Yuto Nakashima’s first official interview
April means the start of a new school year in Japan. Some students may graduate, some may start, and freshmen move into their sophomore year. That’s the case for Yuto Nakashima. His first year was marred by an injury in his debut match, but back on track, he’s looking to surpass more Young Lions who have entered after him. In his first ever official interview, Nakashima talks about competition and his future.
I was fighting underground in high school. I was champion by senior year, and competing overseas
–So, I think first of all we’d like you to introduce yourself.
Nakashima: Well, my name’s Yuto Nakashima, and I’m from Ogaki in Gifu prefecture. My favourite things are curry, hamburgers, cream and Disney. I grew up obsessed by Disney (laughs).
–Quite the image! So to get right into wrestling, a lot of fans will remember the accidental injury that happened in your debut match. Can you talk a bit about that?
Nakashima: Well, I dislocated my elbow. That was on February 14 last year. Now, I’m absolutely fine though. I actually failed my tryouts (for NJPW) intially, and that was far tougher on me, mentally.
–So this didn’t slow you down any mentally.
Nakashima: Well, I think it was harder when the younger guys, Oiwa and Fujita debuted. That had me start to rush.
–You said you had failed your tryouts. How long did it take you to make it in?
Nakashima: Well, I actually applied when I was straight out of middle school. I didn’t get called back that time, so I didn’t tryout. After that though, I was cut after the tryouts two times, so all in all, it was fourth time lucky for me.
–You have a background in MMA. How did that all come together?
Nakashima: Well, after I didn’t make the screening process that first time I applied, I figured I should start. I guessed that if I got into judo I wouldn’t strike enough, and if I did boxing, I wouldn’t grapple enough, so MMA seemed the best thing to do.
–You’ve talked about being an underground fighter.
Nakashima: When I was in high school I fought in underground competitions, off the books. I was a champion by senior year. After that, I went pro for a bit and got to fight overseas some.
I’ve nothing but good things to say about Fale’s Dojo
–So you actually spent time in the NJPW New Zealand Dojo under Bad Luck Fale. How did that come about?
Nakashima: When I won my fights, I would take a mic and say that I would be in NJPW. I kept putting that out on social media, Japanese and English. Soon enough I got a message from the Fale Dojo saying ‘if you’re serious, come over here’. So I did.
–So when was all this?
Nakashima: I was 22 when I went over. So those years in the middle, 16-22 I was working as (MMA fighter) Kiyoshi Kuwabara’s assistant, helping run his gym, and really learning a lot about how to fight.
Nakashima: When I was invited to the Fale Dojo, I needed money. So I would train at 10 in the morning, and work at the gym after that. Then I’d have a night job until 5AM, sleep for three hours and then do it all over again. That was every day for three months, and eventually an MMA sponsor helped get me to the million Yen I needed to get myself to New Zealand.
–So how long were you over there?
Nakashima: About six months, learning a lot under Fale-san.
–What was it like as an experience?
Nakashima: I’ve nothing but good things to say about it. Fale-san is really big on hunger, showing that bloodthirstiness and really bringing the fight. He helped me a lot when it came to the mental side of things, for sure.
–So you spent six months in the Fale Dojo, and then you were able to pass the tryout.
Nakashima: Right. Fourth time lucky, heh.
–So, what made you decide to become a pro-wrestler?
Nakashima: It sounds a bit dumb, but when I was in eighth grade I thought I was the toughest guy on the planet (laughs). But when i happened to catch wrestling on TV, it blew me away how much tougher they were than me.
–It shocked you.
Nakashima: So I started talking to my friends at school, like ‘do you know about this wrestling stuff?’ They said that one of the school’s alums went on to wrestle. Turns out that guy? Hiroshi Tanahashi.
–Oh! You’re both from Gifu, but you actually went to the same school!
Nakashima: From that moment on, I thought ‘OK, I’m going to join NJPW’, and started messing around wrestling every single day.
–Do you remember what the first match you saw was?
Nakashima: It was All Japan, actually, but when I heard about Tanahashi, I went on to discover NJPW through YouTube.
They’re both just so impressive
–So you’re actually Tanahashi’s attendant right now. Has he given you much advice?
Nakashima: He has. After evry match he points out what I could do better. I’m pretty lucky to have that help.
–At this early stage in your career, you’re competing against the other two Young Lions in the system, with Kosei Fujita and Ryohei Oiwa. Would you say you have a particular selling point over them?
Nakashima: Both of them have those amateur wrestling backgrounds. I came from MMA, so I have training in boxing, kickboxing, jiujitsu as well. I think that gives me a leg up on them.
–What do you think of the progress they’ve made so far?
Nakashima: They’re both really physically impressive. They can definitely do things I can’t. They both cleared the tryouts on their first try, and they both debuted faster, too.
–Are you jealous?
Nakashima: Oh, I hate them.
–As we speak, all three of you have been trading draws.
Nakashima: Of course I want to be first. Whatever I’m doing, I need to get results.
–Fujita has gotten himself a lot of big opportunities. He wrestled Yasutaka Yano of NOAH January 8 in Yokohama Arena, and he’ll wrestle AJPW’s young rookie Ryo Inoue at the Korakuen Hall 60th Anniversary event.
Nakashima: Like I said, I hate him. I should have gotten those spots. I think i can go harder than him, and I don’t really understand why he got picked over me.
–To go back to your debut match with Yuya Uemura, do you feel like you’d want to get revenge on him?
Nakashima: Of course, I’d like to pay him back for what happened to my elbow. To be honest, when I did it, I thought I would get cut. I’m grateful to the company for keeping me on while I rehabbed. Again, I feel very lucky.
After what I went through I can’t be anything other than grateful
–You’ve used that word a few times now. Do you feel like you’ve had good luck in life generally?
Nakashima: I do. Like, I failed the tryouts but Fale san helped me out. I had that injury in my debut, but now I have something tying me to Uemura. I’ll embarrass him next time.
–What’s it like for you living at the Noge Dojo?
Nakashima: It is tough, but it’s a blessing. You don’t have to worry about money and stuff. When I was in MMA, I couldn’t concentrate on my training, since I had no cash. Here, I have a roof over my head, I’m fed, and I get to train, so it’s perfect. After what I’ve been through, I can’t be anything other than grateful.
–So to finish off here, what kind of wrestler do you see yourself becoming? What are your goals?
Nakashima: I don’t have a set vision. I came here always thinking that NJPW’s wrestlers are the toughest, so I want to face as many of them as possible. That’s really all I’m focused on right now.
–Do you have any message for the fans? What do you want to present to them?
Nakashima: I don’t really want to present anything but results. Obviously I’m going to wrestle with all I have like a Young Lion should, but results are the main thing. Does that come off a bit arrogant?
–Not at all.
Nakashima: The most important thing is that first win. I don’t know, don’t care how it’ll come, but I want to get that first win!