Last year, I gushed about Hideki Suzuki being a wrestler deserving of more love and attention, and almost one year to the day, I’m gushing about him some more.

When it comes to the much-hyped championship reigns of 2017, New Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, steals a lot of the limelight — and rightfully so. The dude wrestles “five star” matches in his sleep.  Perhaps the rest of the limelight has been occupied by Kento Miyahara of AJPW, whose career-defining Triple Crown run finally came to an end in May after eight successful defenses. But in Big Japan, Hideki Suzuki has been quietly crafting some of the best performances of his career as BJW Strong Heavyweight Champion.

Hideki Suzuki brings an undeniably cool breath of fresh air to not only Big Japan but pro wrestling in general. As the last disciple of the legendary Billy Robinson, Suzuki embodies the catch-as-catch-can spirit, manifesting in his purple trunks as a fighting relic of a bygone era. The way he conveys struggle with such subtlety and effectiveness, the sharp attention to detail, the unexpected viciousness of his strikes – in a lot of ways, he’s the antithesis of your Okada super ace.

Since winning the title, Suzuki has been established as a foreboding presence working to dismantle the Strong Division from within, proving time and again that technique can overcome strength.

On Monday, July 17, Suzuki defends his title against Ryuichi Kawakami at the annual BJW ~RYOGOKUTAN~ show from Sumo Hall. It’s a case of coming full circle for Suzuki. Not only did Hideki debut his Robinson purple against Kawakami last February but he defeated him for the #1 contendership to the BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title.

In preparation for their upcoming match, let’s embark on a little journey through Suzuki’s reign thus far.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title #1 Contendership: Hideki Suzuki vs. Ryuichi Kawakami

This was the first glimpse of the awesomeness to come with Suzuki wrestling in honor of his mentor. It was short and concise, a rough-edged match that incorporated some cool teases and an attentiveness that ultimately earned Suzuki his victory over Kawakami.

He’s always on his toes, rarely wasting a moment as he weaves together an offensive plan in real time, going from strike to suplex to submission without giving Kawakami any leverage to counter. Kawakami puts up a good fight though, at one point delivering an Exploder through Suzuki elbowed attempts to escape. Suzuki’s double arm suplex was the established finish early on and while Kawakami was able to avoid it a few times, Suzuki had his number from the start.

When Kawakami attempts his own finisher, Suzuki sees the opening, quickly hooks the arm, and hits the suplex for the pinfall. A simple origin story for Suzuki the champ.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title: Daisuke Sekimoto (c) vs. Hideki Suzuki

It’s 2017 and time limit draws are in fashion.

There’s been a lot this year but one the better executed draws was Suzuki’s title challenge against “Monster Brunch” Daisuke Sekimoto. The pacing in this match was beautifully laid out within the thirty minute constraint and truly felt like a struggle from beginning to end. Sekimoto, who’s tried-and-true strategy is to clobber, wasn’t going blow-for-blow with another slab of meat but was outwrestled, outclassed, and often left huffing on the mat as Suzuki smartly drained his energy, reserving his own to unleash micro-explosions of offense, often in the form of suplexes. There’s very little downtime with Suzuki and his spontaneity allows him to take advantage of open door opportunities. The small package on a doubled over Sekimoto, for example, or the sleeper hold off the pin attempt. Because he’s such a canvas maestro, he’s often underrated as a striker but he throws some of the best snap elbows in wrestling while also really selling Sekimoto’s meaty shots. In the final ten minutes or so, they empty bombshells and slug away at each other in believable exhaustion.

Suzuki’s conservative strategy allows him to survive Sekimoto but by the end of it, neither has the energy to effectively execute their respective finishers. This set-up a rematch for the two and established Suzuki as an even badder badass.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title: Daisuke Sekimoto (c) vs. Hideki Suzuki

This was a condensed version of their time limit draw while still conveying the same sense of doggedness. Here, he reverts back to the chain wrestling approach he used to defeat Kawakami, stringing together a series of moves to effectively keep Sekimoto on the rocks. He manipulates Sekimoto’s wrist and fingers to allow him to sink into the Stretch Plum but even when Sekimoto powers out, Suzuki holds onto him with a cravat and works that into a neckbreaker.

His ring awareness is in tune, too, as he turns a stalemate test of strength into a small package hold to try and stun the champ. When neither man can maintain control, they unload the big guns, striking and suplexing each other with Sekimoto really taking a beating. Sekimoto shows off a bit more focus in this match, distracting Suzuki with a sleeper hold so as to allow him to execute the German suplex. The German isn’t enough to pin Suzuki down and in a fitting nod to Robinson, Suzuki defeats Sekimoto with the double arm suplex. A crowning achievement and a humbling recognition of Suzuki’s talent.   

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title: Hideki Suzuki (c) vs. Yuji Okabayashi
(BJW, 5/5/17)

This match served as proving grounds for Suzuki, to not only show that his win over Sekimoto wasn’t a fluke but that his catch-as-catch-can technique could once again successfully incapacitate the power dynamic: this time, in the form of Yuji Okabayashi, Strong BJ’s other half.

For a dang meathead, Yuji brings a lot of raw emotion to his matches and this was easily his best singles performance of 2017. He uses his bulk to his advantage, hossing out of Suzuki’s fingertips as the champs tries to bend him to his will. Suzuki picks a body part, Yuji’s left arm here, and methodically debilitates it, using ring posts, hard elbows, and a good ole-fashioned stretching. Okabayashi’s selling is another defining facet of this match. When he tries putting Suzuki in a camel clutch, Hideki attempts to snap the fingers, forcing Okabayashi to wrench back with a one-handed variation. Suzuki stays on the arm throughout—even when Yuji’s able to shake him off, Suzuki’s right back on it, using it as a means to escape the Golem’s clutches and ultimately, trapping it with a modified manjigatame to submit Okabayashi in a rare and impressive feat.

All hail Hideki Suzuki.

BJW Strong World Heavyweight Title: Hideki Suzuki (c) vs. Hideyoshi Kamitani
(BJW, 5/25/17)

The best Hideyoshi Kamitani is the fired up, baby-faced underdog Kamitani, as witnessed in his fantastic title win over Okabayashi at last year’s Sumo Hall, and against Suzuki, he’s as fiery as ever.

Instead of waiting to get lured onto the mat, Kamitani starts throwing his weight around early, really bringing the fight out of the champion. When Suzuki’s finally able to break Kamitani’s ambush with a Robinson-style backbreaker, it resonates as a huge turning point in the match. Everything felt organic, the exchanges brutish at times – the way Suzuki takes control of a body part and leans into the hold, or a beat-down Kamitani despairingly slugging away at Hideki only to be shut down with devastating elbows. The match culminates in traditional “Big Japan stronk” fashion with staggering blows and suplex throws, with Suzuki once again taking his opponent his opponent a few clicks past empty. When Kamitani is unable to deliver his game ending backdrop suplex, Suzuki capitalizes on the failure with a second backbreaker and an awesome double arm suplex hold, utilized this time as a submission rather than a pin.

On Monday, Hideki Suzuki heads into Sumo Hall as the man to be reckoned with, a seemingly unstoppable outside force wiping out Big Japan’s Strong Division one hoss at a time.

While many seem to think Ryuichi Kawakami will be the brick wall in Suzuki’s purple reign, I don’t know if Kawakami has what it takes to fell the champ. Suzuki has been such a special attraction to the promotion, restructuring the long-established “big match” formula of the division with a little more nuance and depth, and less of the “Hulk smash” mentality of the previous champions.

It’ll be a sad day when Suzuki loses the belt, whether it’s at Sumo Hall or later in the year, but when it comes to “Wrestler of the Year” discussions, Suzuki’s name should be somewhere close to the top of the list.