#NewJapanWeek Gang Warfare ’18: Suzuki-gun

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Photo: NJPW

The lethal master Minoru Suzuki and his running mates, Suzuki-gun, have been a pack of wild dogs in New Japan, ever since Minoru usurped the groups original leader, Satoshi Kajima, in May of 2011 and turned Kajima-gun into his own Suzuki-gun. Since then, Suzuki and his band of vicious brothers have wreaked havoc, not only in New Japan but in other promotions as well. In many ways, they’ve caused more chaos than Bullet Club, but with a more quiet yet precise attack, with far less pomp and circumstance. They spent parts of 2015 and the entire 2016 year in a self imposed exile to Pro Wrestling NOAH, where Suzuki won the GHC Heavyweight title for 283 days, Taka Michinoku & El Desperado won the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles for 203 days, Taichi captured the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship for 283 days, and the Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.) won the GHC Tag Team titles twice, for a total of 482 days. When they made their return to New Japan at the beginning of 2017, they brought back a defector from NOAH, in the form of 7x GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Yoshinobu Kanemara in their ranks.

Photo: Robyn Goding / Beyond Gorilla

This year marked another year of Suzuki-gun establishing their dominance in New Japan, but like NJPW’s own increased global expansion, Suzuki-gun has also been worked on their own – they’ve been establishing more and more of a presence in New Japan’s UK partner, Revolution Pro (RevPro), this year.

MINORU SUZUKI

Photo: NJPW

The head of the clan, Minoru Suzuki entered 2018 as the NEVER Openweight Champion, before suffering defeat to Hirooki Goto at Wrestle Kingdom 12 in a hair vs hair match. In an act of defiance, Suzuki refused to allow anyone to cut his hair and instead did the deed himself in the middle of the ring. But it only proved to incite Suzuki’s ruthless – two weeks later he would head to RevPro with his protege Zack Sabre Jr. and capture the RevPro Undisputed British Tag Team Championships, which they still hold to this day. The week after that, he came back to Japan to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi at New Beginning in Sapporo for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. He returned to the UK for the Strong Style Evolved UK card in Manchester in July, where he would capture the RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship. Suzuki always remains a lethal threat to any title on New Japan (or RevPro)’s roster, as he seems to seek them out on whims of fancy rather than methodical planning.

ZACK SABRE JR.

Photo: NJPW

Zack Sabre Jr. made his New Japan debut at the NJPW 45th Anniversary Show in 2017, where he defeated Katsuyori Shibata for the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship and shockingly allied with Suzuki-gun in the process. Since then, he’s emerged as Suzuki’s prodigal son and in 2018 had an explosive year. He won this year’s New Japan Cup tournament, becoming the first UK wrestler to do so (and only the second gaijin ever), and showed what Suzuki taught him by winning PROGRESS Wrestling‘s Super Strong Style 16 tournament. He entered 2018 holding the EVOLVE Championship in the US and both the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship and Defiant Internet Championship in the UK. This past January, he and Suzuki teamed up to capture RevPro’s British Tag Team Championships, which they’ve held to this day, marking nearly a full year. But Sabre has yet to capture any actual IWGP gold, but perhaps 2019 is the year that Zack Sabre Jr. shows the rest of New Japan that he can take their gold as easy as he can elsewhere.

KILLER ELITE SQUAD (LANCE ARCHER & DAVEY BOY SMITH Jr.)

Photo: NJPW

The Killer Elite Squad have been one of Japan’s most dominant tag teams of the past few years, as 3x IWGP Tag Team Champions and 2x GHC Tag Team Champions since 2012. They entered 2018 as the IWGP Tag Team champs, but lost them to EVIL & SANADA at Wrestle Kingdom 12, and have struggled ever since to regain the form that made them the enforcers of Suzuki-gun for so many years. Injuries to Lance Archer slowed momentum, but Davey Boy Smith Jr. took the down time to return to North America, where he formed a new Hart Foundation in Major League Wrestling (MLW) with his cousin, Teddy Hart, and Brian Pillman Jr. Now that Archer is back at full health, the KES will be looking to reprove themselves to Suzuki that they’re still the big men the group needs.

TAICHI

Photo: NJPW

Taichi spent most of 2018 in tag team matches, but got some momentum late in the year. At Strong Style Evolved UK in July, he scored a big win over Will Ospreay, and followed up in September by defeating Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship at Destruction in Beppu. The reign was short, but he regrouped and entered the 2018 NJPW World Tag League alongside Zack Sabre Jr., with a fairly respectable showing. But on the last night of the Tag League, he lost the #1 Contendership for the NEVER Openweight Championship in a rematch to Ospreay, and he’s returned to tag team action.

TAKA MICHINOKU

Photo: NJPW

Primarily a tag team competitor now in the many multi-man tag team matches throughout the year, Taka Michinoku was one of the most underrated members of Suzuki-gun simply because of his mic work as the hype man for Zack Sabre Jr. While he was known for being more quiet in his WWE run in the late 1990s (due to a lack of English), in his native tongue he proved to be the final push for Zack Sabre in front of the Japanese audience, with his big ring build-up and “JUST TAP OUT!” catch phrase.

YOSHINOBU KANEMURA & EL DESPERADO

Photo: NJPW

The pairing of El Desperado with former 7x GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion Kanemaru has proven to be one of Suzuki-gun’s most reliable threats. The duo won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at the NJPW 46th Anniversary Show in March of 2018, and held the titles over 300 days.

IIZUKA

Photo: NJPW

52-year old Takashi Iizuka is the junkyard dog of Suzuki-gun. The wild, chained guard dog that often tags with Suzuki, and is used nearly exclusively as a tag team specialist (he’s a former 3x IWGP Tag Team Champion).

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