On the afternoon of Wednesday August 14, a press conference from NJPW’s headquarters was held to commemorate Tetsuya Naito’s G1 Climax 27 victory. After chairman Naoki Sugabayashi signed a contract guaranteeing its bearer the right to challenge the IWGP Heavyweight champion at Wrestle Kingdom 12 on January 4 2018, Tetsuya Naito emerged to speak his mind about what transpired hours before.
Naito ‘I said as much in the ring last night, but I’m honestly grateful for all the fans for the atmosphere they all created in Ryogoku. But that’s not limited to the last match yesterday. This G1 I was able to put on amazing matches in front of amazing audiences every night. I think this was the best G1 Climax of all time.
But I have one… proposal? Or maybe a problem as winner. Something I want to happen if possible, as it relates to next year.
I want there to be a more sound selection criteria for anyone who enters the G1.
On August 11 and 12, the final group matches. There were five group matches on each night, but on the 11th, Tanahashi v Naito was the only match that decided the block. On the 12th, only Kenny and Okada. So out of 10 matches, 8 were meaningless.
That’s an issue with league matches, it can’t be helped to an extent. But it’s on the company to ensure that the fans are excited, kept on the edge of their seats until the very end, is it not? You have to raise questions over whether the choices made were the right ones, or whether 20 wrestlers was really the right number.
Recently the G1 Climax has been made up of 19 cards. Wrestlers in two blocks of ten. Nine group matches each and a final. That’s the framework that’s been laid out. It’s only after that that the company decides who goes in. “Ah, he sucks but we need to fill the blocks up so he gets in.” That’s how I felt it was this year. It should be a case of finding the absolute best of the best and only then deciding how many shows there needs to be.
Anyway, that’s just an idea, as this year’s winner to make the tournament better for all concerned. I know the company never really listens to me. If you just bear in mind that ol’ Naito had that suggestion for ya, I’d appreciate it.
So then.. this contract. This appears every year, doesn’t it? I knew I’d be getting one of these, but I didn’t know until right now that you’d go as far as to lay it out in front of me. A part of me suspected that they’d say “Naito won, so let’s nix it this year.” I gotta say, it’s kinda surprising to have this actually in front of my eyes. If I can have it, I’ll take it. But what I do with it? I think you know the answer. Of course- tranquilo- asssen na yo. That’s about it.’
Following his statement, Naito took questions from the assembled reporters.
— You won the G1 four years ago, and you talked about that 2013 victory in the ring, but taking into account the match yesterday, and the reaction from the crowd, what strikes you as the biggest difference between then and now?
Naito ‘Well, first, I think one big difference is that this time I went in as the favourite. It went as everyone expected. But to put it another way, I was the one guy the fans were rooting for the most. So this G1 Climax had a happy ending. I haven’t had all that much time to reflect on things yet. But I can say I’ve jumped on that springboard now, and I’ve done so with power. I’m on my way up. How high I’ll get? I don’t know. But the feeling of launching off that springboard is very different to how I launched myself four years ago. How high will I get? I’m excited to find out. Apart from that, the tournament’s only just finished, so I don’t know.’
–You were talking about the contract. If all goes to plan, you’ll be in the main event at the Tokyo Dome, challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Right now, that champion is Kazuchika Okada. So, Okada, the title, the main event at the Dome. Which of those three is the most important target for you?
Naito ‘Out of those three, the most important is the main event at the Tokyo Dome. I’ve never been in the main event- well, I have but it was the first of a “double main event”. Some might call it that, but if you’re the first of a “double main event” that means you’re the semi-main event. I’ve held the IWGP title. Okada.. I don’t see what makes him special, particularly. So it’s the Tokyo Dome main event that’s most attractive to me. By a long way.’
— You lost to Ishii and Fale during the group matches. Do you have anything to say about those two?
Naito ‘Well, I definitely lost. You’re right. But of those two, it’s Ishii that troubles me the most. He beat me in LA as well. So if I have to go through the whole rigamarole of defending this contract, then I’ll put an end to Ishii.
But, and I said this yesterday, if you think something and don’t open your mouth about it, it stays as an empty thought. If you have an opinion, you have to air it, or nothing gets done. If there’s anyone that wants a shot at me, at the contract, at the Tokyo Dome main event, then they need to say so. What I’m saying is the only guy I’m interested in facing is Ishii. If Fale, or anyone in B block wants a shot, they need to say what’s on their mind. That’s what I learned when I joined Los Ingobernables in Mexico. You have to speak your mind. I’m looking forward to hearing people step up.’
— Next, Tokyo Sports.
Naito ‘OK today? Got your phone on silent?’
— Yesterday you expressed your gratitude to the fans. Is that something that’s always been important to you as a wrestler, or is that something you learned in Mexico?
Naito ‘It’s something I’ve always carried with me. I grew up as a huge NJPW fan. I don’t want to forget what it’s like to be a fan, and I think out of anyone in NJPW, I know the fans best. Of course it’s a wrestler’s job to have great matches, but, that atmosphere, that amazing sensation- a wrestler can’t create that alone. That’s how I feel anyway, I’m not saying whether I’m right or wrong. And like I said, you have to speak your mind. I felt grateful and needed to say so.’
— With that in mind, and seeing the fans here all the way from Ryogoku station into the arena itself wearing LIJ shirts- it feels very reminiscent of the nWo boom in the 1990s. How do you feel being at the center of a boom period?
Naito ‘Honestly, I’m very happy. To see so many people wearing your T shirts, wearing your baseball caps, it feels amazing. But, it comes back to what I’ve said before. I know what it’s like to suffer disappointment in that ring. And I never want to forget that frustration, and keep bringing it with me. To have crowds in the palm of my hand, it makes that one word even more important- gracias.
And I hear that a lot. About nWo Japan. “Aren’t you just an nWo ripoff?” I don’t want people to think that. If anybody does I want to let them know we’re a different thing.’
–To get back to the G1, EVIL seems set to challenge Okada for the IWGP title- is that something that you’ve factored into your plans?
Naito ‘Not at all. But EVIL pinning Okada in the G1 made a huge impact. Beating Okada, in the main event at Osaka, he made a lot of people wake up to him. Just because we’re in the same unit, that doesn’t mean there’s a hierarchy, or that we should all be harmonious all the time. You have to have your eyes at the top. You have to get better so that people in the unit get better with you. That’s how a Los Ingobernables de Japon gets to a new level. We all took notice when EVIL won. It made a huge impact. And you’re talking about the IWGP title?’
— Well, nothing’s set of course, but it seems that’s the flow of things.
Naito ‘If EVIL thinks that, that’s how it should be. I have no problem with it. The important thing is that Tetsuya Naito is in the main event at the Tokyo Dome. EVIL with the title won’t change that.’
(As the conference wraps up, a telephone rings)
Naito ‘You like pulling that crap, don’t you? Are you calling yourself, Okamoto san? You want to be famous, right? You want this to be your little bit on NJPW World. You want the fans to recognise you, don’t you? You’re getting a kick out of this. You’ve got two phones, and you’re calling yourself. That’s cute. This is Tetsuya Naito’s press conference. Can you please know your place a little better? You can stream yourself on Periscope or something to do your comedy bits.’
— You’re a little harsh today..
Naito ‘You’re asking for it aren’t you? You think you’re the business.’
–Thank you to the reporters and viewers on NJPW World