Hilo boxing legend Jack Matsui passed away last night at a local care facility.
Matsui had been involved in boxing for more than 60 years and had trained some of the best fighters to ever take to the ring from the Big Island and Japan.
At age 87, and in frail health, Matsui just two months ago decided that it was time to step down. “My health is declining and my legs are bothering me so much that I need to use a wheelchair,” Matsui said from the Hilo Medical Center Long Term Care Facility.
Matsui, who was born in 1922 and raised at the Waiakea Mill, received his first taste of boxing at the age of 12 when he began to learn to box.
“Every camp had a boxing club and I needed to learn to defend myself,” Matsui said prior to his passing. “Boxing and self defense was just a part of learning to grow up.”
Matsui became a flyweight at 112 pounds and gained the attention of the Honolulu Catholic Youth Organization who felt he had a promising career in the sport.
“The CYO brought me to Honolulu to train at their gym on Fort Street,” he said. “It was during my training in Honolulu that I saw former professional boxers cleaning the gym, talking to themselves and not knowing what was going on.”
Over the years Matsui had started both novice and amateur boxing clubs on the Big Island and has trained some of the island’s best.
Matsui’s coaching list of former boxers is a who’s who list of some of the very best that has ever come out of the Big Island.
Matsui coached and trained the Asuncion brothers, George, Gerald and Dennis, all of which were good fighters during the late 60’s.
Matsui also trained Charles Cabral, Frank Flores, Fred Mensha and Ralph Aviles, just to name a few. Mensha went on to become an all-Japan boxer during the 1970’s, while Aviles headlined a professional card and was ranked, at one time, eighth in the world.
Matsui was also recognized as an outstanding boxing coach/trainer and was invited to go to Japan eight times to help train their fighters.
The highlight of Matsui’s Japan connection came in 1988 when he was asked to help train the Japanese boxing team for the Seoul Olympics.
Matsui also spoke fluent Japanese, held a fourth degree black belt, yodan, in judo and had received countless accolades for his lifelong dedication to the sport that he loves.
Along with keeping boxing in the forefront for the Big Island community Matsui has also been instrumental in founding the Big Island Athlete of the Month Program, with the help of Hugh Clark, and is the founder of the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’m not happy with retiring from boxing,” Matsui said just two months before his death. “It has been a part of my life for so long that this is hard for me to give up. My whole life has been boxing.”
Funeral arrangements are being made and will be announced at a later date.