‘A beating your father would be proud of’: El Phantasmo interviewed

ELP speaks ahead of Dominion title bout

As Dominion fast approaches on June 4, so too does a chance at revenge for El Phantasmo. After being expelled from BULLET CLUB in violent form at Sakura Genesis, Phantasmo watched David Finlay’s dominant victory over Tama Tonga at Dontaku May 3, before taking matters into his own hands. A heated attack on Finlay was followed by a cathartic celebration with fans that seemed to indicate where his allegiances may lay in future; with lots of questions still to be answered, we sat down with the NEVER Openweight challenger.

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All those emotions came to a boil

–May 3 at Dontaku after David Finlay beat Tama Tonga to win the NEVER Openweight Championship, you attacked Finlay and celebrated with the fans in Fukuoka. With the style that you wrestle, you especially went through a lot during the pandemic, so to have that moment must have felt pretty special.

Phantasmo: It was a long time coming. You know, being there from the beginning of COVID, to have those rules finally lifted, and- no-one’s happy with what David Finlay’s doing in BULLET CLUB. The fans weren’t happy, I wasn’t happy, and you know, all those emotions over the last two and a half, three years all came to a boil. I think it was a little poetic that it all happened at Dontaku where I made my debut four years ago to have this rebirth, this refresh, and new beginnings at the same place where it all started as well.

–It was the tenth anniversary for BULLET CLUB as well. Before David Finlay expelled you from BULLET CLUB at Sakura Genesis, what was David Finlay’s BULLET CLUB to you, as opposed to Jay White’s BULLET CLUB?

Phantasmo: I didn’t really notice a big difference at first between what Finlay was doing and what Jay was doing. You know, besides the obvious camaraderie that me and Jay and Juice and Ishimori went through, that we all had. We all were on the same page, and when Finlay kicked Jay out in California… Things changed a little, but we were all going to just do our BULLET CLUB thing.

But then Finlay came in starting to y’know, boss people around. Not many of us took a liking to it, me especially. It just left a sour taste in our mouths. My mouth especially. You don’t just walk into BULLET CLUB and start bossing your seniors around.

–Juice Robinson and Jay White have since been wrestling together in AEW as BULLET CLUB Gold- what was your reaction to that?

Phantasmo: I feel very, very conflicted about that, you know. When I got kicked out of BULLET CLUB by Finlay, Ishimori and KENTA took his side, when I had thought that we could have done our own thing with BULLET CLUB. We made BULLET CLUB special in the last few years, and to have that all get kicked out and taken away from you, and to have Jay and Juice restart BULLET CLUB Gold in AEW…

On the one hand, I want to move away from BULLET CLUB and start fresh, but on the other hand, I’ve got what my boys are doing in AEW. We still have that connection, but I have this anti connection with New Japan (BULLET CLUB). I’m happy for what Jay and Juice are doing in AEW, but my focus is on Finlay, and Ishimori and KENTA and what’s going on in Japan.

Then again, everyone knows it’s Forbidden Door season now. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, Jay doesn’t know what’s gonna happen, Finlay doesn’t know what’s gonna happen, I don’t think anyone knows what’s gonna happen. But I have a hunch that something’s gonna happen.

–Ishimori and KENTA joined David Finlay in kicking you out of BULLET CLUB at Sakura Genesis. It was just over a year earlier that you joined BULLET CLUB in kicking out Tama Tonga. Have you had time to reflect on what happened to Tama in the wake of you being kicked out?

Phantasmo: Huh, I guess it is kinda ironic when you put it that way, I guess I never thought about that. Back then that was a, you know, it was a group decision that Tama’s time in BULLET CLUB was up and we were going to kick him out. That’s what Jay thought was best, that’s what me and Ishimori that was best at the time, and KENTA. Everybody.

Then, a year later, I thought it was best that we did our thing and brought Finlay down a couple of rungs on the ladder. I guess instead it was a group decision that they, didn’t need me anymore. That kind of stings, you know. Me and Ishimori had been through so much together. We never really fought at all. We were the ying and yang in the junior division. I thought me, him and KENTA could have done something very special, but it was not to be.

–Ever since Finlay joined BULLET CLUB, Gedo has had the nickname ‘Bloody Hands’. How was your relationship with Gedo in BULLET CLUB, and what influence does he have on Finlay?

Phantasmo: Gedo’s a bit of an enigma. I think he’s a leech who latches on to talent. You can’t discredit that Gedo has a great mind for this business- he saw greatness in Okada and in Jay, and now, I guess he sees it in Finlay. He obviously sees something, and his track record proves for himself, but… I don’t agree with a lot of what Gedo does, I never have.

I think he’s a little snake. And I think… We never got to see Gedo and Jado one on one. That’s what I wanted to see this whole time, what the fans wanted to see this whole time but it never happened. Somehow we’ve gotta make that happen. Gedo and Jado in a New Japan ring one on one, huh? You like that?

I was watching New Japan Pro-Wrestling, not BULLET CLUB Pro-Wrestling

–When you showed up at Dontaku you pointed to the Lion Mark on your shorts, but you haven’t said it- can we consider you a part of Hontai now?

Phantasmo: Uh, that’s something I haven’t really thought of- I’m still dealing with the lingering effects of being booted out of BULLET CLUB. That’s the only identity that I’ve ever known in New Japan.     

But to be honest, when I was 18 years old, sitting in my bedroom alone on Friday nights, I was watching New Japan Pro-Wrestling. I wasn’t watching BULLET CLUB Pro-Wrestling. When, when I was getting serious about being a pro-wrestler, and I wanted to get to the big stage, that ‘big stage’ was New Japan Pro-Wrestling, not BULLET CLUB. That path led me to BULLET CLUB, which is hands down one of the most influential factions of all time, but when you wrestle in New Japan Pro-Wrestling that means you are one of the very best professional wrestlers on the planet, and.. I don’t know whether Hontai will welcome me with open arms. And there are fans that want to see me in LIJ, and there’s CHAOS, there’s TMDK, there’s a lot of options. But right now I’m kinda happy to be representing that Lion Mark, and I wear these blue shorts with pride right now.

What does a BULLET CLUB-less ELP look like? To be honest, you’re gonna have to find out in Osaka. 

–Let’s talk a little bit about David Finlay as a wrestler. His approach in the ring of late, as well as Clark Connors in BOSJ has been very aggressive and very effective. What do you expect out of Finlay out of Dominion, and what can we expect to be different about you in the ring now BULLET CLUB’s behind you?

Phantasmo: Yeah, that is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. What does a BULLET CLUB-less ELP look like? To be honest, you’re gonna have to find out in Osaka. 

You know I’ve gotta give him credit- David Finlay has become a savage. I watched him lay a beating to Tama Tonga that I could only dream of giving him myself. Clark Connors is built like a rhinoceros, he is a savage. Is ELP a savage? No I don’t think so. I’m not, I’m not built like that. 

But I don’t think that David Finlay realizes what he’s about to get into when he steps into big match ELP in Osaka. You were there when we were in Osaka and the fans got behind me when I wasn’t wanting them to. I can’t imagine how electric Osaka-Jo Hall is going to be when me and Finlay finally step in the ring. He’s going to bring a savageness, but at Osaka Jo Hall, David Finlay is going to get an ass beating that his father would be proud of. 

–You’ve had a complicated relationship with the fans over the years, and we’ve seen you too sweet with kids and take their hats off and throw them into the crowd. What message do you have for the fans in Osaka?

Phantasmo: I think it’s a very interesting position that I’m in right now, because this has all happened organically. I haven’t stopped throwing people’s hats, I haven’t stopped antagonizing the fans, but through this whole pandemic, they’ve seen me sacrifice and suffer just as much as they did. I haven’t asked them to cheer for me, but they have and they want to. You know, the stars kind of aligned with Finlay kicking me out of BULLET CLUB and me seeking revenge on Finlay. They hate Finlay and now they like me… and all the stars have aligned and it’s kinda cool that it’s happened this way.

But you know, to be fair, I don’t think I have stopped throwing those hats. Maybe I’ll have to go find the BULLET CLUB hats and throw them into the crowd. But through this whole pandemic I’ve seen the ELP towels, I’ve seen ELP signs. I was there at Korakuen when the ELP chants were louder than the Naito chants. This has all happened very organically and I can’t wait to come out there in Osaka Jo Hall with a refreshed look, a refreshed theme song, a refreshed attitude and a building full of people just begging me to whoop Finlay’s ass.