February 26 & 27 sees Ring of Honor return to Korakuen Hall for two nights of explosive action at Honor Rising: Japan 2017.
— So, we’re here today to get the biggest Japanese authority on Ring of Honor’s views on Honor Rising: Japan 2017.
KUSHIDA: I guess I am the biggest authority in New Japan.. Last year I was practically wrestling there almost every month.
— In your opinion, what’s the most interesting aspect of ROH as a promotion?
KUSHIDA: For me the most exciting aspect is that while in Japan we’re separated into junior and heavyweight classes, in ROH everything is open. That creates some really interesting, fresh matchups, almost a sandbox feel with so many possibilities.
— In the past, the likes of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly have wrestled in NJPW as juniors, but in ROH they go at it with heavyweights as well. It’s more of a free environment?
KUSHIDA: Add to that guys like the Briscoe Bros. or Adam Cole. Those guys have proven their ability in NJPW as well. It’s also a place that every independent wrestler in America wants to prove themselves in. The roster is always changing and that in itself is an interesting point.
— It’s an alternative to WWE.
KUSHIDA: Well, they have television, and you have visibility there. To be a top guy in ROH, or even to make it onto their show is an achievement.
— ROH and WWE might be in the same country, but they have very different styles.
KUSHIDA: It’s the kind of hard style that Japanese fans like I think. There’s a lot more personal freedom and responsibility that they’re entrusted with in ROH, so a lot of wrestlers backstage have this strong spirit. ‘Let’s pull of a match that they could never do over there’ kind of thing.
— A feeling of rebellion against the big company.
KUSHIDA: Right. And there are a lot of wrestlers who have a secret ambition to wrestle in New Japan that stand out.
— Right now, Ring of Honor and New Japan have a close relationship, but you could be forgiven for looking at an ROH show and asking ‘is this New Japan?’
KUSHIDA: It’s really breaking down the barriers between the companies. Right now (Yohei) Komatsu and (Sho) Tanaka are on their learning excursion there (as the Tempura Boyz) and last year Hiromu Takahashi was there last year. To tell the truth, the nature of foreign excursions is changing, little by little.
— Will Ospreay, CMLL’s Dragon Lee, Volador Junior have all been wrestling in ROH, too.
KUSHIDA: Right. I think there are a lot of people coming to Japan for the first time this weekend who want to be a regular in New Japan, who want to be in the Tokyo Dome. There’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of drive in the company to see ROH be elevated.
— The fans are similarly passionate, as if they’re working with the wrestlers in creating one unified vision.
KUSHIDA: Absolutely. They slap the barricades at ringside and really chant loud for big moves; ‘This is awesome,’ ‘This is wrestling,’ ‘Holy shit!’ Things like that.
— That influence has led to fans chanting ‘this is awesome’ even at NJPW Korakuen Hall shows.
KUSHIDA: There’s a feeling of unity with the fans there, that this is the kind of wrestling they enjoy and want to support.
— The fans have a sense of pride in ROH too.
KUSHIDA: For sure. Last year I was defending the junior title against ACH. The fans were chanting something in English I couldn’t make out, but afterward the referee told me that there was a WWE pay per view that same day, and the fans were chanting ‘this is better!’ or something like that. There’s this real feeling of ‘we want the real thing!’
— This is the second year ROH as a whole comes to Japan. What are your thoughts on that?
KUSHIDA: To put it simply, it makes for a hell of an event! You don’t often get the chance to see so many wrestlers come over from America all at once. And above that, it lets the ROH guys feel that Japan isn’t such a long way removed from home.
— It’s less a case of ROH wrestlers appearing in New Japan than ROH as a whole coming.
KUSHIDA: Right. Much like with Fantasticamania for CMLL, it’s a chance to see ROH as it really is and their wrestlers as they really are. There are matches with all ROH talent for example.
— So is there anyone in particular coming from ROH that catches your eye?
KUSHIDA: Well there are a lot of NJPW regulars in there, but for me I’m most interested in Silas Young making his Japanese debut, and in Delirious as well. I think both of those guys are real craftsmen.
— You’ll be involved in matches with Silas Young on both the 26th and 27th. You’ve wrestled him before, correct?
KUSHIDA: Yeah, a couple of summers ago I had a singles match with him. He’s very much a heavyweight. Heavy-set, big chest, the real model of a brawler.
— With the beard and swept back long hair, he looks like the kind of grizzled guy you shouldn’t mess with at the bar.
KUSHIDA: Yeah, he’s just the model tough guy, a throwback in a way. Like a road tough guy pulled straight from ’80s America.
— He makes you feel nostalgic in a way?
KUSHIDA: He’s not flashy at all, it’s all in that no-nonsense ability. That and him getting on the mic every time and yelling that he hates Japan, that America’s the best.
— That ‘America First’ stuff is topical now.
KUSHIDA: You’re right! He had a match with me and a match with Liger and both times really ran down Japan. That’s definitely going to come out I think.
— It’s not often we see that kind of character in New Japan.
KUSHIDA: If you can light a fire in the building, get that heat, that’s what makes you a pro. He’s so fundamentally sound as well. On both nights he’s teaming with Jado and Gedo, so it’s this international team of master craftsmen.
— To switch gears to someone more flashy, with The Boys in tow; Dalton Castle is coming back to Japan.
KUSHIDA: Right. The real appeal with Dalton Castle is that he has this very flashy persona, but when the bell rings he can really go. He looks very extravagant, but his technical ability is phenomenal, and his mastery of holds and takedowns is up there with anyone. He’s strong too; I always think his back muscles are incredible.
— Hirooki Goto wrestled him in Vegas last year and said he was surprised at how good he was.
KUSHIDA: He’s strong, his duplexes are phenomenal. I think first time viewers are in for a treat. He’s been in the ROH title mix, but hasn’t quite captured that belt yet. The company has very high hopes for him, I think.
— A future ROH World champion, perhaps. Are there any other wrestlers you’re particularly interested in?
KUSHIDA: War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe), I think. They made a big impact in the World Tag League last year.
— They’re fearsome giants, but can move with surprising grace. They caught a lot of fans by surprise.
KUSHIDA: They have the Young Bucks on the 26th and Guerillas of Destiny on the 27th. Frankly, I could see them challenging for the IWGP tag titles at any time, they certainly have the ability to.
— Another guy with a lot of eyes on him, former WWE superstar and January 4th debutant, Cody. What are your thoughts on him?
KUSHIDA: Cody… Honestly, he’s a guy I’d like to wrestle myself. He certainly projects a superstar aura.
— He’s quite a unique case, having been a top name in WWE and then coming to New Japan via ROH.
KUSHIDA: Right. I think you’ll see more of that kind of situation playing out now. As NJPW grows even more prominent, there will be more people eager to wrestle here.
— As well as Silas Young, the Young Punisher Martinez is also making his Japanese debut. Your thoughts?
KUSHIDA: I really don’t know all that much about him. What kind of wrestler is he?
— He’s 2 meters tall, but has a very dynamic style, with spinning wheel kicks and topes. He also has a lot of tattoos, so he makes a big initial impression.
KUSHIDA: For a young guy to be on his first trip to Japan, having a title match right away (on February 27, with Goto for the NEVER Openweight title) says a lot about ROH’s hopes for him.
— He certainly doesn’t seem like a prelim guy.
KUSHIDA: On the other hand to head straight into a title match feels like a foreign excursion. Testing someone’s mettle. I’m interested in that match. I love that the NEVER title is Openweight- it makes for a lot of interesting possibilities.
— That same night on the 27th, Adam Cole defends the ROH World Championship against YOSHI-HASHI.
KUSHIDA: Yeah. I think for anyone thinking ‘how has Adam Cole managed to hold on to the ROH title?’ will be able to see for themselves in this match. He’s another craftsman, and a guy who’s really good at maintaining control in a match and going at his pace. We’re at Korakuen this time so I think it’s a chance for the crowd to really get a good feel of who Cole really is.
— You’re in the opening match of both shows at Korakuen. What are your personal thoughts going in?
KUSHIDA: Well, I want to get some measure of revenge down the line on Adam Cole, and I want to be in that title mix. With no weight classes in ROH, it’s a place where big chances to move up get afforded to you.
— Unfortunately you don’t have a championship right now, but there’s a chance to shift your sights to the ROH title.
KUSHIDA: If I can produce results in a place with so much talent as ROH, especially against heavyweights, that’s a big win. It’s not a far off dream, it’s something within my reach and I can make it happen. I expect a lot of myself.