As Best of the Super Juniors approaches, new Bullet Club member Taiji Ishimori speaks out on his shocking return to NJPW!


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May 4’s Wrestling Dontaku saw a number of shocking moments. One of the biggest surprises was IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay’s assault at the hands of the masked ‘New Bone Soldier’ who revealed himself to be Taiji Ishimori. Ishimori stated that he was in New Japan to ‘get to the top of the junior heavyweight division’ and will look to make good on that promise as the Best of the Super Juniors gets underway from Korakuen Hall on May 18. In this exclusive interview, Ishimori comments on his return to the BOSJ field after eight years, and the impact he looks to make in New Japan. 


— Taiji Ishimori, you made a huge impact in Fukuoka, joined Bullet Club and became a huge talking point in New Japan, so there’s a lot to ask you.


Ishimori: … (grins)


— We’d seen videos teasing the appearance of Bone Soldier for weeks. Will Ospreay had just defeated KUSHIDA to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship when Bone Soldier arrives, lays out Ospreay and reveals himself to be Taiji Ishimori. When you took that mask off there was a huge reaction from the crowd, did you expect that? 


Ishimori: Only natural, right? I know if I was in the crowd and Taiji Ishimori showed up, I’d be excited, too. 


— In some of that reaction was a sense of confusion; you’ve spent your whole career as a fan favourite but things seem to have changed. What do you say to the more shocked fans? 


Ishimori: I’m not sweating the details like that. Look at it this way, you can’t take your eyes off Taiji Ishimori now, right?


— Why did you choose Bullet Club?


Ishimori: That’s a stupid question. The Bullet Club is the most famous group going. I can be in Japan and still have my name go worldwide. If I’m in Bullet Club, Taiji Ishimori’s name goes global. And this way, I can pick fights with anyone in the junior division, Marty Scurll excepted. 


— Certainly Scurll has been the only other junior heavyweight singles wrestler in Bullet Club up to now. But what about this civil war, the unrest within Bullet Club?


Ishimori: I don’t really know the ins and outs, and I don’t really care about that. I’m not looking to be bogged down with that stuff. All I care about is how best I can use the Bullet Club to benefit me. And if you look at any show in America right now, you see a sea of Bullet Club shirts. 


— Speaking of America, it was back in March that you left Pro Wrestling NOAH, saying you were ‘interested in the outside world’. That led you to appearing for Impact Wrestling and PWG. 


Ishimori: They called me over, so I went. And Taiji Ishimori got some pretty big reactions. 


— You made quite a name for yourself in America last November when you became the second Japanese wrestler (after SANADA) to win Impact Wrestling’s X-Division Championship.


Ishimori: And the only way I could have made more of a name for myself is if I tapped into all those fans in that crowd wearing Bullet Club shirts. Simple fact is, I joined Bullet Club for the money and the fame. That’s it. 


— To get us to the real point of this interview, you’re about to make your first entry in Best of the Super Juniors since 2010, an eight year gap. This is the 25th BOSJ tournament; what does Best of the Super Juniors mean to you?


Ishimori: It’s simple; this is the most important tournament, and the one with the most history in junior heavyweight wrestling. 


— And you want to use it to prove how good you are?


Ishimori: I don’t need to prove anything; I’m plenty good enough. 


— You certainly showed how good you were in 2010. You finished top of your block, but unfortunately fell to Prince Devitt in the semi finals.


Ishimori: …


— It’s perhaps worth noting that during that tournament you scored wins over current Bullet Club members Tama Tonga and Kenny Omega. 


Ishimori: Look, I don’t care about what happened back then. I don’t want to cling to what I’ve done in the past. I came to destroy the old and bring in the new. To do that, I needed to erase everything that I’ve done before and start fresh. That’s another reason I chose Bullet Club. 


— You hold the record for most successive defences of the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship; even that means nothing to you now?


Ishimori: Right. I am the Bone Soldier. I am Taiji Ishimori, Bullet Club. Now I’m Taiji Ishimori Reborn. 


— So, let’s look at your BOSJ A Block opponents. On the opening night May 18, you face IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay. 


Ishimori: I get my chance right away (grins). Anyway, he’s the champ, his speed and technique is awesome for sure. But there’s still a bit of sloppiness in there if you ask me. I think he’s still a bit green. 


— At 25, he’s a very young champion; compared to your 16 year career, there’s a gap there. Ospreay’s physical ability isn’t in question, but you think you have him beat?


Ishimori: I’m not like the other Japanese guys he’s faced, I have confidence they don’t. You saw Dontaku, right? One move from me and he was out. 


— That’s the move you’re calling the Bloody Cross.


Ishimori: Korakuen’s going to be like an action replay, don’t you think? Hehe. 


— May 20 in Shizuoka, you face BUSHI. 


Ishimori: I’m not really familiar with him, but I really see him as being a tag guy. In my mind he isn’t a singles player. 


— He has worn the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in the past. 


Ishimori: First I’ve heard of that (laughs). Like I said, not familiar. But I don’t think he’ll give me any trouble. 


— Not worried then.. on May 24, you face ROH’s Flip Gordon. 


Ishimori: I haven’t even heard of him before. 


— How do you feel about that, facing an unknown opponent?


Ishimori: I don’t really feel anything to be honest. I’ve faced a lot of guys abroad who I hadn’t heard of. I just get in there and I do me. I fight the way I do, I don’t worry about who they’ll be. 


— Nagoya May 26, one half of the IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions, Yoshinobu Kanemaru. You’ve faced one another in NOAH many times. 


Ishimori: Well, he’s definitely a craftsman, I’ll say that for him. But there isn’t anything about him that worries me. 


— Lately he’s been spitting whisky in opponents’ faces to great effect…


Ishimori: Oh really? Resorting to that, huh? Well, if that’s what he feels he needs to do, he can do what he wants. 


— In Tochigi May 29, another guy you’ve faced in NOAH before; Tiger Mask. 


Ishimori: A few tag matches, yeah. But to tell the truth, I’m a little surprised he still makes the cut in the BOSJ. When I was younger I definitely thought he was great, but now that tiger’s pretty long in the tooth. 


— Harsh words.. next you face ACH. The last time you were in New Japan, it was in the Super Junior Tag Tournament and you were teaming with him. He seemed pretty shocked on Twitter to see his former partner become the new Bone Soldier. 


Ishimori: I definitely thought he was a good wrestler when I teamed with him. Lots of energy, like he bounces on a spring. But that works against him. He’s like an excited schoolgirl, all pep and no killer instinct. 


— On June 3, in Korakuen, your last group match is with RPG3K’s YOH. 


Ishimori: Hm. I watched him when he was a young kid, and when he came back from excursion I thought he was more refined, but whether he can really leave a mark in that ring, that’s a question mark for me, you know? I think he’s stalling out to be honest. 


— Well, since losing the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships in March, and then losing the subsequent rematch, he’s been somewhat in the background. 


Ishimori: It’s an easy match for me, I think. I don’t anticipate taking any ‘L’s in this group. 


— So who do you think you’ll face in the final? Anyone from B Block that interests you?


Ishimori: …. I don’t think I’m interested in anyone else so much as everyone else is interested in me. 


— You certainly stand out in this year’s field. 


Ishimori: But my Bullet Club teammate Scurll is certainly a great wrestler, and I’ll be watching Hiromu Takahashi and KUSHIDA with some interest. 


— You faced KUSHIDA in the 2016 Super J Cup. You put up a great fight in the first round, but lost eventually. 


Ishimori: I kind of want revenge, but more than that, I want to show that Bullet Club’s Taiji Ishimori is a different beast. When it comes to power and speed, I blow KUSHIDA and Hiromu away. 


— It’s usually the case that the BOSJ winner becomes the number one contender to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, is that something that you’ve given thought to?


Ishimori: If I want my name value, my fame to increase worldwide, that title would be perfect for me. That and a Bullet Club shirt, those are two pretty big advertisements for Taiji Ishimori. 


— So the belt’s in your sights?


Ishimori: I want more than just to be here. That means it’s natural for me to be in that mix. And everyone says they want to elevate the division, right?


— Yes. Hiromu and KUSHIDA especially have said they don’t want the juniors to lose out to the heavyweights. 


Ishimori: If I’m Champion, that belt and the division will be elevated as a matter of course. You’ll understand that if you watch the BOSJ and witness Taiji Ishimori: Reborn.