Suzuki-Gun Are Ichiban In 2020

Suzuki-Gun headed into the NJPW hiatus at their lowest. The two titles they held at the beginning of the year had both been lost; their monster Lance Archer had left for AEW and their attempts to usurp championship gold at The New Beginning in Osaka fell short. Dreams came true when Minoru Suzuki stepped in the ring with Jon Moxley – a savage skirmish – but Moxley retained his title and shortly after NJPW began a four month hiatus due to Covid-19. When NJPW returned, the Suzuki-Gun army turned the pandemic into prosperity, with 2020 becoming the year of Suzuki-Gun in every facet. In-ring, they have had countless match of the year candidates that span every division within New Japan, but more importantly, their success can also be measured in gold: five of the six Suzuki-Gun men simultaneously holding titles at one point in the year.

At 52 years old, Minoru Suzuki has had a staggering year. There are few wrestlers in the same age bracket, if any, that can match the ability and year that Suzuki has had. But not only has the Suzuki-Gun commander had a land mark year, he has led his troops to universal success and acclaim as well.

Credit: NJPW and Taiga

When NJPW returned from their hiatus in June, Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi (collectively known as Dangerous Tekkers) immediately entered into a heated rivalry with the IWGP Tag Team Champions, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi (Golden☆Ace). In the New Japan Cup, Taichi toppled both Tanahashi and Ibushi in singles match, cementing a claim to the tag titles. Meanwhile, Suzuki and El Desperado crashed out in the first round in spectacular fashion; Suzuki reigniting a storied rivalry that spans 17 years with his foe Yuji Nagata, and El Desperado proving himself a junior heavyweight powerhouse: finding promise in defeat to the heavyweight hoss Tomohiro Ishii.

To an army, success in defeat is a fool’s game. In July at Dominion, Suzuki-Gun found glory in championship gold: Dangerous Tekkers dominated Golden☆Ace to win the IWGP Tag Team Championships, becoming the first Suzuki-Gun pair to do so since 2017. The win was definitive, their systematic crippling of Tanahashi even calling into doubt the current stability of the Ace, that doubt even stemming from a man who calls him a God, his tag team partner, Ibushi.

At Sengoku Lord, El Desperado challenged for Shingo Takagi’s NEVER Openweight Championship, his first singles title shot in more than two years. Donning a new black and gold mask for the match, the devilish Desperado attacked the match methodically as he always does, but the heavyweight roar of the Dragon Shingo burned Desperado’s hopes to a cinder. It was another defeat for Desperado, but it was becoming apparent that he was on the cusp of greatness. Little did we know that Desperado’s destined rise later in the year would far exceed something as trivial as mere greatness.

Credit: NJPW

Furious with his defeat to Nagata in the New Japan Cup, Suzuki put a target on Nagata’s back and personally took shot after shot. The two battled in tag matches for a month and a half before finally meeting one-on-one in Korakuen Hall. Calling this “Yuji Nagata’s public execution”, Suzuki regained his victory – another instant classic between them – the win-loss record now a remarkable 7-5 in Nagata’s favour.

The following week, the trio of DOUKI, El Desperado and Minoru Suzuki were eliminated in the first round of a tournament to crown new NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions, but Suzuki had more prestigious gold in mind; his plans coming to fruition a few weeks later when he challenged Shingo Takagi for the NEVER Openweight Championship.

At Summer Struggle in August, the King regained his crown by slaying the Dragon, and thus began his second reign as NEVER Openweight Championship. Never content with anything but a war, Suzuki slaughtered Shingo, a bone-crunching match in the open-air Jingu Stadium. Having previously defeated Satoshi Kojima in a “no finishers allowed match”, El Desperado kept himself in contention to be the first holder of the KOPW2020 Trophy, inevitably losing out to Toru Yano. Opening the card, Kanemaru also handed Master Wato his first singles defeat since returning from excursion, the wily veteran outclassing the brash youngster.

At the same event, Dangerous Tekkers crushed Golden☆Ace for a second time, asserting themselves as the dominant force of the tag team division. In doing so, they became the first team to defend the tag titles in 2020, bringing stability to a division that was previously floundering. The rivalry with Golden☆Ace carried the tag division throughout the majority of 2020: what was previously thought of as a weak branch on the NJPW tree was now colourful and full of life.

Credit: NJPW

In a tournament to crown new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru left with the titles around their waists, defeating BUSHI and Hiromu Takahashi twice to do so, and defeating them a third time to mark their first successful defence of the titles a few weeks later. As Dangerous Tekkers had done for the heavyweight titles, so too did the junior pair, instantly bringing reverence to the division and the titles themselves through a heated rivalry with scorching matches.

In the G1 Climax, the Suzuki-Gun heavyweights proved themselves on their own merit yet again, each one deserving of being on any G1 MVPs list. Suzuki did what he does best, forcing his opponents into a clash surging with vicious slaps and brutal submissions, not even letting up when he faced his comrade Taichi. Most notable for Suzuki were his matches with Kota Ibushi and Jay White; the former resembling an MMA fight more than a wrestling match (earning a 5.25 star rating from Dave Meltzer), the latter allowing Suzuki to impose his sadistic will on the arrogant Switchblade.

Taichi would have one of the most unique matches of all time against Kota Ibushi, consisting solely of kicks. The pair landed a total of 158 kicks, a fight for superiority between two supremely stubborn fighters that will be remembered for years to come. Zack Sabre Jr. remained a contender to win his block until the very end, defeating former double champion EVIL and almost taking current double champion Tetsuya Naito to a 30-minute draw. Whenever victory escaped Suzuki-Gun, there was always solace found in the knowledge that if they didn’t defeat their opponents, they undoubtedly hurt them.

Credit: NJPW

Five titles now spanning the six Suzuki-Gun men, DOUKI was the only anomaly, his pipe not quite matching up to the prestige of a championship. That looked set change in the main event of Korakuen Hall when DOUKI, Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. went to a 32 minute war with CHAOS for the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. The spotlight was entirely on DOUKI, not because he was the only man without a title, but because he forced it upon himself: this was his second coming, his true arrival. He took the match to lofty heights, such that the 6-Man titles had never seen before. He was the standout in the match; he had never looked better in a NJPW ring and it served as a preview of his ability to come in Best of the Super Juniors. Despite his best efforts and the brotherly love and support of Dangerous Tekkers, DOUKI left with only his pipe in hand, his first New Japan title eluding him.

Dangerous Tekkers would rack up their second successful defence of their tag titles, defeating Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI, confirming they’d enter World Tag League as the reigning champions. Since September 2017, only two teams have managed two successful defences of the tag titles, further cementing Dangerous Tekkers as the life support the tag division needed.

Power Struggle was held at the beginning of November and it marked the unceremonious dethroning of Suzuki. Having been victorious in their G1 Climax meeting, Shingo earned his opportunity for revenge, and having learnt his lessons over their last two meetings, he walked away with the NEVER Openweight Championship, leaving the King without his crown yet again.

The joint World Tag League and Best of the Super Juniors tour allowed Suzuki-Gun to shine on all fronts, although Kanemaru missed out due to an untimely injury. Dangerous Tekkers were the standard-bearers in WTL, the highlight of every night, dragging their opponents up to a level befitting of sharing a ring with the tag team champions. Finishing joint top on points, they missed out on the finals due to their tie-breaking losses.

DOUKI became a sensation in BOSJ, gone was the man ridiculed in the tournament last year, and here stood a general of the Suzuki-Gun army, armed with a versatile artillery of wild manoeuvrers. The strongest contender for “most improved” in 2020, DOUKI entered every match with a chip on his shoulder, and despite victories being few and far between, he earned the love and respect of fans across the world through his reckless rampage in the tournament.

Whilst both Dangerous Tekkers and DOUKI were impressive, El Desperado became immortal. The hottest (visually and metaphorically) wrestler in NJPW throughout the one month tour stretch, he cemented himself as one of the best junior heavyweights in the world, his crowning achievement coming when he made the final of BOSJ. Main eventing the historic Nippon Budokan, El Desperado entered resplendent in gleaming white gear; his opponent none other than his scorned rival Hiromu Takahashi. El Desperado and Hiromu put on arguably the match of the year, at a minimum the best junior heavyweight match of the year. When Hiromu tore Desperado’s mask off, the masked maverick took it upon himself to remove the little shielding the tattered mask still offered, revealing his (hunky) face for the first time; a truly unforgettable moment that will live on forever.

Credit: NJPW

As special a year as Suzuki-Gun have had in the ring, it’d be unthinkable to not mention their backstage antics and promos. From Suzuki managing to terrify you through a screen, to El Desperado’s expert vilification of his opponents, and to Dangerous Tekkers’ bullying whoever is unlucky enough to be their opponents (or even the poor cameraman stood in front of them), the Suzuki-Gun marriage of deep and despicable personalities runs deep, always providing the most anticipated backstage comments of any faction.

Between the resurgence and ascendancy of El Desperado, the revitalization of the tag division by Dangerous Tekkers, and the second-coming of DOUKI , all with their fearsome leader Minoru Suzuki at the helm , 2020 truly proved that Suzuki-Gun are ichiban!