Phantasmo looks to pick up after an opening match loss Sunday
A rocky start to El Phantasmo’s G1 Climax 32 campaign saw him have to deliver his press conference comments in absentia, before losing to Will Ospreay in his first bout with the barest lapse of concentration. Yet the ever confident ELP will continue with pride unimpeded, and with plans to make a big splash in the G1.
(Interview conducted before July 16)
United Center was a great room to perform in
–So, ELP, you’re having a busy few months. After Best of the Super Jr. you’re heading into your first G1, but before that you teamed with the Young Bucks against Sting, Shingo Takagi and Darby Allin at Forbidden Door.
Phantasmo: I’m really thankful to Jay for the sellout, the United Center was a great room to perform in.
–How did you feel about wrestling with a legend in Sting?
Phantasmo: I never watched WCW, so I didn’t really care. But I guess I’m happy a so called Icon and I got to create an iconic moment. Let’s leave it at that.
–He did twist your nipples.
Phantasmo: I said let’s leave it at that.
–Apologies. You had been petitioning to be a part of the G1 for a while. How did you feel when your name was part of that lineup.
Phantasmo: It was exciting. I was watching it backstage in Osaka, and I heard the crowd roar when my name came up. Maybe Lance Archer got a bigger pop but not by much. So it shows that the fans and myself are all looking forward to seeing what I can do when I can get in the ring with the heavyweights.
I’ve always felt the junior and heavyweight split is stupid
–You were one of the biggest wrestlers in BOSJ, and now you’re in the G1. Are you thinking of transitioning to heavyweight, as Shingo Takagi and Will Ospreay did shortly after their first G1s?
Phantasmo: Right now, I’m just under 200lbs (90kg). So I’m heavier than I’ve ever been. But I’ve always felt the junior and heavyweight split is pretty stupid. I have more size than guys like (David) Finlay, or Zack Sabre Jr. So I think I’ve been big enough physically, but my style has been better suited in the junior division.
–So in theory you could do both.
Phantasmo: I don’t know if I’m interested in moving up, or staying junior heavyweight. I’m the essence of what the (STRONG, NEVER) Openweight championships should be in my opinion. Everyone always talks about it, but I think merging the two divisions is a realistic goal for me.
–You’re the only one to be doing both of these tournaments. Is that schedule a concern for you?
Phantasmo: Look, people might not notice this, but ever since I started in NJPW in 2019, I haven’t missed one night due to injury. Even if you go back to when I went to England in 2017, I only missed one night, and that was because I got drunk, slipped on a bench and concussed myself. People only talk about guys that get injured, but not how long people have been able to go without injury.
–So what do you credit that to? Your training perhaps?
Phantasmo: I wouldn’t say I’m strict with myself, but I force myself to stretch, I force myself to go to the gym, and I force myself to have a good diet. That’s made me consistent and that means since I started in 2005, I’ve never had a major injury. I was beat up at the end of BOSJ, but now I’ve had a couple weeks to focus on my diet and training, I’m back to 100%
–This year it’s a four block format, sometimes with big gaps between the tournament matches. Will it be a challenge to find a rhythm, do you think?
Phantasmo: It’s very interesting, but I don’t know if I prefer it this way. In BOSJ, I had 12 points, so I was tied at the top, but the stupid tie breakers meant I didn’t make the final. This time I’ll be really focused on the key matchups so I don’t get screwed at the end. So maybe a gap between those matches will help our health and help everyone’s focus.
Anyone who watches NJPW knows that Ospreay and I have a long history
(Interview conducted before July 16)
–You will have what could turn out to be a key match right out the gate. July 16 in Sapporo, you face Will Ospreay.
Phantasmo: Anyone who watches NJPW knows that he and I have a lot of history. When I came in the company, I really owned him, but ever since he stepped up as the United Empire leader and he got his wins back over me.
–He put you out of the New Japan Cup this year.
Phantasmo: I know a lot of people had been looking forward to that match. But I was fighting with a mental block at the time over Sudden Death. This time I’m 100% focused, and a lot of people are going to be excited and surprised at what I do in my G1 debut.
–Do you think there’s a special significance at this match being put out on night one, with a lot of eyes watching the free broadcast worldwide?
Phantasmo: I think it’s great for the company, and bad for the rest of the roster. You saw during BOSJ, every night there’s this competition to outdo what happened the night before. When you have ELP and Ospreay you’ll have fireworks to kick off the G1 right, but it’s going to be a damn hard match for everyone else to follow.
I might whoop Yujiro’s ass and steal Pieter
–After an eight day gap, on July 24 in Ota you face Yujiro Takahashi. There’s always a lot of intrigue over these faction derbies in the G1.
Phantasmo: See, a lot of people think that because I act the clown sometimes, they think I’m stupid. I remember when Jay wrestled Yujiro two years ago, and I saw the sneaky stuff he pulled.
–How do you feel about HOUSE OF TORTURE’s presence within BULLET CLUB now?
Phantasmo: I don’t really know where they stand. I don’t particularly care for their shenanigans. So I’m not planning on playing nice. Hell, I might whoop his ass and steal Pieter from him while I’m at it.
–After Yujiro you have a near two week gap to your next league match on August 6. To circle back to what we talked about before, how do you plan on staying sharp between league matches like this?
Phantasmo: Well, I think the tag matches on the undercards will keep the wrestlers warm and limber. We’ll be in each match at 100%, so there’ll be no excuses, but at the same time that was part of the strategy when we’d wrestle all these singles matches in a row during BOSJ. So it’s hard to say.
–You’ll face YOSHI-HASHI on the 6th in Osaka.
Phantasmo: I can’t remember the last YOSHI-HASHI match I watched. But I have heard in the BULLET CLUB locker room that he has really hard chops. So I’m looking forward to testing that out. I really feel I’m one of the best strikers in NJPW, and I don’t get credit for that. My accuracy and power is really up there with the best and YOSHI-HASHI will feel that.
Juice is a huge morale boost for BULLET CLUB
–So after a layoff, your schedule gets intense. You wrestle the very next night in Osaka, with Juice Robinson. First of all, how do you feel about the shift in character that Juice has had, and him joining BULLET CLUB back at Dontaku?
Phantasmo: I love it. I haven’s always seen eye to eye with Juice, but I always knew there was a cool, bad-ass party boy in there. So now he gets to party with BULLET CLUB is a huge morale boost for us backstage.
–Juice was stripped of the IWGP United States Championship in June, but still holds the physical belt, and presumably will have it with him during the G1. It’s quite a messy situation.
Phantasmo: You’re god damn right it’s a f**king mess. Juice had appendicitis. I don’t know why you’d strip the title from him when he’d be back in a month. That’s super unfair. He’s had a bigger case of being screwed by New Japan than Will ever has. So I look forward to those two settling everything.
–August 10, Hiroshima, you face Juice’s former partner in David Finlay. It’s his first time back in Japan for a long time, and he’ll have a lot to prove after splitting with Robinson.
Phantasmo: We’ve had some clashes in IMPACT and NJPW STRONG, but the thing with Finlay is that he’s had such a light schedule compared to most of the rest of us. He’ll have a year and a half of ring rust to deal with and that will be his downfall. Trying to shake off ring rust is hard enough let alone during the G1.
–Finlay has started to use a family heirloom in the form of his shillelagh of late on STRONG. Are you wary of that at all?
Phantasmo: No! I hope he tries to hit me with that stupid little stick. He can do it right in front of the referee, get his warm bag of milk ass disqualified and I’ll take two points. Thanks very much.
Put me and Shingo in the main event
–Your last league match is August 16 in the Nippon Budokan. That says something of the expectations put upon you by the company perhaps, in that you are on night one of the league, and the last night of the league.
Phantasmo: As it should be. The only thing I’ll say is this- put me and Shingo in the main event at Budokan, you cowards.
–Shingo Takagi and El Phantasmo is certainly main event quality. How do you feel about that matchup.
Phantasmo: I got as little taste of Shingo at Forbidden Door. I know how hard he hits. But I know about his history as well. His time in Dragon Gate and Ring of Honor, his matches with Ospreay. Nobody knows more than I do that he’s money, and by now everyone should know that I’m money, too. So main event ELP versus main event Shingo should do big business.
I have a clear vision
–If you are the top of D Block, you’ll have semifinals the next night against someone from C Block. Is there someone from that lineup that you would rather face?
Phantasmo: There’s a lot of first time matches that could come out of that, but KENTA stands out the most. An all BULLET CLUB semifinal sounds good to me, certainly. I know what a legend KENTA is, and beating him to advance to the finals would show the world what Phantasmo can really do.
–IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Jay White seems an obvious answer from A or B block to meet in the finals, but is there anyone else you would like to square off with?
Phantasmo: (Toru) Yano, just to break the internet.
–That would be a dark hose pick, certainly. But about Jay White- during Best of the Super Jr. last winter, you threw some critical comments toward him, for being absent from Japan through 2021. Are those issues behind the two of you now, or could there be tension should you meet in the final?
Phantasmo: A lot of people got the wrong idea from what I said. What I said back then was that if something happened and Jay wasn’t around, then BULLET CLUB was in good hands. No animosity. We’re great friends in and out of the ring, and I think we’d have a great, clean wrestling match if we were to meet in the final.
–Finally, you’ve won tournaments in the past, having been the Super J-Cup winner in 2019 and 2020. Both times you smashed the trophy and disrespected the winner’s jacket. What would you do when presented with the trophy and flag in the Budokan August 18?
Phantasmo: I have a funny feeling the G1 trophy is very nice compared to the Super J-Cup junk. Show some respect to me and I’ll show respect right back. I have a clear vision of winning the trophy and then going on to main event in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom 17. Maybe you can’t see it, but the most important person can, and that’s me.