365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
I’ve been fortunate to see most of my favorite wrestlers in person through the years. Right now, there’s one guy on the top of my “bucket list” to watch live, and that guy’s name… is Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki is one of my current favorites to watch. He delivers sadistic, believable offense with a maniacal glee I find captivating. After being de-emphasized somewhat by New Japan in 2019, Suzuki enjoyed a resurgence of sorts in 2020, first by challenging Jon Moxley for the NJPW U.S. Title after not receiving a match on either end of the Wrestle Kingdom 14 doubleheader, and then carrying a major share of the load for most of the year after NJPW returned to action following three months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suzuki was also part of my favorite “no crowds” match from 2020, a battle with Yuji Nagata in the opening round of the 2020 New Japan Cup. These two wrestlers are both over the age of 50 but they delivered a compelling and legitimately hard-hitting contest that left them showing clear signs of the physical toll of the match.
As 365 Wrestling continued, I decided to take a look at their most recent meeting inside the Dome, from Wrestle Kingdom 7.
At the time this match was touted as the final collision between Nagata and Suzuki, with Nagata getting the upper hand in their last one-on-one meeting, as part of the G1 Climax the previous summer. Final collision? Hardly. Nagata and Suzuki have wrestled fairly often since then, including two singles meetings in 2020 and another fresh altercation in the New Japan Rambo at Wrestle Kingdom 15. After both got eliminated from that battle royal, they brawled to the back, still trading forearms. Fight forever, indeed…
For those who don’t know, Wrestle Kingdom is the biggest show of the year for New Japan — its WrestleMania equivalent, if you will. It always takes place January 4, and always in the Tokyo Dome.
You can watch this match on New Japan’s streaming video service, NJPW World.
After Suzuki’s entrance, we cut directly to the beginning of the match, and Suzuki and Nagata begin to lay into each other with some wicked-looking strikes. If you watched any of their encounters in 2020 or at the Tokyo Dome earlier today, this should come as no surprise. Today, Suzuki’s style is embodied by forearm strikes that echo with a meaty thwack, his headlong sprints into corners and guardrails, and his overall incitation and perpetration of violence, usually grinning at his foes and laughing maniacally at them even when they pummel Suzuki with devastating blows.
Suzuki in 2013 is younger, of course, but also has more mass on his physique and less of a sadistic nature though he’s just as cruel and calculating. He shows hints of the persona known well today, cackling with glee while torturing Nagata in a leg submission. It’s not a one-man show. Nagata more than holds up his end of the deal, showing plenty of fire and battling back time and time again from the relentless assault of Suzuki.
I won’t make an attempt to regale you with every strike, hold, and suplex in this match because frankly it won’t do justice to the actual exchanges in the ring. The facial expressions, however, are everything: whether they’re inflicting punishment or selling the effects of the conflict. Take special note of how Nagata sells the standing rear naked choke by Suzuki in the final moments of the match.
Ultimately, Blue Justice — and the good guys — prevail, with Nagata delivering his Exploder suplex immediately into a bridge following 17 hard-fought minutes.
— Wrestle Kingdom usually has less bells, whistles, and pageantry than WrestleMania but this match definitely had a bigtime feel after Suzuki had his “Kazi ni Nare” theme music performed live by Ayumi Nakamura and her band on the stage of the entrance area.
— Suzuki is seconded in the match by a younger, shaggier Taichi, who has evolved and really improved for New Japan in the last couple of years.
Final Rating: 7.4
This is a very good (though not quite great) grudge match that is worth going out of your way to see and lives up to the mystique of a big bout in the Tokyo Dome. If you’ve not seen this match, it’s definitely a valuable watch — whether you’re a fan or a current wrestler. While you’re at it, check out their New Japan Cup match from the summer of 2020… it’s even better.
Have a match you’d like me to watch as part of this 365 Wrestling project? Agree or disagree with my take on this match? Let me know by using the contact form on this site, or reach me on Twitter.