Minoru Suzuki’s tenure through the “Forbidden Door” is important

TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 06: Minoru Suzuki looks on during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'New Year Dash!!' at the Tokyo Dome City Hall on January 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 06: Minoru Suzuki looks on during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'New Year Dash!!' at the Tokyo Dome City Hall on January 06, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images) /
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Minoru Suzuki is the latest wrestler to come through professional wrestling’s “Forbidden Door” and introduce himself to the All Elite Wrestling audience. His debut at All Out may have been quickly overshadowed by a fantastic show and several other high-impact debuts, but that has not stopped potentially the scariest man in wrestling from spending significant time in Tony Khan’s wrestling company.

At the time of writing, Minoru Suzuki is slated to have his third AEW bout in 48 hours. A dream bout with Bryan Danielson, this match will mark the longest an NJPW wrestler has stuck around in AEW. Many have come: Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hikuleo, KENTA, and Jeff Cobb, but only Suzuki has come back for thirds.

Of course, this makes sense. Suzuki is the only wrestler on that list currently residing in the United States. In the era of COVID-19, traveling between Japan and the United States is nearly impossible, meaning any wrestler coming through the Forbidden Door for an extended amount of time has to stay in the States throughout their entire tenure. New Japan’s “King” has been touring with New Japan Pro Wrestling Strong in the United States, making him available to take US bookings.

The convenience of Suzuki’s debut does not diminish the importance and potential of his tenure in AEW however. It is more closely an instance of the stars aligning in TK’s favor than any form of compromise.

The Story of Minoru Suzuki

Minoru Suzuki is more known for his time in professional wrestling, but his impact on Japanese combat sports is likely much larger.

Suzuki was a founder of Pancrase, one of the first mixed martial arts promotions in the entire world. Suzuki, an Olympic-level freestyle wrestler, and expert in catch wrestling was also a competitor, becoming the second of the promotion’s champions when he submitted Ken Shamrock with a kneebar. He is actually the only person in MMA to have submitted Ken Shamrock twice.

He would have 62 professional fights between 1993 and 2003, and then one more in 2013 (at 45 years of age) for a total record of 36-22-5. He won most of his bouts by submission, using the mat wrestling that made him an Olympian to twist and pull his opponents exactly how he wanted. This article may be more about Suzuki’s impact on the industry, but it is worth noting that his use of the knee/shin to face in top position has fundamentally changed wrestling transitions. He will likely be a heavy inspiration and study for the upcoming wave of wrestling-heavy MMA fighters.

However, he was also a businessman and executive for Pancrase. In its early days, Suzuki and partner Masakatsu Funaki implemented rules inspired by professional wrestling. This made the promotion’s bouts unique, but also faster-paced and therefore more exciting. Its lack of pre-determined outcomes also set it apart from several other promotions, including Pride FC.

Where Pride is widely regarded as the more popular and more important MMA promotion in Japanese history, its ties to the Yakuza and long list of other controversies did more to hurt the sport in Japan than help raise it up. Pancrase, on the other hand, has introduced some of the best fighters in the world to Japanese fans and is the current training ground for the Japanese world champions of tomorrow.

Minoru Suzuki’s love for combat sports came largely from his adoration of Antonio Inoki. Inoki, one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, would also impart that love onto Suzuki.

Initially training with and winning his first world championship for New Japan, Suzuki’s first major run as a singles competitor would actually come with All Japan Pro Wrestling. His first run as Triple Crown Champion (the company’s top championship) would see him wrestle the likes of the late RO’Z (Third generation wrestler of the Anoa’i family and brother of Roman Reigns), Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Tajiri, Keiji Mutoh (FKA The Great Muta), and Kensuke Sasaki.

He would win the Champion Carnival Tournament twice, win the Triple Crown Championship twice for a total of 476 days, and be heralded as one of the anchors that kept All Japan Pro Wrestling above water during the 2000s.

However, in 2010, he would leave the promotion he called home for almost a decade and return to the promotion that first brought him into pro-wrestling. In All Japan, he had become a force in the wrestling world. In New Japan, he would become an icon.

Although he never won the main strap, Suzuki’s reigns with the promotions mid-card titles made kept him in the spotlight. He has held the NEVER Openweight Championship twice for a combined 322 days, the Intercontinental Championship once, and the Tag Titles once with Yoshihiro Takayama.

He may not be known for always being the top guy in any promotion he steps foot into, but he has been an extremely reliable performer, capable of elevating any title or competitor to the level it should be. His impact on Japanese combat sports is likely larger than his impact on Japanese wrestling, but his impact on Japanese wrestling remains undeniable.