Welcome to Looking Back. Here, I will be narrating either wrestling matches or rivalries, trying to explain as well as I can how much I enjoyed said match or rivalry, as well as diving into the whole story. This fifth article will be covering the feud between the Ace of Big Japan Pro Wrestling, Daisuke Sekimoto, and Billy Robinson’s apprentice, the modern master of the Catch As Catch Can style, Hideki Suzuki, lasting from March 5th 2017, to November 11th 2018.
In this second part, I will be diving into the last two matches of the rivalry, respectively happening at the Endless Survivor and Ryogokutan 2018 events.
Before diving in this second and last part of this rivalry, here is the link to part one, in case you have yet to dip into the first three matches.
Chapter IV : Evenly matched… ?
This third match results of the 2018 Strong Climb tournament’s aftermath. Suzuki won the tournament, and the Strong Heavyweight championship from Daichi Hashimoto (who sits at commentary) in April. However, Sekimoto beat Suzuki to open both men’s tournament, thus earning this chance to reclaim the belt.
The match kicks off in what now is the usual fashion between these two in title matches : Cautiously trying to find an opening, and feeling each other out. As they do, Sekimoto is the first to engage by going behind Suzuki to grab his waist, but the latter picks up the arm, dragging Sekimoto on the mat. The challenger puts Suzuki in a headscissor to counter, forcing Suzuki to release his hold. As Sekimoto also lets go and rolls away, Suzuki remains close to him, near the ropes. They start grabbing each other again, Sekimoto rolls and gets a hold of Suzuki’s left leg, and gets him on the mat. Sekimoto keeps a firm hold of the leg as Suzuki tries to make him let go. He ultimately succeeds, but had to fight a bit to force his opponent’s hand. Sekimoto gains a very little edge here, but as he is pushed away by Suzuki’s feet, the latter goes back on the initiative, keeping little distance between him and his opponent. They follow things up with a standard collar-and-elbow tie up, slowly transitoning into an armlock from Sekimoto, again with the upper hand. Yet, that again doesn’t last long as Suzuki, being the catch wrestling master he is, ultimately finds an opening by grabbing Sekimoto’s leg and make him drop on the mat. He then relocates in front of his opponent by doing a wheel, which is never not impressive for a man his size. They quickly lock back up though, with Sekimoto grabbing the waist up front, driving Suzuki on the mat. The latter rubs his arm on Sekimoto’s face, using that to his advantage to switch position with his opponent. He then throws an eblow but seemingly misses target. That allows Sekimoto to grab Suzuki’s arm, whom temporarily let his guard down, and retake the advantage by locking the arm again. Suzuki does find his way to the bottom rope rather quickly to force a break. He starts showing little signs of pain as he gets back up. That does not change his approach, and he goes back to locking up with Sekimoto. This time, they go for a standard test of strength, where Sekimoto quickly shows dominance. Suzuki finds a counter by getting Sekimoto in an European Clutch, to then get him in a pinning position. Both men then start trading two counts in a fluid sequence. They stop after Sekimoto’s second counterpin, yet don’t stop keeping a hold of each other as Sekimoto goes back to grabbing Suzuki’s waist.
We are five minutes in, and it feels like a lot has already happened.
Sekimoto starts applying pressure on Suzuki’s back, going for a bearhug. Suzuki is clearly feeling the pain of the hold, and it takes him around a minute to find a way out of it. He locks his arms around Sekimoto’s, and positions himself a little on the side to throw his opponent over his hip, using his right leg in a very Judo-esque fashion. Both men take a moment to take a breather, only to get back to « play catch ». They grab each other’s wrists, but Suzuki transitions into a headlock variant he likes to go for, right as Sekimoto was trying to go back to his right arm. The champion really needs to take back the edge and that is his way to go. Sekimoto tries to break the hold using Mongolian chops multiple times, but Suzuki lets go of the hold at the perfect moment each time, only to apply it again. Sekimoto tries to body slam Suzuki to break free, but the champion manages to roll and keep his hold on, to the « Oooooh » of fascination from the Ryogoku crowd. Sekimoto tries his best to fight through, getting back up and again going for a body slam. However, the exact same thing happens and Suzuki keeps his hold of the head. Sekimoto yet again tries to power through as he screams, but Suzuki applies more pressure on his hold, getting his opponent to faint. As the referee starts checking on Sekimoto, we reach the 10 minute mark, and Suzuki has had the longest sequence of dominance through a submission hold. Sekimoto « wakes up » as the referee lets go of his arm a third time, thus not letting this match end. He strikes Suzuki in the gut, but the latter counters with tackles followed by a neckbreaker to prevent any momentum from switching sides. He keeps going with a jumping knee on a laid down Sekimoto, and pins him for a two count. Suzuki stays on the attack, locking Sekimoto in a Cobra Twist. There again, Sekimoto uses his power to move and try to reach the ropes, which he successfully does, even though Suzuki temporarily stopped him in his tracks. Sekimoto not only forces a break by getting to the ropes, but throws Suzuki over the top one on the outside. A similar response to Suzuki’s escape from the bearhug earlier. The two men eventually get back up, and Suzuki gets back in the ring. They both start stumbling a little as they walk however, feeling the effects of the other’s submission(s).
Speaking of which, right as they go back to locking up, Sekimoto instead goes for Suzuki’s arm. He however follows by picking the champion up and does a backbreaker using his knee. Suzuki rolls out of the ring temporarily, but as he comes back, Sekimoto is on him and stomps him. Sekimoto keeps targetting the back : More stomping and strikes, followed by Suzuki getting thrown twice into the ring’s corners. Sekimoto then goes for the Argentine backbreaker. Suzuki goes for the blatant weakness of this move by applying a sleeper hold on Sekimoto to force the release, trying to keep the challenger to string much offense together. Yet, Sekimoto also finds a way out of the sleeper, by picking up Suzuki for a knee crusher, which he executes. Sekimoto then tries to go for a Scorpion Death Lock, but Suzuki rolls him up for a two count as a counter. Suzuki takes a moment to fix one of his shoes, and thanks Sekimoto for letting him do that. They quickly shake hands. If the previous matches didn’t showcase the amount of respect these two have gained for each other, this just yet another example. Back to the action, the two men lock up again, and Sekimoto goes for a full nelson submission which he applies. Suzuki finds a way out of it by powering through the hold and grabbing his own leg, only to go behind Sekimoto and apply the same lock to his opponent. Sekimoto powers through as well, but Suzuki grabs the arms again and starts stretching them while being behind Sekimoto. He then puts his foot on Sekimoto’s back to apply more pressure. Again, the Muscle Monster powers through and gets Suzuki in the same position, literally trading submissions. Suzuki then quickly drives Sekimoto backwards into the corner, makes him flip over him and catches him in an European Clutch again, and gets a two count. Sekimoto quickly slides away to put some distance, looking quite exhausted. At this point, both men are getting close to the 20 minute mark you can tell they’re tired. After a quick breather (though, each breather is a little bit longer as the match goes on), they lock up again. Suzuki knees Sekimoto in the gut and tries to flip him over on the mat using the arm, but Sekimoto blocks and starts applying pressure on Suzuki’s arm, allowing him to get another armlock locked in. Suzuki again tries to flip Sekimoto over, using the ropes to gain momentum, but Sekimoto keeps the hold, rolling with Suzuki. Again, similar to how Suzuki was keeping his headlock earlier on. Suzuki eventually gets up again while Sekimoto keeps his hold, and catches Sekimoto in a headscissors to drive him on the mat. The crowd again expresses fascination as this forces Sekimoto to let go. Speaking of which, Sekimoto tries to find a way out of the headscissors, but as he goes to apply a headlock on Suzuki, he gets caught again. Suzuki maintains the hold for a while and it looks like he might win that way, but Sekimoto manages to bridge while still in the headscissors, and flips over to escape, as everyone in attendance looks impressed again. He then goes for a standard hold of Suzuki’s left leg, precisely the ankle area, to try and retake the upper hand. Suzuki tries to counter with a bodyscissors, rolling Sekimoto into a pinfall, but Sekimoto goes back to the original position. Suzuki tries to fight him off by elbowing Sekimoto’s back and booting him, but Sekimoto makes sure to keeps his hands on Suzuki’s ankle. He even headbutts it a few times ! He then tries to apply the scorpion death lock again, but seeing Suzuki wants none of it, he switches to a single leg boston crab, and succeeds in locking in the submission. Suzuki is able to reach the ropes eventually, but Sekimoto isn’t done. After Suzuki gets back up, he attacks the leg and tries to go for another knee crusher. Suzuki stops him with elbows to the back of the neck. Sekimoto answers with a chop, and goes for an irish whip. Suzuki reverses and back body drops Sekimoto, giving himself some time. He then tries to go for the Double Arm Suplex, but Sekimoto blocks him so Suzuki places his leg behind Sekimoto’s own right leg, and start stretching the arms again. Sekimoto gets out of the hold and tries a lariat, but gets caught into a capture suplex from Suzuki.
We are getting closer and closer to the finishing stretch, as both men start unleashing more of what’s in store in their arsenal. Suzuki gets Sekimoto back up and goes for a backdrop, but is blocked. Sekimoto forces a headlock in, elbows the back of the neck and ultimately goes for a running bulldog, while applying the headlock. Sekimoto follows up with the Deadlift German Suplex, but here too, the opponent doesn’t let the finisher being executed. Suzuki tries to elbow Sekimoto, but gets caught into a body slam. Sekimoto goes to the top rope, at least tries to until Suzuki elbows him again to make him fall on the apron. Suzuki prepares himself and runs towards Sekimoto, seemingly for a lariat or an elbow, but eats a lariat from Sekimoto. As the challenger gets back in the ring, he follows suit with a strike to Suzuki’s chest. Suzuki responds with one of his own, putting Sekimoto back against the ropes just like he was a moment prior. Sekimoto wants to return the favour, but is caught, this time in a front suplex, and gets thrown over the ropes on the outside. Suzuki eventually gets Sekimoto back in the ring, and proceeds with a flurry of strikes to the arm, ending with an uppercut. He runs in the ropes but Sekimoto elbows him. Sekimoto whips the champion in the corner, and gives him two running lariats. He follows with Suzuki’s own finisher, the Double Arm Suplex, but as he crawls to try and pin the champion, Suzuki kicks out before the referee can even start the count. Sekimoto again climbs to the corner, hitting a missile dropick. He goes for the pin but gets a two count, and Suzuki makes sure it’s not a nearfall. We are less than three minutes before the time limit, the pressure really starts to set for Big Japan’s Ace. Suzuki is the one taking initiative next, going for a German Suplex while Sekimoto has his back turned. Sekimoto holds on to the ropes, so Suzuki heabutts his back to make him let go, and hits the german. However, Sekimoto gets back up in pure Sekimoto fashion and lariats Suzuki. He pins him again, and gets another two count, but you can feel he’s getting closer to win. Sekimoto keeps his foot on the gas, he grabs Suzuki’s wrist, heabutts him in the chest and tries a wristlock german suplex. Suzuki grabs the rope to force a break, but as the referee moves to the ropes and is unable to see, Suzuki kicks Sekimoto in between the legs, likely out of desperation. He then throws straight punches to the boos of the crowd, following with a Tombstone. He too gets a two count after trying to pin his opponent. It’s at this point the crowd starts cheering for Sekimoto by yelling his name, and Suzuki starts showing the bird to the Ryogoku fans. Suzuki then tries to hit his finisher again, but Sekimoto fights through and eventually throws Suzuki over his back. Both men follow it up with lariats of their own, and Sekimoto is the one dropping on the mat. Suzuki gets on him fast, heabutts Sekimoto and applies a front face lock, only to switch to a sleeper hold. Sekimoto once more fights through the submission, and manages to position himself behind Suzuki, and goes for the german suplex. He hits it as the announcer tells we are in the last few seconds of this match, bridges. The referee starts in count, but Suzuki kicks out at two, only for the match to reach its time limit.
After the match, both men show respect to each other, shaking hands as Sekimoto acknowledges his inability to win. He hands the title to Suzuki, and puts him around its waist. It’s at this moment that Takuya Nomura and Fuminori Abe run to the ring and attack the two men. That would lead to Suzuki defending against his protege in Nomura, and the birth of a tag team run for our two protagonists, which is symbolic of the amount of respect and appreciation they have for each other.
This match takes a bit of a similar formula than the first time limit draw, but in almost every sense, the roles are reversed. Not only is the champion not the same, but as it felt like Sekimoto was the one « escaping with the title » a year prior, this time it is Suzuki being in a similar position. In similar ways as when Suzuki was dictating the pace and had the upper hand for the most part, while Sekimoto was reacting, this time it was Suzuki having to react to Sekimoto being on the initiative. That narrative being pushed to the point where Suzuki had to resort to underhanded tactics once, playing along his more heelish behaviour displayed during the match, which he would keep nurturing as his reign continues through the year.
This match also has much less striking and really put an emphasis on Sekimoto’s ability to hold his own against the catch wrestling expert that is Suzuki. In a sense, perfectly mirroring their first time limit draw from Deathmatch Survivor a year prior.
Chapter V : The Ryogokutan Finale
This fifth match, fourth championship encounter holds even more weight and meaning than any of the others. Sekimoto and Suzuki share an amount of respect towards each other which is even bigger, thanks to their tag team run and participation in the 2018 Saikyou Tag League. Yet, both men are fully determined to prove to the other, and themselves, that they are the best wrestler of the two. The one who will leave Ryogoku Kokugikan as the World Strong Heavyweight champion.
Before the match actually starts, two things stand out. The first being Sekimoto’s expression as he enters the ring and faces Suzuki : He is obviously focus, but the traits of his face clearly show a certain intensity, which contrast with Suzuki’s much more composed face. The second thing is when Sekimoto proposes a handshake to Suzuki. Suzuki doesn’t budge from the corner, but nods in appreciation of the gesture.
The match starts the way these two are accustomed to, they feel each other out, but quickly tie up, collar-and-elbow style. They let go after a few seconds, only to go back to it, leading to Sekimoto transitioning into a headlock. He does not keep the hold for long though, as Suzuki uses his leg to break the hold. They then feel each other out more, as it looks like both men are not just cautious, but are really trying to figure out of to break the other’s guard. As they start leaning into grabbing each other’s wrists more and more, Suzuki goes on his knees. It looks like Sekimoto may have gotten an opening, but Suzuki gets a firm hold of Suzuki’s wrist, allowing him to pick up the entire arm, and gain a slight edge in his favour. Or so we thought, as Sekimoto manages to turn around and grab Suzuki’s arm in a similar fashion, but the champion escapes as soon as the reversal happens. Suzuki takes a slight breather as both men move away from each other, but that doesn’t last long. As soon as they get close again, Suzuki drives Sekimoto on the mat face down, and positions himself over his opponent, proceeding to apply a lock on the shoulder. As he tries to roll and keep his lock in, Sekimoto reverses again and grabs a hold of Suzuki’s left arm. The champion counters that with a headscissors. Sekimoto tries to power through and regain balance, but Suzuki maintains the hold tight and rolls back, thus forcing Sekimoto to remain laid down. Sekimoto does manage to roll near the ropes, but does not use them to break free. Instead, he grabs Suzuki’s ankles, keeps rolling and bridges to do so. He then keeps a hold of Suzuki’s ankle and applies pressure, to the sound of an amazed crowd. He slowly transitions into a headlock again, but Suzuki gets him into a quick pin as a counter, and gets a quick two count. Sekimoto gets in the corner for a moment, he is the one needing a breather now. They soon lock up again, and Suzuki instantly applies his own headlock, locking his hands at the back of the neck. Sekimoto again tries the Mongolian chops to break free, but Suzuki lets go and locks the hold again the first time. The second time he lets go, he proceeds to strike Sekimoto a few times and finish with an uppercut, before applying the hold again. Sekimoto tries to body slam Suzuki to make him let go, but the latter again rolls into the slam and keeps his hold tight. He even forces Sekimoto into quick pins twice. Sekimoto tries the same thing a second time, and Suzuki responds the same way. Five minutes have passed and the champion has the advantage early.
Sekimoto gets back to his feets again, and this finds a way to break free of Suzuki’s firm grasp. He wraps his leg around one of Suzuki’s and manages to lock him in a full nelson position. That however wouldn’t last long, as Suzuki knows how to reverse it, but Sekimoto anticipates and switches to a more simple lock of the elbow, still standing behind Suzuki. This time it is Suzuki trying and failing to find a way out. He tries a one-handed snapmare over his back, but Sekimoto rolls while keeping the hold. Suzuki quickly tries again, but it fails the same way. Suzuki grabs Sekimoto’s leg to drive him on the mat, which succeeds. Sekimoto pushes him in the ropes but Suzuki comes back with a wheel, relocating at the center of the ring, in front of his opponent, and tackles him down, grabbing the left leg. Sekimoto slides over to the bottome rope to force a break, which comes only after Suzuki throws a slap for good measure. That pisses Sekimoto off, who lays a forearm on Suzuki’s chest. They both move away from each other for a moment as they need to cool down a little. The two men proceed to lock up again, holding hands, shoulder on shoulder. We are getting into a test of strength. Suzuki gains an early edge as Sekimoto drops to a knee, but quickly this looks both are on equal footing. Suzuki chooses to let go using nothing more than the Robinson Special, and drops Sekimoto on his back. The challengers quickly makes a timeout hand gesture to the moving forward Suzuki, who lets Sekimoto have the moment off he needs. These really are « moments » as Suzuki is always moving either forward or on the side, and Sekimoto quickly picks up his guard, both men observing each other constantly. They lock up again, and Sekimoto goes to the headlock. He gets to maintain it this time around, even though Suzuki moved in the ropes and tried to push him away. Suzuki would temporarily succeed the second time, but Sekimoto quickly applies the headlock again. Suzuki ultimately forces a break as both men move to the corner and Sekimoto doesn’t let go, so Suzuki throws a forearm into Sekimoto’s chest to break free. They come close to each other soon after though, and Sekimoto again applies the headlock, as we reach the 10 minute mark.
They move to the corner again. The referee demands the break, so Sekimoto walks back to the center of the ring, but Suzuki pushes him away, thus making Sekimoto let go of his head. Sekimoto tries to apply the hold again, but Suzuki picks him up for a backbreaker transitioning into a pin, for a two count there as well. The two men get back on their feet, and Suzuki tries to go for the Double Arm suplex. Sekimoto denies him, so Suzuki changes plans and start stretching Sekimoto’s left arm, twisting the fingers and wrist. Sekimoto turns things around and attempts a lariat, but Suzuki ducks and applies a sleeper hold. The challenger finds a way to reverse by setting Suzuki up for a successful atomic drop. He then runs in the ropes for a lariat, but Suzuki ducks again. Both men dip into some chain wrestling reversals, until Sekimoto back elbows Suzuki, and delivers an enzuguiri. Sekimoto follows up with a bridging german suplex, but Suzuki kicks out at two. Suzuki rolls under the ropes and ends up on the apron. Sekimoto meets him as he gets back up, still being in the ring. Sekimoto tries to suplex Suzuki back in, but the champion lands on his feet and backdrops Sekimoto, bridging for a pin attempt. He too gets a two count. The match is picking the second gear by this point.
Suzuki stays on the attack and applies an Octopus hold, but Sekimoto still manages to walk and grab the middle rope to force the break. Suzuki keeps going and picks up Sekimoto, and whips him to the ropes. He tries a dropkick but falls on his back as Sekimoto remained in the ropes. The latter then runs for a lariat, Suzuki ducks and they both collide throwing lariats. Sekimoto charges back but gets caught by an uppercut from Suzuki, followed by a dropick which hits target this time. Suzuki then goes for the tombstone, hits it and pins Sekimoto for another two count. Suzuki follows up by setting up his finisher again, and hits it this time. It looks like Suzuki will retain, but Sekimoto kicks out to the shock of the crowd. The last time Suzuki nailed the Double Arm Suplex on Sekimoto in singles competition, he won the title. Suzuki proceeds to kick Sekimoto in the chest, picks him back up, and throws a forearm. He tries to throw a second one, but Sekimoto answers with a lariat. And a headbutt straight into Suzuki’s head. And another headbutt on the chest Sekimoto then positions Suzuki for the german suplex. Suzuki tries to fight through, but Sekimoto elevates him and hits the move. He bridges, the referee counts. One. Two. Three.
Daisuke Sekimoto finally beats Hideki Suzuki for the championship, and the scream of both relief and joy tells you how important this was to him. Suzuki looks as if he thought he had kicked out, as his shoulder did got up during the count. He fully accepts defeat however, and just like when Sekimoto put the title around his waist after their match at Endless Survivor, Suzuki returns the favour, shake hands with Sekimoto, congratulates him and leaves the ring, for his rival and friend to celebrate the victory he grinded hard to get.
This last match is a great ending to this series of matches. Not only does the respect aspect of the feud is once again highlighted and amplified, but this match exemplifies Sekimoto’s growth during this feud. His ability to adapt as he had more and more matches with Suzuki finally pay off in what is a real satisfying bout to end this arc, and kick off Sekimoto’s fourth World Strong Heavyweight championship reign.
This match is a 15 minutes wrestling delight.
This series of matches exemplifies how simple yet effective wrestling can be, both as a sports-like entertainment and as an engaging medium. This feud combines everything you can ask of pro wrestling without ever walking the line of complexity. The story ? Nothing deeper than two men who collide for the richest prize in the Strong Heavyweight division, two of the most respected wrestlers you can find who had yet to battle in such an environment. Through their fierce battles, respect grows to the point where friendship is a word I feel comfortable using to describe their relationship. The matches ? While remaining relatively « simple », each of them exemplify how much psychology matters. These matches give you a lot of the same things, but used in such different manners, applied in a different context each time for each match.
I am not sure I can give proper justice to this series and how great I find it to be. The smallest of things have importance, the call-backs are meaningful, and both men play their role to perfection. Suzuki twisting the dynamic a little bit by acting more heelish during his second Strong title run, but seemingly only holding Sekimoto in high regard is enough story for me to be invested in their feud.
All I can say is that wrestling at its core remains simple, especially when two masters of the craft work together to create art through physicality. What is supposed to stand out to you, the viewer, will stand out because of the simple layout the matches have, and the ability both wrestlers have to give compelling matches without always going deep into their bag.
As this happened essentially during the same timeframe as a much more famous series of matches happening in New Japan Pro Wrestling, here is what I will say : As much as the drama, intensity and big fight feel carried by the Okada vs Omega series were successfully displayed, I see this Sekimoto vs Suzuki as its perfect counter-example, possibly with the better approach. None of the matches go longer than 30 minutes. None of the matches holds a slight over the top kind of the vibe. The matches never need to transcend basics and blow you away with visually impressive things, as great as they can be. Which of course, doesn’t mean such things never happen, but when they do do, they hold even more weight due to how rare these are in those matches.
This series is a reminder for fans that wrestling, at its purest form, is as impressive, effective and compelling as any other form of the art. Arguably the best series of matches of the last decade, in my own humble opinion.