‘I’m bigger than the IWGP Championship.’ Naito among New Japan stars honored at Tokyo Sports Pro-Wrestling Award 2017 ceremony



‘I’m bigger than the IWGP Championship.’ Naito among New Japan stars honored at Tokyo Sports Pro-Wrestling Award 2017 ceremony

January 18 saw Tokyo Sports newspaper host the 2017 Pro Wrestling Awards. The annual ceremony celebrates the very best of the prior year’s professional wrestling, and receiving the event’s top honor was Tetsuya Naito.

Naito was named Tokyo Sports’ MVP for the second year in succession, becoming only the fifth man in history to receive such a distinction. Also honored at the awards were Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega, who picked up the match of the year award for their Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event, and Katsuyori Shibata, who won the special Fighting Spirit award. Each winner’s acceptance speech is transcribed below.

Tetsuya Naito

‘Representing New Japan Pro Wrestling and Los Ingobernables De Japon, your Tokyo Sports MVP is Tetsuya Naito. I’d like to thank the Tokyo Sports editorial board for naming me MVP. A lot of people saw me and Los Ingobernables De Japon as a flash in the pan, that just as quickly as we got popular, it’d all be over. Yet here I am, only the fifth in history to win this award two years straight. And I did this in a year where the IWGP champion held his belt from start to finish. What that means is that I exist on another plane. It means that Tetsuya Naito is bigger than the IWGP Championship. That’s not arrogance talking; that’s something that I’ve proven to everyone. 

See, there’s one thing that I’ve said a lot recently: if you don’t speak your mind, you won’t get your feelings across to anyone. You might fly high, or you might crash and burn; no-one knows. But if you want to make a change, you need to not worry about the risks and take that first step. If there’s one message I want to transcend wrestling and get through to everyone out there, it’s that courage to take the first step. 

OK, then? To accept this award, I had to get on a Shinkansen to rush here all the way from Toyama. You know what that means? I’m cansado, sueno. I’m tired, I want a nap. But I’ll save the gripes for Mr. Okamoto at Tokyo Sports. Ok, Okamoto? We’ll go to a family restaurant and I’ll talk your ears off, give you the scoop. For the rest of you, feel free to revel in the very best breed of professional wrestling that only Tetsuya Naito and Los Ingobernables De Japon can provide. Hasta luego, adios! 


Kazuchika Okada

This is my fourth match of the year award in a row. I’ve been MVP three times, I’ve won eight Tokyo Sports awards in all. I kind of think maybe it’s best to leave me out of the conversation for match of the year this year, let somebody else have a chance. Even so, I plan on creating more moments and having more matches in that ring that will stay in your hearts and in your memories forever. Thank you. 


Kenny Omega

I had a lot of big matches in 2017. I had some world class competition in the ring with me, and because of that, I was able to perform at my very best. I want to be on this stage this time next year, and so I want to give my very best in New Japan in 2018. I hope my opponents do their best to get chosen along with me. Thank you.


Katsuyori Shibata 

Thank you. That’s all!


Naito’s Q&A with assembled media

–Your thoughts on winning the MVP award for the second year in a row?

Naito: Well, I was the only possible choice. It was just nature taking its course. 

— You were unable to win the IWGP title at the Tokyo Dome to start off 2018.. 

Naito: As far as the belt goes… yeah, I lost. I wanted to win, but I didn’t. And it sucks. But, look who won MVP. I didn’t have the IWGP title once in 2017. The champion had the belt all year and didn’t get named MVP. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; I’m above the IWGP title, and this is proof, this award. 

— You could perhaps surpass Okada this year and win MVP three years straight.

Naito: In my mind, I’ve already surpassed him, it’s just that now the numbers are finally agreeing. But make no mistake: I will be here this time next year having won MVP for the third year in a row. Look, Okada is tough, and I respect that, for sure. Toughness is the most important quality in a pro wrestler. But there’s a few areas where Okada comes up short, right? Naito has what Okada doesn’t. That’s why even if he stays champion he can’t be MVP. And if he doesn’t step up in those areas, I’ll be an easy pick for MVP again.

— Are you looking to take back the IWGP Heavyweight Championship?

Naito: There’s no doubt in my mind that the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match should always be the main event at the Tokyo Dome. So if I’m to be in the main event again next year, I either need to be champion, or to have the right to challenge. But even if I don’t set out to chase that belt, it will find its way to me. I can already see myself standing in the ring in the main event at the Tokyo Dome in 2019. 

–Can we ask about what your goals are now?

Naito: I think everyone in New Japan, from the office to the wrestlers, are looking at international expansion. That’s not a bad thing, and I’ve definitely got an eye on international. But while everyone’s obsessed with the international scene, I want us to completely take over Japan. I want New Japan to be able to run a Dome tour. This country has six big dome stadiums. We go to a different dome every other month, and we can do them all in a year. I’m not talking about gradually going to each one and taking a decade to do it; I want to do them all in a year. And no matter how long it takes, I want to be able to go in every Dome in the country and have the whole crowd cheer along with me. That’s not just something I want, that’s something the whole country wants, I think. 

— New Japan has toured four domes in a year before, but since then two new stadiums have been built. If New Japan could achieve that, it would really be reaching a new level.

Naito: Right. Up to now, my goal, my dream has been one I’ve had since I was a third grade middle school student. Now my goal isn’t middle schooler Tetsuya Naito’s, its pro wrestler Tetsuya Naito’s. People might think six domes in a year is a stretch, but Los Ingobernables De Japon and I will get us there. 

Photography courtesy of Weekly Pro-Wrestling 

Tokyo Sports Pro-Wrestling Award 2017 Official page (Japanese only)