–On August 2, you face Tama Tonga. He’s normally a tag team wrestler, how do you feel about him as a singles competitor?
Okada ‘I really don’t know. In 2012, Karl Anderson went from being a tag guy to making the finals, so it’s not a matter of “tag guys can’t be singles”. If anything, he could catch everyone unawares. I’d almost say he’s the one I have to be most careful of.’
— You get the feeling he’s in second or third position in the Bullet Club with Kenny in charge.
Okada ‘I really feel he doesn’t want to lose out to Kenny. He wants to make a statement, that he can do this. You can’t take him lightly.’
–Next, Osaka and EVIL. He’s of your generation, or close to it at least, but you really haven’t commented much on him. What do you think?
Okada ‘He’s very much in Naito’s shadow, but I really feel he’s a strong, capable wrestler. That said, that’s all I feel about him. He’s nothing more than that right now. Very similar to SANADA in that respect.’
–Did you foresee him doing as well as he has?
Okada ‘I didn’t see him becoming as popular as he is. He gets a lot of support, which I never saw coming, especially with his look.’
— It never really seemed possible that EVIL would be facing off against you.
Okada ‘Well, back then, I was wrestling Naito. I never imagined I’d be wrestling EVIL in a singles match either. But this time it’s the G1. He and SANADA are in a different block to Naito so Naito’s really out of the picture. So I want to see them standing on their own.’
–How do you feel about facing EVIL in Osaka? Last year in Osaka you faced Ishii in what was a match of the year contender, so Osaka’s expectations are pretty high.
Okada ‘I lost that match in Osaka, and you can’t lose in the G1. So I wasn’t happy with that. This time, we’ll have a match of the year contender that I’ll win.’
–On August 8 in Yokohama you face Minoru Suzuki. I’m sure he’s fresh in your mind after your IWGP title defense in Sapporo this year, but how do you feel about wrestling him at a critical point in the tournament?
Okada ‘Honestly, he doesn’t worry me. I’ve already beaten him once, after all. What’s troubling is that it took 40 minutes before.’
— League matches are only 30 minutes. You’d need to do things a little differently.
Okada ‘Title matches are 60, so I do feel a need to hurry up. Honestly, I’ve gotten into the trap of taking my time in matches.’
–Since becoming NEVER champion, Suzuki has beaten your stablemates in Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. Is that something you’re bearing in mind?
Okada ‘No. If the people he’s beaten want revenge, that’s on them.’
–But Suzuki will be coming at you with revenge of his own in mind.
Okada ‘And it’s a champion versus champion match, too. I definitely don’t plan on losing.’
–And finally, August 12 in Ryogoku, Kenny Omega and..
Okada (laughing) ‘A draw.’
— Last time not even 60 minutes was enough.
Okada ‘Kenny will have thought of that too. I think he’ll be aggressive right from the bell. I have to be, too.’
— This could well decide the block as well.
Okada ‘Right. Of all these group matches, this is the one where winning or losing makes the most difference.’
— Okada versus Omega is a matchup that has captured the imagination of fans worldwide. How do you feel about wrestling once more in the G1?
Okada ‘Honestly I think maybe it’s a little too soon. But for the fans, it’s a chance to see the continuation after that 60 minute cliffhanger.’
–Ah, that’s one way of thinking about it.
Okada ‘It’s just a league match, it’s not even the final, but the whole world will be taking notice. That match might get even more attention than the final itself.’
–The day before, Naito and Tanahashi will be in the main event. Will you be paying attention to that match?
Okada ‘Well, I don’t really care about what happens in the match. Tanahashi and Naito can do Tanahashi and Naito. Kenny and I will do what we do to the whole world and we’ll see what happens in the final.’
–And who do you want to face in that final?
Okada ‘To be honest, I haven’t faced most of the people in block A lately. Just Fale at Dontaku. But perhaps beating Suzuki while he’s NEVER champion and then beating Intercontinental champion Tanahashi in the finals.. that should prove that the IWGP Heavyweight title is the most important prize there is.’
–You want to prove how strong the IWGP champion is. Finally, what are your thoughts on Kota Ibushi’s comeback tournament?
Okada ‘Good luck to him. That’s it really. But while I’m sure everyone will be looking at him in his comeback, I’m really not sure whether he can actually produce after such a long time away from New Japan. That’s my only question.’
–It has been a long time. Kenny Omega has said that New Japan has changed a lot in that time.
Okada ‘Well, I’m at the top, and everybody else has changed underneath. Challengers I beat easily before have come back stronger. Everyone’s evolved. And I’m not going to belittle the year and a half Ibushi’s had one bit, but this has been a hell of a year and a half to be away.’
–And that raises the question.
Okada ‘Right. He might regret coming back. But if he comes back hot, and has hot matches with his opponents, then it’s all good. But then, he’s Block A so he’s not my concern.’