Team Filthy’s leader speaks on his G1 campaign
After a long ten day wait and some impressive tag team performances, Filthy Tom Lawlor’s G1 proper finally gets underway on July 26 as he faces the intimidating Lance Archer. Before the tournament started, we talked to Tom about spending over a year atop the STRONG mountain, and what to expect from his first action in Japan.
This was a dream of mine
(Interview conducted before July 16)
–Tom, you’re just about to embark on your first wrestling tour of Japan, and in the high stakes environment of the G1 Climax. How are you feeling, and what are you doing to prepare?
Lawlor: To be fair, I’ve been across the world multiple times. It’s been a decade since I was in Japan as a fighter, and I’m sure a lot has changed, but I’m not worried about anything as far as cultural differences go. I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq, across Africa, all across Europe, Australia, the world. Japan is just another place I get to go to, and I’m lucky enough to do what I love most when I’m there, and that’s fight other people. I’m very excited.
–What was your first reaction to hearing you would be in the G1?
Lawlor: I’d been working for it for a long time. I never counted on being on the G1 itself until the video aired at Dominion. I wasn’t surprised, I was expecting to be announced, but I was definitely ecstatic. This has been a dream of mine.
–It’s a real career goal of yours.
Lawlor: I can’t tell you the number, it must be thousands of nights that I fell asleep listening and watching matches and fights, combat sports from Japan over the years. It’s always been a passion of mine, and to be able to live it out in my second career as a pro-wrestler, it’s pretty awesome.
–But the real work starts here for you.
Lawlor: Yeah. You know, I have a pretty specific set of goals that I want to achieve, and I have a finite time, as we all do. I’m about midway through my time on this planet, and there are a ton of things I still want to do. So I have to make this count.
It’s been the best time of my career, and the most fun
–It’s fair to say that spending well over a year as STRONG Openweight Champion played a big part in you being selected to be in the G1 lineup. How do you feel about that reign in hindsight?
Lawlor: It’s easily been the best time of my professional wrestling career. My first match was in 2005, but then I stepped away into MMA and came back at age 35. With the amount of talent that’s on the scene nowadays, there are a lot more skilled wrestlers now than there were when I had that debut in 2005. It’s very hard to stand out, and it was very hard for me to get back into pro-wrestling. To be able to be the standard bearer for STRONG since its inception has been the best time of my career, and also the most fun, honestly.
–So it was a fulfilling year.
Lawlor: Well, you always have more fun when you’re winning. But it’s been a blast to be with the Team Filthy guys, and it’s been good to be a part of something from the ground up. MMA is a young sport, historically, and I was in a position where I could see that sport grow and develop in person. With STRONG I was able to do the same thing. Now you have tag titles introduced, you have guys from STRONG popping up on AEW and getting big opportunities in Japan. That’s all a lot to do with me being the champ.
–Unfortunately tough, you aren’t the champion anymore…
Lawlor: Well, now I have to look toward other goals. One of the things I can take pride in is representing STRONG in the G1.
Rosser’s been a great foe and he’s made me raise my game
–It was a thrilling match with Fred Rosser in Philadelphia. The result notwithstanding, how do you feel looking back on it, and what Fred’s been able to achieve?
Lawlor: I remember the first time I wrestled Fred, I was heading to the taping, and as I was driving there I asked ‘who am I wrestling tomorrow?’. They told me ‘Fred Rosser’. I was like ‘what? Fred Rosser? Is this some sort of joke? A rib?’ I hadn’t seen his name pop up in years. But we had a tough, back and forth fight, and I won obviously.
–But things escalated from there.
Lawlor: Look, while we are both very very different on the surface, and in our character, there’s some similarities there. We’re both really prideful people. He felt he was wronged by other companies in the past, that he didn’t have the chances he deserved. He wanted to carry that banner of NJPW STRONG. I have to at least respect Fred when it comes to that. He didn’t stop.
–He said before and after the match with you that ‘without commitment you’ll never start, but without consistency, you’ll never finish’.
Lawlor: Whether I like him or not, he’s been a great foe, consistently, and he’s made me raise my game. Good luck to him in his upcoming reign, because it won’t be easy to outdo what I did with that title. If I was a betting man, and I am, this isn’t the last time you’ve seen me with that belt.
Who put me in this block? Is this a rib?
–You’re part of a 28 man tournament, with the first four block setup since 2000. Was the structure of the tournament a surprise to you, and has it changed your approach?
Lawlor: I’m pretty accustomed to doing tournaments. In amateur wrestling or jiujitsu you tend to have all your matches in one day, and I recently fought in the PFL (MMA league), which had a season format. So I was looking forward to getting my feet wet and improving as the season went on. I’m a little disappointed I don’t have more matches in a larger group. Especially with this block. Is this a rib? What the hell is this block I’m in?
–It’s being called the ‘big boy block’.
Lawlor: I’m 200 lbs over here! I fought at light heavyweight and middleweight, and here’s JONAH, Lance Archer, Fale! That’s a big part of my preparation, but as far as endurance goes I would still be in top shape whether I was in this G1, or in the US and wrestling five matches over a two month span. I don’t take time off, and I’m always in peak shape.
–You never know what might come up as a wrestler.
Lawlor: You never know when someone might get injured, and when you might get the chance of your career. Look at Clark Connors. He wasn’t supposed to be on the Forbidden Door card, but he had an opportunity and took advantage of it.
This is a tough opening match
–So let’s take a look at your schedule. Your first league match will be on July 26, and you have Lance Archer in Korakuen Hall.
Lawlor: There are no slouches in this tournament, but this is a tough opening match, and getting Lance early is difficult because he won’t be as beaten up as he would be later on. It might be harder to wear him down. But at the same time, this match is taking place ten days into the tournament, and he’ll have already wrestled, right?
–Right. This is Archer’s second match after he faces Bad Luck Fale in Sendai.
Lawlor: Another big guy. When you put two monsters in there together, the injury rate goes up and no matter what happens both of those guys will have taken their damage.
–And you want to capitalize. Are you going to lean on your grappling roots here?
Lawlor: There are plenty of guys, plenty of giants in NJPW that have lost to smaller MMA fighters. I plan on making Lance Archer the next Giant Silva, heheh.
–Is it significant to you that your first singles match in Japan will be in Korakuen Hall?
Lawlor: I’ve been to Japan once, but I never got to go to Tokyo. So to make my singles debut there is awesome, and in Korakuen Hall, one of the pre-eminent arenas for wrestling is a perfect place. And it’s a perfect situation to have a giant to slay in front of a hot packed crowd.
JONAH is Butterbean and I’m Genki Sudo
–Then, four days later another giant in Aichi as you face JONAH.
Lawlor: Like I said, I’ve been watching a lot of tape, and I have a gameplan on every one of these giants. JONAH has some heavy power, big moves, but he reminds me of Butterbean, and I’m going to be like Genki Sudo. He’d better watch his ankles. I’m not worried about any of these guys.
Lawlor: OK there is one guy, there is one guy…
–Hamamatsu on August 2 you have Toru Yano.
Lawlor: I’ve been watching Toru Yano for years. When he wants to be, he’s a formidable wrestler. He defeated Great-O-Khan, an amateur master in an amateur match.
–When he had the KOPW trophy.
Lawlor: I’m mad he doesn’t have that thing anymore. I would face him in a marathon for it. I know he ran the Tokyo Marathon that one time. Anyway, the point is, he’s no slouch. He has so much talent, but he makes me so angry.
Lawlor: I’ve never seen someone do so little with so much as he does. I’m not going to let him get away with any crap, any box of tricks. Hey, I’ve been on DVDs as well! I could bring him a DVD of UFC 100, when I won 100,000 Dollars in less than ten minutes. He won’t get away with any shenanigans. I’ll drag him into a fight whether he likes it or not.
It’ll be great for Okada to wrestle the guy who was STRONG Champion for a year
–Next in Osaka August 7, you have Bad Luck Fale. So quite a gear change from JONAH to Yano to Fale stylistically.
Lawlor: How hot is it going to be in Osaka?
Lawlor: Fale is what, 6’7’’? 6’8’’? He’s tall, and he weighs, what? 350, 400lbs? In the dead heat of summer? In the middle of the G1? I’ll wipe the floor with him. I’ll treat him like (Shinsuke) Nakamura did to Jan Nortje.
–Next you have Kazuchika Okada. That has to be the biggest match of your league campaign.
Lawlor: I’m sure it will be great for Okada to get to wrestle the man who was STRONG Openweight Champion for the past year. I hate to talk over and over about technique but… Okada got his start in Mexico, right?
–Well, before he joined the NJPW Dojo, he trained in Mexico as part of Toryumon, yes.
Lawlor: So a lucha background. I remember what happened when CMLL and fought against MMA guys in DEEP (March 30, 2002). I remember when (Minoru) Suzuki fought El Solar. Beat him in the first round. So many greats have fallen to MMA fighters. I’m not impressed by his dropkick, and I’m certainly not impressed by the Money Clip. If he thinks he can submit me with that then he’s delusional. The only rain he’ll be making is the tears running down his face when I put a hold on him.
Cobb is the only guy I outright respect
–Your last league match will be August 14 in Nagano against Jeff Cobb. A great amateur, and he went 8-0 in the G1 last year, so he could easily win the whole thing. A tough pair of opponents to end the league.
Lawlor: I don’t have anything bad to say about Jeff Cobb.
–That makes a change.
Lawlor: He’s the only guy I outright respect here. A great amateur background. I’ve wrestled him before, I know he trains hard. But I’ve also seen him dead tired when he’s been pushed hard for 15, 20 minutes. So while I respect him, even though he can’t hold a title for more than a month…
–Quite harsh for someone with nothing bad to say…
Lawlor: Oh, he’s a great athlete! He was a flag bearer for Guam in the Olympics! Did you know that?
Lawlor: What an honour! Out of a population of ten on that island, and all of three athletes, he got chosen to carry the flag. Great athlete.
I want Taichi in the semifinals. Jorts vs tearaway pants
–Should you make it to the top of the block, semifinals and finals are on August 17 and 18. Who would you like to see emerge from B Block to face you on August 17 in the semifinals?
Lawlor: I was thinking Taichi. Battle of the jorts and the tearaway pants. Some have called me the songbird of our generation and I know Taichi can sing as well. Good kickboxing skills too.
–Who would you have circled for a potential final against you from Blocks C & D.
Lawlor: Well, if you focus on goals too far ahead and you can’t concentrate on what’s in front of you. I watched every second of that Michael Jordan ‘Last Dance’ documentary on ESPN. All he talked about was ‘being in the moment’. I’m not ready for the final until the final of the G1.
–Well, as we now head into the G1, a lot of fans will be seeing you for the first time, especially live. What impression do you want to leave on those fans?
Lawlor: I want them to feel like they saw the essence of NJPW. Legitimate, traditional martial arts skills. Fighting tooth and nail, back and forth. No run-ins, no interference. I love mixed martial arts and I love professional wrestling. Lucky for me, those two things are married, and I’m their child. I bring what those two things have blessed me to the ring during the G1. So I want the fans to know that I am one of the toughest fighters in the world, no matter what the discipline is. I want the fans to come away thinking that Filthy Tom Lawlor is one of the toughest men on the face of the Earth, and I’m confident that’s going to happen.