Rebel Yell: David Finlay Interviewed

US number one contender interviewed

While ‘expect me’ was a rallying cry for David Finaly heading into the G1, few took it completely seriously until an incredible hot streak of three victories over first former partner Juice Robinson, then former IWGP World heavyweight Champion Shingo Takagi and finally current IWGP United States title holder Will Ospreay. Days before their title showdown in Kobe, we spoke to the Rebel about his title aspirations.

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I could have done a G1 singles match every night

–First of all, can you reflect on your first G1 Climax and how the experience was?

Finlay: Well, it was different to how I’d anticipated all these years while I was waiting to get my spot. As you know typically it’s two blocks and you get what, nine, ten singles matches. So I think it smaller blocks was advantageous to everyone really, certainly easier on the body.

But I really enjoyed the G1. I like doing hard things, I like being challenged in my career and being in situations where I feel I have to fight my heart and soul out. The G1 is the place to do that. So to finally get the opportunity to showcase what I am capable of was a sigh of relief to say the least. I started in New Japan as a 21 year old in 2015, so I’ve seen a lot of people achieve success, y’know, set themselves up for title matches that they later capitalize on. So I knew that what happens the next couple months really depended on how I performed in the G1.

 –You sometimes had one week gaps, or three matches in three days and nothing for two weeks. Was that a difficult part of the tournament mentally?

 Finlay: It definitely was. I beat Juice, Will and Shingo all within the span of about a week, and then I had a week off of singles matches, so it kinda, slowed my momentum a little bit and then I wasn’t able to capitalize on the matches that I should have capitalized on.

So the schedule came with pros and cons. It was nice that it wasn’t as hard on the body, but I like to keep my momentum going. I like to be in the pocket, in the swing of things. I was away from Japan for what 14, 15 months? I was ready to get back to rolling. I could’ve done a singles G1 match every night, I would’ve been happy with that.

Korakuen is the closest thing I have to a home field

–To go back in the history books with you and the US title a little bit- 2018, April you had that match with Jay- 

Finlay: That was Korakuen Hall, yeah.

 –You said backstage afterwards that it was your first singles title match and the first match for you to be in the main event by yourself.

Finlay: Yeah.

 –Since then, you’ve had two main events during the G1 and you won both of them. So reflecting on how things have changed over the last four years, how important was it for you to get those wins in those main events, especially in Korakuen Hall as well?

 Finlay: To me it was like everything kinda came full circle poetically. As you mentioned I haven’t had as many singles main events, but as a tag guy I had my fair share of main events so I understood the pressure and was used to the pressure of going on last.

Still I hadn’t closed out the show with the microphone, hadn’t gotten a W in the last match of the night. So to get that in Korakuen Hall against Juice, where our first singles ever was there and he beat me, you know it felt really good. Being a foreigner I don’t have a home town in Japan, so I feel like Korakuen is the closest thing that I have to a homefield.

They’ve seen all my triumphs, they’ve seen all my failures. They’ve watched me grow up from, a young kid to an adult male now. So for them to see me overcome someone that at one point I viewed as a big brother was huge to me.

 –Do you feel like- I think when we see the G1 schedules you’ve usually got guys that have a connection, one kind of touchpoint that’s going to be somewhere and usually that comes at the end of the series, right.

Finlay: Yeah.

–Sometimes it’s right at the beginning. You had Juice in the middle, and it felt like ‘OK this is David Finlay’s big narrative for the whole G1’. You had to continue that, and you were able to against Shingo and Will. But when you saw the schedule, did that feel like a big challenge for you? Like ‘I’ve got Juice and yes it’s in Korakuen’, but then there’s everything else to come afterward.

Finlay: When I saw the schedule and I saw that Juice and I were in the same block, I wondered if that would be be toward the end of the tour. But sure enough, he was my second singles match. It changed how I needed to approach it. Because I needed to beat Juice, but then I had four more singles after that as well. So it’s kinda like a chess game about how much you put yourself out there.

 –You were heading into the Juice match after a loss to Yujiro as well.

Finlay: That was extra fuel to the fire. I really really needed to get some momentum behind me, because I knew if I beat Juice that would be really good momentum into my Shingo match and into my Ospreay match. But if I lose to Yujiro and then I lose to Juice, well you might as well wrap it up at that point. So yeah, it was.. I thought it would be later in the tournament, but I’m happy it was near the beginning because I was able to pull off the win against two former IWGP World Heavyweight Champions after that.

–Was that important to have that match in Korakuen Hall, where it was a hometown match so to speak for the both of you?

 Finlay: Absolutely. I think that was a big part of what made the match as appealing as it did. Everything I said about Korakuen you could say the same for Juice, you know. He didn’t have a hometown either, that was kinda his homefield. They saw him come from a guy who, you know it didn’t work out in NXT for him, so he left, came to New Japan, and they watched him rise, and now he’s three time IWGP US Champion. So they watched him come into his own. And they watched us tag for years and years and years, so if anyone is going to know the history of Juice Robinson and myself, it’s Korakuen Hall. 

Will was always special from the get-go

–So let’s switch gears and talk about Will Ospreay for a bit. From a career perspective, you came into NJPW at roughly the same time, you were Best of the Super Jr. in 2015, Ospreay came in the next spring. You’re roughly the same age. So there’s a few common points between the two of you. How do you view Ospreay as an individual and as a wrestler?

Finlay: Ospreay came into New Japan as you said, around 2016 Best of the Super Jr., and I was a year before him. I was at a point where they gave me an opportunity to see how I did in Super Jr., I guess they saw enough in me, but I picked up zero points my first Super Jr. So I got an opportunity through the Young Lion system. Will Ospreay, his first Super Jr.- he and I were both born May 1993 so we’re the exact same age pretty much- he comes in his first Super Jr. and wins the entire thing. Bypasses the Young Lion system and he’s immediately, a made guy. And rightly so, he was a prodigy at that point, he was insane, and to this day he’s one of the greatest wrestlers. So that was the biggest difference in the early days, he was always special from the get-go.

–Did that breed a little resentment between the two of you?

Finlay: Yes. Yeah, a little bit. I think I’ve always resented Will because of that. Then Will, he and I had a singles match in the New Japan Cup, and that ate at me until our G1 match because I felt I was so close to beating him. I knew I could do it, I knew I could. I knew how good he is, but I knew I could do it. But he beat me, he goes on to win the New Japan Cup, and goes on to be the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. I knew from that moment that I am good enough to be the champion, because I was so close to beating Will then. Now I have the opportunity to dethrone him. I’ve proven I can do it, I’ve proven I can beat him. So he’s in for a fight for sure.

–You said after that New Japan Cup match that if you were able to be in the G1 that you would come into the tournament tougher and you would be able to beat Ospreay. Perhaps that might have been foreshadowing at the time, maybe if things had worked out differently with the pandemic and whatnot you might have been in the G1 last year but you were in this year instead. What kind of happened in that intervening, what 18 months or so?

Finlay: I wasn’t able to make it to Japan in ’21 due to COVID restrictions and travel, so I was stuck wrestling in the States. Which is great, you know I love wrestling in the States, but I am busiest when I’m in Japan. Will was able to make it into Japan, so he was getting those reps in. As soon as he started the United Empire, and he’s really come into his own in terms of who he thinks he is. 

For me though, I wasn’t able to you know, get my  training in the ring in front of people but that didn’t really matter because in the States, for a while we were wrestling in front of nobody, Japan they were wrestling in front of barely anybody, it didn’t matter. I was able to get in the ring with my dad, I was able to just, focus on the gym and I went nuts on training for 14 months straight.  I’m going to steal the show. I’m going to steal the spotlight. I want to be a main event guy. I want to be a champion. That’s what fuelled me the entire time I was gone, because I realized in the match against Ospreay I’m on the cusp of being able to achieve all that.

–Part of that transition has been being involved with NJPW STRONG, bringing crowds back there and being part of those big shows with great atmosphere over there. Was that part of the transformation for you?

Finlay: Oh yeah, absolutely. I love being part of New Japan STRONG. There’s a great roster, and if you go to a STRONG show you’re allowed to cheer as a fan, so that’s another appealing thing, I get to feel a little more adrenaline in my matches. As a young boy back in 2015, 2016 once I finished the dojo, I never really got an excursion. Even though everything you see on New Japan STRONG you can see on NJPW World, it was still like I was away from the Japanese audience. I feel like absence kinda makes the heart grow fonder, and I was able to be forgotten about a little bit. While I was gone, I could fine tune what I wanted to do, I could test stuff out in a lower pressure environment because I knew when I was back in Japan, it’s on. Everyone’s talented there, it’s just a different talent pool, so it was nice to change things up, wrestle different people, wrestle in front of different audiences.

He’s burning the candle at both ends

–To that point as well, on the run up to Forbidden Door, you wrestled Hangman Page on Dynamite.

Finlay: I really enjoyed it, it was really cool. It was my first time, doing like big time American TV wrestling. So uh, it was cool to get the opportunity to do that. I got the call from the office like three days before “hey there’s an offer for you to wrestle Hangman Page, do you wanna do it” and I was like “yeah, let’s do it”. No hesitation. He beat me unfortunately but I’d like to run that back with him.

 –Will Ospreay has been very active in AEW. it seems like he has so many irons in different fires. Is that his strength or is it an advantage to you that Will Ospreay is at risk of being more distracted going into Kobe?

Finlay: I’m kind of hoping that it plays into my favour, because in my opinion he’s burning the candle at both ends. You know, he’s in Japan, he’s in England, he’s in the States, he’s moving around all over the place. Which is great for him, I’m sure he’s making a lot of money right now, he’s a very busy man. But he is human. He’s gifted, but he’s human. And I hope he is very much burning the candle at both ends, because I want to beat him.

–The IWGP US Championship has that lineage of perhaps the best that have come through the doors in the last five years, from Kenny to Jay, Juice, then Moxley, Cody Rhodes, KENTA, SANADA and now Ospreay. What’s your impression of the US title and the lineage it’s carried over the last five years?

Finlay: I remember the tournament for the championship. I believe the finals was Ishii against Kenny Omega and it was one of the most hard hitting fights I’d ever seen. From there any defence that’s happened, no matter who the champion is, it’s always a war. I mean it’s a fight, it’s a prestigious championship.

Now I may have been born in Germany, and my family may be Irish, but I grew up in the States. I’ve been here since I was four years old, my accent is American, and I consider this home. So to be the champion of where I consider home is something I’ve sought after for a long time.

I’ve tried and failed multiple times with the US Championship. I feel that’s the title I’ve had the most chances at and the one that’s eluded me the most. I just want to bring that big red championship back with me to Atlanta Georgia.

–The US title has been mired in a bit of a fog over the last 12 months or so, with quick defences, KENTA being injured, SANADA winning the belt and having to vacate, Juice with the whole appendicitis stuff. To bring the lineage up to the current day, how do you feel about the title over the last year or so and how would you bring stability to that title scene?

Finlay: I mean you say that but I feel like we’re still at risk, because Ospreay’s kidneys were failing him a couple months ago. Anything can happen, it feels like that title is a little snake bit. But rest assured, I am in perfect health, there’s nothing you need to worry about there. I’ll defend it every single time.

As for the lineage, I hope that Ospreay is 100%. I know I said I hope he’s burning the candle at both ends, but I want the Ospreay that was in the G1 Climax finals against Okada. That’s the guy I want to beat. I don’t want some medical problem to come up and have a match against someone who didn’t deserve a title shot and say ‘oh, well, who’s gonna be the champion?’ No. I wanna beat the champion. I feel like I want it to be undeniable, definitive, I am the champion.

That was my way of getting his attention

–You beat Juice in the G1, took the belt, and then returned it to Ospreay after you beat him in the G1. You had made the point that this is down payment to rent space in his head. Are you in Will Ospreay’s head now? A month removed, do you feel like you still have that advantage?

Finlay: Absolutely. Absolutely I am. I went, and I got Will’s United States Championship from Juice, beat Will and hand delivered it to him and I told him. Remember, you are hanging on to my belt. Every time you look at it, every time you touch it, every time you put it on, remember that’s David Finlay’s belt.  

I beat him, I beat him in 15 minutes. In a G1 main event. Did anyone else beat Will Ospreay that quickly? I don’t think so. So yeah, I’m in his head, and I took the title to get in his head, obviously, because he beat me before, and I needed to do something. Sometimes talking isn’t enough, you have to do something to get someone’s attention, and that was my way of getting his attention. I think now he hears me loud and clear.

–Obviously once you win the belt, you’ve got to hold on to it, keep it and project an image as champion. How do you see yourself as US Champion in terms of how your schedule might look like? Do you want to defend that title on STRONG, head into AEW perhaps, or focus on Japan and New Japan?

Finlay: Yes to all three of those things. I think if there’s a big STRONG show, then the US title should be defended. Because we’d be in the country that I am the champion of. The championship needs to be defended. If anyone in AEW wants a shot then absolutely- I am the champion of America. And I think it needs to be defended in Japan as well because I represent America. So yeah, I’d take on all comers, and defend it as many times as I can. Not only do I want to be the champion, I want all the records. I want the most defences, I want to hold it the longest, beat the most people, you name it. I want to hold onto it and be a fighting, defending champion.

–And do you have a specific opponent in mind that you’d want for that first defence or one of those first defences?

Finlay: I think right off the bat I’d want to face Shingo again. He’s the only guy out of the three that I beat, Juice Will and him that I didn’t beat definitively. I caught him- still got the two points, that’s all that matters, the record will show that I beat Shingo Takagi, but I would like to beat him definitively and I’m sure he would like to lose definitively as well.

I said to expect me, here I am

–It seems like as soon as the last bell rings to end the G1, everyone’s mind is now already on Tokyo Dome season.

Finlay: yep.

— What does the Tokyo Dome mean to you as someone who came through our system, and though you’re not Japanese, you came up and was raised through the Dojo in Noge? What does the Tokyo Dome mean?

Finlay: The Tokyo Dome is like the pinnacle stadium of Japanese wrestling to me. It’s where all the biggest things happen, it’s Wrestle Kingdom, the lights don’t get brighter, the show doesn’t get bigger. If you want to make history, that’s the place to do it, absolutely. So yeah, I would like to be heading into Wrestle Kingdom as the champion. I don’t have a pick for who the challenger should be, as I said I would like to face Shingo again, but at that point, I’m the champion, so I don’t call people out- people are gunning for me.

–From the, the G1 press conference you started using ‘expect me’ as a catchphrase. People obviously came to appreciate what that meant during the G1, but why did that line pop in your head, and why was that important to you over the last two months or so?

Finlay: That goes all the way back to 2019 when Juice and I won World Tag League. I’d just come back from injury, it was my first tour back, my first full tour back. Juice and I had been telling people for a while about how we felt we were the best tag team, we were going to win the whole thing. We surprised everybody winning World Tag League, nobody expected it whatever, we moved on. Fast forward, New Japan Cup, I told everybody hey, I can beat these guys, I can make it pretty deep. I went on a bracket buster run. Nobody thought I would make it to the semifinals. I beat Chase Owens, whatever, beat YOSHI-HASHI, whatever, but the real one was I beat Jay White. Nobody expected that would happen, I knew I could, still everyone was surprised.

Then fast forward to the G1 and again everyone’s counting me out. I’d proved myself again and again, but people still don’t catch on. I was tired of people were like ‘oh wow I never expected that’ So I was like, stop being surprised, stop saying it’s unexpected. I am good, I am the real deal. That’s why you should expect me.

–Your final thoughts before facing Will Ospreay in Kobe.

Finlay: Will, the time has come, the day has come! I am the next IWGP United States Champion and there is nothing that you or the rest of the United Empire can do about it. I told you to expect me- here I am.