IWGP UK Champion speaks on Tsuji and more
Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, Shingo Takagi and Chris Jericho is a mightily impressive list of high profile singles victories for a professional wrestler. For Will Ospreay it’s been a series of strings to the bow of arguably the very best, and certainly the most in demand professional wrestler on the planet. As Yota Tsuji challenges that claim, and challenges for the newly minted IWGP United Kingdom Championship, Ospreay talks the new iteration of the red leather and gold title, his future and more.
Why should I carry a belt with another country’s flag?
–So first of all Will, given the last few months you’ve had especially, you’ve been called the best in the world right now.
–But you hold that IWGP UK Championship while the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion is SANADA. What do all those labels mean to you right now?
Ospreay: That’s a difficult question. When I hear ‘World Heavyweight Champion’ I assume that means you’re the best of the best, and unfortunately when I look at SANADA, I don’t see that, because of the record between us. He’s never beaten me, and the question for me is how am I not given a world title match when you consider the names that I’ve beaten?
–Was that thought process partly why you relabeled that IWGP US title the IWGP UK belt?
Ospreay: The US title is only credible, and it’s only special in my hands. While that’s the case, why should I be walking around carrying a belt with another country’s flag? That’s why I have this IWGP UK Championship, and I’ll be defending this rather than the US Championship.
–When did you feel the timing was right to make that change?
Ospreay: After the (Forbidden Door) match with Kenny (Omega). After defeating him and putting a stamp on being the best in the world, that gave me the authority to do what I want. Nobody can stop me, the wrestlers can’t stop me and the office can’t stop me. With that comes a bit of power, and with that power I want to do what I want to do and give the fans what they want to see. I think the fans want to see the best wrestler in the world doing as he sees fit.
In AEW, WWE and NJPW, nobody can say they’re better than Will Ospreay
–You had planned to show off that belt after defeating Tetsuya Naito in the G1 Climax semifinal August 12. That didn’t happen obviously- can you reflect on that match a little?
Ospreay: I mean look, for one day, and one day only, Naito could call himself the best in the world, but the very next day, I reassumed that responsibility. Now, Tsuji can say that he got a win over me, but that was after a four week long tour. Are you happy with that?
Try me now. I’ve had that tour and then I wrestled Shingo (Rev Pro XI Anniversary), I’ve wrestled Jericho (AEW All In). I’m on fire. I’m wrestling Naomichi Marufuji from NOAH soon. And despite that schedule, I’m still going to be better on Tsuji on the 24th. Yeah, the loss to Naito rained on the parade a little bit, but I’m going to make sure that this UK Championship is held to the highest of standards.
–Being the best in the world carries a lot of responsibility. Do you feel that responsibility is a burden in some respects?
Ospreay: A burden, no, but it is tolling, it is taxing. I thrive in that situation. I live for that. I want to see if anyone can knock me off my throne, and I don’t think that anyone can. I don’t think there’s anyone that can say they are consistently, on point, the best in the world. I don’t think anyone can, not in AEW, not in WWE and not in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Nobody can say they’re better than Will Ospreay.
–After your first match with Kenny Omega on January 4, you put yourself on the clock and gave yourself one year to get back to the top. It seems like you’ve done that and then some with a lot of time left- do you agree, or do you feel there’s more to be done?
Ospreay: I feel like I’ve surpassed the deadline I gave myself, but I’ve set myself a new target.
Ospreay: It’s surrounding this (UK) championship. I don’t think I was willing enough to give the US belt enough tender loving care, but I am willing to give this UK belt tender loving care. It’s time to make history and carve out my own legacy with this title and I’m looking forward to doing it with my first challenger bring Yota Tsuji.
Tsuji was lazy on excursion
–Tsuji had a brief spell in the UK on excursion and has connections to Gideon grey as well. Did you have many interactions with Tsuji before he went on excursion, and have those impressions changed any?
Ospreay: The only thought I had of Tsuji before was that he was lazy on excursion. I feel that he thought the UK was a downgrade to Japan. That time was a chance for him to learn, to grind and really connect with the British audience, and he didn’t do that.
–He made a big impression when he returned from that excursion.
Ospreay: I’ll be honest, I thought him getting a shot against SANADA right away for that world championship was bullshit. Utter crap. Now, in the last few months, he has found something. Now there’s a fire under his belly. I’ll give him that.
–After Ryogoku in his backstage comments Tsuji said ‘whether it’s the IWGP US or the IWGP UK Championshiip doesn’t matter, it’s Ospreay’s head I want’.
Ospreay: He basically said that the belt doesn’t mean anything, that I’m the prize. My problem with that is that if you’re as good as you say you are then you’re gonna want to take this belt from me and make it mean something. I don’t think you can. I want him to say ‘I think I’m better than Will Ospreay’, but I think he’s a liar.
–Tsuji has said that he wants to make NJPW the top company in the world, which is something you’ve often said yourself. Do you think that he is capable of doing that?
Ospreay: The guy has talent, I’m not denying that. I just think he’s come back at the wrong time. It’s still my era in new Japan Pro-Wrestling. Everybody knows NJPW is the king of sports, it’s the world leader in professional wrestling, and that’s because of guys like me. Because of people like me busting my arse and putting out the best pro-wrestling matches in the world. Can Tsuji do that? We’ll find out in Kobe.
–Few people can say that they’ve supported British wrestling as a whole over the last several years like you can. What does your status as the UK champion mean, not just in representing your country, but for a scene at large?
Ospreay: It’s pride. For a long time when people have talked about the best of the world, they’ve looked to Japan, at Kobashi or Misawa, or Okada and Tanahashi. If people didn’t think of Japan, they thought of Canada, and Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. Or maybe then they look at America and bring up Bryan Danielson, and maybe CM Punk, or whatever other garbage pro-wrestlers they have over there. People have never talked about Great Britain, they never talk about the UK.
But now? Honestly bruv, I don’(t think anyone matches up to me right now. I wear this championship with a lot of pride, because I do think I’m the best in the world. I don’t think there’s a single person in the world, no pro-wrestler that is better than Will Ospreay and that’s the pride I bring with me when I wear this championship.
This right now is my time- enjoy the show
–To stay on Chris Jericho a bit…
–…Before you wrestled Jericho in Wembley Stadium, you said on AEW Dynamite that your main goal with the match was to drive your value up on the open market.
–You obviously did just that, but how do you feel about that comment in hindsight? Did going out in front of that crowd change your mindset any? Very few people can say they’ve performed in front of the crowd you did.
Ospreay: A lot of people in wrestling have done Wembley Arena, but not many can say they’ve done Wembley Stadium. I don’t even work (in AEW), but I walked in there against the first ever AEW World Champion, in front of all those people, and I came out victorious. That puts me on a much higher platform, because everybody’s eyes are on me. What’s Will Ospreay going to do next, what’s he doing, what’s he thinking? I just say, enjoy the show. This, right now is my time, and I can’t wait to see what my future holds.
–So on the topic of your future, how big of a role is Japan, and the Japanese fans in your future right now?
Ospreay: This country has been a part of my growth as an adult. It means a lot to me as well to see Callum (Newman) come to Japan as a 21 year old boy and be an apprentice to the United Empire, learning the trade. I came here as a 22 year old kid, and I’ve been able to grow here. I know that I’ve failed countless times, either here on front of you and on social media, but Japan has allowed me to get back up, and to mature, and become the best wrestler in the world. My priorities have shifted, and that doesn’t mean that Japan isn’t included anymore. It means I have a family and they need me right now. So my value has gone up, and my price has gone up. I know I’m a top guy, but it needs to be more.
Ospreay: More money, but more respect as well. Why am I not in the world title picture? United Empire are top sellers at the box office and in the merch store, so it’s time for that respect to come to all of us. This place means so much to me, and one of these days I’ll get a tattoo of Ryogoku because I lived near there so long- I’m not saying I’m moving on, but I need to do what’s right for me, and when I say I’m open to all options that doesn’t mean I’m limited to anything, it means I’m open for everything.
I’ve turned every hero I’ve had into a rival, and beaten them
–As you’ve matured in the wrestling world, the wrestling world has changed dramatically over the several years. Where do you see the wrestling world at large right now and your place within it?
Ospreay: I’ve said for so long, that little catchphrase. ‘My name’s Will Ospreay and I am on another level’. I say it as a catchphrase, but I genuinely do mean it. I genuinely believe I’m on a level above any other professional wrestler. I don’t do anything gimmicky in my matches. I don’t dance, I don’t have my hands in my pockets, don’t try to make people laugh. I get in the ring, the bell rings and I’m better than anyone else. So for me, whatever I choose to do, wherever I go, the wrestling world revolves around me.
–I’d like to touch on the Naomichi Marufuji match a little. It feels like you’ve been a kid in a candy store over the last few months when it comes to opposition.
Ospreay: If I think back to my teenage years, I used to watch Shingo as a teen when he did Dragon Gate UK. I first met Okada a bit later in 2015 when we had our first match in the UK, but I always thought he was leagues above me. Jericho, I grew up watching. Kenny, too, I was growing up watching his PWG and DDT matches. And then Marufuji was the first Japanese wrestler I aspired to be like. I’ve turned every hero I’ve had into a rival, and then beaten them. That’s a dangerous man! (laughs)
–Do you ever stop to think that even though you’re just turning into your 30s, there’s a generation of wrestlers that have come into the business idolizing Will Ospreay?
Ospreay: That blows my mind. A friend of mine was wrestling during Wrestlemania weekend, he did four or five matches and he was talking about kids that are 18 years old on these indie cards doing my pose and trying for OsCutters. It’s crazy. When I came in, they called me ‘white Ricochet’ and I had to grow from that. But now there are probably a ton of guys that will be inspired by the Kenny Omega matches, or the Shingo matches. It’s mind blowing, crazy. I had one wrestler come up to me and say that he decided to start wrestling when he was 14 because he saw me and Ricochet.
–Finally, any last thoughts for the wrestling world at large before Kobe September 24?
Ospreay: When I say I’m on another level, it’s more than a catchphrase now. You look at any company in the world, AEW, New Japan, WWE, NOAH. There’s nobody doing it like I do. Every avenue is open to Will Ospreay- It’s a small world, after all.