Uemura’s first interview since big return
When Yuya Uemura emerged in Ryogoku on October 9 as the latest member of Just Five Guys, he cut a very different figure from his teammates. With a white jacket and bright red ring gear, he was a stark visual contrast to the black and gold clad crew, and made it very clear that being one of ‘the guys’ didn’t necessarily mean that he was going to toe any line. We spoke to Uemura about his return and grand plans in a very competitive landscape.
Meeting the guys on the independents, I learned how much they loved wrestling
–First of all, welcome back Yuya! What’s it like, being back in Japan?
Uemura: It’s great to taste Japanese food again- and it’s so cheap here, too!
–Ah, with the exchange rates, and the steep Dollar…
Uemura: It’s crazy. To eat out, even at the cheapest place, that’s 20 bucks… Nah, 30 really.
–That’s 4000 Yen, no joke for Japanese people.
Uemura: So coming back here it’s like ‘can I really eat this well for this price?’ I mean, here, every ramen place is good, you aren’t running the gauntlet like in the US.
–You went to the States in the summer of 2021, so in the midst of COVID, but as the US was starting to turn the corner.
Uemura: When I first went over, lots of people were still masking up, but that went away by the next year.
–So while some wrestlers had to be inactive because of the pandemic, you didn’t have that problem?
Uemura: No, I was busy the whole time.
–I see. Following you on social media, it certainly looked like you were having a good time.
Uemura: Oh, I had a blast. For the first year or so I was based out of the LA Dojo and wrestling once a month on NJPW STRONG, but after another few months, I was able to get involved with the local independents. I based myself out of Orlando and went wherever I could.
–You had wanted to train in the LA Dojo- how was the experience in fact?
Uemura: It wasn’t just the training for me, but it was the lifestyle that I enjoyed. It was really good to spend time with the LA Dojo members, and get a feel for their lifestyle.
–So many of those LA Dojo members are in BULLET CLUB now. Who was there when you were?
Uemura: At the same time as me there was Alex Coughlin, Gabe Kidd, DKC, Kevin Knight, and then (Ren) Narita and (Katsuyori) Shibata. And Clark Connors and Karl Fredericks would stop by as well.
–What stuck with you training in LA?
Uemura: Well, it wasn’t a lot of new stuff, training there. It was all about accuracy, all about precision with everything you do.
–Shibata talked once about how he appreciated you throwing yourself into things when the Noge and LA Dojos were rivals.
Uemura: I don’t know about that, but when the LA Dojo members and Shibata were in Japan, we’d train together in Noge, and that experience made me want to head over there.
–So what was it like to actually dive in over there?
Uemura: I was excited before heading out. I really felt that the whole idea of going over there was to come back better, so it was a lot of thinking about ‘what do I need to do in the States…’ But then, I’d say about halfway through everything changed for me.
–What happened to change your mindset?
Uemura: Meeting the people on the independent scene, I learned just how much they loved wrestling. They love it enough to work a day job and then wrestle all weekend, or they love it enough to be married to the business even if it means they don’t keep up romantic relationships. There’s tons of people like that. it made me feel that I should put more energy into just living in the American wrestling space, and using that time as best I could.
Uemura: So the LA Dojo, while it was a great environment, and I’m really blessed to have been there, it wasn’t the right fit for me. It was definitely great to train with everyone though. It was a fun experience there, but seeing those indie guys really made me feel like I wanted to sample more of that life.
I almost felt better if I wasn’t seen as an NJPW guy
–You did put yourself out there online and asked for bookings.
Uemura: That wasn’t anything I was told to do, had nothing to do with NJPW. I felt if I didn’t do that, nobody would do it for me. I think I was feeling more aware of myself as my own wrestler, not just part of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. I almost felt better if people didn’t see me as a NJPW guy.
–That label was a distraction in a way.
Uemura: I wanted to be me, you know? At that point, I wasn’t thinking about being on excursion just to come back, I was looking to sell myself and become more well known in the US. That’s where those posts came from.
–And then your second year-
Uemura: -yeah, I moved to Florida. Orlando.
–So what was it like being in that new environment?
Uemura: Up to that point in time, I was always with people, always had meals prepared. This was the first time I really properly lived on my own, but Sumie Sakai stayed with me a bit at the start, and Ikemen Jiro helped out too.
–Sumie Sakai has helped look after countless Japanese wrestlers in the States over the years. I’m surprised to hear you hung out with Jiro while he was in NXT.
Uemura: Right, well WWE have quite a base there, so there are quite a few Japanese wrestlers gathered there.
–Did you wrestle in any unique places during your time in the indies?
Uemura: Oh, yeah. I remember being in front of like 20 people in this warehouse, all pressed right up against the ring. When you wrestle somewhere like that, you’re thankful just to have a dressing room.
–Changing rooms are a luxury sometimes.
Uemura: I mean, it’s kind of a given that you get changed outside with a lot of places, so having a changing room is a luxury, yeah. Tough travel is a given as well.
I had this fixed idea of wrestling had to be a certain way
–So how did the connection to IMPACT come about?
Uemura: I was still in LA, and when I wrestled at an indie show, Rocky was there. I told him I wanted to wrestle more in America, and Rocky made the introduction to IMPACT. I thought I would just have a match or two, but they told me to be on every show, and that’s what happened.
–You and Joe Hendry’s tag team, with all the dancing, had some people wondering what was going on over there…
Uemura: Haha! Yeah, maybe some NJPW fans might have done a double take, but it broadened my horizons when it came to wrestling. I think I had this fixed idea of NJPW is the only pro-wrestling, and pro-wrestling has to be a certain way, but getting to do that helped break that idea down.
–You made the point of saying backstage at Multiverse United back in March that you didn’t feel anything special from NJPW, and you were focused on IMPACT.
Uemura: That was the truth of how I felt at the time. Everyone felt like they were the same guy doing different moves. In America, everyone feels different, don’t you think?
Uemura: Everyone has much more pronounced characters. I felt at that point, I needed to do more, and get as far as I could go in IMPACT.
Just Five Guys still doesn’t have a fixed character yet
–So how did you feel seeing Just Five Guys progress while you were away?
Uemura: I hadn’t given much thought to going back to NJPW. But then in August, SANADA came over… Funny story, his luggage never showed up, so I had to lend him my boots.
–Ah, a tough trip..
Uemura: But that got the two of us talking. I said I wanted to do my own thing as a wrestler, and SANADA said that they were trying to do something different with Just Five Guys. I didn’t think much of it, then I met DOUKI in August. He was saying that they weren’t just a lump of people. that each of them were shooting for the top. He was like ‘if you come back to Japan, why not try things with us?’
–Quite the recruitment effort.
Uemura: I don’t know about that, but DOUKI was an interesting one to listen to, since we’re closer in age, only about three years apart. So, I’m mulling it over… and then I get fired from IMPACT (laughs)
–That Feast or Fired match didn’t work out well for you…
Uemura: So I didn’t know what to do at first- that’s why I was tweeting looking for bookings. Then came the Just Five Guys offer. SANADA and DOUKI had both talked about doing something different. I still didn’t necessarily want that ‘NJPW guy’ image to be too strong, but then again, there are all these different types there.
–None of the other members are NJPW system graduates.
Uemura: SANADA started in AJPW and wrestled in TNA, DOUKI started in Mexico, Taichi was in Mexico too but came through AJPW… and TAKA was a big motivator for me as well.
Uemura: Yeah, his time in the WWF, having been at Wrestlemania- I wanted to pick his brain and watch more of his matches.
–TAKA is a former WWF Light Heavyweight Champion from the ’90s.
Uemura: I love old ’80s and ’90s American wrestling. Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels are all influences to me.
–That’s definitely something that comes across. And TAKA knows that environment first hand.
Uemura: So with all that in mind, I thought, if I’m coming back to NJPW, it should be with these guys. Just Five Guys still doesn’t have a fixed character to it as a group. When I questioned whether I could do what I wanted there, they were like ‘whatever you want to do’. It was definitely easy to transition.
–Things definitely seem quite free in J5G, thanks to its short history.
Uemura: I don’t want to feel tied down right now, and compared to the other factions, J5G doesn’t have as much of a name. So it’s easier for us to make that name ourselves, and we can bring more status to the group as we move up.
If anything I thought it was better to stand out from the others
–It felt perhaps that you distanced yourself somewhat from the other members at Ryogoku. Your costume was very different, for one thing.
Uemura: I was never told to match with the others, and if anything I thought it was better to stand out.
–You stuck out, in a good way.
Uemura: And the same goes for the main event. I’m on the same team as the champion, but I want what he has. I was supporting SANADA, but it was more that I was jealous of him. I do want tit known that I’m ready to gun for SANADA at any time. There’s no rule that says teammates can’t challenge a champion, after all.
–You said backstage that you wanted singles matches with Taichi, DOUKI and SANADA.
Uemura: Right. Just because we’re on the same team doesn’t mean we can’t fight one another.
I have to beat the Three Musketeers, but I have to beat everyone
–Did you keep up much with NJPW while you were in the States?
Uemura: Not really, no. I would see bits and pieces on Twitter, but I wasn’t watching NJPW World or anything.
–There was a lot of talk earlier in the year about the ‘Reiwa Three Musketeers’, which prompted a lot of people to bring your name up. How did you feel about the buzz there?
Uemura: I mean, I heard about it, but I felt it wasn’t really anything to do with me, so I didn’t really think much of it. I just kind of feel they’ve been lumped together to make it easier to talk about them as a whole.
–A collective noun?
Uemura: I’m half kidding. I definitely feel that I have to beat these guys, but I’m not just thinking about them. They’re just three guys that I have to beat.
–You didn’t feel you wanted to be in that group?
Uemura: Not at all. I mean it’s not like they’re together really right now. I dare say that name will go away by this time next year.
–There was a youth focus in A Block during the G1.
Uemura: Seeing that, I really thought I’d like to wrestle Kaito Kiyomiya. That Kiyomiya kick to Okada’s face was a big talking point in the US locker rooms.
–Oh it was?
Uemura: Yeah. Like, what the hell happened? I think it as cool of him to create an impact for himself. he certainly stood out to me more than the other young guys.
–I see. Do you happen to have any thoughts on your Dojo mate Yota Tsuji’s return? He went right into a challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight title.
Uemura: But he lost, right? If he’s have won then I would definitely feel that envy, but he didn’t. It just underscores how incredible Okada was. I don’t want to praise him too much, but the fact is, he came back from overseas right when Tanahashi was at his peak, and he beat him right away for the belt.
–You’ve brought up Okada a few times, he was your last opponent pre-excursion as well. Is he a target?
Uemura: Oh yeah. I mean everyone is, but Okada is obviously still one of the very top guys in the business, and you have that element of destiny in there as well with the sendoff match.
–Okada’s own sendoff match before excursion was with Taahashi.
Uemura: History repeats, ha. I promise I’ll beat him.
–Obviously your actual return match was fairly short, but do you have any thoughts about it?
Uemura: I wasn’t particularly nervous or anything. I’m happy I won, but I didn’t put my whole self out there. I think you saw maybe 20% of what I’m capable of.
–There’s quite a few matches to look out for with you on the next tour. What targets do you have in mind?
Uemura: I’ve been open from the start that I plan on being world champion, and I will be the top wrestler in the world. So whoever it is, I plan on beating them and moving on to the next. If anyone has any issues, they’re welcome to step up to me.
–November 4, you and SANADA vs Naito and Tsuji is definitely one to note.
Uemura: Someone worked quick on that. I think it’s easy to see that match as Naito vs SANADA, Uemura vs Tsuji, but to me, all three of the other guys are targets.
–To loop back to the Reiwa Three Musketers talk, Shota Umino has said that the real new generation won’t really start until you’re back in the mix.
Uemura: I think he’s right. I’m back and now we have that new generation lined up. But I don’t think it’s right to only be thinking about that image. At the end of the day this is a results driven industry, right? Of course I’m aware of those guys but I have to beat everyone. I want every wrestler to know that. When I talk about beating everyone, that means crossing over nationality and promotion as well.