‘I’ve never had a match, a situation in my career as unpredictable as this one with Naito’. A special interview with SANADA!【G128】

G1 CLIMAX 28 is finally underway! Before the tournament started, we sat down with SANADA in San Francisco during the G1 Special weekend to discuss his thoughts on facing Kota Ibushi in Nagaoka July 26, and Tetsuya Naito August 8 in Yokohama.

G1 CLIMAX 28: LIVE STREAMING, Event Tickets, Schedule & more info at


— You’re in Block B this year; how do you feel about the other entrants?


SANADA: Well, I’d say that more than A Block, B Block represents the here and now of NJPW.


— Perhaps so. There’s the IWGP Champion Kenny Omega, the defending G1 winner Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi back in the field; it’s a very newsworthy group, so to speak.


SANADA: But I have mixed feelings about it. There’s a lot of guys where you go ‘that’s a fun match’ but at the same time that the timing isn’t quite right for them.


— If you’re talking about timing, I assume it’s in reference to your contemporary; ‘that’ wrestler..


SANADA: Yeah. Obviously Naito is the match I’m most interested in, but at the same time, it’s also ‘now, here, really?’


— You’re set to face Naito in group action in Yokohama on August 8, but there’s a part of you that feels it’s a bit premature?


SANADA: Hmm, not premature, more that I would want for us to have a reason to be fighting, and standing across one another with that purpose in mind. I don’t really want it to be just another G1 league match. Then again, if it wasn’t for the G1, I wouldn’t really have the chance to face him..


— Similar to your match with EVIL last year, then. When the cards were announced in Korakuen on June 19, the reaction to your and Naito’s match was second only to Ibushi and Omega. The fans are pretty hyped up for it.


SANADA: Ah, so… We’re the second most exciting matchup? Not the first…


— The blocks were announced on June 18. After the main event that night, you didn’t join in the usual fist bump with Naito..


SANADA: That’s right.


— Ever since you joined LIJ, you’ve said several times that Naito is the wrestler you’re most conscious of, and with that in mind, that moment…


SANADA: I mean, me and him go back quite a way. We even took the NJPW Dojo tryout at the same time.


— The November 2005 tryout that had you, Naito and YOSHI-HASHI taking part.


SANADA: And before I came to NJPW, we were in tag matches with and against each other.


— While you were wrestling for All Japan, you tagged with Naito at the August 2011 and February 2012 All Together shows. Then in August  2012 at the AJPW/NJPW 40th anniversary event, you were on opposite teams in a tag match.


SANADA: And actually before that, in 2008 at Minoru Suzuki’s 20th anniversary event, we were both in the same Battle Royal, but I don’t think we touched much, if at all.


— It was a shocking scene in April 2016 when you joined LIJ. Since then, with you part of the same unit, the fans have been looking forward to seeing you and Naito lock up. Is it an important match to you?


SANADA: Yes. But to be honest, that’s why I didn’t want this to be just another G1 league match.


— Last September, as Naito was heading into a match with Tomohiro Ishii, he taunted Ishii by saying he needed to speak his mind, to speak up. There’s an extent to which that was directed at you, perhaps, as advice, or that he was being cognisant of you.


SANADA: Ah, yes. Naito is very ‘kind’ with his advice in so many ways, isn’t he..


— Do you feel that Naito is aware of you, that he does keep you in mind?


SANADA: Yes,  but only in so much that he feels he has the energy left over for it. He has his antenna going all the time. He isn’t entirely wrapped up in himself, but he has an awareness of everything going on around him. That I’m worthy of coming up on his radar, I guess that’s ‘kindness’ on his part.


–When you were with All Japan, it really did feel that you two had the seeds of a rivalry that could transcend promotional ties. Perhaps it’s that atmosphere that Naito’s bearing in mind.


SANADA: Hm, but as far as I’m concerned, I really don’t feel the same way, don’t have the same mindset as back then. Perhaps that will come out when we’re in the ring together, I really don’t know. This match with Naito, I really, honestly don’t know how it’s going to go. We just have to do it.


— Even with the career and experience you have, this one is too difficult to call.


SANADA: I think it’s the most unpredictable match of the entire tournament. The other matches, something like Kenny v Ibushi, you get some idea of the kinds of things they’ll do. This match, there’s no telling what will happen at all.


— A lot of people are talking about Omega vs Ibushi, but they have faced each other before in the past. You and Naito is a truly fresh one on one matchup, and in very different circumstances to when you were both up-and-comers in the business.


SANADA: I don’t think we can shake this image that Tetsuya Naito is the leader of LIJ. He’s the originator, the guy that took the Los Ingobernables concept from Mexico to Japan. Even if we say ‘we don’t need a leader in this unit’, that’s not how everybody will look at it.


— So you’re not thinking of staging an uprising in LIJ, or dissolving the group?


SANADA: I don’t want to, to be honest. Win or lose this match, the leader’s the leader. Something like that, that’s a fight for another time.


— Two years ago, Naito faced EVIL in the G1…


SANADA: Back then, I had some idea of how that match was going to go. Even last year, when I was going to face EVIL, I was able to get a mental image of how things would be. This year with Naito.. I’ve never had a match, a situation in my career as unpredictable as this.


–That’s exciting in a way..


SANADA: Hmm, it’s half and half to me. To go back to what I was saying about leadership, it’s obvious that Naito and I can’t complete on popularity, so that’s one aspect to set aside. Not too long ago, I’d walk into this match with a lot of bravado, but I want to figure out the best way to deal with his strengths in the ring and go in that way. Bravado only gets you so far.


–Your mindset has changed a bit when it comes to preparation.


SANADA: I’ve grown up I guess. Being like a kid in a fight, puffing your chest out and acting tough, that’s definitely one aspect of being a pro wrestler. But with Naito, it’s a matter of taking everything into account, all his strengths and mine, and bringing that understanding to the ring.


— You said you don’t want to usurp Naito as leader, but the results of this match seem all but certain to influence the future of LIJ to some extent, would you agree?


SANADA: I think so. Things will change. Depending on the result, things may change a lot.


–Your natural physical ability and your wrestling instincts are things that everyone in the business respects. The fans are expecting a lot from you this G1.


SANADA: I think it’s important for a wrestler to do that, to get more people expecting more of you. I do feel that more people have a lot invested in me right now.


— You had your first IWGP title challenge against Okada in February, and people see this Naito match as a big turning point for you.


SANADA: A lot of people around me are saying the same thing. How it’ll actually turn out in practice, I don’t know. But then, I felt the same way when I joined LIJ. You just have to go for it and see what happens.


— Another match for you that has fans talking is July 26 in Nagaoka, you and Kota Ibushi.

SANADA: Not only haven’t we wrestled one on one, we haven’t even tagged each other before. There is a match leading up to this, right?


— That would be on the show before, July 22 in Hachioji.


SANADA: If we’ve been apart this long, I kinda want to just go into it cold and go straight to the match.


— You’ve said in the past that you think Ibushi is the best pure athlete in NJPW. What are your thoughts on him lately? Any thoughts on the Golden ☆ Lovers reunion?


SANADA: Just me personally, I wasn’t a fan of them getting back together. I feel that his individual value has taken a dip.. or that he’s being used by Kenny somewhat.


— It does feel like Kenny is somewhat above Ibushi. Some might think of Ibushi just as ‘Kenny’s partner’.


SANADA: Right. Ibushi isn’t a guy you out in a labeled box like that. That’s a waste.


— You said you couldn’t imagine how the Naito match will play out, but do you have any predictions for the Ibushi match? You’re both very athletic, so it should be an interesting offensive match.


SANADA: Well, we’re a similar type of wrestler so I kind of have an image of what’ll happen. I’ve wanted to wrestle Ibushi for a while now. But I don’t want people to just think of it as a purely athletic match.


—What do you mean by that?


SANADA: I don’t want to have people just give it a label like that. Especially when it disregards who wins.


— A lot of fans might think ‘this’ll be a good match whoever wins,’ but the result itself is more important to you.


SANADA: Yeah. If you just decide ‘oh this is the athletic work rate match’ then that’s all it’s going to be.


— Another aspect of this is the feeling that both of you could be the top guy in NJPW at a moment’s notice.


SANADA: I think by rights, Ibushi should be a top guy right now. But life didn’t work that way for him. I guess it’s no fun if everything turns out the way you’d want or expect.


—He did spend some time away from NJPW.


SANADA: Right. Like me, he’s taken a bit of a different path. But the guy’s a genius.


— Don’t you think of yourself as a genius?


SANADA: Me? Nah. (Laughs)


— Humble of you.. Is Ibushi a potential trophy win for you?


SANADA: A ‘trophy’ I don’t know. But he’s someone I want to beat, and I think how that match will go, that result will establish a difference between us, different paths for us to take.


— I see, it’s a match that might determine the rest of the year after the G1 for you.


SANADA: It seems I’m only out in singles matches for New Japan Cups or G1s. I like being in singles matches, so if I want them, I feel I really need to make an impression in a match like this.

— Who from A Block would you like to face in the final?


SANADA: There’s a couple. EVIL is one.


— Only natural you’d want to face your LIJ teammate. Who’s the other?


SANADA: Kazuchika Okada. Those two are about the same generation, same age as me.


— Naito, Kenny and Ibushi are all a little older than you. You feel you want your generation to take over?


SANADA: Yeah, now that we bring their names up. It’s the best chance we have for a while for our generation to be on both sides of a final.


— EVIL is your partner, but are you curious how the two of you would do in a singles feud on a big stage?


SANADA: Actually, no, I don’t want to think of that at all.


— During last year’s G1, EVIL beat Okada and from there, had a lot of hype around him as a singles wrestler. Isn’t there some jealousy there?


SANADA: No, I was honestly happy for him then. No jealousy. So while I want to face him in the final, I want it to be a pure thing, a straightforward final.


— Is wrestling EVIL important to you in perhaps a different way to Naito?


SANADA: It’s very important to me. People might think of it as ‘oh, he’s just paying lip service to his teammate’ but I really genuinely want to face him in a straight up match.


—So LIJ is a big theme for you this G1.


SANADA: It is. I want to beat Naito, beat EVIL and win the whole thing.

G1 CLIMAX 28 schedule & tickets info:

All 19 events, LIVE STREAMING with English commentary on

All photos taken by ©︎TAIKO KUNIYOSHI