Ite Lemalu’s TAMASHII focus: Andrew Vilalobos reflects on KENTA battle

Ite speaks to the recent Young Lion graduate

Watch TAMASHII night one (hard cam only) from Christchurch, or night two from Sydney Australia now!


The road to New Japan Tamashii has been an arduous journey for the NZ Dojo. For Andrew Villalobos, a stalwart of Bad Luck Fale’s pride, his journey has
required four years of discipline, patience, and diligence. So how gratifying was it for the NZ Dojo prospect, to have the honour of wrestling against Bullet
Club’s KENTA in the main event of the inaugural Tamashii show?

KENTA has recently been carrying the New Japan flag when appearing on NJPW STRONG, competing alongside the wrestlers of New Japan Pro-Wrestling
of America. Likely, his most notable match on this brand, in parallel to New Japan Tamashii was in the opening match that helped launch the STRONG brand
in 2020. To show his support for the NZ Dojo and the Tamashii brand, KENTA flew for more than thirty hours, across multiple flights and time zones, arriving in
Christchurch, New Zealand on the eve of the Tamashii card. Villalobos awaited calmly with anticipation.

“I stayed composed, being a good tourist, enjoying my time with the team, and getting a weights session in at the local gym,” said Villalobos, having arrived a
full day before. “Anytime I would think about the show or KENTA, it would stress me out. I kept that type of stuff out of my mind until the day of the show
and avoided anything Tamashii related to keep my mind at ease.”

As time drew near to the show, Villalobos eased into his preparations. “I became laser-focused on the match, staying cool but also energised keeping
my body warm and mobile,” Villalobos described of his routine, fit for a high-level athletic event. Unlike any of Villalobos’ past NJPW matches, this would be his very first singles encounter as well as his first main event. Villalobos also graduated from a Young Lion that night; to signify the milestone, the proud NZ Dojo prospect
from Sydney, Australia, debuted wearing red trunks, breaking away from the traditional black trunks he had worn as a young lion since his first NJPW match
in 2019.

“I knew I had to prove not only to myself that I was ready, but I also had to prove to the team that this was the standard we are looking for at NZ Dojo,”
said Villalobos. Keeping to his word that he would represent his family, his countries, and Dojo, Villalobos pounced on his opportunity.

“During the match, I was totally immersed in the moment. I wanted to perform my best on that night,” Villalobos fearlessly stood his ground against KENTA.
Villalobos utilised his large stature to send the former IWGP US Champion retreating outside the ring to reassess his approach. KENTA, the wily veteran,
took his time, breaking Villalobos’ momentum, by interacting with the ringside fans and gesturing smiles at the NZ Dojo representative.

Angered at KENTA’s dismissive behaviour, Villalobos roared at the Bullet Club member to return to the squared circle. As the match progressed, Villalobos leaned on certain moves from his arsenal such as the butterfly suplex, the arm drag, a schoolboy roll-up, and an enzuigiri to ground his opponent.

KENTA would gain control using his experience to lure the promising prospect into a flow of holds that would stun and weaken him. Villalobos fought
valiantly to match KENTA’s intensity with a succession of forearm strikes. However, KENTA, the master striker, returned fire, dropping Villalobos to the
mat. Summoning his fighting spirit, Villalobos reengaged with a number of strikes, as well as catching KENTA off with an effective high knee strike, a move that
Villalobos rarely used was brought out of his repertoire for this occasion. Villalobos then ascended to the top rope and delivered a frog splash.
But as the main event would reach its climatic end, the might of KENTA was too great for the young Villalobos who was defeated after KENTA executed his
iconic Go2Sleep finishing move.

Villalobos may have lost the hard-fought battle, but KENTA, recognising the heart of his fallen opponent, raised Villalobos’ arm, giving the NZ Dojo prospect his blessing, much to the appreciation of the crowd that responded with a standing ovation.

“This was the most important thing I’ve done to date,” Villalobos reflected on his career highlight. “I honestly felt like I couldn’t have done any better than I
did on that night,” he continued. “That was me at 100%, I gave it everything. The emotion, the physical side – everything!”

“Now that I’ve had time to dwell and let the experience marinate, I was humbled when KENTA raised my arm, even more humbled that he called me the future.”
KENTA’s endorsement was also extended to the NZ Dojo prospects, in a tweet that he posted days following the Tamashii event, KENTA praised the prospects
of Bad Luck Fale’s pride for their humility and work ethic before urging the wrestling world to keep their sights set on the NZ Dojo.

“Since time has passed, and I’ve taken in the compliments of my Senpai and peers, we are back training at the Dojo in Auckland,” said Villalobos, making a
point not to rest on his laurels. “I was grateful for the opportunity to wrestle in the main event of the first Tamashii show,” Villalobos stated. “Tamashii would not have been possible without the efforts of NJPW and our team at the NZ Dojo, namely Fale-San, who through his many hats as a New Japan wrestler, trainer, mentor, promoter and visionary, has worked hard to create opportunities for wrestling to grow in Australia and New Zealand.”

The announcement of the 2023 Oceania Cup which will be held in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia will help ensure these possibilities. “The Oceania Cup is another vision of Fale-San’s will be the next step in opening doors for wrestling Down Under to prosper and flourish,” Villalobos said in closing. “It’s very exciting to have something like this happening, and I’m looking forward to not only taking part, but taking over Tamashii!”