Voyage of Discovery: Ryohei Oiwa’s venture to NOAH

Oiwa on his excursion to NOAH

One of the surprising stories to emerge from the end of the G1 Climax earlier in August was a budding relationship between Young Lion Ryohei Oiwa and NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya. What started as a makeshift pairing for Kiyomiya after his group exit from the tournament quickly became a solid tandem, and after the G1 Climax final, Kiyomiya extended an invitation to Oiwa to join him in the emerald green. Oiwa accepted, and decalred that when he returned from his loan period to NOAH, he would be a Young Lion no more. 

A domestic excursion of sorts, it’s a unique way for Oiwa to graduate from his Dojo days. Yet Oiwa, a physical specimen that will clearly trend to the heavyweight ranks, and one making this break in his career a mere two years after his in ring debut, doesn’t seem to be shy to break moulds. We spoke to the young man about his new ventures to come.

I can still feel the effects of that power 

–So, you made your debut on August 24 in 2021, and now here you are heading to NOAH two years on. How do you feel looking back on these last two years?

Oiwa: My whole first year I was busy enough trying to wrestle as much as I can and learn as much as I can when I was seconding wrestlers to the ring. It’s been a steady process, but bit by bit I’ve been able to have a clearer idea of the way I like to wrestle and now I’ve been able to head to NOAH with Kiyomiya.

–How did life in the Noge Dojo suit you?

Oiwa: The life was fine… the training was rough. I was 98 (216 lbs) kilos when I joined the Dojo, but I was down to 90 (198 lbs) by the time I debuted.

–So you lost a lot of weight.

Oiwa: I wasn’t exactly planning to lose weight, but that’s just the way it happened (laughs).

–Kosei Fujita told us about how tough the bumps were on your first day.

Oiwa: Oh yeah. I was used to amateur wrestling where you’re trying to never fall on your back because you’ll lose points to your opponent that way. So that was really tough, and so was running the ropes; my back was covered in bruises.  

–Fujita said you two were pretty good roommates? You didn’t get in each other’s way at all it seems. 

Oiwa: The training was so tough every day, neither of us had the energy left over to fight- we’d just crash after training all the time.

–How about life on the road?

Oiwa: Ups and downs- travelling around Japan and checking out different towns was definitely cool, but the matches finishing and then having to do all those chores, all that laundry, not sleeping was all pretty tough.

–You debuted right in the middle of the pandemic, and not having the fans cheering you vocally. Was that difficult at times for you?

Oiwa: I mean, when I debuted that was all I knew as a wrestler, so it wasn’t an issue for me, but when we did get those cheers back for the first time (September 6 2022)I really felt glad that I chose this path for myself. It definitely would be difficult to go back after having those cheers.

–Fujita worked as Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata’s attendant. Who did you work for?

Oiwa: I was Tenzan’s attendant. I grew up a fan of TenCozy, so for him to watch my matches and give me advice really meant a lot to me.

–I never knew you were a TenCozy fan!

Oiwa: The first match I watched was Hiroshi Tanahasshi and Satoshi Kojima in the Tokyo Dome (Wrestle Kingdom 5, 2011). So that was my starting point and then I sought out a lot of TenCozy’s matches, and they’re what made me want to do this for a living, yeah. 

–Was there anything in particular Tenzan taught you that was helpful to you?

Oiwa: To keep my face up. I would be looking down a lot, especially when I was hurting, and that wasn’t getting across to the people, so Tenzan was there to tell me to make sure the people and the cameras could see my face. 

 –Obviously there’s a constant gradual growth going on, but was there a moment specifically that was a turning point for you?

Oiwa: I’d have to say getting to wrestle Shingo Takagi in a singles match (December 4 2021). FGeeling those hits, it was like ‘ah, that’s the power of an IWGP World Heavyweight Champion’, which he was at the time. I’m still feeling it, I think.

–Shifting the subject a little, you’ve been using a really impressive deadlift gutwrench suplex into a pin as of late- where did the inspiration for that come from?

Oiwa: The suplex itself, that’s the roots I have in amateur wrestling, but I went to the drawing board and thought how to make it more impressive, so adding the bridge made it a bit more my own.

I want to outshine the N1 final

–Perhaps a little blip for you was on August 12 in Ryogoku where you were defeated in shott order by Boltin Oleg in that hat trick challenge. 

Oiwa: Yeah. I was the third one out, should have been the most fresh, but lost to Boltin in under three minutes. That was really the sign to me that I have to change something, and that’s when the idea of going to NOAH struck me personally.

–Boltin certainly is a real mountain of a man, but what do you think of him as a wrestler?

Oiwa: HIs work ethic is crazy. Like training is his hobby. He’ll be working all the time, and then when we’re off he’ll be talking about wanting to practice. But that’s good, it means I have to work as much as him, if not more.

–How does that hard work come into effect in the ring?

Oiwa: That finish of his, the Kamikaze? You have 120 kg of Boltin, running with you, jumping high up and then crashing all of that weight on top of you. That’s just brutal.

–So you had the idea odf going to NOAH after that match, but then it was Kiyomiya inviting you the next night.

Oiwa: To be honest I just thought of him as an outsider coming into the G1 at first. But seeing him in there, especially against the Reiwa Three musketeers, that impressed me, and then teaming with him at the end of the tour, I really felt like I could learn a lot and grow a lot by going over to NOAH.

–That second time, August 8 in Yokohama, you had some double team work, a nice double dropkick.

Oiwa: Once we were bale to get that double dropkick, that’s when I felt I wanted to do more with Kiyomiya.

–How did you feel when he invited you?

Oiwa: It was perfect timing. Coming off the loss to Boltin the night before, it was just what I wanted to here, like yeah I have a chance here.

–How is he as a tag partner?

Oiwa: We’ve only teamed four times but… on each of those matches, there’s been a point when I’ve thought I was in trouble and he was right there with the save. We just have good timing together, I think. We sync up pretty well. 

–What makes Kiyomiya stand out as a wrestler in your view?

Oiwa: I think the way he wrestles, his timing, the momentum he has at the end of the match, I just feel like he presents something really different from the normal NJPW style. That’s what I want to bring into my own style I think.

–Do you have an opinion on Pro-Wrestling NOAH as a whole?

Oiwa: The real impression I have is a really hard hitting style. Nakashima’s kicks as well, if I can take some of that on board it’ll be a good experience and a chance to get stronger.

–Your debut is set for September 3 in Osaka, yourself and Kiyomiya against Yoshinari Ogawa and Zack Sabre Jr.

Oiwa: I’ve lost to ZSJ in the New Japan Cup first round before, and of course Fujita is in his group in TMDK, so I definitely want to get mixed up with Zak. It’ll be my first time against Ogawa as well- so I’m just excited to get in there.

–What do you want to show the Osaka NOAH fans?

Oiwa: It’s my first big step out from being a Young Lion, and I don’t know what’ll happen. It isn’t so much ‘what kind of match do I want to have?’, as it’s ‘what kind of match is it going to be?’ and that’s really exciting.

–In that case, what do you think you and Kiyomiya can offer as a tag team in this match?

Oiwa: I want to think of some more double teams for sure. And he was there to make the save for me when I was in trouble before, so I want to be there more for him. I’d like for the two of us to win this one together. 

–In the same venue where the two of you teamed for the first time in NJPW as well. 

Oiwa: Right. This is my NOAH debut, and it’s my first match after being a Young Lion. I want to make the biggest impact I can, so I plan on outshining the N1 final!

–I look forward to it. Is there anyone in NOAH that you’re looking forward to facing?

Oiwa: Masa Kitamiya and Yoshiki Inamura I think… I’d really like to throw bombs with these powerful guys. 

When I come back to NJPW I want people to be talking about how big I’ve gotten, in every way

–This is an unusual situation for you to go on your excursion on loan to a different company in Japan. 

Oiwa: These days it isn’t like anyone really goes away, when anyone can find matches from other countries online. So why not make the most of that and have fans here be able to follow that process more easily? I know people will say that coming back will have less impact, but I want them to see my growth, not a sudden one off ‘impact’.

–Do you want to go overseas sometime?

Oiwa: I’d like that experience, sure. For now though, my goal is gaining the most I can from Pro-Wrestling NOAH. All in all, by the time I come back to New Japan, I want to be a finished product, if that makes sense. 

–And what kind of product, what kind of wrestler is that?

Oiwa: I don’t want to imitate anyone really, and I don’t want to say at this point what I want to be like, but to put it simply, I plan on being a power guy. At the same time though, a power guy who has a lot of technique, and isn’t shy to fly from time to time either. 

–We’ve alluded to this throughout, but we’ve talked to Kosei Fuijita in a similar interview as well. What are your thoughts on him as a wrestler?

Oiwa: ‘Rival’ is the one word answer. We came into the Dojo together, debuted together, did everything together- until he joined TMDK.

–Was there a little jealousy there?

Oiwa: A little, and a little determination not to be left behind. I did feel he had moved ahead a bit, because he got to be part of a team before me. Our last singles match was a draw…

–June 18 in Chiba.

Oiwa: I was definitely frustrated not to get the win, but on the other hand, now that I have that gutwrench suplex and made it my own, I don’t feel I’m a step behind Fujita anymore.

–What do you think of Fujita’s ‘world tour’?

Oiwa: Thing is with going abroad, you don’t know if you’ll have as many matches, or chances to train. You don’t know if you’ll be able to eat right… On a lot of levels, I think staying in Japan is the best way to focus on the wrestling. 

–But don’t you think going abroad is an important experience?

 Oiwa: There’s definitely a lot you can gain abroad that you can’t gain in Japan, but like I said, for where I am right now, this is the best way for me to move forward.

–It seems right now like Fujita is set to be a junior heavyweight.

Oiwa: Hmm, that so… In that case I’ll say right now that I’m definitely heavyweight.

–As we finish up here, final thoughts on heading to NOAH?

Oiwa: I want to win the tag belts with Kiyomiya, get tougher, get better, come back and smash the Reiwa Three Musketeers to pieces. Thanks to all the fans who have been with me the last two years. I might be in a NOAH ring, but you can still come and see how I’m progressing. Next time I’m in NJPW, people are going to be talking about how big I’ve gotten- in every way!