On July 30, NOAH fans across the world were dismayed to discover that Takashi Sugiura had defeated Go Shiozaki to bring the GHC Heavyweight Championship back to Suzuki-gun. It’s time that we all sit NOAH down and tell them that this isn’t working anymore and maybe it never worked.
The Beginning of the Suzuki-Gun Invasion
The Suzuki-gun invasion began in early 2015 and it’s still going over a year and a half later. This isn’t so much of an invasion angle as it is an occupation. We kept waiting for Suzuki-gun to return to New Japan, but it has become quite clear that this isn’t going to happen in the near future. The search for the savior of NOAH has become a joke on wrestling Twitter, but in reality, NOAH has never needed a savior more than right now.
The higher ups at New Japan decided to try to inject some life into NOAH by giving them Suzuki-gun and a new booker by splitting up the New Japan team and sending Jado to work with the smaller company. While the invasion may have been a hot angle initially, it absolutely had diminishing returns and those returns keep getting smaller. A look at NOAH’s attendance numbers paints a dire picture:
The data in the chart above compares the average attendances from the months of January through July in 2014, 2015 and 2016. As much as Bushiroad wanted to help NOAH, the numbers show that they’ve done nothing other than hurt business. The average attendance went down nearly 50% from 2014 (the year without a Suzuki-gun) to 2016.
The average attendance thus far in 2016 has yet to get higher than triple digits in any month. It’s quite telling that NOAH was drawing better before this invasion/occupation began.
What can NOAH do to turn things around?
It seems like NOAH’s best move would be for them to completely dissolve Suzuki-gun. The team could depart NOAH and go back to New Japan, but they’re not really needed anymore. Does a company need three heel factions? Four, if you still count CHAOS, but regardless of that, with Bullet Club and Los Ingobernables de Japon the heel faction area of the locker room is pretty crowded. At this point, I would argue that the parts have much more value than the whole. This occupation has completely tainted the Suzuki-gun name.
The numbers make it clear, this unit and how they have been booked are bad for business. The only logical place to go from here is to book them in a completely different way. The dragon finally needs to be vanquished by whoever the actual savior of NOAH will be, whether that be Go Shiozaki, Naomichi Marufuji or Katsuhiko Nakajima. Take away their belts and make the unit disband. Hell, Shelton X Benjamin is already one step ahead of NOAH and showed himself the door so he could cash in on WWE’s desperate need to fill two rosters. At this point, it would benefit everybody to split the group apart.
First things first, it would be great to have Minoru Suzuki back in New Japan. For as much as I’m enjoying this year’s G1 Climax, it could always use some more Suzuki. In another much needed addition to the New Japan roster, Killer Elite Squad is BADLY needed in the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title mix. When New Japan is pushing a makeshift team of Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page, you know the situation isn’t great. What sane person wouldn’t want to see a feud between KES and the Briscoe Brothers?
Most of the shattered Suzuki-gun would most likely be better off staying in NOAH. Regular NOAH viewers know that the high point of the company has been their junior division for the last year or so, but they even found a way to ruin that with this occupation by giving the Junior title to Yoshinobu Kanemaru. It’s not that Kanemaru is bad, he just doesn’t care about working for this company and it really shows. With the level of effort that he’s putting into his matches, he belongs in the openers with Quiet Storm. The other Suzuki-gun juniors, TAKA, Taichi and El Desperado, would be fine as a grimy heel unit on their own, though I do expect Desperado to return to New Japan at some point to have a big feud with Liger. Or maybe Liger will take a trip down to NOAH. Either way, I expect the mask vs. mask match that Liger challenged Desperado to at the last Suzuki-gun Produce show to happen eventually.
Lastly, the person that could benefit the most from the dissolution of Suzuki-gun is Takashi Sugiura.
The story of him being a masterless ronin that’s hated by the locker room he turned his back on is far more interesting than Sugiura just being a bad guy with little to no motivation for his change of allegiance. What follows that will be his eventual redemption story where he tries to make amends with the men he turned on and spent a fair amount of time battering with chairs. Getting away from Suzuki-gun will keep Sugiura in the main event scene while giving him more character development than he’s had in the past year.
Unless NOAH can change course, they’re going to plow into an iceberg and sink to the bottom of the wrestling ocean. For all we know they’ve already hit the iceberg and the descent has begun. If attendance numbers keep dropping like they have been, eventually they won’t be able to sustain their roster. Some day Bushiroad will see this red ink on their balance sheet and instead of seeing a company with a great history, they’ll see a bad investment and cut their losses. It’s a sad thought, but we have to face reality. The Suzuki-gun experiment failed and it’s okay to admit that. It’s time to push forward with something new.