Suzuki-gun. January 4, 2011. New Japan Pro Wrestling. Wrestling Dontaku 2011. In the era before New Japan World, before Bullet Club, and before “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, there stands one man at the top of the mountain. This isn’t about him.
It’s about his opponent, and the grudges that follow him, hungry for blood. The coming storm that would leave a path of destruction that would terrorize the promotion that he calls home.
Satoshi Kojima, at the end of his main event match against Hiroshi Tanahashi, could still hold his head high. He was forty years old–a veteran, and one of only three men to hold the top championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling, All-Japan Pro Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling NOAH.
He would hold his head high, had he not been put to sleep following a vicious attack by his own faction. The man who put him to sleep was the madly sadistic Minoru Suzuki. His faction, formerly known as Kojima-gun, was Taichi Ishikari and Taka Michinoku. Taichi was a wrestler who had just made his return from excursion to Mexico.
Taka Michinoku was a world-travelled Junior Heavyweight ace; having won titles in All Japan, DDT Pro, FMW, Kaientai Dojo, New Japan, and WWE. Both of these men turned on their recently dethroned leader in favor of the imposing and powerful Suzuki. Who was Minoru Suzuki? What was his story? Why was he in New Japan Pro Wrestling?
Suzuki-gun – Chapter 1: Minoru Suzuki
Minoru Suzuki began his wrestling training at the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo in 1988. He managed to have his debut match before soon defecting along with his mentor Yoshiaki Fujiwara for UWF.
After completing his training with his mentor, he eventually moved on to form Pancrase with Masakatsu Funaki. Pancrase was one of the first mixed-martial arts promotions in the world when it was founded in 1993 and is recognized as an innovative force in the world of MMA long before the Ultimate Fighting Championship was formed.
After spending ten years in Pancrase, Suzuki decided to enter the world of pro wrestling once again. With his simple black trunks and wrestling shoes, Suzuki returned to New Japan and won the tag team championships with legend Yoshihiro Takayama in 2004.
He eventually was stripped when Takayama was injured, and later appeared in pro wrestling NOAH. During his time in NOAH from 2005 to 2006, he received two GHC Heavyweight Championship matches and won the GHC Tag Team Championship with current NOAH ace Naomichi Marufuji.
He appeared to set his roots down in All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he worked from 2006-2010. While there, he attacked the then-current Triple Crown Champion Keiji Mutoh and eventually won the Triple Crown Championship from Taiyo Kea, who won the 2006 Champion Carnival and defeated Keiji Mutoh.
Suzuki would make several successful defenses against the likes of Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Taijiri, and Keiji Mutoh until he eventually lost the belt to another legend, Kensuke Sasaki.
Suzuki would grow restless in every promotion he was in, and would often do freelance tours of Mexico or Europe to satiate his hunger for pain. Eventually, he found himself in the Fukuoka Arena at Wrestling Dontaku 2011, where he would put Kojima to sleep and, after satiating his appetite for his rival’s blood, tried his best to devour the rest of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Chapter 2: New Japan on Notice
Suzuki-gun would start their reign of terror by asserting their particular brand of violence during the first-ever New Japan tour of the United States. During the Invasion 2011 tour, they would be joined by recent free agent Lance Archer and would feud with Kojima and his allies.
Taichi and Michinoku would tag in the Junior Tag Team Division, and Suzuki, after defeating Kojima in a grudge match, would team up with Lance Archer and win the 2011 G1 Tag League. Though they would lose their eventual title match against Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson), the team would defeat the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Toru Yano, Tetsuya Naito, and Masato Tanaka.
Minoru Suzuki was, by the end of 2011, positioned well enough in the promotion to earn the right to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom VI. Though unsuccessful, Suzuki proved that he could hang with Tanahashi and put a dent in the back of the Ace of the Universe.
Suzuki-gun would target the most righteous and self-assured members of the roster. Wrestlers who embodied a sense of strong will against all odds were his favorite. Whether they were assured in their abilities like Kushida, Togi Makabe, or Jyushin Thunder Liger or by their age like Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Satoshi Kojima. The army would work as a unit, facing many of the promotions’ top babyfaces and dismantling them in multi-man matches.
Eventually, Lance Archer challenged Tenzan and Kojima to a match for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Many assumed that Suzuki-gun ally Takayama would be his partner, but when the debuting Harry Smith appeared, the expectations for the challenge grew.
The duo, who would later be known as the Killer Elite Squad (KES), would defeat Tencozy at King of Pro Wrestling to earn the faction its first titles. The compelling ringleader Minoru Suzuki would get highly anticipated grudge matches with longtime rival Yuji Nagata while Killer Elite Squad defended their tag team championships.
Suzuki-gun would grow, adding Shelton Benjamin to challenge Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Suzuki himself would be Kazuchika Okada’s first title challenger after winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Killer Elite Squad won the NWA Tag Team Championships while defending their IWGP Tag belts.
Though Suzuki-gun would pick up another championship with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag team championships, they would face harsh competition from the budding Bullet Club faction, and at the Wrestle Kingdom 9 event, Suzuki’s eye would catch another prey that would lead him into familiar waters. This time, he would bring his army.
Suzuki-gun – Chapter 3: To the Ark
In Pro Wrestling NOAH, Suzuki-gun would enact their particular brand of terror against the babyfaces of the promotion. They would make their presence known in the same way Suzuki made his presence known at Wrestling Dontaku 2011; by storming the ring, this time to assault the GHC Heavyweight Champion Naomichi Marufuji. The event was yet another in the twisted psyche of Suzuki.
Ten years earlier, during Suzuki’s freelance period, the two actually teamed together. Though their styles were different, they would win the GHC Tag Team championships and would hold them for 132 days.
Suzuki, who seemed to thrive off haunting and hunting the enemies and allies alike of his distant past, was not shy about enacting violence until he achieved his goal of terrorizing the audience. Suzuki hit Marufuji with the gotch-style piledriver and declared Pro Wrestling NOAH under siege.
By March 15th, 2015, Suzuki-gun would hold every championship in Pro Wrestling NOAH. El Desperado and Taka Michinoku GHC Junior Tag champions, Killer Elite Squad GHC Tag Champions, Taichi GHC Junior Heavyweight champion, and Minoru Suzuki as GHC Heavyweight Champion. The faction relied heavily on interference tactics and eventually drew the ire of the entire Pro Wrestling NOAH stable, including other villainous factions NO MERCY.
Suzuki-gun used their championship status to taunt and harass the Pro Wrestling NOAH locker room. Eventually, they received what appeared to be their death blow on December 23rd, 2015, when in the six matches they took part in, won only one.
Having retained only the GHC Heavyweight tag team belts, Suzuki-gun seemed to have been vanquished until Pro Wrestling NOAH mainstay and veteran Takashi Sugiura turned on Marufuji after his victory against Minoru Suzuki to capture the GHC Heavyweight championship.
What seemed like a death blow to Suzuki-gun turned into another nightmare, as Suzuki announced that not only had Suguira defected to Suzuki-gun, but that there were others in the Pro Wrestling NOAH locker room who were also tired of living under the boot of Mitsuharu Misawa’s protege, Marufuji.
Suguira would be right, soon, Suzuki-gun would be joined by Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Takashi Sugiura would capture the GHC Heavyweight championship from Marufuji at the end of January 2016.
Suzuki-gun would recapture the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship with new member Kanemaru, and Killer Elite Squad would set the new record for most successful defenses of the GHC Tag Team championships in April 2016. Suzuki-gun would also put on their own event, called “We Are Suzuki-gun”.
Three teams made up of Suzuki-gun members entered the Global Tag League, where the Killer Elite Squad would lose in the finals to Toru Yano and Naomichi Marufuji. Suigura would lose the GHC Heavyweight Championship to Go Shiozaki in May, but would regain the title in July in NOAH’s first lumberjack match.
Suzuki-gun, not satisfied with doing damage in Pro Wrestling NOAH, returned to New Japan in a limited capacity, as Taichi and Kanemaru carried the Suzuki-gun banner into the Super-J Cup.
Kanemaru would make it to the finals before losing to Kushida, and by the end of October, Suzuki-gun would lose their singles titles; Kanemaru to Atshushi Kotoge and Sugiura to Katsuhiko Nakajima.
The final push came following the 2016 Global League, Pro Wrestling NOAH’s version of the G1 tournament. Suzuki would win the tournament and then challenge Katsuhiko Nakajima to a Loser Leaves NOAH match for the GHC Heavyweight championship.
Suzuki would lose, Suigura would turn on Suzuki-gun, and Killer Elite Squad would lose their tag team championship. Minoru would lose another match to Suigura, and on December 5, 2016, they announced their departure from Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Chapter 4: Return to the Lion’s Den
On January 5, 2017, Suzuki-gun would return to New Japan in full capacity. The faction would get things started with an attack following a ten-man tag team match. Suzuki-gun would declare war on CHAOS, Bullet Club, New Japan, and Los Ingobernables de Japon.
Over the next year, they would challenge for both of New Japans tag team championships and the Heavyweight Championship, with Suzuki unsuccessfully challenging the grown Kazuchika Okada, who by then was a far cry from the man who challenged Tanahashi after his match after Wrestle Kingdom VI.
New Japan’s 45th-anniversary show would see Zack Sabre Jr. make a defense of his Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship against current New Japan LA Dojo teacher Katsuyori Shibata with the help of Suzuki-gun.
With Sabre joining Killer Elite Squad, the faction had rounded up members from Canada, the United States, England, and Japan. Sabre would work as Suzuki’s right-hand man.
Following an unsuccessful challenge for the NEVER Openweight championship, Sabre had exposed enough of champion Hirooki Goto’s weaknesses for Suzuki to capture the belt on his next defense.
Suzuki would win his first singles championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling on the same day Taichi and Kanemaru would lose their Junior Tag belts to Roppongi Vice. Killer Elite Squad would win the heavyweight tag belts in September, and in January 2018, Suzuki would lose the NEVER Openweight championship back to Goto.
Zack Sabre Junior would make strides as a singles competitor and tag team specialist in New Japan by defending his British Heavyweight Championship, winning the 2018 New Japan Cup, and having highly competitive matches in the G1 climax.
Suzuki would himself win the British Heavyweight Championship from Tomohiro Ishii and capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi, the same man who defeated him at Wrestle Kingdom VI.
The years 2019-2020 would see Suzuki-gun undergo restructuring in both small and big ways. Taichi would move into the heavyweight division, with Kanemaru, Desperado, and Taka taking on the role of junior heavyweight challengers.
Suzuki and Sabre would operate more as a tag team during non-tournament periods, and Takashi Iizuka would retire from the promotion and the faction in February 2019. Zack Sabre Jr. would put on a good show in the New Japan Cup but would be defeated by Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Taichi, after failing to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, defeated Jeff Cobb for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Taichi and Lance Arger would join the G1 Climax, and Smith Jr. would leave the promotion and the faction after losing in the opening round of the 2019 New Japan Cup. Suzuki would challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship after pinning champion Kazuchika Okada in a tag team match.
At King of Pro Wrestling 2019, Lance Archer would defeat Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States Championship, a belt he would lose to Jon Moxley at Wrestle Kingdom 14. After Jon Moxley won the United States Championship, Suzuki himself attacked and set himself up as the next challenger.
Suzuki-gun’s modus operandi was to insert themselves into title pictures by harassing champions until they received a shot, after which another Suzuki-gun member would follow up the challenge.
Though Suzuki himself would lose the United States title match and Desperado and Kanemaru would lose their shot at the Junior tag belts, Suzuki-gun would always be positioned as the potential spoiler for gains made by CHAOS or Bullet Club or Los Ingobernables de Japon.
As COVID-19 swept through the globe, New Japan Pro Wrestling was deeply affected. Though Suzuki-gun did lose Lance Archer following his loss to Jon Moxley, Zack Sabre Jr. stayed in Japan during the pandemic, and when the time was right, he and Taichi, as Dangerous Tekkers, would attack the newly crowned IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Taichi had been set up as a formidable contender following the loss of his NEVER Openweight championship by making it to the quarter-finals of the New Japan Cup 2020 by defeating Tanahashi in the first round and Ibushi in the second.
At Dominion, Dangerous Tekkers would capture the belts, which they would hold until Wrestle Kingdom 15. However, as of October 2021, Dangerous Tekkers and Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Desperado are still tag team champions.
As of October 2021, Suzuki is the only person to have taken a singles championship from Shingo Takagi, and so it remains to be seen if Suzuki can still be the potential threat to any title holder regardless of tenacity or ability.
Chapter 5: World Tour
Minoru Suzuki has made efforts to carry the banner of Suzuki-gun into many territories. At first, taking part in tribute and retirement shows such as Tenryu Project and Giant Baba Memorial, to eventually having exhibitions in small regional promotions such as Hard Hit King of Hard Hit, Just Tap Out Sen, and Sendai Girls. In September 2021, Suzuki appeared in All Elite Wrestling’s “All Out” pay-per-view to confront Jon Moxley.
Eventually, they would face off in the ring, with Moxley picking up the victory. Suzuki would take the opportunity of being in the United States to strike fear into the hearts of many. First, by making appearances in NJPW Strong, Game Changer Wrestling, PWX, Glory Pro, and West Coast Pro.
Many of the wrestlers Suzuki faced were technical wizards or tough men in training who benefited from being taken to task by the last of the great shooters, wrestlers like Jonathan Gresham, Davey Richards, Chris Dickinson, Dominic Garrini, Joey Janela, and Homicide.
Suzuki would be flanked by this now reunited mercenary Lance Archer to battle Eddie Kingston and Jon Moxley, but also Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor and Royce Isaacs).
While Minoru Suzuki and his clan of terror are not seen as charismatic as CHAOS, Los Ingobernables, or Bullet Club, their tenacity, consistency, and potential remains strong.
No matter how old Minoru Suzuki gets, he never ceases to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents, and that is something that cannot be ignored. Where the Suzuki-gun banner flies, there is fear in the hearts of even the most steadfast of wrestlers. That is the power of Suzuki-gun.