So here’s the thing about Minoru Suzuki’s recent tour of the United States: if you’ve seen one of those matches, you’ve seen them all. The novelty of his match ups, more often than not, far outweighs the in-ring product as many of these matches follow the same general formula and structure.
Suzuki’s an incredibly smart wrestler who’s been doing this for decades and he understands what’s expected of him to deliver something that will satisfy the crowds he’s playing to. American fans want to sing “Kaze ni Nare!” at the top of their lungs, they want to cringe when Suzuki hits a particularly crisp elbow, they want to pop when he grabs a Sleeper and attempts the Gotch Piledriver. Mix in some hints of mat work and early arm work, and that’s a Minoru Suzuki to please any crowd.
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Now formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has practical uses especially in this case. Suzuki’s spending most of his time in the States wrestling first-time opponents, to crowds and platforms of varying sizes. It’s not crazy to have a set formula that plays all the hits that fans are expecting, which any wrestler can then be plugged into. It’s incredibly effective for live crowds who want to see the Japanese legend in person, less so for those closely following each of these matches as they happen.
Simple, slam dunk booking.
Despite all that, I was excited for the announcement of Bryan Danielson vs. Minoru Suzuki. I know, who wasn’t? It’s the kind of dream match that caters directly to the audience that AEW has worked hard to foster. Not only that, but it’d be available to watch live as it happened on YouTube for free. It’s another example of the kind of simple, slam dunk booking that’s made AEW so compelling this year.
It also helped that Suzuki expressed excitement for this match in a way he hasn’t for his other recent bookings. He told Sports Illustrated, “I’m looking forward to a fight. Bryan Danielson is the guy I have wanted for a long time.” So does Minoru Suzuki show up for this match with more than just the standard playbook for this match? The answer is, it doesn’t matter because Bryan Danielson may be more skilled than any wrestler in history at elevating any material given to him.
Structurally, there’s nothing here that’s not in any of Suzuki’s other big American dream matches. There’s some early chain wrestling that almost immediately transitions into a strike off, Suzuki does some arm work on the floor that doesn’t really go anywhere except for a late-match Fujiwara, more strike offs that lead into a brief finishing stretch.
The difference comes from how Danielson combines that standard formula with a top-level performance. Something like the first opening strikes gets infused with so much more meaning when Danielson drops like a stone for that first crunchy elbow from Suzuki. That moment later sets up Danielson absorbing a similar strike in the second of half of the match, this time pushing through with one of his classic fiery comebacks.
The Unbeatable Minoru Suzuki vs. The Unsinkable Bryan Danielson
Another common problem with Suzuki’s formula matches in the States is that they’re far too often structured around making himself look entirely unbeatable. This can zap a lot of tension from his matches as, from a meta perspective, he’s almost certainly guaranteed victory anyway. This problem gets exacerbated when Suzuki’s already strong in-ring persona gets turned up even more in an American setting. He comes across even more brash, cocky, and dismissive, which can overwhelm the performances his opponents bring to matches. From a both a performance and a booking standpoint, it’s difficult to look like one is in Minoru Suzuki’s league.
Bryan Danielson doesn’t have that problem. Not only was he the likely winner of this match, he can also match anything that Suzuki throws at him in the ring. Yes, Danielson sells Suzuki’s strikes incredibly well, but when it’s his turn to tee off, it’s excellent. He throws some great elbows in this which go well with his always on point kicks.
Even from a personality standpoint, Danielson refuses to be outdone by Suzuki. When Suzuki responds to an elbow with a demented cackle, Danielson matches him by appealing to the live crowd. When Suzuki places his hands behind his back—another common spot in the Suzuki US tour—to invite Danielson’s elbows, Danielson doesn’t even give Suzuki the room to mug and push through the pain, he just keeps teeing off on the old man until Suzuki fights back.
So far, I’ve given a great amount of attention to the American Dragon’s performance and that’s because Suzuki doesn’t do anything here that isn’t expected. He doesn’t break the mold or switch up his formula, he plays the hits but boy, do those hits sound good. The strikes land true and his massive personality translates easily to the setting. Perhaps one thing that is of note from Suzuki here is that the personality-based moments in this are far more restrained than they might be with an opponent of lesser stature. He still takes the time to emote, and toy with the referee, but for the most part he takes Danielson and the threat he represents completely seriously.
This match is great, but just barely. Even in comparison to Suzuki’s recent work, this doesn’t have the explosive glee of the first Moxley match in Japan, the thoughtful structuring of his NEVER Openweight Title matches with Shingo, or even the gruesome mat work of the Uemura gauntlet match. Could this match have been better in a different setting, in a different time? Absolutely.
But so what?
The match’s existence is a victory on its own. Before this only one Danielson/Suzuki singles match existed, a 2004 bout during Danielson’s tour with New Japan. As far as I’m aware, no one outside of the live crowd at the Asahikawa Local Industry Center that night has ever seen it. Now, we have these two wrestling for free on YouTube under the banner of the most significant North American promotion of the last two decades. For it to be so accessible and of such quality, that’s a win.
And besides, with this match, their singles record goes to 1-1, so perhaps there’s room to dream for even greater things to come.