Wild Rhino talks BOSJ campaign
When the Best of the Super Jr. lineups were announced on May 1 during Dontaku, excitement and hype was high for the appearance of several wrestlers from overseas. Yet while the presence of the IMPACT X Division, GLEAT G-Rex and ROH Pure Champions in Ace Austin, El Lindaman and Wheeler Yuta will be getting a lot of headlines over the next few weeks, Clark Connors wants to steal some for himself, and for his host brand of NJPW STRONG. We spoke to the Wild Rhino about his plans for the tournament, and each of his opponents.
My muscles aren’t just for show, they really do work
–So as we speak you’re just getting ready to make your first trip to Japan in almost three years. How are you feeling getting back into the country?
Clark: I’m most excited just to see the fans again. That’s the biggest thing. I miss them, and I miss the Japanese Culture. They treated me great as a Young Lion, so I’m intrigued to see how they treat me as a Wild Rhino I guess (laughs).
–Obviously the hardcore NJPW fans will be very familiar with you for what you’ve been doing on STRONG. Wheeler Yuta and Alex Zayne are both STRONG regulars, but you’ve been with the brand since day one. How does it feel to represent STRONG in BOSJ?
Clark: All the LA Dojo guys have said since day one that STRONG is our show. In Japan, you might have Okada, Tanahashi, Hiromu, and that’s their show, but if those guys come to STRONG, they have to do things our way. I firmly believe that STRONG is a far better product than anything that’s been going on in Japan for the last two years or so; it’s on me to prove that during BOSJ.
–You are probably the strongest member of the BOSJ lineup, and you’ll bring a very different style to most of the other wrestlers there. Do you see that working to your advantage?
Clark: Specifically with A Block, I’m by far the biggest guy there. Some wrestlers like SHO might look big in the ring, but compared to me, they’re diminutive. But my muscles aren’t just for show, they really do work (laughs). So I’m going to hit hard, throw guys around, and bring intensity to that power game as well.
–STRONG is an openweight environment, obviously. You recently wrestled Tom Lawlor for the STRONG Openweight Championship; can you speak to what you learned in that match, and how your experience might give you an edge in this tournament?
Clark: In that match with Lawlor I tried some new things. I was playing more head games, and that could work for me. But the main thing I learned was how big and strong heavyweights are. When I traded strikes with Tom, he hit a lot harder than a junior heavyweight, and picking him up, he was obviously heavier and that took a toll on my body.
–So you’re prepared for that now.
Clark: Well, really for me all along it’s been about over training. When I trained in the LA Dojo, Alex (Coughlin) and Karl (Fredericks) were always bigger than me, and would hit me harder. It was the same deal picking them up. We would do a drill where we would have to slam one another 100 times; well it’s a lot easier for them to slam me 100 times than for me to slam them. So when it comes to the juniors, that experience has made me the absolute powerhouse.
There’s a difference between arrogance and confidence
–Let’s look at the lineup for the tournament to come. It all starts in Nagoya on May 15. You’ll actually have the first tournament match this year, as you face IMPACT’s Ace Austin.
Clark: Can’t wait.
–Austin is the IMPACT X Division Champion, so he has a target on his back.
Clark: Absolutely. The X Division is a very prestigious title, and it’s something I’ve wanted ever since I started watching wrestling. To face the champion in a NJPW ring is pretty damn cool, and I say he should go about things the New Japan way. If I beat the champ, he should be putting that title on the line some day soon.
–Austin became a three time X Division Champion aged just 25. He is certainly very confident, perhaps some would say arrogant. Your thoughts on him outside of the ring?
Clark: Just looking at him, he looks like a Yu-Gi-Oh card more than anyone else on the roster, so he has that going on, but seriously, there’s a difference between arrogance and confidence. If you’re confident, you know you’re the best and you can back it up. Arrogance- I think I came into the Dojo arrogant, and I had that beaten out of me. I’ve earned my confidence, but I don’t think he’s done 500 squats every day, or been forced to chop the hell out of his best friends day in and day out. So I think that’s given me a confidence versus his arrogance.
I’m going to show YOH I’m a clear level ahead
–May 18 you face YOH. You’ve wrestled YOH before, while he was in Roppongi 3K. Do you feel a need to show him how far you’ve progressed?
Clark: When I faced him before in the Super Junior Tag Tournament, I wasn’t quite ready as a Young Lion, but I already felt I was at a level I could hang with him at. So now here, I have to show I’m a clear level ahead, and I know I am.
–There a lot of questions about YOH’s mental state, and Hiromu Takahashi has criticized YOH’s lack of fire coming into BOSJ.
Clark: Right. It’s OK to lose as long as you do your best. I think that’s what Hiromu has been saying, and that’s what I say to him. He won’t beat me- if he does that will do wonders for his confidence- but when he loses, I hope he can say that he gave it all he had, that’s the main thing.
I’m going to show SHO what a junior powerhouse looks like
–That Saturday, May 21 in Aomori you’re facing SHO. When you were last in Japan, SHO was the powerhouse of the junior heavyweight division, and now, presumably you want to show him that you are.
Clark: That’s one of the matches I’m most looking forward to. When I first came to Japan, I could tell when he looked at me that I threatened him. I was younger, taller, stronger, had a better spear than him (laughs). I could tell he thought I was going to take his spot.
–SHO has adopted a very different style of late.
Clark: He isn’t the same SHO, not the same powerhouse. He resorts to those HOUSE OF TORTURE tactics, and makes some of the ugliest faces I’ve ever seen to boot, but regardless, I’m going to show him what a junior heavyweight powerhouse really is.
–BULLET CLUB are in a strong position, especially ever since Dontaku. Do you have any thoughts on what makes them such an attractive proposition for wrestlers to join?
Clark: When BULLET CLUB first started, I thought they were pretty cool. Now when AJ (Styles) came in, and Kenny (Omega), that ‘too sweet’ stuff, and crotch chops, ripping off the past seemed lame to me. But now, what makes them attractive is just the level of talent there. Jay White is a hell of a leader, I can see why Juice Robinson would want to reinvent himself there, and the Good Brothers are one of the best tag teams ever. So I see why they’re attractive. They’re not my thing, and I would much rather go and do something much cooler on my own- certainly more original- but I understand the appeal.