The CEO’s first long form NJPW interview
From record NJPW World viewers to a near instant sellout of Battle in the Valley in San Jose, one can’t overestimate how far Mercedes Moné has moved the needle with her debut at Wrestle Kingdom 17. As her February 18 battle with KAIRI looms larger, we spoke to the ‘CEO’ of female competition in NJPW and STARDOM about her plans for both companies and beyond.
It feels so great to be excited about wrestling again
–Now we’re a few weeks removed from it, how do you feel about that debut at Wrestle Kingdom 17?
Mercedes: I’m still trying to recover from it all (laughs). It takes a while to recover after you come back from Japan, an I’m still getting tagged in all these Wrestle Kingdom pictures, still seeing so many people’s reactions about what happened. It was two weeks ago but I’m still taking it in.
–Have you watched the debut back yet?
Mercedes: No, I still haven’t! I still haven’t had the chance to, but it’s still taking time to feel real, because it’s been such a dream of mine. Not only to perform and wrestle in Japan, but to be in the Tokyo Dome. When I was 12, 13 I used to watch All Japan Women’s wrestling, and I used to see those matches in the Tokyo Dome.
–The ’94 Dream Slam card.
Mercedes: It was so big for me. To see the crowd’s reactions to seeing those women wrestle, it was like ‘wow, I want that someday’. To fast forward to this being my first moment in wrestling in 2023, and to make such a statement for evolving myself from being a boss to being a CEO. I’m so excited to be part of a group that’s so hungry. It’s a star in my heart, and it feels so great to be excited about wrestling again.
I’m ready to shock myself
–We had record numbers watching Wrestle Kingdom 17, and rumours about you being a part of the event could certainly have led to a lot of people curious to give it a try. What you can’t argue is that the moment your match with KAIRI was announced, San Jose Civic instantly all but sold out for Battle in the Valley. After gambling on yourself like you have, was this vindication for you in a way?
Mercedes: Personally, I always knew I was going to make an impact here. But it’s cool to see how quick it was, the turnaround to go from another name and character I’ve done for ten years to now be Mercedes Moné, and to see that instantly trend… just people obviously caring and wanting to see my match with KAIRI was cool. For it to sell out with that match being the only thing announced at that time was amazing. I know my fans always love and support me, so I knew it was going to do well, but it was kind of a shock to see how quickly it went that well.
–So you’re ready for February 18 now.
Mercedes: I’m absolutely ready for February 18. Waiting for January 4, I don’t know if you can call it an anxiety attack, but I had so many nerves, and such excitement for that appearance. Now that’s over with I’m really excited to have my first match all over again, and to do it for New Japan. I haven’t been excited for a match like this in a long long time, and I’m ready to shock the world. I’m ready to shock myself to be honest, to see what kind of magic KAIRI and I can create in that ring.
This has been a dream literally since I was a teenager
–What was the thought process like to take the jump to Japan after WWE?
Mercedes: I’ve been working every single day since I left there. I’ve been making movies, making TV shows, magazines, modelling, I haven’t stopped. But wrestling has always been my number one love, and there was no soul searching involved in coming back to wrestling. I went to Mexico for a month in October and lived there.
–To train lucha libre?
Mercedes: I went to all different wrestling schools to learn from trainers that I had grown up watching; from Skayde to Ricky Marvin to Bandido, there are so many legends there to learn from. To train at that altitude as well, it gets you ready from a conditioning perspective so much faster as well. But yeah, I was ready in October, and I knew coming to Japan was exactly what I wanted. I was shooting a movie in between training in Mexico then, but I knew I was going to Japan to train in December whether it was doing something with New Japan or not. When it all came together with NJPW though for Wrestle Kingdom it was ‘wow, OK, this is really happening’. This has been a dream literally since I was a teenager.
–What was that introduction to Japanese wrestling like? I think you’re too young to be trading tapes, but maybe a little before YouTube?
Mercedes: A little bit before YouTube, yeah. It was right when YouTube started to come out, but there were all these different internet forums and places to watch matches while you were scared about getting computer viruses (laughs). So I would do that, looking up matches from different forums online.
–To get involved in wrestling, or purely as a fan at that point?
Mercedes: To get involved; I always knew I wanted to be involved in the wrestling business, and it was through being online at the time that I learned there was more than just WWE, there was independent wrestling and Mexican wrestling, and Germany, and then joshi wrestling.
I’m ready to f**king go
–And that was the switch flipping for you?
Mercedes: That’s what really showed me that it was possible to live this dream. Seeing Manami Toyota and Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, all these hard hitting matches, and it was like ‘wait, there are matches where women are outperforming and having better matches than the men?’ They were hitting just as hard as the men, having these 30 minute long five star matches. I was so amazed by them that Japan became my number one goal even before WWE. So I managed to achieve what I wanted to achieve in WWE, and now I get to live out this international dream.
–You want a real world tour.
Mercedes: I’ve been saying ‘Moné makes the world go round’, and I mean that. I’m thrilled to start this in Japan, and with NJPW and STARDOM. STARDOM, to me, has the best women’s wrestlers in the world, and I really want to cement my legacy with my wrestling fans, to cement my name with the greatest of all time. I’m ready to f**king go.
–Bull Nakano once said about her time in the WWF in the 1990s that it was ‘like coming to a place with a CD when all people had was tape decks’. You were part of a movement that really changed the perception of women’s wrestling in WWE and across the US in the last decade; how important was the Japanese presence at that time?
Mercedes: They have a huge influence. The Japanese style of wrestling is legit like no other. They’re the most hard hitting, they’re the fastest, they can go non-stop. ASUKA is a huge testament to that, as someone ’ho’s been doing this so long and travelling non-stop. Io (Shirai) had really made a name for herself even before she came to the United States. Same for KAIRI, you heard about these Japanese names before they got picked up in WWE because their work is so incredible and resonates around the world.
It’s like you always hear about Manami Toyota, because her influence extends not just to worldwide women’s wrestling, but men as well, because she was so fearless, so innovative. So the joshi style has definitely influenced not just women’s wrestling in the States, but wrestling period, and it continues to.
I’m really excited to be a part of STARDOM
–The US and Japanese approach to women’s wrestling has been almost completely opposite over the years. In the States, the philosophy is a mixed card with one or two women’s matches, so it was seen as a big step for you to be on an all women pay per view. In Japan, traditionally there are men’s promotions and women’s promotions, and Historic X-Over was seen as a big historic step to have a mixed card between NJPW and STARDOM. Is one approach any better than the other? Are they just different?
Mercedes: I’ve only gotten to experience WWE Evolution as an all women’s show. I’ve never been part of an all women promotion like STARDOM is, so that will be a first for me. I’ve always been mixed with the guys and sharing, what, maybe five minutes of a three hour weekly TV show. So I’m really excited to be a part of STARDOM and be a part of all women’s shows. I’m intrigued to see what it’s like and how it all works, but it’s been working for Japan for a very long time, and being involved with all these potential fresh matchups makes me excited about the future.
–KAIRI spoke about having to earn STARDOM fans’ acceptance as she came back from the US, especially with Mayu Iwatani being such a fan favourite heading into Historic X-Over. Battle in the Valley will be a home game for you, but how do you see the Japanese women’s wrestling fans reacting to you?
Mercedes: They’ve already reacted amazing so far. I’ve been tagged in so many pictures, met so many fans at the Tokyo Dome. I’m not nervous about fan reactions at all, but I’m always nervous about meeting new women.
It’s the year of Mercedes Moné, kickstarted by the greatest match of all time in San Jose
–How was the locker room reaction at the Tokyo Dome?
Mercedes: Meeting the staff and the women at Wrestle Kingdom, there was a lot of respect and acceptance right off the bat. That meant so much to me. I met a few of the STARDOM wrestlers already from coming to Japan and training with them- I always try to hop around a lot of dojos and learn from a lot of people when I’m there. I feel like doing that earns some respect I hope- I can only show the respect that I have for them, and the passion that they have for wrestling is the same that I do. I’m, not nervous, I’m excited to earn more respect from the fans and the other Japanese women. But then, if I don’t get it, hey, I’m the ‘CEO’ not them, so it doesn’t really matter (laughs).
–What went through your mind when you were waiting to go out at the Tokyo Dome, taking in the reactions for the KAIRI and Tam Nakano match?
Mercedes: Just to see their entrances alone was so cool. I still haven’t seen the match fully, but to hear the energy of the crowd was so fulfilling. They were really making noise, and there was an energy that you really had to be there to feel.
I think KAIRI and Tam are two of the best wrestlers in the world right now. They killed it. Tam is so fricking cute, she was crying non stop backstage when she came back after her match, and I was so proud of her efforts. Her and KAIRI both are two of the best in the game right now.
–Battle in the Valley won’t just be your first match with NJPW, but you’re going into your first match in, what, nine months?
Mercedes: Right? It’s like a little baby (laughs)
–Without giving too much away, what can we expect from you that might separate this phase of your career to what’s come before?
Mercedes: I think you can already see from my name alone, it’s an evolution. I’m not a boss anymore, I’m a CEO. I’m going to run every division that I step foot in. I’ve been training for this match since October, and on top of my 12 years experience already.
Like I said before, even I’m excited to see what I might do. There’s a whole new excitement and love for pro-wrestling here. It’s different dreams, different everything. This is something that you haven’t seen before because it is the first match for Mercedes Moné, but it’s also the kickstart to my year. A whole new chapter of more awards, more trophies, more ‘first time ever’s. Just a year of being the best! It’s going to be the year of Mercedes Moné, and it’ll be kickstarted by the greatest match of all time in San Jose (laughs).