Heat Storm Reborn? Yuya Uemura Interviewed

 yet seeYuya Uemura speaks ahead of New Japan Cup

Yuya Uemura heads into his first post excursion New Japan Cup facing a crossroads in his career. After losing his hair versus hair match with Yota Tsuji in Sapporo, all eyes will be on whether he will face a slump in the wake of a momentous defeat, or rather be reinvigorated by the prospect of a new chapter in his career? We spoke to Yuya ahead of a critical first round matchup with Shingo Takagi. 

(Interview conducted before March 6)

Watch New Japan Cup live in English on NJPW World! 

I came to LA to reset and get hungry

–So as we speak you’re preparing for the New Japan Cup in LA.

Uemura: That’s right!

–What prompted you to head there?

Uemura: I wanted to take a step back and reset in the LA Dojo. Physically and mentally. I like spending time in the States, and this was the best way for me to refresh.

–What kind of training have you been doing in the LA Dojo? 

Uemura: I’m at the NJPW Academy right now. There are a lot hungry guys training here, and I’m working with them. 

–I see! So obviously you’re coming off this hair versus hair loss with Tsuji. Results aside, what are your thoughts on the match?

Uemura: It was tense. I think we definitely both put all we had into it, stamina wise. It was 28 minutes, it was tough, and it definitely wasn’t fun.

–Did you feel Tsuji had changed from the time you beat him in the Tokyo Dome?

Uemura: There was definitely pressure on both of us in a good way, but I think after the Dome, Tsuji really had this resolve to him. 

–And was that the difference maker in the end?

Uemura: It was definitely a war of attrition, and then when the last five minute call went out, I thought there was a danger of this going to a draw. I panicked and I think he took advantage. I’m not making excuses, but I think that worry about the clock was what did it for me. 

–The last thing you wanted was a draw.

Uemura: That’s right. Next time I want a 60 minute time limit, or none at all. It should be for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, or a G1 Climax final. 

–Something big.

Uemura: Uemura vs Tsuji is something that’s so key to NJPW going forward. I definitely need to get revenge on Tsuji, but it has to be on a big stage.

I’ll fight Okada anywhere he goes

–Were you aware of Kazuchika Okada on guest commentary for that match?

Uemura: Yeah, I caught sight of him when i came out.

–On the call, he said of this match that you both still had a ways to go. How does that make you feel?

Uemura: He can think all he wants, but I do feel I have much more I can do. Next time we face each other, he won’t be in a position to talk.

–You said backstage that someday you would face Okada even if it wasn’t in a NJPW ring.

Uemura: I didn’t think that he would be leaving right when I came back to Japan. I always figured that I would get revenge for that farewell match before my excursion. The timing hurts, but I will fight Okada wherever he goes.

–And what do you think of Okada’s assessment of you?

Uemura: Well, one thing I thought during the last tour was that I need to be better on the mic and backstage. 

–Why is that?

Uemura: On one of the house shows, the mic came my way. I didn’t win the match, but it was ‘you should close the show’. And I hesitated, but I knew I need to get comfortable closing out the show every night. That’s important, to be at the front of Just Five Guys on the mic.

–How about in the ring?

Uemura: There’s a lot I haven’t shown off yet. I’ve only wrestled Tsuji since coming back so I’m looking forward to being in there with more different opponents and bringing more of myself to the ring. 

As much as I say I’m going to win the next one, I have to accept that I lost this one. 

–One moment that really stands out after that match was you voluntarily cutting your own hair. 

Uemura: To have it cut by Tsuji was humiliating. The rules were the loser has to lose their hair, but I wanted to have a samurai mindset- if anyone was going to cut my hair it should be me. It was a matter of accepting what had happened to me. As much as I can talk about winning the next one, I have to accept the fact that I lost this one. 

–I see. Before the match you had talked about what your hair meant to you- how did it feel in practice losing it?

Uemura: Sad, really. I was proud of my hair, so sad is the only word I have for it. 

–But you still made sure to have a forward outlook in your post match comments.

Uemura: Right. I actually gave the hair to a hair donation place, to make wigs for chemotherapy patients, things like that. Hopefully some use can come from it. 

I’m facing a former World Heavyweight Champion on his home turf

–So let’s get into the New Japan Cup, where you’re facing Shingo Takagi in the first round.

Uemura: I’m hyped for it. Like I said, I’ve only wrestled Tsuji since I came back, so I’m excited to face someone else, and it’s a former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion as well.

–How has it been tangling with him in tags?

Uemura: Obviouysly he’s an amazing wrestler. Every little thing has purpose and forcefulness with him. It’s a heck of a rhythm he keeps. No real gaps in his game.

–So how do you think you’ll counteract that?

Uemura: I like that straight ahead smash mouth style, but I know if I wrestle his kind of match I’ll be at a disadvantage. So while I want to wrestle my way, I also want to show that I can hang in a Shingo style of fight. 

–Shingo is on home turf in Yamanashi. is that a factor do you feel?

Uemura: The crowd will be on his side, right?

–You’d have to assume.

Uemura: Good chance to turn the crowd to my favour and win my kind of match.

–You were the last out in the Faction Warfare Gauntlet a few weeks ago in Korakuen, but this is the first time you’ve been in an advertised singles main event.

Uemura: It’s an important spot. Important to win and important to close the show on the mic. 

–Any pressure?

Uemura: Nope! It might be his home but I’ll make sure I beat him my way.

The Deadbolt is key for me

–So what does winning your way mean precisely?

Uemura: My style, the orthodox wrestling style. There’s a lot of flash, a lot of sizzle over the steak in wrestling these days and I want to be something different. Now I don’t want to prescribe, and say mine is the way it should be, because then everyone’s doing what I’m doing and that’s no good either. But I’m confident in what I do, I want to push that forward, and I don’t want to necessarily be lumped in with everyone in NJPW right now. 

–You mentioned ‘sizzle over steak’. Can you expand on that?

Uemura: If you have a lot of flash, then that instantly grabs attention, but it’s a crutch in a way. Capturing attention is important, but holding their attention is key as well. It isn’t just about the moves when it comes to bringing the people in. 

–And that’s what you want to show.

Uemura: Right. Of course everyone has their own way, but I don’t want to lose what’s at the core of NJPW. 

–There’s a lot of those fundamentals from you, the evolution of what you did as a Young Lion. That made lot all the more surprising when you used that Frankensteiner into a cross arm breaker on Tsuji.

Uemura: I’d been working on that transition a lot in the LA Dojo, so it feels like a bit of my LA era coming out. 

–When we talked with Katsuyori Shibata in the past he had a lot of praise for the thought you put into pro-wrestling. 

Uemura: I put a lot of thought in when I was in the LA Dojo, and then in TNA I learned a lot from guys like Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, Jonathan Gresham. Those are the kinds of guys I want informing my style.

–And you plan on using that against Takagi.

Uemura: Oh yeah. But at the same time, right now I build my matches around the Deadbolt Suplex. So I’m not planning on doing stuff just to do it, I want everything to make sense when it comes to me getting the Deadbolt. 

–The Deadbolt has been part of your arsenal since the Young Lion days, can you talk about why it’s so important to you?

Uemura: It’s not something you see anywhere else in pro-wrestling, and certainly not in judo or amateur wrestling. It’s a very pro-wrestling move, but it’s also all my own, so it’s important to me. 

I will make this opportunity a reality 

–If you’re able to get by Shingo Takagi, then waiting in the next round will either be Callum Newman or Gabe Kidd.

Uemura: I want it to be Gabe.

–You talked backstage in Sapporo about how you, Tsuji and Gabe were the Young Lions that showed hope in very dark times during the pandemic.

Uemura: He came in 2020, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the Japanese way of doing business, but he worked harder than anyone, and then when the pandemic hit he stayed. I spent time with him in LA as well, we got to know each other on a personal level.

–So what did you think when he joined the War Dogs?

Uemura: It was like him (laughs). That’s the kind of thing he would do. It didn’t surprise me.

–So your potential quarter final opposition would be EVIL, Hikuleo or Boltin.

Uemura: I’m honestly fine with fighting whoever. But if you pushed me I’d like it to be Hikuleo.

–And why’s that?

Uemura: I spent quite a bit of time with him on excursion, and also I like wrestling big opponents. There’s something very classic pro-wrestling about the giant slaying idea. Can’t get much more giant than two meters tall and 150 kg.

–Any thoughts about the final four?

Uemura: Got to be Tsuji, right? i know I want him in a bigger stage, in the right situation, but I also have that dept to repay right now. And Ren Narita is interesting, too.

–You two have your LA Dojo connection. How do you feel about him in HOUSE OF TORTURE?

Uemura: If that’s the way he wants to do business, then fine by me. I like to do things the more straight laced way myself. But I’d love to be able to hit him with the Deadbolt more than anyone else.

–And from the other side of the bracket? 

Uemura: I don’t have a final in mind, but if I looked at the people that interest me, I’d say Umino, Great-O-Khan, Finlay, SANADA and Yujiro.

–Yujiro Takahashi isn’t a name I’d expect you to say.

Uemura: After I came back, he said the win in my return match was beginner’s luck and he wanted me one on one. So maybe if he made the final of the Cup…

–I see. From day one you’ve said you wanted to wrestle SANADA.

Uemura: That’s right! I’m confident I can.

–And the former IWGP Global Champion David Finlay?

Uemura: I actually wrestled a singles match with him in the States in 2021. He has a really interesting style, not dissimilar to mine. 

–The Cup winner will wrestle the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito on April 6 in Ryogoku. 

Uemura: Having wrestled LIJ a lot over the last few months, I’ve felt first hand the hold Naito has on the crowd, his popularity. But that just makes this opportunity all the more attractive.

–So you have a positive mindset going into this Cup.

Uemura: For sure. First the cup, then the belt, then the world. I will make this opportunity a reality. But first, I’m 100% focused on this match with Shingo, and coming out with the win!