Fight Springs eternal: El Desperado Interviewed 【WK18】

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Challenger speaks

El Desperado wrestles a familiar foe in unfamiliar climes on January 4. Though Despe and Hiromu Takahashi have locked horns in many a memorable encounter, including in the Tokyo Dome, never have they met on that huge stage with the sounds of fans cheering. As a chapter seems to end and a new one begins between the two rivals, we got El Desperado’s thoughts on Wrestle Kingdom. 

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We’re contemporaries. Rival is a tough word

–So you had eye surgery at the end of November. How is your vision right now?

Desperado: Still off. If I look up with my eyes, then my right and left eyes move different distances, so I get double vision. Straight ahead I’m OK though.

–How about wrestling?

Desperado: I think it’s a case of making the best of it. But there’s still a little time, so.

–How did you feel when Hiromu challenged you at Power Struggle?

Desperado: Honestly I did think the timing sucked. My surgery date was set, so I was thinking of taking the time off if all I had at Wrestle Kingdom was the Ranbo. With all the people in that thing, you never know what could happen, especially with bad eyesight, so I was thinking that would be my chance to take more time off.

–But you agreed to the title match.

Desperado: Well it woul dlook pretty bad if I turned it down right before the main event. It would have made Hiromu look bad too- and in all honesty it was my bad for not communicating with the company well enough- I told them about the surgery but not how much time I was thinking of taking off. 

–Let’s get into your relationship with Hiromu. There’s all the talk about eternal rivals, but what do you think of him?

Desperado: I guess contemporary is the best word… ‘Rival’ is a difficult one, nuance wise. While I was someone just making up the numbers, he had the title, right? And I started calling him out on Twitter, he took notice, we had good matches and that brought my status up. He was able to carry a guy who wasn’t on his level up to that rival status. As for us right now, that’s for someone else to say, not me. 

–You tend to have a fairly modest view of yourself in interviews.

Desperado: I’m not into the whole humility being a virtue thing. I’m self deprecating maybe, but the truth is I just don’t assess myself, and I don’t make myself bigger than I am. There’s a ton of egos in this business, and there are guys that want to present themselves as bigger than the belts. If that’s the case, then what are the belts for? If you’re bigger than all that then yo0u shouldn’t have a title right? At the end of the day, a championship is your measure of worth and success in this business, so it’s about whether you have one or not, that’s all. 

–It’s just about titles?

Desperado: Well, from a business perspective, it’s about whether you can draw money and sell tickets, but that’s for the penny pinchers in the office to decide.

–But when it comes to that IWGP belt, you won your first title when Hiromu had to vacate it due to injury. It feels like ever since, it’s been about more than titles between the two of you.

Desperado: Hmm, in that one year span I main evented the Nippon Budokan three times, wrestled Ibushi for the IWGP titles and then had Okada in the New Japan Cup. I mean I lost all of them, but still (laughs)

–Did you feel you had to vindicate Hiromu in a way in that first reign after he had to vacate?

Desperado: Nah, I’m not that good of a guy. 

He’s able to speak his truth about the dreams he has, and that gives him power

–So let7s get into January 4 specifically. Hiromu Takahashi has held the title for a year with seven defences. How do you feel about his current reign?

Desperado: I’m jealous of it, straight up. When you’re the champion you have more eyes on you, you have harder matches. You have your strength, mental and physical tested, and you’re carrying the division and the company’s hope son your shoulders. I think for him, he’s able to speak his truth about the dreams he has and that’s what gives him strength.

–He has incredible willpower.

Desperado: Absolutely. But one thing I’ve heard about him is that he gets really nervous before his matches, and tends to think negatively before he goes out there. I don’t get that at all.

–So you feel neutral about January 4 right now?

Desperado: I think I’ll feel those nerves on the day, but not right now. Like last year in the four way I didn’t get nervous at all. Just right at Hiromu’s entrance- and then only because he tends to have pyro and what not. January 4 this year I thought I was going to wet myself. Then a couple of years ago when I came out for my title match through all of this smoke from the bench, I thought my heart was going to come up through my mouth. I really hate the pyro (laughs)

–Although this past year was a four way, this makes three years in a row you and Hiromu have been involved in a title match at the Tokyo Dome. Does being in that setting affect you?

Desperado: It doesn’t really change my mindset. I hate this idea of wanting to show the people something, doing that and then being all satisfied with yourself. The fans see what they see. There are people who have never taken a bump that have an idea of what wrestling should be and what a match means, and I think that sucks, but in the end, it’s up to the viewer how they see something. Talking all this stuff about a process is so full of it. I think you can leave more to the audience to think for themselves. 

–Hiromu has long talked about wanting to be in the main event at the Dome, is match order something you think about much?

Desperado: Nope. Not match order, and not venue.

–Oh, really. 

Desperado: I know it isn’t the best thing to say in an interview like this for the Dome, and it doesn’t make a great quote for the hype video, but me and Hiromu can go anywhere. We could be in Shin Kiba First Ring or Shinjuku Face, or a car park in Akihabara for all I care. 

–And junior or heavyweight is irrelevant to you?

Desperado: Yeah. I watch a lot of wrestling, especially as I do the Japanese commentary for AEW a lot, and that’s really got me thinking about the meaning of match order. I’m really less hung up about it now than I’ve ever been. 

–So what do you think of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title?

Desperado: That’s different. As long as you work here then that indicates that you’re the best. Of course I want it. 

–Do you feel that the status of the title is reflected in the match order?

Desperado: I think that getting hung up on that is nonsense. If the the heavyweight title is the biggest, then that can go last. I don’t see the point in pushing for a junior heavyweight title match or a non title match to go last. Some might say that trying to change that convention should be motivation, but I don’t see it that way. I’m more motivated to do something different. 

If I had to say something to these kids, it would be to be more egotistical

–What goals do you have going into 2024?

Desperado: I got to wrestle against and with a lot of different people this year. It was a lot of fun and pretty motivating too.  I’d like to go even broader in 2024. Maybe not Big Japan… but if I had to say what show I want to wrestle on right now, it would be Baka Gaijin. 

–Baka Gaijin? The Chris Brookes produced show? 

Desperado: I’d like to wrestle Death Worm on a Baka Gaijin show. I’m not interested in wrestling in big venues in front of massive crowds. Special little things like that are what’s fun to me. An IWGP Junior Heavyweight singles match with Death Worm would be something. I’ll wait for my offer. I mean, the office will probably want to stop me, but I’ll come up with something about it being good for New Japan somehow.

–That’s your big goal for 2024?

Desperado: Death Worm, Baka Gaijin, IWGP Junior Heavyweight title match. Sure. (laughs)

–And in NJPW?

Desperado: Well, first I have to win the title, but then I want to see Taiji Ishimori. In a way he’s like the last boss of the division now, right? Kanemaru went the way he did, and he’s probably way out of the title loop now. So if I beat Hiromu, next has to be Ishimori. 

–After that?

Desperado: I’d say Wato, SHO, YOH… or maybe we have a tournament for the next challenger. Have them do like a junior heavyweight New Japan Cup for a shot while I take a month off (laughs).

–Then it’ll be Best of the Super Jr…

Desperado: I want to win as champion. Bishamon did thew threepeat in World Tag League, right? It broke the idea that a champion can’t win a tournament. So I want to win as champion, and that’s when I’d call out Kanemaru. 

–For a lot of that, the belt is necessary.

Desperado: Yeah. The belt gives you stroke. I’m not saying this company lets all the champions do exactly what they want, but if I had it, it wouldn’t be ‘El Desperado wants to do this,’ it woyuld be ‘The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion wants to do this,’ and that makes a difference. 

–I see. 

Desperado: But one thing I want Wato and SHO and YOH and all those guys to know is that that Big Three of Desperado Ishimori and Hiromu- it isn’t our fault that exists. It’s on those guys to step up.

–Can we bring this back to what you want to show the world with Hiromu January 4?

Desperado: He and I did an awful lot outside of NJPW this year. I think we’ve gotten a lot of outside experience to draw on. Especially Hiromu wrestling (Junji) Hirata in DDT, and the explosivity that match had. I think this is a match about showing the benefit of those experiences, but not that we’re going to bring that in wholesale. El Desperado vs Hiromu Takahashi is El Desperado vs Hiromu Takahashi. 

–To go back to your earlier point, there is a lot of focus on the younger generation in 2024.

Desperado: Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re screwed for the future if those guys don’t step up big. If I had to say anything to those guys, it’s that I want them to be more egotistical. More selfish. They have to come at me, at Hiromu, at Ishimori. In the end, the two best juniors are going to be fighting January 4, and if you think you’re better, then step up. 

–Wrestle Kingdom marks ten years since your first appearance.

Desperado: 10 years already…

–Any thoughts on a decade of Desperado?

Desperado: I mean, you took me aback a bit just there. I’m no good with dates and numbers. I remember matches and opponents, but not when they happened so much. So for me, it’s not as important to remember when I debuted so much as how long I’ve been at the top.

–And that’s been? 

Desperado: I guess the last three years or so… It took a while. 

–Anything you want to do to celebrate the decade?

Desperado: I know I can put airs on and challenge someone I want to wrestle, produce an ego project card or something, but I don’t feel I want to celebrate 10 years in itself. I really don’t care. 

–Any last message for Hiromu?

Desperado: You said you wanted to have fun, so let’s have fun.