On October 10, TV Asahi hosted a press conference to make the first match for Wrestle Kingdom 12 official: Tetsuya Naito will challenge the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada.
It’s just like it’s been the last few years. I defended the IWGP title in the middle of the ring in Ryogoku, the Tokyo Dome main event was set, and now I’m here again. It’s become a routine. It’s been four years since I faced Naito in the Tokyo Dome. A lot has changed in that time, and I think the IWGP Champion and the G1 Climax winner are going to have one hell of a match in the Tokyo Dome.
Last night, I asked the Ryogoku fans. I asked them ‘Are you ok with Kazuchika Okada versus Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP title in the main event of the Tokyo Dome January 4?’
Well, the reaction of those fans tells the story. And nobody else showed up and butted in. So it’s unanimous.
Still, January 4 is nearly three months away. The match is official, but I’m not looking at the Tokyo Dome yet. There’s still a bunch of shows, a bunch of matches. If I, or if New Japan, turn all their focus to the Tokyo Dome, that’s respectful to all the people that come out and see us for the rest of the year. Of course, Wrestle Kingdom 12 is a huge deal, but NJPW would do well to remember a certain word. Of course- tranquilo. Asssssen na yo.
The main event of the Tokyo Dome is a real goal of mine, but until then, I want to imagine what the view’s like from that ring, and enjoy the wait.
Questions from the press
–Yesterday, Okada made his eighth successive defence of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against EVIL. In his words, he is so good that the fans were booing him. What do you think about Okada’s dominance?
Naito: He won the belt from me last June in Osaka. So he’s held it, defended it for one year and four months. That isn’t something that happens by chance. He is an incredible talent, and that’s why he’s still champion. And I watch his matches from time to time. The fans love the matches, and there’s no doubt he is a great champion. He’s absolutely a fitting opponent for me.
But when it comes to the boos he’s gotten recently; yeah, he says it’s because he’s so good, and yeah, maybe that’s part of it. But I’m not sure that’s the only reason. As someone who used to be booed up and down the whole country, I’m not so sure it’s just because he’s too good. Well, the real answer is something you don’t realise until later down the road. In the meantime, if he thinks it’s because he’s so great, then I’ll let him.
–What do you think about Naito’s charisma, and the popularity he has right now?
Okada: It’s amazing. He’s very charismatic, he has the fans in the palm of his hand and buying LIJ shirts. I respect all of that, and it does feel that him going up against me could give rise to something really new and exciting.
–How does it feel to finally be in the Tokyo Dome main event?
Naito: I think with the ability I have, and the influence I’ve attained, it’s the natural place for me. You heard it in the reaction last night, and the reactions all over the country. In NJPW, and Japanese wrestling in general, Wrestle Kingdom is the biggest event, and there’s nobody better for that main event than Tetsuya Naito and Los Ingobernables De Japon.
–Why do you think LIJ are so popular right now?
Okada: I think it really all comes from Naito. His leadership, with his charisma and popularity, that’s something that gets passed down to the whole group.
–This will be your fourth consecutive Tokyo Dome main event, and Naito’s first ever. Is there a difference there that you want to show to Naito?
Okada: Well, I’ve been in the main event any number of times, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I managed to win in that spot. The Tokyo Dome is different to any other arena, and it’s not easy to produce results there. That’s something Naito will be experiencing for the first time.
–January 4 isn’t just a fixture on the calendar of Japanese fans, but fans worldwide as well. Do you have a message for the foreign fans?
Naito: Right now, you can watch wrestling from any number of countries, and we’ll be broadcasting worldwide on NJPW World. That’s why Naito versus Okada is the only right match. That’s why Los Ingobernables De Japon and Tetsuya Naito is the only right choice. I want everyone all over the world who says they like pro wrestling to have their eyes on us January 4. Whether you’re in the building, or watching on NJPW World at home, I want everyone to join us, and at the end of the night, for the biggest audience in history to cheer along with me.
Okada: If I’m being honest, I think Naito isn’t the best opponent when it comes to the worldwide audience. As a wrestler, I don’t think he can resonate with people all over the world. Kenny this year was better in that respect. But that Los Ingobernables fever, might help me bring this match to a worldwide audience.
–Okada said earlier that the main event in the Tokyo Dome is different from any other arena. What’s your response to that?
Naito: Granted, I’ve never main evented the Tokyo Dome.. well, if you count that meaningless double main event four years ago then I was in a main event, but I wasn’t the last match. The Tokyo Dome is bigger than any other building, there’s more people than any other building. But what I show people in that ring, it doesn’t matter if there’s 100 people, or 30, 40, 50,000. That’s pro wrestling Los Ingobernables De Japon style. Pro wrestling Tetsuya Naito style. What I do doesn’t depend on the size of the crowd or size of the venue, so even though it’s my first time, I’m not worried at all.
–You brought up four years ago just now. Then, like now, it was G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito challenging IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada. Your thoughts on that symmetry?
Naito: My thoughts? It’s truly destino. I’ve not forgotten how crushing that night was. Now, four years on, it’s the same situation. If the rest of the card was decided already, I might have asked to do a fan vote again. I still want revenge for that. But I said last year, the main event should be for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. I don’t plan on asking for a fan vote. That’s not for any other reason than I think the main event of the Tokyo Dome should be an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match.
–You’re both absolute machines when it comes to performing at a high level. Do you feel any pressure to outdo your prior matches on January 4?
Naito: I’m here because I have confidence, because I believe in myself. If you don’t have that you don’t belong in wrestling, and certainly not New Japan Pro Wrestling. I mean, sorry, but that’s kind of a leading question. If you ask if someone’s feeling pressure, or if they have confidence or not, nobody will answer ‘oh actually I’m not so confident.’ If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t be here, and wouldn’t have won the G1. So I don’t see the point in the question.
Okada: I’m not thinking about having a good match to be honest. That thought doesn’t cross my mind. I’m focussed on keeping the IWGP title and that’s all I’m thinking about.