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Masio Koma


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1582179767_komaajpwdebut.thumb.jpg.5c610be758077f918bdb88096f34cff3.jpgMasio Koma (マシオ駒)

Real name: Hideo Koma (駒秀雄)
Professional names: Hideo Koma, Atsuhide Koma, Kakutaro Koma, Mr. Koma, Masio Koma
Life: 5/18/1940-3/10/1976
Born: Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan 
Career: 1961-1976

Promotions: Japan Wrestling Association, All Japan Pro Wrestling
Height/Weight: 172cm/100kg (5’8”/220 lbs.)
Signature Moves: Dropkick
Titles: NWA World Middleweight [EMLL] (1x), NWA United States Tag Team [Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling] (2x, with the Great Ota/Gantetsu Matsuoka), NWA Western States Tag Team [Western States Sports] (2x, with Mr. Okuma/Motoshi Okuma)

As a wrestler, Masio Koma has a humble legacy marked by some territorial success. However, he was an important figure in AJPW's early years, and his unexpected death is regarded by colleagues and journalists as a turning point in company history.

Hideo Koma's athletic background was in baseball, which he played through high school as a teammate of Sadaharu Oh. Upon his graduation, Koma joined the JWA in June 1961. Debuting on October 11 with a loss to Mitsu Hirai, Koma would become Giant Baba's first valet. Like his successor Motoshi Okuma, Koma would remain loyal to Baba for the rest of his life. Hideo's early years would see him booked under his real name, and then as Atsuhide and Kakutaro Koma.

In January 1970, Koma embarked on a pioneering excursion to EMLL. On August 28, he became the first Japanese wrestler to win Mexican gold, defeating El Solitario for the NWA World Middleweight title. Koma even won it as a technico! In a 2008 web column, journalist and lucha expert Tsutomu “Tomas” Shimizu (AKA Dr. Lucha) claimed that Mexican fans of a certain generation were as likely to name Koma as the greatest Japanese foreigner to wrestle in Mexico as they were Sayama. Two years later, Shimizu would rank Koma as the fourth greatest “Japanese luchador” (based on their Mexican runs, not necessarily as "lucharesu" wrestlers), behind Ultimo, Sayama, and Hamada at #1. After this, Koma traveled north to begin work as a US territorial heel, teaming with his peers Okuma and Gantetsu Matsuoka to tag success in the Florida and Amarillo territories. It was during his run in the latter that he and Okuma were recruited by Baba for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Koma has been cited in multiple narratives as the crucial man in getting Dory Funk Sr. to agree to a partnership with Baba.

Koma became the first head coach of the AJPW dojo. Deeply respected by Baba, enough so that he could comfortably raise objections to him, Koma was also assigned as the handler of Jumbo Tsuruta. Alongside Sato, Koma gave Tsuruta about four months of part-time instruction as Tsuruta completed his baccalaureate. Koma would also teach Tsuruta locker room etiquette and acted as a buffer between Tsuruta and the resentment of his peers. Koma would successfully produce three wrestlers: Atsushi Onita, Masanobu Fuchi, and Kazuharu Sonoda. He was also involved in training Kyohei Wada. However, his poor health led AJPW to hire US-based wrestler and former IWE trainer Matty Suzuki as a wrestler and coach for extended periods in 1974 and 1975. Koma died of liver failure in 1976.

Koma's training methods were reformed by Akio Sato in the early 1980s, as Nippon Television ordered the company to begin producing more native talent. The story of Naoki Takano, a pre-Sato graduate (and cousin of George and Shunji) whose career ended in a horrific training injury just months after his debut, suggests that such reforms were warranted. Not everyone agrees, though. The Great Kabuki has claimed that Koma's death "ruined" All Japan. Koma had incorporated "gachinko" (Japanese term for shoot) fundamentals into the curriculum. Not only did AJPW fail to produce a homegrown wrestler from Sonoda's 1975 debut until Shiro Koshinaka's graduation in 1979, but the gachinko tradition was lost in favor of an Americanized, "passive" house style influenced more by the Funks than by puroresu. Kabuki remarks that "they all became weak". NJPW head trainer Kotetsu Yamamoto had been a good friend of Koma's, and he would later reveal that they consulted each other about their methods. Would Koma have developed his method further had he lived? Would the stylistic gap between AJPW and NJPW have become narrower? Whatever the case, Koma was one of AJPW's most important early figures, and although Great Kojika claims that the company culture became "lighter" after his death. It has also been cited as a destabilizing incident behind the scenes. It may have led Tsuruta to become closer to Samson Kutsuwada, which complicated Jumbo’s relationship with Baba after the 1977 incident.

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