Super Jr. Tag League winners speak
The first of eight championship matches at Wrestle Kingdom 17 will see the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at stake, Catch 2/2 defending against Super Jr. tag league winners YOH and Lio Rush. The CHAOS duo’s first match as a tandem was against TJP and Francesco Akira, and saw them fall in defeat; but discounting a loss to SHO and Dick Togo of HOUSE OF TORTURE that was heavily marred by interference, it was also the only clean loss they suffered all tournament. With trophies in their possession and driven to take the tag belts, we spoke to YOH and Lio about their big championship test just days away.
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Teaming with him vibed with me on an emotional level
–First of all, congratulations once again on your Super Jr. Tag League win. Can you tell us how you felt immediately after your victory?
Rush: I’m feeling a lot of emotions. I feel like this is a moment in my career that I’m very proud of. A real high point for me professionally. I worked so hard for this through injuries and surgeries, and I’m really overwhelmed by emotion. I’m trying to live in the moment, and soak it in because I know in a few weeks, we have the biggest match that the both of us have had in our careers together. So it’s enjoying the moment but also preparing for Wrestle Kingdom.
YOH: I’m really glad we got the tour over!
–It was a long one.
YOH: It was. About a month ago I met Lio in New York, and then we were all of a sudden a team for this tag league. I’d won the trophies three times before already, been IWGP Junior Tag Champion, so I had that confidence, but I didn’t know how me and Lio were going to gel as a team, and that was exciting, actually.
–It felt fresh for you.
YOH: Right. Actually getting in the ring with him was inspiring, it was a lot of fun, and it reminded me that pro-wrestling can be enjoyable, you know? So teaming with Lio vibed with me on an emotional level as well as the ring, and it all led to us going to the finals. It’s a moment in my career I can be so proud of, and I’m so grateful for him. We’ve both come through similar adversity as well, in terms of bouncing back physically and mentally from injury, and that’s just another factor to where we’re both so much stronger together.
We’re both fighters
–It certainly felt in your first match together that you hadn’t quite got those combinations down…
Lio: I definitely feel like in the beginning of the tournament, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to work together. We knew that we had a similar goal, but I don’t think we entirely knew how we were going to get there.
YOH: Like that rolling double team, we just gave it a shot and missed pretty big (laughs)
YOH: Like a rolling stone (laughs).
Lio: I think me and YOH are similar in a lot of ways in terms of persevering and not giving up. We’re both fighters in and out of the ring, and I think that alone drove us to want to get better, to become a stronger team, win lose or draw.
–Lio, you mentioned you’re similar in and out of the ring, and you’re both very creative individuals as well.
YOH: Right, I was surprised to learn he made all his entrance music. But the more we’re together the more I realise we feel the same about things. It isn’t just a superficial similarity. He gets me and how I think, and we’re able to communicate non verbally. I think I’ve undergone a lot of change over the last year and to have him there to help me find what I want to be in the ring is pretty awesome.
–You went through a lot of ups and downs over the last year.
YOH: I did. I think this year has broadened who I am as a wrestler, and to end it with a definitive result means that all in all it’s been a good year in my opinion.
I’ve always wanted a partner to go through the same things I do in the business
–You said that this was the biggest moment in your career to date.
Lio: Yes. I’ve always felt like with other big milestones in my career, they’ve come with a bittersweet type of feeling. But coming here to New Japan was something I’d always wanted to do even before I signed with WWE. So I feel much more fulfilled, and I accomplished something that was my destiny. I’ve always felt I wanted a partner to go through the same things I do in the business, and I’m glad I’ve found that with YOH. I think we’ve gained a strong friendship and mutual respect, and these trophies are a testament to how strong our bond is.
–So now you face Catch 2/2 at Wrestle Kingdom. Your thoughts on the champions?
YOH: TJP and Akira…You see how good they are in that ring. They’re magicians, they really are. They just seem to flow from one move to the next. But we first faced them in our first match as a team, and we progressed from there to win the league. So we got better and better as a team. So us now is a very different prospect to the team that faced them in that first league match. I’m as confident as I can be against TJP and that… all I can see is Harry Potter (laughs).
Lio: Like YOH said, really. I’m no stranger to TJP. I didn’t wrestle him in WWE, but I saw him and how good he is. When it comes to a wrestling style he is very well rounded. When people ask me about my style, I always say I’m a fighter. I can adapt to anything that TJP will throw at us. My biggest challenge at Wrestle Kingdom is controlling my emotions.
YOH: Right, like at the finals (laughs).
Lio: I thought I was done with Chris Bey and the high emotions, but then Akira likes to get in people’s head with how much he likes to talk. That makes me pretty angry, so I feel my biggest test will be controlling myself and that anger, staying focused on the tag at hand.
This is the start of a new story for the both of us
–Akira had tried to suggest you might betray YOH.
Lio: Like I said, Akira likes to play mind games, and he wants to win the game before we step on the field. But we’ve been through that test at the finals, and we’ve overcome it. So I believe we’ll do it again.
YOH: I’ve had experience with tag team partners betraying me…
Lio: Me too..
YOH: See, we understand one another. Two jilted partners (laughs).
Lio: I have experience with different tag partners through my career, but I’ve never experienced a bond like I have with YOH. My other teams didn’t last very long, but I think that comes down to me not really knowing who I was fully. Coming into NJPW has awakened something in me that I’ve been looking for for a long time.
–So, YOH, to circle back to those Harry Potter comments…
YOH: Well, I was on a high from winning, and I was also a bit beaten up. So I get back had a sip of beer, and it tasted like butter beer. Now here comes Akira and it felt like it was all magic. Anyway, I think that I got under his skin.
–That match of course will be in the Tokyo Dome. How do you anticipate that experience will be?
Lio: It’s the biggest fight feel I’ve experienced in my life. This is more than just a comeback story for me, it’s a direct line at showing us what fate is. Me and YOh have fought so hard to get to this point, and I feel like everything happens for a reason. I think we were supposed to lose to Catch 2/2 in that first match; it was supposed to show us what that moment felt like, it was supposed to motivate us to learn and grow and come back to that same match and show them what a huge loss at Wrestle Kingdom feels like.
–YOH, you’ve been in the Tokyo Dome several times, but does it feel different this time?
YOH: Well, I think when Lio and I got together in New York, that was the start of a new story for me and the both of us. It’s a different deal entirely to Roppongi 3K. That era for me was a chance for me to really grow, develop and gain experience. In 3K, a lot of my energy was spent finding who I should be in there. SHO had a very defined power character, and I wanted to contrast that. But when he turned his back on me and that team, that was the start of me properly developing and becoming a complete wrestler.
–As we finish up here, Lio, we hear you like sushi?
Lio: I love sushi. (laughs)
–Do you often go together?
YOH: We went to this place together, sat down, and… Lio’s this lean, shredded guy right? I thought he would have a bit of sushi, a little sashimi and that would be fine for him. But he just kept eating and eating! And me being the one footing the bill, him the guest…but in the end if it all helped us winning the trophies, then all’s well that ends well. Maybe I’ll treat him just the once a year (laughs).
–Maybe after you win the titles?
Lio: Just please, no octopus (laughs). I like the egg. My favourite is shrimp, and seared tuna.
YOH: You’re a man of taste.
–Is it different from sushi in the States?
Lio: Yeah. It’s fresher here. LA is good, but Japan is much better!