Ite Lemalu’s TAMASHII Focus: Michael Richards

Richards wants the spotlight as TAMASHII is born in Sydney and Christchurch

NJPW TAMASHII is now under two months away, as New Zealand and Australia see the best of the local scene compete with the best of NJPW. That competition will include key figures from the New Zealand Dojo. NZ Dojo media relations manager Ite Lemalu knows the Dojo’s prospects better than anyone, and will be highlighting some of them over the coming weeks. 

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Heart, Body, and Technique. Those were the words Michael Richards lived by through his training to help him sustain his fighting spirit. Many will remember Richards from Lions Roar, the 12-part docu-series that premiered on NJPW World in January of this year. Lion’s Roar followed the thirteen prospects at the NJPW New Zealand Dojo, each of whom competed for a contract with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

It has been a remarkable journey for Richards. In 2017, Richards, a 22-year-old at the time, took his first major step to making his wrestling dreams a reality when he participated in the New Japan tryouts held in New Zealand. This set-in motion a chain of events that would transform his life. Following the tryouts, Richards was advised to train at Fale Dojo, to help broaden his understanding of NJPW’s Strong Style.

The Fale Dojo’s three-month professional wrestling training course, under the leadership of Toks Fale (Head Coach), and Tony Kozina (Pro-Wrestling Coach), laid a solid foundation for Richards in 2018. This provided him with the skills and knowledge required to prepare him for advanced training at the New Japan Dojo in Tokyo which commenced shortly after he concluded his initial training in New Zealand.

After completing the program at the New Japan Dojo in early 2019, Richards returned to New Zealand, equipped with a refined outlook and skills. In June 2019, Richards competed on the NJPW Southern Showdown tour of Australia, marking his New Japan debut, and later that year, he represented Fale Dojo in the Young Lions Cup.

Much of the world closed in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Zealand government complied by implementing a nationwide lockdown. The uncertainty of the pandemic, however, did not disrupt the training at the NZ Dojo which at the time was progressing with their first intake of the year.

In adapting to the lockdown restrictions, training resumed as normal. Richards joined Toks Fale and moved into the Dojo facility with Tony Kozina and the prospects. Guided by Tangi Ropati, Strength & Conditioning Coach, Richards, underwent an intense workout regime that was integral in transforming his physique and fitness level.

“I’ve been quietly ticking off small goals since coming back home,” said Richards. Remaining steadfast to his objectives even when the lockdown was lifted after three months, he remarks, “This was a test of my mentality.”

“I applied everything taught by Tangi-San to my diet and training,” he shared about Ropati’s execution through his background in bodybuilding, fitness, and international rugby league. Richards also leaned on his pro wrestling training and an inspiring message to get him over the finish line.

“It was the discipline that’s been instilled in me in the Japanese strong style here at Fale Dojo and at the NJPW Dojo that helped me see this journey through to the end. I read a NJPW article which I remember distinctively these words in this exact order,” he recalled. “‘Heart, Body, Technique. That can’t be any truer and I will always remember that.”

While continuing to hone his craft, Richards would become a “Senior Senpai” to the prospects. “As Senior Senpai, I want the pride to be the best versions of themselves that they possibly can,” Richards explained of the responsibilities that he takes very seriously. “I can be hard on the Young Lions at times because I knew that they had so much potential,” Richards stated. 

Richards’ persistence through the pandemic and the rest of 2020 prepared him for the road ahead in 2021 which brought on the filming of Lion’s Roar. In the season finale, Richards was one of the recipients of a highly prized NJPW contract. “I was quite relieved about the news, to be honest” Richards reflected on being signed to New Japan. “A lot of weight was lifted off my shoulders. Seven years of hard work went into chasing my dream of New Japan. It took longer than I expected, but I did it and no one can ever take it away from me.”

As the New Japan TAMASHII tour draws near, Richards spoke on the future of the NZ Dojo and the NJPW TAMASHII brand.“The benefits are just the non-stop learning I get from being here,” said Richards, now the NZ Dojo’s longest-serving prospect finally seeing a lot of the work come to fruition. “The amount of knowledge and experience at the NZ Dojo is everything that is expected in New Japan Pro-Wrestling,” he explained. “There is progress happening each day for which I’m extremely grateful. I have no doubt that the NZ Dojo will continue to thrive.”

He continued: “I’m pleased with the small goals that I’ve since achieved. I transformed my body, I signed with NJPW, and I moved out of the Dojo house after two and a half years.”

On the horizon for Richards? “The number one thing I’d like to see is a championship created for this side of the world,”  he elaborated on his next set of objectives. “The NJPW Oceania Championship seems to be one step closer to being a reality now, and I’m going to be the first to win it. I am a firm believer in dreaming big and that is why I want to become TAMASHII’s first champion!”

“New Japan TAMASHII has me more driven and motivated than ever before,” Richards expressed with great passion. “I’m really excited to see the impact that we bring to NJPW.”