A wrestler so underrated even Google Image Search produces only 5-6 things.
JOSHI SPOTLIGHT- SUZUKA MINAMI:
Real Name: Mika Suzuki
Billed Height & Weight: 5’8″ 136 lbs.
Career Length: 1985-1995
Trained By: Unknown (I forgot to ask Manjiimortal)
Bold Statement: Suzuka Minami is the most underrated wrestler ever. I mean, there’s others who deserve more attention, sure- but NOBODY is as good, and as little-known, as poor Minami here! She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, despite multiple title runs! It takes a lot to be so underrated people barely even talk about how underrated you are!
-One of the biggest surprises of my modern Joshi fandom was discovering Suzuka Minami- I watched the two Dream Slams when I was in college, and researched Joshi around that time (2002-ish), but nothing about her from back then ever stuck with me- she was “just another Joshi” and I focused more on the big stars and a few of the up & comers. So imagine my surprise when I noticed this woman on almost every show, stuck in a singles match against someone else, putting on one of the show’s best solo performances! In fact, the more shows I watched, the more I realized Minami was awesome and bizarrely underrated- NOBODY these days talks about her!
The few bits of info you’ll find about Minami is either how people were quiet for her matches, or how underrated she was, in fact. And it REALLY stands out- on shows full of excited, screaming fans… there’ll be this quiet politeness for a Minami bout, no matter how good it is. It’s the weirdest damn thing, and makes me want to reach through the screen and be like “DAMN YOU FANS! THIS LADY IS PUTTING ON A GOOD PERFORMANCE AND YOU’RE SITTING ON YOUR HANDS!” In short, she simply doesn’t seem to have “It”- that ethereal, inexplicable factor that makes some people stars and others merely well-appreciated stars going out to crickets.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to a lack of charisma- she seems polite and normal in interviews, and even does commentary on a lot of shows (her distinct, somewhat raspy voice stands out), but she never really does anything to pump people up. Like the stereotype of the “Vanilla Midgets” in ’90s WCW, she just kind of comes out, politely puts on her match, hits ***1/2-****, and goes to the back. She’s hopelessly overshadowed by her former tag team partner, Akira Hokuto (a 10/10 in charisma if there ever was one), Manami Toyota, and even some of the midcarders of her time, like Mita & Shimoda. She just… doesn’t have a lot of personality, beyond seeming pleasant. She comes off like the friend’s mom you had a crush on, not a combat athlete.
Despite that, Minami’s stuff really holds up. A lot of what I like about wrestling is good application of moves- a lot of Joshi is more quickly-placed than “fluid”, but Minami’s actually both- her stuff hits and it hits PERFECTLY. She’s thrown several basic Powerbombs and Sentons where I practically jump out of my chair with how good her technique is. At Big Egg Wrestling Universe, Minami hits the single greatest Powerbomb I’ve ever seen in my life- a devastating sit-out version- to pin KAORU. Despite being 5’8″ (EXCEPTIONALLY tall for a Japanese woman- as tall as “Skyscraper” Etsuko Mita), she moves very quickly, and flies around the ring like anybody else, too.
One of the neatest things about her matches is how the psychology works- there’s a real strategy to her bouts that’s easy to read in a way that most wrestlers’ is not- they simply wrestle the same kind of match all the time, never shaking up their offense. In Minami’s case, she actually alters her strategy and movements based off of her opponent. When she wrestled the diminutive speedster, Harley Saito, she fought like a powerhouse, out-muscling the smaller Joshi. Against heavyset Combat Toyoda, she fought like a speedster, sticking and moving and trying to wear her down. Against the flashy lucha-trained KAORU, the entire match is themed around reversals, and she can hang with THAT, too. Against a Main Eventer like Akira Hokuto, she actually fights desperately, trying to avoid one of Hokuto’s MDK finishers (which are always quick to hit)- she bails from the ring constantly and tries to force the chase, gaining advantages from that. Versus the taller, subordinate Mita, she fights like an aggressive veteran, but ultimately can’t finish and takes too many risks trying to score the fall, setting up the finish.
I truly marked out for a throwaway match she had with Utako Hozumi at the Nagoya Super Storm show- Hozumi was a total rookie with no credibility, yet it was one of the few times where I truly looked at how a match was laid out, and what both wrestlers would doing- I could physically SEE Minami leading the rookie through spots, setting her up for comebacks, etc. At one point, the 5’8″ elder hoists Hozumi up for a Powerbomb, making sure the arms are set up right for the Rana reversal. The match is 10+ minutes and hits **1/2 despite Hozumi’s status (having seen her other matches… she’s not very good), all because Minami completely carried her- the most obvious Carry-Job I’ve ever seen.
As someone on a now-defunct Joshifans site put it:
“Minami suzuka is my favorite wrestler of all time. The fact that she is underrated makes me like her even more. She is very athletic, talented and strong and she seems like an intelligent person when she’s being interviewed.”
-I’ll leave off the part where he talks about how pretty she is and how he wishes he was married to her, lol. I love Joshi, but MAN, it attracts some real weirdos *puts finishing touches on Etsuko Mita doll*.
Suzuka and a very young Akira Hokuto- the “Marine Wolves”.
-“Suzuka Minami” debuted in 1985, wrestling what seems to be a serviceable career under her real name (I only see 4-5 matches per year, which I don’t think is that odd for rookies) until the time for her push came, circa 1989. Credible and skilled, she would nonetheless be completely overshadowed by her 1985 classmate and tag team partner- Akira Hokuto. Hokuto was legit from an early point (she was in the Crush Gals’ final match for a reason), but Minami helped her gain some title traction as the other half of the “Marine Wolves” (God I love Joshi team names). The Wolves won the vacant WWWA Tag Titles after the Crush Gals vacated them, holding them for a month before losing them. A year later, they would win the titles from Aja Kong & Grizzly Yamamoto, holding them for a successful 300-day reign (featuring a notable Wrestlemarinepiad ’90 victory over Manami Toyota & Kyoko Inoue, who failed to get along) before losing to Jungle Jack (Aja & Bison Kimura).
Minami would defeat Aja Kong for the All-Pacific Title in 1990, but would vacate it immediately (because it was by DQ). In 1991, she beat an up & coming Manami for that same title in a match Meltzer gave ****3/4 to (tragically, I can’t find it online), holding it for 43 days before Hokuto came calling and beat her. Minami would win it back half a year later for a third and final time, holding it for less than a month before Bison Kimura up-ended her. And… that’s it for gold for Suzuka Minami.
Most of my familiarity with Minami’s career comes after that point, by which time she’s… in this very odd place. Like, she’s CREDIBLE, and is treated like she can beat high enough people, but it’s clear she’s an upper-midcarder at best. She’s handily beaten by Hokuto in their Grand Prix match, Combat Toyoda beats her at Wrestlemarinepiad ’93, and more, but… she also comes out and beats Harley Saito in singles at Dream Slam II, and nearly always wins her solo bouts elsewhere in the midcard of big shows. But that’s just it- it’s always stuff in the MIDCARD. It’s like at some point they realized they had enough girls to push, and she was there to be a “Gatekeeper”. You notice this when Reggie Bennett makes her debut and needs a credible opponent to beat- there’s Minami, taking the fall to Reggie’s Torture Rack finisher in a tag bout. But she’ll still kill KAORU in short order at the Tokyo Dome, and crush any rookie- they keep her “heated up” so she’s not the Japanese Virgil or anything.
You can tell the respect they had for her, because she’s almost always in singles matches- when everyone else is stuck in tags, there’s Minami the workhorse, leading rookies through spots or taking a loss to a big star. Overall, it’s treated like beating Minami MEANS SOMETHING- the surest sign of Etsuko Mita being pushed to the next level was in mid-93, when the JTTS Mita manages to defeat the elder Minami by debuting her VICIOUS Death Valley Driver, which Minami (who had dominated most of the match) sold like crazy. In that sense, someone like Minami was perfect- nobody was as good at giving a respectable win to an up & comer, nor as good at carrying opponents, as Minami.
1993 looks to be an interesting year as I see a LOT of losses in tag bouts, and the most of the singles wins she picks up are over a bunch of low-ranked AJW girls like Sakie Hasegawa & Tomoko Watanabe. She manages a draw with Hokuto, but Toyota gets her ’91 win back thrice over- stuff like that. Her biggest wins are against Saito at Dream Slam, and apparently a match over Bull Nakano (!!). There’s also wins over Takako Inoue & Bat Yoshinaga, so… sort of the story of her career- 50/50 with big-ish stars. Just enough to maintain credibility (which is always important- make wins and losses matter!).
Minami ultimately retired in 1995, nine years into her career. Possibly realizing she’d reached her maximum potential, she wrestled a ton of matches in the first couple months, retiring that February, in a match a Quebrada reviewer said was “the biggest reaction she’d ever received”. Despite her lack of concrete push, AJW really lost something when she quit- few were better at putting over the hot new thing and their finisher than Minami. I’m not sure whatever became of her- like I said, she was very quiet and secretive until the end.
Minami’s Senton- one of the best in wrestling. PERFECT execution, every time.
Samoan Drop, Running Cross-Body, Suicide Dive, Missile Dropkick, German Suplex, Double-Underhook Backbreaker, Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreaker (often spammed), Powerbomb, Flying Senton (Finisher)
* This is less of a “Best Of” and more or “Two Notables”, important to her career. And sadly, I can’t find the big Toyota match.
ALL PACIFIC TITLE:
AJA KONG vs. SUZUKA MINAMI:
(Korakuen Hall, 17.06.1990)
* This is back when Aja (here more slender, and with her hair in a floofier and blonde mohawk) was coming out from under Dump Matsumoto’s shadow (after Dump had retired), and Bull was WWWA Champion. The All-Pacific is the secondary title of AJW. Minami, the challenger is in a red leotard with white strings and writing on it.
We’re joined in progress with Aja chairshotting Minami off the top rope and the announcer declaring 10 minutes have passed. Aja’s stablemates bite Minami on the outside and Aja hits a Stuff Piledriver for two. She’s pissed over the count, but Minami slides behind her for a GREAT Bridging German for two- the crowd is way into Minami’s comebacks, such is their hatred for Dump II here. They squirm around all unco-ordinated, then trade Germans, and Aja hits a Mountain Bomb. Minami traps her with a Straightjacket Suplex, but her bridge fails because her feet are pinned underneath her. Aja counters her with a Super Powerslam, but gets dumped and Minami plasters her with thrown chairs on the outside, giving Aja a taste of her own medicine. Aja’s stable AGAIN interferes, allowing Aja to plaster her with a GIGANTIC slate of metal, then tombstones her on it! The ref is like “okay, FUCK that noise!” and calls for the bell at (6:42 aired).
Aja is merely confused, until she realizes she’s been Disqualified and that Minami is the NEW All-Pacific Champion, at which point she grabs the slate and busts the ref and Minami with it, with quite possibly the lightest weapon shots in history (Lance Storm would watch this and go “Come on, work a little tighter, people- Jesus”). Aja takes Minami into the stands to whale away on her some more, until finally they’re pulled apart by their respective Ring Girls. Minami is declared the new champ, but she rejects the belt, feeling it wasn’t earned properly. After some arguing via promos, Minami slaps Aja, setting off ANOTHER brawl as we leave TV. This whole thing came off very wild and chaotic (if a bit too “safe” with wimpy weapon shots- they must save the best stuff for big events), and very, VERY much like they were attempting another “Dump/Chigusa” thing here, with Aja as the insane, ugly Monster Heel. It also came off as an excuse to get the title off of Aja so she could move on to bigger things- she was challenging for the Big Red Belt afterwards, and the White Belt here went vacant for 112 days before the new generation- Manami Toyota & Minami here- held it. Aja would never hold the White Belt again.
Rating: ** (not much shown, really, but the crowd was into it)
MINAMI RETIREMENT MATCH:
SUZUKA MINAMI & YUMIKO HOTTA vs. LAS CACHORRAS ORIENTALES (Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda):
* Oh shit, I found Minami’s retirement match! Here, she teams up with sometimes-ally Hotta against sometimes-allies LCO. LCO is uncharacteristically all in pink & white, which is odd to see. Hotta’s in a cool red & white singlet, and Minami’s in pink/orange & white. And she’s already crying as she’s making her way down the aisle and during introductions and god dammit, I’m gonna cry during the match now, aren’t I?
Crowd pops HUGE for Minami’s introduction, as you might expect. LCO shake hands with Minami to start, and show respect by having Mita helicopter-toss her by the hair all over the ring while shrieking, then doing a Bitch Pose while yanking her hair back and Shimoda claps to the beat of the crowd cheering Minami on. Oh, LCO. Minami comes back with her Tilt-A-Whirl Backbreaker to a big pop (NOT easy on someone Mita’s height) and Hotta elbows Mita. In a cute bit, they do the “Kick them in the chest while camel clutch’d” spot… but with MINAMI doing Hotta’s kick spot! Mita Blazing Chops Minami down, but everyone trades off- there’s a cool bit where Hotta deflects another Blazing Chop with a kick and hits a butterfly lock, but is hit by Shimoda’s falling clothesline before she can hit a Tiger Driver. Odd bit, as LCO switches their dives so that Mita’s Tope is first, followed by the Assisted Plancha of Shimoda’s. That leads to the Electric Chair Drop/Splash combo, and NOW we’re into the LCO Match Template.
Minami comes back with a reversal, but Shimoda knocks them both down, then hits a Missile Dropkick and Tiger Suplex on Hotta. Hotta kicks Mita coming down from the top rope, but Minami’s Senton misses- Mita’s amazing Northern Lights Suplex gets two. But then in a great bit, Minami reverses the DVD to a Powerbomb, then plants an incoming Shimoda with a Tilt-A-Whirl! Big tope, and now Minami’s reveling in her biggest crowd reaction ever! Splash hits knees, but a German gets two. Koppou Kick off the top nails Minami by mistake, but a regular one kills Shimoda for two. HUGE Assisted Powerbomb, but Mita saves. Hotta dumps her, allowing Minami to win her last match with a big Sit-Out Powerbomb at (12:00).
Great, fun match, albeit a quick one. LCO sold like nuts for the respected veteran, did their cool stuff (minus the chairfest outside), but ended up getting cranked by a few too many good Minami moves in a row, and that was that.
Rating: ***1/2 (pretty much every LCO match around this time is at least that, and this was a tad short)
Retirement Party Stuff: The real stuff, of course, starts quickly- Bull Nakano comes out (with her hair down!) and Hokuto immediately steals her thunder with a running hug to her former partner. But now it’s the MARINE WOLVES reunited against Bull & Hotta! Hotta gets the better of Minami, but Hokuto spin-kicks Hotta before eating an Overthrow Powerbomb. Minami trips up Bull, however, and the Marine Wolves then wishbone the shit out of her- Bull does the full splits! Bull uses her nunchucks to come back, but Stereo Missile Dropkicks nail Hotta. Crowd chants Minami’s name, but Hokuto’s in and she takes a Koppou Kick. Minami breaks up a double-team and the Wolves both hit dives and a Double German Suplex (with both bridging?) gets two before the bell rings at (4:10) for some kind of time expiring. The crowd’s disappointed, so Akira eggs them on and they hit a DOUBLE NORTHERN LIGHTS BOMB on Bull for an extrajudicial three-count.
Bull hugs Minami from below (KAYFABE!), and we end with a long set of Minami standing in the ring while various AJW heads and her fellow wrestlers give her stuff. Fewer than I’ve seen in other shows- it’s just Hotta, Takako, Aja, Bull & Akira, then Minami tearfully stands there in dead-center of the ring while a ten-count rings out, and everyone throws streams at the end. I always like how they do these things- gives them their moment in the middle of the ring, with nobody able to “Bubba-Ray” it and make it all about them.
Some other good matches I’ve reviewed elsewhere:
This one ended up with a more wordy bio than usual, I think because I find Minami so notably… un-noted by others, y’know? But seriously- check out her stuff! Any given Dream Slam or Wrestlemarinepiad will have a good Suzuka Minami match on it!