It was some time late on Friday evening that the signs of distress came through on Twitter.
By the time I’d seen the chatter, some of the original tweets had been deleted. Still, the gravity of the situation seemed obvious. However, shortly before I went to bed I read one tweet from someone who seemed to be in the know. It suggested someone was with her and that she was OK for now. It put my mind slightly at rest.
I hoped that by the next morning there would be good news. Of course, by the time I switched on my phone on Saturday morning, there was no good news. In fact, there was the worst news possible.
Hana Kimura was dead, having seemingly taken her own life.
The day didn’t bring any real respite from that awful news.
On the face of it, Hana Kimura was someone who had it all going for her. If Madison Square Garden and the Tokyo Dome are at the top of the list of Wrestling Meccas, there also has to be the realisation that 99.99% of grapplers who ever lace their boots never perform in either of those iconic venues, never mind both of them (and that’s before we even throw in Korakuen Hall). Hana Kimura had done that before her 23rd birthday. A 23rd birthday she will now never see.
Born in September 1997, Hana Kimura was a second-generation wrestler, the daughter of Kyoko Kimura. Her mother had been a pro for almost fifteen years, wrestling for the likes of JWP, NEO and perhaps most famously, Stardom. She’d also been seen in the United States for SHIMMER. Kyoko’s retirement match had been in January 2017 when she had teamed with her daughter Hana and her husband where they were defeated by a trio of legendary names in Aja Kong, Meiko Satomura and Minoru Suzuki. Straight afterwards Kyoko wrestled one last bonus match, against her daughter. Hana pinned Kyoko to end her career.
This hadn’t been the beginning of Hana’s pro wrestling career, or her first interaction with her mother in the ring. Years prior to her official debut in 2016, Kimura won the DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship (essentially a parody of the WWE’s Hardcore 24/7 title rules) in August 2005 at the fair old age of seven, defeating Tanny Mouse before dropping the belt to her own mother later on in the same show.
It was 2016 before an official debut came, after training with the Wrestle-1 Professional Wrestling University. Within six months she had won her first title, the JWP Junior Championship, and had begun to appear in Stardom alongside her mother. In October of that year mother and daughter teamed with Kagetsu as part of the Oedo Tai faction to defeat Threedom for the Artist of Stardom title. You may well know the latter trio of Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo (Sane) and Mayu Iwatani. Injury forced Hana to vacate the the title (she was replaced by another familiar name in the form of Viper/Piper Niven) as 2016 became 2017 and she had also lost her JWP Junior Championship by this point.
After the aforementioned retirement matches of her mother, 2017 saw Hana continue to wrestle for Wrestle-1 and Stardom as well as making appearances for Sendai Girls. In June of that year Hana tasted gold again as she teamed up with Kagetsu to win the Goddess of Stardom Championship, defeating the team of Hiroyo Matsumoto and Jungle Kyona at Galaxy Stars 2017. The pair would make numerous successful defences and held the titles for almost a year. They would also receive the award for Best Tag Team that year.
In January 2018 Hana was officially announced as a Wrestle-1 roster member, but she continued to work elsewhere, both in Japan and overseas. In Sendai Girls she continued a feud with Mika Iwata and the two had a good match at on an April 19th show that also included Io Shirai Vs Meiko Satomura. Earlier that month Hana had shown that it wasn’t just a case of having good matches with the more established names as at Stardom Dream Slam, as she battled another up and comer in the form of HZK in a well received match up. Overseas, Hana wrestled for the likes of Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling: EVE as well as in various Mexican promotions. As in the old days, when young stars from Japan were sent overseas for “seasoning”, this experience was to prove vital in helping to round-out both her in-ring work and her character. She would be ranked no. 60 in the PWI Women’s 100 in 2018.
In 2019 she officially re-joined Stardom but still had time for outside gigs. One came at the Ring of Honor / New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Supercard as those promotions invaded the WWE’s turf to hold an event at Madison Square Garden on WrestleMania weekend. There she teamed with Stella Grey and Sumie Sakai to take on Jenny Rose, Kagetsu and Hazuki. In the 2019 Stardom draft just a week or so later, Hana was named as the leader of the International Army faction, soon to be renamed the Tokyo Cyber Squad. More gold would follow as she teamed with stablemates Jungle Kyona and Konami to again win the Artist of Stardom Championship. The match from where they beat Mayu Iwatani, Kashima and Tam Nakano at Stardom Gold from Korakuen Hall is well worth seeking out. In September of that year she also won the Five Star Grand Prix tournament, defeating Konami in the Grand Final, joining the likes of Mayu Iwatni, Toni Storm and Kairi Hojo as winners over the years.
2020 started with a bang as Hana teamed with Giulia to wrestle Mayu Iwatani & Arisa Hoshiki in a dark match prior to New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 14. Some fans were disappointed (but not surprised) that the match wasn’t part of the “official” show but by the same token it was the first women’s match held at the Tokyo Dome in 18 years or so. It also showed that Bushiroad, NJPW’s parent company who had acquired Stardom in late 2019, had plans to develop the Stardom brand and take it to new heights.
Hana Kimura wrestled her final match during Stardom’s Cinderella Tournament on March 24th, battling long-time foe Mayu Iwatani to a draw.
It seems clear that post-Covid-19, Hana was being lined up to be one of THE top names in Stardom. Her match with Giulia at Stardom Year End Climax 2019 had shown a more aggressive style than fans had perhaps been used to and a sign that perhaps she was ready to take even yet another step up the card.
With the improvement that she had shown over the first four years of her career in the ring, especially in the last twelve months or so, and the personality and charisma that shone through our TV screens every time she stepped into the ring it was clear that she would have succeeded. It’s also clear from tales that her dedication to improving her English would have made her a good bet to one day make her way to WWE/AEW and become a star there too if she had so wanted. Although she may have not been able to see it, the world was truly her oyster.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Within all the traditional noise on social media, it’s perhaps worth noting that the cyber-bullying that led to Hana taking her own life appeared to stem from her appearances on Japanese Reality show Terrace House. On there she had spoken about her mixed-race heritage and had gotten into an argument with a housemate when they had dried her wrestling gear, ruining it in the process.
This is not to absolve some (and we should stress, some) wrestling fans for their toxic behaviour online or at shows but does serve as a reminder that this is a global problem not confined to our own favourite form of entertainment.
Some people may mend their ways or think twice before next taking to the airwaves to share their “opinions” after this and many will say lessons will be learned.
Sadly, in general, they won’t.
Things will soon “carry on as normal”, until the next such tragedy makes everyone stop for a minute. Or perhaps not. Comments under YouTube news videos about her death show a complete lack of self-awareness from many a commenter.
But maybe, just maybe, if only a handful of people think again before pressing that send button, Hana’s death won’t have been completely in vain. We can but hope.
Either way, this is not a tragedy we should be forgetting any time soon.
You can find me on Twitter @IWFICON