The Top Dog speaks up about NJPW, STRONG and his mammoth debut
On a wild Battle in the Valley card in San Jose this November, one of the biggest surprises was the appearance of JONAH in an NJPW ring. After making quick work of Lucas Riley in his in-ring debut this past week, the Top Dog now heads to Hollywood where he and Finlay will square off one on one. We spoke to JONAH about hitting NJPW STRONG, his past in Japan, potential to reunite with former friends and foes and more.
I felt that all roads would lead to New Japan
–So, JONAH. We saw you make your debut recently at Battle in the Valley after your release from WWE, 90 days ago now? A little more?
JONAH: I think just over, about three and a half months.
–You were definitely a name that people knew would be a hot free agent and it’s safe to say you’ve been in demand…
JONAH: For sure. It’s been a busy few weeks for me wrestling wise.
–So with that demand in mind, why NJPW? Why STRONG?
JONAH: New Japan is a place I always thought I would work beautifully in. I’ve wrestled in Japan before…
–For Pro-Wrestling NOAH.
JONAH: Yeah. I trained in their Dojo before, and my original trainer in Australia, Hartley Jackson (Zero1) is in Japan right now, and he was originally trained by Antonio Inoki.
–Ah, in the original LA Dojo.
JONAH: Right. So I kinda felt that all roads would lead to New Japan.
The big man that can go is something that’s been missing from NJPW
–As soon as you left WWE you knew you would be in an NJPW ring before long.
JONAH: 100%. As soon as I was able to wrestle somewhere, New Japan was going to be the first place. I’ve always had a passion for Japanese wrestling specifically, and the way that I wrestle, I think the Top Dog is perfect for NJPW.
–I think the first impressions long term Japanese fans would have is of monster heels like Big Van Vader or Bam Bam Bigelow.
JONAH: I actually have one of Vader’s masks here in my home office; his son was actually kind enough to give it to me, and I want to bring that spirit on to the future. The big man that can go is something that’s been missing from NJPW and wrestling as a whole. I’m that guy.
–What gave you that passion for Japanese wrestling?
JONAH: I’ve been a big wrestling fan my whole life, but being from Australia, all I got my hands on as a kid was WWE. Then as a teenager, around 13, 14 I discovered Japanese wrestling on the Internet. I watched Jyushin Thunder Liger, and that opened up my eyes about what wrestling could be to me.
–So the super heavyweight was inspired by the juniors?
JONAH: At first, yeah. As time went on though, I looked at what Vader did in Japan. I became a big fan of him, and Stan Hansen, those monster heels.
I’m here to crush people
–It was a big surprise for the fans in San Jose to see you walk out at Battle in the Valley. How did it feel?
JONAH: It felt great. I hadn’t been in front of a live wrestling audience in three months. I’ve always been used to wrestling every week, and for the last three years wrestling for TV, so it was always on my mind and I was always thinking about. I felt like a caged animal waiting to burst.
–A lot of pent up aggression.
JONAH: So I didn’t want to just say ‘I’m here’, I wanted to make a physical statement. I could feel from the audience that it was something special.
–That statement was at the expense of Juice Robinson and David Finlay. What made the two of them targets as far as you were concerned?
JONAH: I said this in my backstage comments- those are fun loving guys in my opinion. They are obviously in there to fight and be the best they can be, but I’m someone who’s been sidelined too many times. Looked over too many times. So I’m not coming anywhere smiling and happy to be there. I’m here to crush people, and I see guys like FinJuice, having a good time and maybe not taking everything entirely serious. I’m going to put them in their place.
–Much like yourself, FinJuice have trained extensively in Japan, as well as in the US. What would you say is the key difference between the two systems, and how a Noge or LA Dojo may differ from WWE’s Performance Center?
JONAH: What I learned in Australia, what Hartley taught me that was passed to him from Inoki, is that it’s a more humbling experience to train in the Japanese style. You go through the ringer more, more squats, more pushups, things that rigorously test your body daily, and you might be put in those ‘cement’ style situations when sparring where you really have to be able to fight and fight hard.
–So it’s a stricter style would you say?
JONAH: It’s not easy in the US. Not at all, but sometimes a football player or someone else from an athletic background might wrestle on TV after two months, where really they need to be in that process for longer.
I’ll make a statement no other foreigner has before
–Obviously NJPW and NOAH’s big card on January 8 created a lot of buzz. From the outside, as someone with NOAH connections, how did you react to that news?
JONAH: It’s very exciting. I have a soft spot in my heart for NOAH, and now I’m going to be mainly spend my time with New Japan, so those two sides colliding is always exciting.
–A lot of that time was spent with Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. Haste is a free agent at the moment, while Nicholls is in CHAOS, albeit in Australia. Some fans have floated the idea of a certain reunion somewhere, sometime…
JONAH: It’s definitely something on my mind. Shane and Mikey won Tokyo Sports’ Tag Team of the Year award, the first foreigners to do so since Hansen and Vader. So if I was part of that as the Top Dog? I think you’ll see those TMDK letters again someday.
–When we talk about Mikey, yourself, Shane, and then the New Zealand Dojo in Auckland, Robbie Eagles winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship this summer, Buddy Matthews facing Kazuchika Okada in San Jose, there are a lot more eyes on Oceania when it comes to wrestling at large and NJPW in particular. Long time coming?
JONAH: Very much so. I’ve always been a big supporter of Australian wrestling, and New Zealand as well. In the 1960s, 70s, early 80s, Australian wrestling was a big deal on TV, and guys like Andre the Giant would come over to make a lot of money. Over time people forgot that Australia has a rich history in wrestling, and in the last ten years all the people you mentioned making their name for themselves has helped the scene, and you’re going to get more Australian and NZ talent in future.
–Turning our eyes to 2022, while travel into Japan, dealing with visas is very difficult but we’d hope to overcome COVID at last next year. Is Japan high on the list of your priorities in ’22?
JONAH: Yes. I’ve made a statement in NJPW STRONG and I will continue to do that. But I want to make a statement in Japan. That’s where I want to be. There’s a lot of wrestlers in Japan that I want to come and fight, no doubt. I’ve never wrestled Shingo, never wrestled Okada, but I did have a good match with Naito in Australia and there’s a lot still to do there. And then there’s my old rival Zack Sabre Jr., I think I’m 2-2 with him…
–So a lot to do all over the world in the coming months. Any more messages for the Japanese fans?
JONAH: You’ll have to wait and see for when JONAH does eventually arrive in Japan. When I do, I’ll make a statement no other foreigner has before.