Minoru Suzuki Interview (Part 3 of 5)

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William C

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Sep 6, 2015
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(Note from the author: This interview, among many others, will eventually be published in my planned two volumes of books detailing the Fujiwara-Gumi organization, leading into the development of Pancrase)


They Stopped Showing Their Backs to Me: The Minoru Suzuki Interview

Part Three of Five: The Era of Fujiwara-Gumi

By William Colosimo | wcolosimo@yahoo.com


William Colosimo: Fujiwara told me that after the UWF was done, you and Funaki drove to Fujiwara’s house and asked him about wrestling somewhere, and this helped lead to the creation of the Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi. Can you tell me about that visit?

Minoru Suzuki: As I recall, it was very early in the morning, like six o’clock. We went by car. I guess I was meeting with Funaki and decided to talk to Fujiwara but did not know his number. Then we decided to just go. I borrowed a car from my older brother.

Taiki Yamamoto: You did not sleep at all?

Suzuki: To tell you the truth, I do not remember. I could make up a story that makes me look good but I don’t want to do so, so I will tell you that I do not remember.

Colosimo: Did you and Funaki consider approaching Akira Maeda or Nobuhiko Takada about joining a new company at that time?

Suzuki: Fujiwara-Gumi was the first organization to launch after the closedown of the newborn UWF. Of course, I wanted to fight in an event as soon as possible, but most important was the respect I had with Fujiwara. You could call it respect or the teacher-student relationship.

Colosimo: Bart Vale was in both the UWF and Fujiwara-Gumi, seemed to have a good relationship with Soranaka and Fujiwara, and also appeared to be a popular foreign fighter after a while. Did you interact much with him? What were your thoughts on him while in Fujiwara-Gumi?

Suzuki: Nothing. I don’t remember. I didn’t have anything to do with him as I did not speak English. One thing for sure is that most of the foreign fighters, which happened to be mostly Americans, did not have a good impression of me. They all would say I was trying to punk them. This meant that I would punch from behind, like I told you before. I break the rules. When the referee asks to break, I just take that as an opportunity to find my opponent off guard. Of course, they hated this! They could never let their guard down anywhere, anytime. Then, I was finally able to talk to them normally. I could even apologize to them for how I approached them before. Joe Malenko told me the same when I met him. He says he felt I was trying to punk him and so I apologized.

Colosimo: Did you have any interactions with Megane Super president Hachiro Tanaka through your time in the UWF or Fujiwara-Gumi? If so, can you tell me what sort of relationship you had?

Suzuki: Tanaka was a big fan of pro-wrestling, so I greeted him when I met him and got treated to lunch and dinner. I don’t recall having any conversations with him about pro-wrestling.

Yamamoto: So, I guess you can say that he was a sponsor?

Suzuki: Yes, a big sponsor indeed. I guess Fujiwara had a deeper relationship with him. But maybe I have tried to punk Tanaka as well. I just don’t remember the details.

Colosimo: Right after the first Fujiwara-Gumi show, I understand Tanaka wanted to do crossover matches with the SWS (Super World Sports) organization. You had a match in April 1991 versus Apollo Sugawara which seems to have gone off plan and turned into an actual fight. What happened behind the scenes before and during the match to turn it into what it became? (Editor’s Note: Megane Super- headed by President Hachiro Tanaka- owned both the SWS and Fujiwara-Gumi organizations. The Minoru Suzuki versus Apollo Sugawara pro-wrestling match turned shoot took place on the April 1st, 1991 SWS card. SWS held matches that were less realistic than PWFG, relying much more on theatrics)

Suzuki: You can ask me about this, but I am sure Sugawara has his side of the story as well. One thing for sure is that it did turn into an actual fight. How it led to that does not matter.

Yamamoto: Did it happen after you two got in the ring?

Suzuki: There was too much going on and my opinion and his opinion will definitely differ. I can only justify myself if I talk about this. So, I would like to skip this question. I did get involved in a fight and tried to punk him. That’s all!

Colosimo: Did you face repercussions of any kind from Tanaka, Fujiwara, Soranaka, or anyone else after this match?

Suzuki: I remember Gotch was in my corner for this match. I got scolded by both Fujiwara and Gotch in the dressing room.

Yamamoto: Why was that?

Suzuki: Gotch told me that he would never train with me again. He said he didn’t want to train with someone weak like me. “Why didn’t you put him down? I don’t want to have anything to do with someone so half-assed. Don’t ever show your face to me again.” On the other hand, Fujiwara scolded me about for not being a professional and not being able to complete the match. These were from two different directions and I was in panic mode. I remember that clearly. Looking at it now, it was my responsibility to complete the mission in the meaning of what both Gotch and Fujiwara said. I wasn’t able to complete it in either meaning then. The conclusion is that I was weak, so oh well.

Colosimo: Did this show seem to affect Tanaka’s role as the man behind SWS and Fujiwara-Gumi to your knowledge?

Suzuki: I don’t know about it as it doesn’t have to do with me.

Colosimo: It seems that you may have had another match in SWS a little over three weeks after the incident- this time against Akira Katayama. Is this accurate? If so, why do you think they chanced another incident by having you on that card?

Suzuki: Yeah, we did, I don’t know if it was three weeks, but yeah. I have no idea. The only way to know why this opportunity was made is to ask them about it, not me. Maybe the intent was to crush me by having this card or maybe they were trying to give me another chance as goodwill. Or maybe they were trying to fire me, but Fujiwara begged them to give me another chance. In any case, it was not under my control so I don’t know. But I was a kid with an attitude, so I thought this was a normal course of action. I thought I just had to beat everyone up and whoever showed me their back, they were to blame. At least at that point of time. This was against everyone who was associated with pro-wrestling. My mindset was that the others were at fault for being off guard. That is why I got crushed all the time. Just like how it was done by Maurice Smith and Akira Maeda. Everyone used their fists to crush me.

Colosimo: What was training like in the dojo while in Fujiwara-Gumi? Who would you normally spar with?

Suzuki: We used to train with a particular person or with everyone depending on the day. Gotch held a stopwatch and would say “You two go for the first five minutes. Next, you two.” We also did a round robin style and changed partners after each session. He also made us spar in the same pair for over one hour. It was really varied; there wasn’t only one way. Basically, Gotch gave us the orders for training and sparring.

Yamamoto: Gotch lived in Japan at that time?

Suzuki: Yes, Gotch used to live in Asakusa. We used to have a dorm in Asakusa. He used to go to the sentou (Translator’s Note: Public bath) every day.

Colosimo: I understand Kazuo Takahashi was your friend from well before his debut in Fujiwara-Gumi. How did the two of you get along in Fujiwara-Gumi and the first few years of Pancrase? I understand that at first he had difficulty seeing you as his senior.

Suzuki: I knew him since high school. We used to do amateur wrestling and I was from Kanagawa prefecture and he was from Chiba prefecture. So, we used to see each other at the All-Japans or the Eastern Championships. I think we first met at a pre-qualifier of a world championship or international tournament. I believe that was when we first met.

Yamamoto: Were you two in the same weight category?

Suzuki: Yes, we were. He actually made it to the All-Japans finals in his second year of high school. I was like wow, there is such a good wrestler. He thought I was a senpai, so he was like “What’s he doing here?” That was when we both were in our third year of high school (Translator’s Note: Last year of high school in Japan). We got along quite well.

Yamamoto: Did the relationship remain the same or change in Fujiwara-Gumi after Takahashi joined the organization?

Suzuki: It changed. Pro-wrestling is a special place where you will become a senpai by just joining one day earlier. You will have to wash their underwear if you join even one day later.

Yamamoto: I was informed that Takahashi could not accept this change in relationship at first.

Suzuki: Well, one day we are friends who are talking about beating people up and suddenly the next day one of us becomes a senpai. But Takahashi quickly adapted and started using formal, respectful speech from that day on. He told me that he would continue to address me that way until the day he wins against me. He would continue to wash my underwear, but things would change if he wins. He is a great guy.

Colosimo: It seems that he tried to turn his first match against Wayne Shamrock- from November 1991- into a shoot, and both guys went for the finish for real. Do you have any memories of that match?

Suzuki: No, I don’t recall that match.

Colosimo: Did Takahashi push too hard in your two matches together in Fujiwara-Gumi also? I read an interview with him where he stated his early goal was to be able to beat you and Funaki.

Suzuki: I knew he was good. We were training together every day. Of course, I knew he was good, but I never thought of losing against him. These are the kinds of things you find interesting?

Yamamoto: Yes, we do!

Colosimo: In August 1991 you competed in a mixed match versus a Thai boxer- I believe he went by the name Lawi Nabataya- a fighter who was able to defeat Takaku Fuke in the prior Fujiwara-Gumi event. You were able to defeat the Thai boxer in the second round with a cross body armlock. The referee in the match was not one of the usual ones used in the organization. Was this fight a full shoot without any predetermined finish? If so, was it your first one?

Suzuki: Lawi Nabataya was a Muay Thai champion at Pattaya Beach. There is a ring at Pattaya Beach for the tourists. He was a champion there. The referee for that match was related to a kickboxing organization. If you are asking about my first mixed match, it was against Maurice Smith.

Yamamoto: Was it after that?

Suzuki: I do not remember the order. I only remember that we actually fought. Maybe it was my second mixed match (Editor’s Note: The Lawi Nabataya match did indeed occur after the first Maurice Smith match. Concerning mixed matches- these were early attempts at MMA in Japan that happened sparingly, usually but not always involving a Japanese pro-wrestler versus a non-Japanese boxer or Thai boxer. These were likely seen more as style versus style, in an attempt to show the effectiveness of pro-wrestling. The rules could be varied, but usually featured seemingly unlimited rope escapes, with the gloved striker going against an ungloved wrestler who wasn’t allowed to throw closed fist punches to the head. The matches were sometimes shoots, and sometimes works).

Colosimo: How many of your matches in Fujiwara-Gumi were not predetermined as far as the result?

Suzuki: Let’s skip this question. I guess these types of questions and comments can be made out in the open in the U.S. But I have no intention of answering these types of questions. In Japan, they stay in business this way.

Yamamoto: And you are still an active pro-wrestler.

Suzuki: Yes, I am not retired. I think it is more interesting if you do not know. Is it real or fake?

Yamamoto: It is good for fans to think and say what they want...

Suzuki: The truth is only within us.

Colosimo: Do you have any thoughts on why you and Funaki didn’t have a match together in Fujiwara-Gumi over the two years you were both there?

Suzuki: You are right! We didn’t have a match together!

Yamamoto: You didn’t wonder about why you weren’t getting a match against Funaki back then?

Suzuki: I was obviously thinking about when I would get a match against Funaki, but I do not know the reason why as the matchmaking was not done by me.

Colosimo: You had a total of eighteen matches in Fujiwara-Gumi. Five of those were against Wayne Shamrock. Why do you think you were matched up so often with him?

Suzuki: Really!? I don’t remember at all. I don’t even remember having eighteen matches.

Colosimo: How early in the formation of Fujiwara-Gumi did Funaki come to you with the idea of leaving and forming Pancrase?

Suzuki: First, there was an incident in Fujiwara-Gumi where I got fired.

Yamamoto: You got fired?

Suzuki: It seems so, that they decided they couldn’t work with me anymore. At a meeting with everyone, Fujiwara got angry at me. He asked me “You, whatta you think?” and I replied “That is not the way to ask me.” It became a fight and he told me to leave so I left. I took all my personal items from my locker and left. This is a true story. This was the first thing that happened. I don’t really know what happened after, but I guess Funaki too figured he couldn’t go on like that and decided to leave. That is when Funaki and I joined forces.

Yamamoto: So it started from you being fired?

Suzuki: I guess it was more like I didn’t want to work with them. I was an annoying punk. I was rebelling against Fujiwara although he was treating me like his son… I’d punch him from behind when he was facing away from me. Looking back, it really was like fighting with your father. I felt annoyed about having this father. It was about his existence itself. But from the father’s side of things, the son becomes annoying because of his attitude. So, that’s when Funaki and I made a determination to start on our own, to do the types of matches we really wanted, even if it would only be once. That was how Pancrase got created. Then, all the members who were training with us started to say they wanted to join. Guys like (Takaku) Fuke, Takahashi, (Ryushi) Yanagisawa and (Kiuma) Kunioku.

Colosimo: There was information that Pancrase was created as you did not like the idea of Fujiwara-Gumi merging with SWS.

Suzuki: Well, first of all, Fujiwara-Gumi’s business was done by Megane Super. Megane Super owned both SWS and Fujiwara-Gumi. I don’t know about a merger. I was just one of the soldiers, so that kind of information would not even reach to my level. It’s a matter of course that that kind of information would not come all the way down to an arrogant kid like I was back then. It would just make matters worse- I think about it the same way the owner would. It would be better if a guy like me is not even there. I wouldn’t even listen to him.

Colosimo: Did Soranaka’s death in the spring of 1992 accelerate plans to create Pancrase?

Suzuki: No, not at all. Soranaka was his own thing. He did lots of good things and he is a major senpai in this industry and he helped me out a lot as well as being a son-in-law of Gotch. Of course, at one point, I only thought of him as an annoying old man, but I really think he was one of us, he experienced the same things as us, and is a major senpai.

Colosimo: Why did most of the younger wrestlers decide to leave with you and Funaki?

Suzuki: Let’s see… I have no idea. You would have to ask them. I did invite them to join though.

Colosimo: Did you and Funaki want Bart Vale to join Pancrase? Why or why not? Did he want to join?

Suzuki: I had a discussion with Funaki way before creating Pancrase about what to do. First was to have the young boys who were living in dorms come together to live at our place (Editor’s Note: “Young boys” refers to new trainees who basically act as interns). We used to train separately and I and some others were actually training at the Tama River (Tama-gawa) back then. We had no money so no choice. I ran along the river about five kilometers or so every day with kicking mitts on my hands. We would practice kicking on the kicking mitts then run the other way around. We were practicing groundwork and someone actually called the police on us. We were doing groundwork in a grassy area near the Keio Line (Editor’s Note: A railway line). A police officer came by and told us that people reported there was a fight going on, so I had to explain that we were training martial arts. They told us to do our best and moved on.