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Mammoth Suzuki (マンモス鈴木)

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Profession: Wrestler, Referee
Real name: Yukio Suzuki (鈴木幸雄)
Professional names: Mammoth Suzuki, Gorilla Suzuki
Life: 2/10/1941-5/24/1991
Born: Sendai, Miyagi, Japan
Career: 1959-1981
Height/Weight: 193cm/120kg (6’4”/260lbs.)
Signature moves: Chop
Promotions: Japan Pro Wrestling/JWA, Tokyo Pro Wrestling, International Wrestling Enterprise
Titles: none

Summary: Mammoth Suzuki was one of early puroresu’s biggest busts, starkly disappointing high expectations from Rikidozan.

Born to an affluent family, Yukio Suzuki entered the Dewanoumi sumo stable at the beginning of 1956. He does not appear in any sumo records, though, because he quickly deserted them. It became a legend in Dewanoumi, as Yukio took a cab some 220 miles back home and told the driver to bill the stable. (The bill ended up with his family.) Some time later, Suzuki was introduced to Rikidozan through the owner of the Morisue Ryokan, a Sendai hotel which the JWA regularly booked. He officially joined on February 27, 1958, as one of the JWA’s earliest trainees without any substantial experience in sumo, judo, or amateur wrestling. Suzuki’s 193-centimeter frame made him a valuable prospect; the only JWA alumnus up to that point who stood taller was 203 cm (6’8”) Taiwanese ex-sumo Rashomon Tsunagoro. Yukio debuted under his real name on September 5, 1958. At the Kuramae Kokugikan, he went over Tony Alford, an American serviceman who had been stationed in Japan for a decade and would work as a JWA referee in the early sixties. This match was broadcast live on the premiere of the JWA’s Mitsubishi Diamond Hour program with Nippon Television. Alongside Shohei Baba, Kanji Inoki, and Kintaro Oki, all of whom joined after him, Suzuki was part of the first quartet in puroresu to be nicknamed the shitenno (Four Pillars). As Junzo Yoshinosato later recalled, Rikidozan once thought that Suzuki was the likeliest among them to succeed. Reporter Teiji Kojima, a former Dewanoumi wrestler who would later provide color commentary for the IWE’s joshi division, strongly promoted Suzuki in his writing. But problems would soon emerge. Suzuki was originally supposed to accompany Rikidozan on his second trip to Brazil in 1960, but he ran off at the terminal.

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Rikidozan, Baba, Fred Atkins, Great Togo, and Suzuki in New York City, September 1961.

In May, he received the ring name Mammoth Suzuki, but he abandoned the promotion after a match against Yoshinosato on July 9. An article on his comeback in the February 1961 issue of Pro Wrestling & Boxing confirms that he was absent during this period, as opposed to just not covered in the incomplete records of the period. When he returned on January 8, he lost a singles match against Shohei Baba, and lost his ring name as a result. The two giants would work as a tag team, and on July 1, they and Yoshinosato left for an American excursion.

The trio first worked in Los Angeles for Jules Strongbow's North American Wrestling Alliance, soon to be renamed the Worldwide Wrestling Associates. Then, they flew to the Northeast, under the wing of Fred Atkins, to work for the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. Notably, Suzuki was the first to wrestle Bruno Sammartino and Johnny Valentine in the latter territory, losing singles matches to them as Baba was elevated by jobbers. The three returned to Los Angeles in October, as Strongbow prepared for a show war against hotshot San Francisco promoter Roy Shire. Baba and Suzuki wrestled each other to open an October 6 show at the Memorial Sports Arena, booked the day before Shire’s show. Baba and Yoshinosato returned to the Northeast after a show in San Bernardino the next day, while Suzuki remained in the territory until mid-January. Strongbow clearly didn’t have much use for him, though, as Suzuki was never booked for his flagship venue, the Olympic Auditorium, after his original NAWA run that summer. Instead, Strongbow relegated him to house shows and even sent him to Phoenix and San Francisco. (He worked for Joe Malcewicz in the latter town.) Suzuki had a resurgence when he returned to the Northeast in early 1962, as he and Baba teamed up. But on May 30, Suzuki suddenly returned to Japan. Journalist Etsuji Koizumi states that this was to avoid charges after he had struck a female fan in private. Koizumi also points out that Suzuki's departure was important for Baba's rise. In a July match, Baba was encouraged to perform a big boot by his partner Skull Murphy. This kick, named the “16-bun” kick in Japan (after Baba's shoe size), was not just to become a signature maneuver, but a marketing cornerstone.

In one of his first matches back, he wrestled Inoki on June 16. Inoki implied in his autobiography that the time-limit draw that ensued was him going into business for himself, to Rikidozan’s anger. Suzuki would earn the right to wrestle as Mammoth again that summer. He won his first JWA match against a major gaikokujin in July against Duke Hoffman, and went the distance with the likes of Kokichi Endo and Ricky Waldo. However, after a match that autumn his career took a turn for the worse.

Suzuki's poor performance in an infamous six-man tag set the tone for the rest of his JWA tenure. On September 21 in Otsu, Suzuki would team up with Rikidozan and Toyonobori to wrestle Moose Cholak, Skull Murphy, and Art Mahalik. This match came one week after Cholak had legitimately injured Rikidozan's shoulder in the postmatch fracas of his tag title defense. The ace had taken four days off; he only returned when pressured by the promoter of a two-night run in Osaka, and wore a football shoulder pad borrowed from his son Yoshihiro. The pressure was on Suzuki to carry his weight as the lower-ranked wrestler in peril in this televised tag, and he blew it, badly. He was dominated by the foreign team, never managing to put them on the back foot, and looked "gutless" to both the building and the TV audience. After the match, Rikidozan beat Suzuki in the ring and urged Toyonobori to join with a slap. As Koizumi writes, this audible allowed Rikidozan to cover up his poor performance that night, as the theme of the tour became a waiting game for when he would remove the shoulder pad. Suzuki continued to disappoint, which culminated in a remarkably petty display when Rikidozan renamed him Gorilla Suzuki in the middle of the 1963 World League tour. Suzuki retired that year for health reasons.

mammothdeluxepurojan80.jpg.c34967e7da2d258905dcd80e6bcbf6c1.jpgLeft: Suzuki during his time as an IWE referee. [Source: Deluxe Pro Wrestling, January 1980]

Suzuki returned to wrestling at the invitation of Toyonobori when Tokyo Pro Wrestling started up. He stayed on board as it merged with the IWE, wrestling on the undercards (sometimes in a mask) until retiring in 1969. After that, Suzuki remained with the company as a referee until its closure, officiating its final match on August 9, 1981. Suzuki introduced the IWE to one of its major sponsors. Fukoku Oil, based in Numazu, manufactured and sold industrial goods made from petroleum. Fukoku would sponsor the IWE for six years until the promotion's collapse, and they were advertised on their ring aprons. He also found work as an actor from the late sixties onward. Suzuki died of internal disease in 1991.

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Major Update: This profile has been expanded with information from a 2019 G Spirits article by Etsuji Koizumi. This was the last Japanese resource that I was working on when my laptop went under, and I had transcribed about 85% of it. I plan to complete it when I have a computer to use Kanjitomo with again.

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