On January 6th, 2 days after WRESTLE KINGDOM was held at the Tokyo Dome, we sat down with IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada at New Japan Pro-Wrestling headquarters to discuss his epic 46 minute battle with Kenny Omega and more.
Next for him is “NJPW PRESENTS CMLL FANTASTICA MANIA 2017”. The full schedule had just been announced.
■First, comments from Okada on Wrestle Kingdom’s death defying match:
“I’ve been in a lot of fierce fights before, but I guess that was the first I would call a truly deadly battle. There were times I thought that I was going to die. Kenny Omega was a strong opponent who pushed me hard to come up with a winning strategy. Beating a tough opponent like him has given me a boost in confidence for sure. And it was a moment seen not only in Japan, but all over the world. I think it was a tremendous title match.
–How has the reaction been after the Tokyo Dome event on January 4?
Okada: I got a lot of people telling me “That was great match,” “Congratulations on winning,” but also some were worried about injuries and asked if I was OK. The reaction in Japan was amazing but the reaction overseas was incredible. A lot of wrestlers from around the world told me they thought it was a great match. I feel like by wrestling against Kenny, we reached a whole new level of fans around the world. It really resonated I think.
–It was a deadly match. How have your injuries been healing up?
Okada: I still have quite a few of them. My neck and head hurt cause I got knocked around a lot. Not only my neck, but the side of my body hurts and I have cuts on my back. Basically my whole body hurts. But that’s what a fight for the IWGP title is all about! It would be the same with any wrestler. It was a fight for the belt so I feel it was worth it.
–After yesterday’s Korakuen match, Kenny said something like “I’m going to keep away from the ring for a while.” What do you think about that?
Okada: Sorry, this is the first I’ve heard about it. I think he gave his very best at the Tokyo Dome. I guess he got burned out though. I got burned out too, but I have this belt so I can’t stop. I think everybody agrees that was an incredible match, but I gotta keep fighting and fighting this year without burning out…to compete in even more electrifying matches than the Tokyo Dome. That’s all coming this year.
–Yesterday at Korakuen Hall, Suzuki-gun suddenly invaded the ring and seemed to have declared war on New Japan Pro-Wrestling?
Okada: Well, I think their purpose in targeting New Japan Pro-Wrestling is to get this belt. Nothing’s been decided yet, but I’m in peak condition. Suzuki had his hands on my belt last night, so it seems like he wants to try for it. But I want to ask him this, “Can you beat the mighty Kenny Omega?” Maybe 2 years ago…? At that time Suzuki was wrestling somewhere else, but I want to show him how far New Japan Pro-Wrestling has come in those 2 years!
–Does that mean that you’re proud in what you have done over the last two years?
Okada: Of course! A lot happened in 2016. 2017 has only just started, but I’ve already competed in a pretty amazing match against Kenny. I’ve firmly taken on New Japan Pro-Wrestling, I can’t stand to lose now. Yesterday even though I got beaten within an inch of my life, I know there’s more. But when I decide to do something, I follow through to the end.
–In the match against Kenny, were you thinking that the world was watching you that night?
Okada: It wasn’t really on my mind. But I figured, since it’s the Tokyo Dome, and I’m facing Kenny Omega, it could turn out to be a match noticed not just in Japan, but around the world. After all, overseas fans probably would be rooting for Kenny to win, right? I think because of that the world took note. It wouldn’t have happened if it was Okada vs. Tanahashi. Maybe partly because it was Okada vs. Kenny, the world got interested.
–There were many changes this year, such as the change of the event theme song and the change of the name from “WRESTLE KINGDOM 11” to “WRESTLE KINGDOM”. Do you have any feelings on this change in direction?
Okada: You’re right. I think that from 1 to 10, it was one kind of “WRESTLE KINGDOM”, and starting from this year, 11, it’s a whole new “WRESTLE KINGDOM” maybe. And starting off 2017 like that at the Tokyo Dome, I have a feeling this year will be even more exciting than 2016.
–Suzuki-gun came out and attacked you pretty badly last night. What are your thoughts on Suzuki?
Okada: I really don’t know, he’s been off my radar for a while. Maybe he’s had success while he’s been away, but I haven’t kept up on him to be honest. So what he has in mind now, I really can’t say.
–Would you say your impression of Suzuki-gun has changed since 2 years ago?
Okada: …They got new shirts? That’s about it.
–You’ve defeated Minoru Suzuki previously in a IWGP title match. So do you have any impressions of him as a wrestler?
Okada: The way I feel is simple: no matter how much time passes, I just don’t like Minoru Suzuki. I felt it during that title match, and I felt it again yesterday. While I may not like some wrestlers, I can almost always find something about them I respect and acknowledge. Like Kenny, of course. But with Minoru Suzuki…no way.
–So he has nothing that you can appreciate?
Okada: That’s right.
–For you, what does it mean to be the “Ace” of New Japan Pro-Wrestling?
Okada: I think someone else in the company already claims that title, and I don’t consider myself the “Ace” anyway. I only want to grow New Japan Pro-Wrestling more and more around the world.
–Do you still feel you have areas you can improve on?
Okada: Yeah, I think I can push myself further. And there’s still plenty in pro-wrestling I find interesting and want to try. I feel there’s still lots of people out there who haven’t experienced pro-wrestling and haven’t seen how amazing it can be. I want to be at the forefront, showing everyone New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s strength and excitement.
–You said earlier that you got lots of reactions from overseas wrestlers about the Tokyo Dome match. Can you name anyone specifically?
Okada: ROH wrestlers, Mexican wrestlers, and of course wrestlers from the WWE. Basically guys from all over the world.
–“FANTASTICA MANIA” starts next week. What kind of competition is “FANTASTICA MANIA” for you?
Okada: Since I got my start in Mexico, for me it’s a tournament where you can rediscover the fun of professional wrestling. But for me, it’s not just a festival. I’ll have fun for sure, but as the IWGP champion, I want to show the Mexican wrestlers how great New Japan Pro-Wrestling is.
–Lastly, Tanahashi lost to Naito at the Tokyo Dome. What are your thoughts on the result?
Okada: I actually feel kinda lonely. Until last year he appeared at the main event several times in a row, though he lost to me last year. He missed some matches last year and I was hoping that he was going to stage a comeback…but he lost. It’s made me think, maybe the time of Tanahashi is over and now it’s Naito’s turn.