10 best Japanese wrestlers who were wasted in the US
Not every practitioner of puroresu can be successful in the United States.
There’s an old saying about wrestling that goes something like this: In Japan, it’s a sport; in Mexico, it’s religion; In Canada, it’s tradition; and in America, it’s a joke (and on YouTube, it’s Botchamania). Japanese wrestling – known as puroresu – is almost a complete opposite to its American counterpart. It’s treated like a legitimate sport, with very few gimmicks and wacky theatrics, and the wrestlers in a match will often do much less pre-planning than what’s seen in, say, WWE.
Yet despite that marked difference, many Japanese wrestlers have embarked on ‘foreign excursions’ to other parts of the world in order to add new elements to their repertoires and become more dynamic performers.
Because of that enormous difference in styles and presentation, few Japanese wrestlers have actually become truly popular in the United States. Among this elite few are Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, The Great Muta, and to a lesser extent, Shinsuke Nakamura. For these wrestlers, the booking had to be perfect for them to survive in the United States, with its image-centric focus and emphasis on stories over actual wrestling.
Then there are those that failed. These ten wrestlers came to the U.S. with hopes that they’d improve as performers. What ended up was the complete opposite, and their respective tenures in the United States were all wastes of time.
#10 Kenzo Suzuki
Kenzo Suzuki was the perfect example of why Japanese wrestlers avoided WWE for so many years. As soon as he arrived, he was given several options for gimmicks, with one of the top proposals being a character named ‘Hirohito’ with strong anti-American views (because WWE clearly forgot about the consequences of Pearl Harbor and World War II).
Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and Suzuki was presented in a better light on WWE programming.
Introduced alongside his real-life wife (who was dressed in a traditional geisha outfit), Suzuki was pushed as a sort of foreign monster of the old days, and the commentators tried to get him over as a legitimate threat. Except there was one problem: Suzuki was a subpar worker at best, and didn’t have the best matches. Not even putting him with heat magnet René Duprée could help him get over.
Ironically, when WWE chose Suzuki as their Japanese signee, they picked him over another young wrestler that was slowly working his way up the ranks at the time. That other wrestler’s name? Hiroshi Tanahashi (yes, that Tanahashi).