ByJustin Golightly, writer at
Design wizard. MMA mathematician. Formerly of Middle Easy, Justin Golightly has been featured on Bleacher Report, Uproxx and TMZ.
Justin Golightly

His hair spikes out of the back of his head like a porcupine; like a warning. The rest is shaved in swirling patterns you can't quite put your finger on. They could be tidal waves, flickering fire, or maybe demon spirits. Minoru Suzuki can be seen today strutting down the New Japan Pro Wrestling ramp, flashing evil smiles in between the swings of his booze-soaked, black towel.

To the layman, it looks like Suzuki didn't get the memo that, well, pro wrestling isn't supposed to be real. His holds are brutal and authentic. His strikes are loud and painful. He is this way because to Suzuki, as well as to Japan itself, pro wrestling and a real fight might as well be the same thing. It is infused with the same spirit of actual combat, which permeates through decades and decades of culture as a violent incense.

Looking around from inside the cocoon of the UFC, you may not realize that everything we know and love about MMA comes from Japan and pro wrestling. The history of how it all came about reads like a movie no one could ever make, but the truth is more interesting than any script. Japanese wrestling deity, Antonio Inoki, worked himself up the ranks until he started to build his own 'puroresu' empire, eventually creating . He became such a prominent figure, it resulted in the infamous 1976 hybrid rules fight with Muhammad Ali. It's hard to believe happens without this historic, yet controversial fight.

Minoru Suzuki, also trained in the very real art of catch wrestling under Karl Gotch, was a student of Inoki. He and Masakatsu Funaki had already invested years competing in a rich history of making 'shoot' pro wrestling matches look similar to the MMA we are familiar with today. Suzuki's time spent wrestling in Fujiwara Gumi and UWFi didn't have any DDTs or dives from the top rope. These were simulated submission grappling bouts with martial art strikes, which were taken very, very seriously.

Both men eventually decided to create real pro wrestling with Pancrase, which held their first event 2 months before UFC 1 in 1993. MMA fighters like Bas Rutten, Josh Barnett, and later even Carlos Condit and Jose Aldo would flock to the organization. This would not only serve as a foundation for combat sports and an evolution of Japan's signature style of pro wrestling, but set Suzuki off on a legendary career

After a decade of fighting — including submitting Ken Shamrock twice and becoming the 2nd ever King of Pancrase — Suzuki returned to the world of pro wrestling to reign again. The philosophy headlocked into his brain by Gotch, Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara still remains in every match today. In a world of Matrix-esque in-ring choreography and entrances that resemble a Michael Bay movie, Suzuki is still that evil, grinning bastard who would rather drag his opponent away from the ropes and slap on a 1920's toe hold. And when that nearly 50-year old hand grips onto a limb, it's like a history book trying to tear your ligament.


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