Minoru Suzuki on Autumn Attack, US competition and more
The strains of Kaze ni Nare interrupting Jon Moxley’s celebration at AEW’s All Out (and a subsequent ‘international incident’ over its curtailing) was just the start of a months long stint for Minoru Suzuki in the US, with dream matches in NJPW STRONG undoubted highlights. Suzuki wrestles Fred Rosser in singles competition on September 25 in DFW Texas, before teaming with Lance Archer to face Team Filthy the very next night. With Suzuki also set to face Chris Dickinson in Philadelhia’s 2300 Arena in October at Showdown, the King is in demand, with a target on his back; exactly the situation he enjoys. We spoke to Suzuki to get his thoughts.
The bookings snowballed, so I took that as a sign
–We’re speaking just before you depart for the United States, where you’ll be for the next two months, all told. Have you ever been on a long overseas excursion like this?
Suzuki: Nope. But even though I’m pretty much on my own, I do get to catch up with Lance (Archer) again.
–So how did this trip come about initially?
Suzuki: Well, I had an offer from a promotion over there, and I really wasn’t sure whether I should take it. There’s the whole quarantining for two weeks when you come back deal, and it would have meant missing the G1. But as I was mulling it over, more and more offers were coming in. It kept snowballing, so I took that as a sign.
–A message from God?
Suzuki: Well, someone looking down, maybe. I figured that this could turn into a real chance for me, so I told my agent that I didn’t need any time off, just fill my schedule with matches. And here we are.
–There’s no doubt that you’re a big name in the US, and a big draw for any promoter. Is it exciting, to be heading into your first long excursion like this at this stage in your career?
Suzuki: No doubt. You know they say as you get older, you stop taking on two things- adventures and challenges. People get old and think it’s for the young to be doing. But I’m the opposite. I have to move on, have to challenge myself. That’s where my motivation comes from.
–It’s a thrill for the fans over in the US to see a legend like yourself in the flesh.
Suzuki: Hmm. I appreciate the thought, but the word ‘legend’ is for the has-beens. I’m still alive.
–My apologies. There’s no arguing that you’re still very much active and at the top.
Suzuki: Whether you’re in Japan or anywhere else, don’t treat me like one of those ‘legends’. When it comes to my speed in the ring, how hard I train, the way I put my body together, I’m the measure of anyone 20, 30 years younger than me. But some people want to put me on that legend pedestal. Well, I’m kicking that pedestal down and smashing you over the head with it. You don’t get to choose for me.
–You want to make it very clear that you’re very much alive and active.
Suzuki: Never lump me in with that kind of wrestler. They’re from the past, they’re done, and I’m nowhere near finished yet.
If you think this is a chance for you, or a memory to be made, I’m going to chew you up and spit you out
–In your other trips overseas, you’ve obviously wrestled a lot of names on their respective home turfs. Do you get the feeling that it brings a ‘giant killer’ mentality to your opponents?
Suzuki: It does and it doesn’t. Some of those are no-hopes, people for who it’s just a memory. ‘I’m just happy to be here and get the chance to fight’, that kind of crap. What my opponent thinks really doesn’t matter to me. If I’m a chance for you, or a memory to be made, then I will chew you up and spit you out.
–So you’re meeting them with that mentality.
Suzuki: I’m not ‘meeting’ anyone. I’m the one that’s going out to them. Like I said, it’s adventure, challenge and conquest. I’m chewing up everyone and spitting them out. Don’t misquote me.
–I apologise again. Do you research your opponents before you face them overseas?
Suzuki: As if. The fans, they might look at silly little statistics, talk about age, or generation. Create this little yardsticks to hold people up to. But I don’t. Everyone gets treated the same. If it’s a ten year old kid opposite me they’re getting crushed all the same. This is combat, that’s what pro-wrestling is.
–It’s all a fight at the end of the day.
Suzuki: Whenever I go abroad, it’s mostly all first time opponents, and it doesn’t matter to me one damned bit. That’s something you can’t really understand if all you do is watch from the sidelines.
–Your style in the ring certainly reflects that.
Suzuki: You often hear about Japanese wrestlers going overseas and not connecting, something being off. Vice versa, too. But wherever I go in the world, it really doesn’t matter. I’m in demand all over because I wrestle the way I do, so of course it connects.
–You’re always the featured name of every card you’re on. You’ll be wrestling for GCW on this trip; in prior years you’ve faced Matt Riddle and Josh Barnett there in very MMA flavoured matches.
Suzuki: Well, GCW have a few different brands, and Josh and Riddle were in Bloodsport. They have lucha and deathmatch themed brands as well. Bloodsport and I have a bit of a casual relationship.
Suzuki: In 2018, it was Wrestlemania Week, and I was wrestling for another promotion. Someone from Bloodsport came over and said ‘someone’s pulled out, can you wrestle tomorrow?’ I said ‘if you can pay me right now, no problem’. And that’s how I wrestled Riddle.
–Quite the situation.
Suzuki: Then the next year I got that offer direct from Josh. I knew Josh for 20 years, since he got into MMA, so I said absolutely.
–Jon Moxley was at that event, having been a big fan of yours over the years.
Suzuki: Huh. I heard that he was there, but I didn’t think anything of it.
I don’t give two s**ts about the LA Dojo
–So you’ll be on Autumn Attack September 25 and 26 for matches taped to air on NJPW STRONG in the coming weeks. What are your thoughts on STRONG?
Suzuki: I don’t know. I don’t watch it. Haven’t watched it. Why should I, Minoru Suzuki, pay to watch?
Suzuki: I do know that Tom Lawlor is there. I wrestled him a few years ago.
–December 2019 for Warrior Wrestling in Chicago, you beat him with a Gotch Style Piledriver.
Suzuki: After our match we got to talking. The guy’s a real nut.
Suzuki: He grew up watching wrestling, wanting to become a wrestler, and then started MMA. Fought in the UFC, got cut and then said ‘OK, let’s give wrestling a try’. He knows all this stuff about Japanese wrestling as well. I heard him talk about all that and thought ‘OK, guy’s a nut’.
–A focal point of NJPW STRONG are the products of the LA Dojo. Clark Connors and Karl Fredericks have both graduated under Katsuyori Shibata, and certainly seem to have that NJPW-ism about them.
Suzuki: Good for them? Nothing to do with me.
–Do you have any insight, having come through the old school ’80s NJPW Dojo?
Suzuki: No. I’m not a New Japan guy. I don’t give two s**ts about the LA Dojo, don’t know where it is. I guess there are some people coming out there that are pretty separated in mentality from the rest of the US.
–I see. You will be wrestling Fred Rosser in singles action on September 25. Are you familiar with him?
Suzuki: Not at all.
–He is a former WWE Tag Team Champion, and joined NJPW STRONG in September last year. He calls himself ‘Mr. No Days Off’ and brings a lot of energy to the ring.
Suzuki: He’s my opponent, so of course he’s of interest. But that isn’t to say I need to spend any time looking into him beforehand.
–On night two, September 26, you tag with Archer to face Tom Lawlor and Royce Isaacs. What do you remember of Lawlor from wrestling him two years ago?
Suzuki: Not much. That isn’t to say he isn’t anything special, but I don’t reflect on matches that have finished. I keep looking forward, that’s all that matters to me. That’s why I can’t stand all those BS ‘what was your favourite match’ questions. My next match will be my best match.
–Incidentally, Lawlor is STRONG Openweight Champion…
Suzuki: That, I know.
Lance was on on the ground floor
–You and Lance are now reunited for the first time since World Tag League 2019.
Suzuki: Two years…Lance was on the ground floor of Suzuki-Gun. He gets it.
–Suzuki-Gun formed in May 2011 with yourself, TAKA Michinoku and Taichi, but Lance Archer joined very early on.
Suzuki: Those guys, Lance, TAKA, Taichi that were there in the beginning, they’re definitely important to me.
–Archer has been primarily wrestling in AEW from spring of 2020, but did win the IWGP US title there in July over Jon Moxley. Even though there’s some physical distance there, you two were still in touch.
Suzuki: We’d message one another, yeah.
–If you don’t mind me asking, what would you talk about?
Suzuki: Huh? What business is that of yours?
–Again, I apologise. Archer has spoken about you being his opponent in his first tag match in Japan for the indie promotion MAKEHEN. He came in to make the save for his partner and you glared him back to his corner.
–Members have come and gone from Suzuki-Gun. Do you keep up with the members that have left?
Suzuki: Sometimes, sometimes not. Look, from day one Suzuki-Gun has been a rough bunch. Misfits, cockroaches, call us what you will. In all that if someone decides they want to do something different, take a different road, then that’s fine. It’s all about freedom here, nobody’s chained to Suzuki-Gun.
–And that’s always been the case?
Suzuki: Nothing’s changed from day one. I do what I want, everyone else does what they want. Like, I wanted to come to the US, so I came here alone.
America was a bigger challenge and adventure still than the G1
–Obviously, as a result of your trip, you weren’t included in the G1 lineup.
Suzuki: When it came down to it, going to America was the bigger challenge and adventure to me personally than the G1. That’s why I chose the US. It’s not a value judgement.
–It’s just the path you chose.
Suzuki: I said before, right? I’m not contracted. I’m not a New Japan guy. I choose all my own paths, take responsibility for all my own actions and live the way I want. There might be some morons who want to analyse those choices I make for myself, but it’s all about making my own road.
–New Japan is working more with AEW, IMPACT and other promotions in the US; does that interest you?
Suzuki: You have it backward. It isn’t about my interest in them. They want me. There’s a lot of companies in the US. If they want me there, and the conditions are right, well I’ll head there and tear apart anybody put in front of me.
–Let’s talk a bit about Japan. Back in June you commented that you’re ready to challenge the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at any time. Was there any particular meaning to that?
Suzuki: I’d say it was pretty self explanatory. I was making some noise. To some people it might be just that- noise. To others it might reverberate a little bit.
–It’s been a while since August 2019 when you last challenged for the IWGP heavyweight title, so it became a bit of a talking point.
Suzuki: Well, if you wrestle in NJPW and you don’t want that belt, then why are you here?
–That’s true, but I think the timing of the comments was what made people curious?
Suzuki: You know, something I’ve thought for a while, and it’s especially so with social media, people will take any single thing that a wrestler says that confirms their own thoughts in some way, and then they’ll point to it, all smug and self satisfied and say ‘told you so’ like they’re some kind of expert. I’m not going to spend any energy thinking about idiots like that. And I’m not going to answer any leading questions from you. I’m leading you here, not the other way around.
–Again on June 18, you addressed Hiroshi Tanahashi saying ‘are you done here? Because I’m going for the IWGP title’.
Suzuki: Ah, yeah, I did say that. I just got pissed off looking at Tanahashi. He looked like he was checked out, marking off time. But his turn came around huh? Must be nice, being contracted. your turn comes around eventually.
–After that he main evented in the Tokyo Dome against Shingo Takagi, and then won the IWGP US title in LA.
Suzuki: Meh, doesn’t concern me.
You want to see me, come to Texas
–Since the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship was established, it’s been held by Kota Ibushi, Will Ospreay and Shingo Takagi. It does certainly seem to represent a different kind of style to the IWGP Heavyweight title.
Suzuki: Times change in pro-wrestling, just like anything. I don’t have any time to comment on that, or to piss and moan about it. Complain, and you’re just one of those useless old men yelling at clouds. It doesn’t matter who is holding the top title, who’s fighting for it. I will adjust myself to them, just like I always have.
–That’s the thought process that has seen you at the top of so many companies for so long.
Suzuki: I live in that ring, and I’m always at my happiest right in that moment. It’s all about clawing for the top, not having anything granted to you. The people that are full of empty talk deserve no attention.
–Speaking as a veteran of so many years though, do you have an opinion on how the World Heavyweight Championship came to be, and the unification of the Heavyweight and intercontinental Championships?
Suzuki: It’s exactly what I said before. Times change and that’s all there is to it. But I will say with me and the ‘IWGP’ title, I have a different relationship than anyone else.
Suzuki: I believe Antonio Inoki created the IWGP to bring Minoru Suzuki into the business. That title was created so that the wrestler Minoru Suzuki would be born. That sounds bizarre, but it’s what I believe.
–So you have quite a unique relationship with those letters.
Suzuki: The first IWGP was what made me decide to become a pro-wrestler.
–The IWGP tournament, as it was then, took place when you were in middle school. I hear you saw Inoki defeated by Hulk Hogan in the final and were motivated to become Inoki’s rival.
Suzuki: And that’s what got me to thinking ‘hey, maybe that title was made for me specifically’. I don’t have an incredible megastar physique. I was never the Ace of a promotion, never its face. But I’ve been in this business for over 30 years, I’m alive right now, and I’m fighting right now. And that’s what I mean, that the IWGP was there to bring the wrestler Minoru Suzuki to life.
–So it’s destiny for you.
Suzuki: I don’t make empty comments or promises. I said what I said because I am always aiming for the IWGP title. That’s why I wrestle in NJPW. But for now, I’m focused on the US.
–Do you have any message for fans in Japan?
Suzuki: Heheh. You want to see me so bad? Come to America, come to Texas. Or make do with the G1 without me!