Matty Matsuda, Troy’s Japanese wrestler of the 1910s

Published 10:56 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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Editor’s note: This feature is compiled partly from The Messenger’s archives on Issues of The Troy Messenger dating from 1860 through 1963 can be found on the site.

While Troy may not be known as a hotbed of professional wrestling in modern times, in the 1910s hundreds – sometimes thousands – of local fans were entertained weekly by a resident grappler known as Matty Matsuda.

Manjiro Matsuda was born in 1887 in Japan and was one of the best judo players in Japan. Matsuda came to North America in the 1900s, performing judo exhibitions on boxing cards in America and Canada. Eventually, Matsuda saw a match between famed wrestler Frank Gotch and Dan McLeod, which inspired him to become a professional wrestler. Gotch even trained the dominant judoka in wrestling.

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In the 1910s, the 5-foot-6-inch, 147-pound Matsuda began traveling across the Southeast and Midwest. He became quickly known for having physical, long matches with his opponents throughout the area, including a famed four-hour match in 1912 in Toledo, Ohio.

Matsuda made his debut in Troy in December of 1915 as a part of the traveling Metropolitan Carnival. Matsuda, then billed as the “Lightweight Champion,” defeated Montgomery native Peter James. On the same card, a Troy native, Arnold Clements faced Montgomery’s Young Robinson.

A few weeks later, Matsuda returned to Troy in a boxing/wrestling card that saw Clements defeat Chuck Saylor in a boxing match and Matsuda defeated a wrestler billed as “Piambo the Italian.”

Matsuda continued to wrestle in Troy in January, defeating a Michigan wrestler Joe Nasser in a nearly hour-long match. He also began wrestling in Montgomery at this point. It was this rivalry with Nasser that would create controversy, and a court trial.

In the early years of professional wrestling, it was a legitimate sport with matches that could last for hours. In the 1910s, promoters began to work with wrestlers to “fix” these matches – leading to what professional wrestling is now known for. While Matsuda was considered a “shooter” – a legitimate wrestler who could handle himself in and out of the ring – he was likely already taking part in these predetermined matches by the time he was wrestling in Troy.

In February of 1916, Matsuda faced Nasser in Troy in a match that the Feb. 23 Troy Messenger described.
“There was a great throng at the armory to see the match,” The Messenger related. “People were there from several surrounding towns, including Montgomery, Brantley and other points. They had paid their money to see a good, clean exhibition of sport.”

The Messenger reported that fans in attendance did not believe Nasser’s performance against Matsuda lived up to previous bouts. Matsuda defeated Nasser in 36 minutes in the first fall and then pinned Nasser in 15 minutes of the second fall for a clean sweep in the 2-of-3 falls match.

According to the story, the Montgomery Advertiser’s sports editor approached Nasser and accused him of throwing the match.

“Nasser, it is said, sought to change the subject, but when pressed admitted the charge, and is said to have admitted that his former match had been fixed,” the story read. “Sheriff Carroll arrested Nasser, and set for and arrested Matsuda, both of them giving bond for appearance today.”

Nasser and Matsuda would ultimately plead guilty to the charge of conducting “athletic exhibitions for which money was charged in admittance fees, without first having taken out a license.” Matsuda and Nasser were fined $75 each, the equivalent of $2,233 in 2024. The promoter of the event was also charged with the same crime.

According to The Messenger, both Nasser and Matsuda agreed to leave Troy and not return, and it did not seem likely wrestling would be held in Troy again anytime soon.

“It is doubtful if another wrestling match would be patronized largely here, whether the charges of the frame-up are true or not,” the story stated. “The people who have visited the matches wanted pure clean sport, but the events of the past 24 hours have given the sport a ‘black eye.’”

No other mention of the event – or Matsuda – was made in The Messenger between Feb. 23 and Dec. 6, when things evidently changed. While no mention of the previous scandal was made, an announcement in the Dec. 6 Troy Messenger declared the return of both wrestling and Matsuda to Troy.

According to The Messenger, 12 wrestling fans from Troy joined together and received a license to promote wrestling in Troy beginning in December. The promoters also entered into an agreement with Matsuda for “permanent engagement” in wrestling events in Troy. Matsuda would live and train in Troy. From that point forward, Matsuda began being billed as “from Troy” in advertisements for upcoming events.

Events were held at the old “Union Warehouse” in Troy at the intersection of East Walnut Street and Market Street. Tickets were sold for 50 cents, 75 cents and $1 and weigh-ins were held at McLeod’s Drug Store on the square prior to the matches.

Wrestling returned to Troy later that month when Matsuda fought Eddie Carter – of Ohio – in a match that lasted two hours and ended in a draw. Next, Matsuda defeated Ed Connelly – of Ohio – in a match that took place on New Year’s Night, Jan. 1, 1917. Matsuda suffered his first loss in Troy later in January to New York native Herbert Hartley, who held the English Lightweight Championship. While it was the first time Matsuda had ever lost in Troy, The Messenger reported that it was also Matsuda’s first loss anywhere in five years.

“For the first time in five years, it is stated, a referee awarded the match to an opponent of Matsuda,” The Messenger said. “It was the first time he had lost in Troy, and the best match ever held here.”

The two met in a rematch at 140 pounds in February with Matsuda earning his revenge in two straight falls. Matsuda pinned Hartley in one hour and six minutes of the first fall and then he pinned Hartley in 27 minutes of the second fall to win the match.

Matsuda, who was known for his four-hour match earlier in his career, attempted to outdo it when he wrestled Ohio native Johnnie Daniel in a match that lasted three hours and 45 minutes. According to The Messenger, the match was called a draw after the fans asked for the match to end.

“The match was stopped at the request of the fans, who saw that the wrestlers were much fatigued,” the report stated. “The match is to be finished Friday night, March 2.”

Hartley returned to Troy later in the month for another rematch with Matsuda, this time in a “winner takes all” match that would see the winner take all of the proceeds from ticket sales. Hartley pinned Matsuda in an hour and 35 minutes of the first fall only for Matsuda to tie things up in just 10 minutes of the second fall. According to the report, Matsuda pinned Hartley after dropping him on his head with a suplex that injured the New York native. It took just five minutes for Matsuda to pin Hartley in the third fall.

In what was possibly the biggest match in Troy to date, Matsuda faced Joe Turner, World Middleweight Champion, later in March. After dispatching of Turner, Matsuda once again faced Hartley with Hartley winning this time. The two once again rematched later that week with Hartley winning again.

This seems to be one of – if not the – last match for Matsuda in Troy as he does not appear in another issue of The Messenger. By the 1920s, Matsuda was residing and wrestling in El Paso, Texas. Sadly, in 1929 Matsuda passed away at the age of 49 due to injuries he suffered in a brutal match with Indian wrestler Basanta Singh.

Wrestling in Troy continued to be a regular event through the 1960s, but it primarily started due to the success of the heated matches involving Matsuda.