Minoru Suzuki – The Oni King of Havoc

Minoru Suzuki doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what most people think of when “scary” wrestlers are brought up. Typically, it’s supernatural abilities or an ominous entrance. Usually these characters have quite a bit of pageantry involved with their persona. Just look at the Undertaker, Kane, or Bray Wyatt. Some of the most defining moments of these wrestlers’ careers involve coffins, something or someone being lit on fire, or some other over-the-top production.

Nothing could be less true about Suzuki, who wrestles in plain black trunks. While his music, Kaze Ni Nare is beloved (google the Suzuki Incident), it is a anything but intimidating. Instead, Suzuki focuses on brutal, hard-hitting offense and a psychotic, uneven demeanor to make fans uneasy. But, in my opinion, the way to truly frighten a wrestling fan is to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Smoke and mirrors are fun and in many instances effective, but they don’t compare to the moments that emotionally grip fans.

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Psycho Thriller

One example that comes to mind is the crucifixion of the Sandman in ECW. Even in front of a crowd that was very smart to the business, peoples’ reactions were that of terror. How could they not be? The sight of a man being crucified in front of his son, with a “crown” of barbed wire placed on his head while he bleeds profusely would be enough to enamor anyone.

Another instance would be the conclusion of Summerslam 2016. The ending to the Brock Lesnar/Randy Orton match saw Lesnar delivering some very real blows to the head of Orton. This would go on for a couple minutes and end in referee stoppage as Orton poured an uncomfortable amount of blood onto the canvas. Everyone watching was stunned and wasn’t sure if Lesnar had just went into business for himself and legitimately brutalized his opponent.

This turned out to be not be the case, as it was the planned finish, but even some WWE wrestlers backstage, including Chris Jericho, thought that it was a shoot and confronted Brock about it following the match. In the context of horror, slashers can be enjoyable, but nothing beats a psychological thriller. That being said, there has hardly been anyone to blur those lines like the King of Pancrase, Minoru Suzuki.

Murder Grandpa

Minoru Suzuki is known throughout the wrestling world as “The King.” This came from him being crowned the King of Pancrase. Pancrase was one of the very first mixed martial arts promotions in the world. Suzuki helped create Pancrase in 1993, after taking a hiatus from professional wrestling. Before that, he had been trained at the NJPW Dojo by Karl Gotch. Suzuki had a very successful MMA career with a record of 49 win and nine losses.

Fans of the wrestling and MMA legend affectionately call Suzuki “Murder Grandpa.” Pick any match from his vast catalog and it won’t take long to see why. He attacks his adversary with the intensity of an evil oni from Japanese folklore. It’s been said of many competitors, but Minoru Suzuki truly seems to enjoy not only dishing out punishment, but receiving it as well. Much like Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees, no matter what you hit “the King” with, he just refuses to relent.

With a career that began all the way back in 1988, Suzuki has knocked countless legends senseless. A former GHC Heavyweight Champion in Pro Wrestling NOAH, few men are as respected as Suzuki. That is partly due to the fact that he truly was one of the most dangerous men in the world at one time.

Even after all these years, when he locks in his rear-naked choke with the ferocity that could only come from a psychotic episode, or ominously laughs and sticks his tongue out after being rocked with a strike, one thought runs through my head. “Has he finally lost it? Is he about to shoot on this dude?” I’ve been a wrestling fan for over twenty years. For a performer to be able to allow me, who is as jaded as they come, to suspend disbelief on such a consistent basis is nothing less than incredible.

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Face of Strong Style

If a wrestler is known for being stiff or hard-hitting, it won’t take long to find someone clamoring for them to stand toe-to-toe with Suzuki. A match against AJ Styles saw the New Japan crowd cheering for AJ Styles, who at the time was the biggest heel in the company and the leader of the reviled BULLET CLUB. This was one of the purest testaments of just how sadistic and ruthless “the King” can be.

Just in the twilight of his career, Minoru Suzuki has put on classic matches with Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, Lance Archer, Tomohiro Ishii, Josh Barnett, Hirooki Goto, and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Speaking ahead of their match on the October 15, 2021 AEW Rampage Buy-In, former multi-time WWE World Champion Bryan Danielson tweeted this out.

“In 2004, I wrestled Minoru Suzuki 1 on 1. He beat the sh*t out of me. Showed me what violence and sadism inside a wrestling ring looks like. Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about violence myself. And sadism. Excited to show Mr. Suzuki what I’ve learned.”

Such high praise is the norm for Suzuki. As I mentioned before, not only does “the King” relish in dishing out punishment, he also seems to enjoy being pushed to his limits. During his match with Jon Moxley in Moxley’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Suzuki suffered a cut on his eyelid that required seven stitches.

I was lucky enough to see this event live, and the sight of a bleeding Suzuki trading stiff shots with Moxley was something I won’t soon forget. This didn’t stop Suzuki from teaming with Lance Archer in a Lights Out match against Moxley and Eddie Kingston just two weeks later on Rampage.

Cult of the King

I’ve found a lot of enjoyment just looking at the faces of Minoru Suzuki during a match. If I were in a fight and hit someone, and they reacted the way Suzuki does to a stiff forearm to the jaw, I would have an immediate sense of “OH SH*T!” The strong-style wrestling style prevalent in Japanese wrestling today shows a lot of influence from Minoru Suzuki.

Suzuki’s aggressive, no-nonsense style has also inspired people far away from the Land of the Rising Sun. He has gained a huge cult following in the internet wrestling community, not to mention his influence on wrestlers in every major promotion today. WWE superstar and a former MMA star in her own right, Shayna Baszler is a huge fan. Speaking on the Table Talk podcast about her love for Japanese wrestling growing up, the Queen of Spades had this to say.

“That was, I don’t know, that’s just the way I came up, and so, Minoru Suzuki is one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, still today and he comes out with a towel over his head like Taz, like a hood and I remember thinking like, ‘Oh man, I wanna do something that’s kind of like him but not exactly like him so I’m gonna put the towel around me. I’m not gonna put it on my head’ and then I was like, ‘Aw man, the sleeper, that’s like I can get to the back in submission wrestling, shoot wrestling. I know all these tricky ways. That’s gonna be great. That’ll be a great finisher for me.” – Shayna Baszler discusses being a fan of Suzuki

As I said, while not most people’s first thought when thinking of a terrifying wrestler, few are as scary as Minoru Suzuki. Even the toughest competitors have a very healthy amount of respect, and dare I say, fear of Suzuki. As “the King” continues to put on classic matches into his 50s, maybe he is an oni, feeding on the fright of his unfortunate opponents and fans alike.