second for a bout. Hirai wrestles, goes backstage, starts vomiting blood and dark projectile, collapses, has stroke, then the craniotomy, and is now nearly dead.
Another thing: TARU shows up at presser saying he is voluntary stepping down from All Japan. Really? Interesting that there are murmurs of a 'settlement' between TARU & Hirai's family. What's the cover up here? Hirai is suspected to be poor/middle class. It's not like TARU is raking in the bucks, here. Hush money? Too late now -- this thing dominated the front page of the Japanese sports papers all week long. It's a huge scandal and the timing couldn't be worse since it's almost 2 years to the date of Mitsuhara Misawa's death (due to a cervical spinal cord injury).