Matsuda Sorakichi (1859 – August 16, 1891) was a Japanese professional wrestler of the 19th century of some national fame. While his name is largely unknown today, he was a pioneering Japanese wrestler, becoming a feature attraction in America and competing in the distinctly western sport of professional wrestling long before it became popular with his countrymen.
Sorakichi was born Koujiro Matsuda in Japan. He trained and competed in sumo, under the sumo name Torakichi. These names were later corrupted by American promoters and the sporting press into “Matsada Korgaree Sorakichi,” as he would be known in America for the rest of his life. To colleagues he was known as “Mat” or “The J*p.”
In 1883, Matsuda came to the United States and on January 14, 1884 had his first match, competing against the Englishman, Edwin Bibby, in New York City. He lost the match, but bested both Bibby and James Daley when he competed against them in March of that same year.
Matsuda then went on the road and over the next few months he wrestled in Cleveland, Baltimore, Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago and Peoria where he faced opponents including Duncan Ross, Jack Gallagher, Benny Jones, Joe Acton, Carlos Martino, Andre Christol and Ted George.
In Chicago on July 18, 1884, Matsuda faced his most famous opponent, Greco-Roman Champion, William Muldoon. Muldoon emerged victorious in that encounter, but the two would wrestle again in New York City on May 5, 1885, when Muldoon wagered $100 that he could pin Sorakichi five times in an hour, a feat he failed to accomplish.
Matsuda would take on all comers and in Chicago on February 15, 1886, he faced Evan “Strangler” Lewis in a bout that lasted scarcely a minute. The New York Times reported, “Scarcely had the wrestlers shaken hands when the two were rolling each other about on the floor, and Lewis, seizing Sorakichi’s left leg, bent it over his own by main strength, until the J*p’s limb was dislocated. Lewis was awarded the match, and was hissed and cursed without stint.”
A month later in 1886, Matsuda was back in the ring challenging British World Heavyweight Champion, Tom Cannon, in Cleveland in match that he lost.
Over the next few years, Matsuda throughout cities in the Northeast and Great Lakes (with one stop in Rio de Janeiro of all places), taking on some of the biggest names in grappling of the day: Ernest Roeber, Duncan Ross, Joe Acton, Jack Carkeek, James Doner, James Faulkner, Bernarr MacFadden, Jack Hart, John McMahon, August La Grange, and Ted George.
Matsuda’s last match was on May 13, 1891 against Martin “Farmer” Burns in Troy, New York. He only stopped wrestling due to the illness that ended up overcoming him. He had been suffering from consumption, he had been dealing with it for a couple of years.
On August 16, 1891, he died in New York City at the age of 32. Although he had been earning up to $5,000 a year at that point (roughly $125,000 annually when calculated for inflation), he is said to have died penniless and his friends gave him a burial in America.
In February, 1902, eleven years after his death, Jack Carkeek told the British sporting paper Mirror of Life that he held, “a high opinion of Sorakichi, the J*p, whom he considers to probably be the cleverest man in the world at his weight. The plucky little J*p has suffered numerous defeats simply because he has tackled all the best men of the day, no matter what their size or weight might be, and the good little ones must ever go down to big ones.”