Tiger Mask dsicusses his defence of IWGP Jr. Tag Gold on January 5
After Wrestle Kingdom 15 helped mark Tiger mask’s return to competition after a difficult struggle with illness through 2020, Wrestle Kingdom 16 sees him at the highest in his career for several years, in the title mix as he defends the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships with Robbie Eagles on night two, January 5. We spoke to Tiger Mask as the momentous occasion approached.
I know I’ll be the one isolated.
–It’s been a while since you won them, but congratulations on your tag title victory nonetheless!
Tiger: Thanks very much!
–What’s your take on the junior division as a whole in NJPW right now?
Tiger: I think these young guys that are wrestling in the division now might be doing things with a different style than I ever did, but they’re doing the same thing at the end of the day. My generation was taught to inflict pain first and foremost, and think about moves to achieve that goal. Wrestlers today, there’s more flash involved, guys trying to stand out. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but yeah, it sticks out to me.
Tiger: If you look at it the other way, I can’t do the flashy things the young wrestlers do, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. I think what I think of wrestling and what they think of wrestling- there’s a little gap there. We have the same goal, and I’m not throwing what they do under the bus. It’s just their way of wrestling isn’t me.
–You’re doing different things, in a way.
Tiger: Don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch the guys on the monitors in the back, and think ‘that’s awesome!’. They’re doing things I can’t hope to, and adding their own X factors to the mix. Today’s wrestlers really are great.
–And how does it feel to be amongst that competition as a champion?
Tiger: Well, it’s a team, and Robbie is the guy to go on the offensive. I know our opponents will try and isolate me. So my job is to withstand that and be the support guy so Robbie can do what he does.
It’s the best possible start to the Year of the Tiger
–What’s it like, teaming with Robbie?
Tiger: When he first came to Japan, I was teaming with Liger against him and Ishimori. He submitted Liger, true, but he was smaller than he is now, and I really wasn’t sure he would leave that much of an impression. But teaming with him, seeing how great he is with his kicks as well as his high flying, how fundamentally sound he is, it opened my eyes to him.
–How did you feel when you first tagged with him?
Tiger: He’s with CHAOS, so we’ve often been in opposite corners. I didn’t imagine we’d team together. But having a flier on my side is a real help, and he can fuse that new style of wrestling in with mine.
–What are your thoughts on this three way on January 5?
Tiger: I figured that Taguchi would find a way into a challenge with someone. Then Ishimori and Phantasmo worked their way in, made it a three way. I’ve not had much experience in that area.
–You’re a little uncertain with that environment.
Tiger: I’m not used to it, heh. But I think there’s a chance of using the three way format to our advantage if the other teams get caught up on one another. I think if me and Robbie can make good use of our combinations we’ve got a great chance.
–It’s been a long time since you walked into the Tokyo Dome as a champion.
Tiger: Against (Naomichi) Marufuji in 2010. 12 years, but with this being the 50th anniversary, and it being the Year of the Tiger, it’s the best possible start.
–So that win is all the more important.
Tiger: Of course. I want to make the best of this chance, and to get used to this three way environment as well.
Phantasmo and Ishimori are great. Rocky could show something I’ve never seen before.
–How about your opponents? What are your thoughts on the Mega Coaches?
Tiger: They’re two tag experts, so it’s definitely difficult to find a gap in their game. Taguchi, you get that Taguchi-ism about him, but it isn’t just messing around. He can do everything to perfection, and that’s all head games on top. You can’t ever underestimate him.
–You can’t overlook his sneaky side.
Tiger: Rocky is a sneaky one himself, of course. I’ve been wrestling him since he first stepped in an NJPW ring, so I know most of his playbook. But then asgain, he’s spent a lot of time in the US recently, so he might be coming into this match with something I’ve never seen before. That might mean trouble.
Tiger: Tiger Mask and Black Tiger teaming after all these years might be a really cool team (laughs). I’m happy to team with Robbie of course, but if Rocky ever wants to put that Black Tiger mask on again, I think that would be a really cool scene for the fans during the anniversary year.
–But when we talk about sneaky, El Phantasmo and Taiji Ishimori definitely fit that bill.
Tiger: Ishimori has held so many titles over his career. A couple of years ago in England I was actually in a four way match with him, Phantasmo and one more guy. Phantasmo was still green back then, but he’s really made huge strides since coming to New Japan.
–What do you have to look out for most with them?
Tiger: They’ve definitely got a lot of moves at their disposal, but I think as all round talents, I have the better of them. They’re unbelievable athletes, and to go back to what I said at the start, they’re great at this modern style of wrestling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more dangerous in the ring.
–How do you feel about being in this three way with two, shall we say, ‘villanous’ teams?
Tiger: Well, the work really begins here. It’s all in talking to Robbie and finding the best way to go into this three way environment. We still have time, so that’s what I want to focus on before the match.
–And obviously you plan on retaining.
Tiger: It’s two days of Wrestle Kingdom again, heading into this grand 50 year celebration. So absolutely, myself and Robbie will be showing how tough we are, and starting the Year of the Tiger with a bang!