Togi Makabe’s 20th anniversary! The comprehensive interview (part 3)

— You won your first G1 in 2009, and your first IWGP Championship in 2010. From there, as the top guy in New Japan, you made more appearances in other media.

Makabe: Ah, you’re right!

— You’ve stated before that every time you appear on TV, you make sure to introduce yourself as ‘New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Togi Makabe’, correct?

Makabe: That’s right. I always make sure to say that. How’s that for dedication? That way, I’m the one that pushes NJPW, even if it’s just a little bit. Nobody will say that stuff for you, so I say it myself.

— You’re really an ambassador for NJPW to the world.

Makabe: Well, it takes effort on my part, right? It’s the same as anything, you need to work hard, produce, and live up to expectations. The TV people can find anyone to eat dessert and just go “delicious!”

— You’re the preeminent talker in wrestling. Those skills transfer to other media.

Makabe: It surprised me honestly. ‘I can really do this?’ But it’s hard work, and there’s a lot of thought that goes into it, making sure you make the cut. Well, maybe I thought I could get more and more famous doing that, drive my booking fees up, be a big star… nothing’s that easy though, heh.

— You realised that’s a tough world, too.

Makabe: It’s all effort and hard work, wherever you are. As a wrestler, no matter how busy you are you have to find time to train and work out. This is the same, you have to put the hours in. But it should be automatic, it shouldn’t feel like hard work.

— Did you foresee TV work becoming this beneficial to your career?

Makabe: No, I mean, it still feels weird now.

— On top of all that work, you’re busy with New Japan, and you’re frequently in the dojo. Do you feel you’re sacrificing a private life?

Makabe: It’s not a sacrifice to me, it’s that everything is my responsibility, my duty. I’m constantly thinking of what I have to do, what I can be doing. Wrestling and media take priority, so the other stuff gets put off.

— Out of interest, do you want to ever get married?

Makabe: Yeah, I do! I haven’t let go of that dream.. (laughs). But I’m a clumsy guy. I think if I did find someone I’d have to approach it like Makabe the wrestler would, think about whether the timing was right. But there’s a lot of things I still need to do first.

— Does wrestling make up for all the sacrifices you make?

Makabe: Absolutely! It’s not about wrestling as part of my life, it’s about wrestling being my life. Life’s hard sometimes, but you live with your burdens. That’s why I go to the ring. One day I’ll make it back to the top.

— With passion and hunger like that, nobody would know how long and tough your career has been.

Makabe: But I have to be like that. At this point, if I took it easy and thought sometime something will come along, well I don’t have ‘sometime’. So I have to bust my ass. And now it’s been 20 years, but at the same time, it’s only 20 years. How long has Liger been going?

— Is that a motivator, to know there are people your senior still working hard?

Makabe: Yeah. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long your career is, if you can still fight, still draw people in, nobody can complain. Everything I’ve known and learned these 20 years I’m using today, and my drive and ability haven’t changed a bit.

— And you still carry a lot of confidence.

Makabe: Right. As great as the NJPW roster may be, there’s nothing that scares me, no opponent I wouldn’t face or beat. This 20 year mark is a checkpoint, not an end point.

— What are your thoughts on NJPW’s current popularity?

Makabe: I’m happy, but I have my concerns. Just how far we can go. I mean, I came when the company was in its best shape, and been through its worst, too.

— You were here when the Tokyo Dome was selling out in the 90s, and when it seemed like the end was near in the mid 2000s.

Makabe: It was a frightening time, so uncertain. But when I think about that, I always have the same feeling, all it takes to make that fear go away is to wrestle like only I can.

— Well, let’s look at the 21February anniversary match. You’re teaming with Honma against Yano and Ishii. Of course, you’ve been involved with Yano and Ishii of late and they are the current tag champions, but moreover the other three in that match are people you’ve had profound connections with in your career. It seems like an appropriate match.

Makabe: Those sons of bitches Yano and Ishii… Yeah I guess I’ve been connected to them for a while.

— Originally Yano and Ishii were with you in GBH. Then in April of 2009, everybody except Honma left to join CHAOS. It was a huge betrayal.

Makabe: That was a humiliating moment. But I’m still proud that we as a unit were able to pick NJPW up onto their feet after being nearly out of it.

— GBH were soundly anti establishment, but you also helped revitalise NJPW.

Makabe: Point is, I know just how good those two are. But the last two times we faced each other in February we’re both three way matches. Now it’s just us and them. Me and Honma are gonna finish this!

— You and Honma have won two consecutive World Tag Leagues together. Do you feel you’ve really progressed as a team?

Makabe: I’m in perfect harmony with him. Even when he’s in the corner, I feel safe and trust him completely. Thinking how far we’ve come makes me a little emotional.

— I gather when Honma first joined GBH, you taught him how to toughen up.

Makabe: He was too light in the ring.

— Too light to be an effective heel?

Makabe: Right. I’d ask him ‘why are you doing babyface moves? You shouldn’t be playing to the crowd.’ We were eating together once and I asked him ‘Hey, do you think a guy who wins every time is the real deal?’ And he says ‘well, the real deal wants to win every time.’

— How did you respond to that?

Makabe: Well, I said ‘there are guys that lose and fall away, and there are guys that are better off for losing’. And he says ‘Nah, there’s nobody that benefits from losing’. So I say ‘You’re right. Normally there isn’t. Just you.’ Blank stare. Completely over his head.

— That he benefits from losing?

Makabe: Right. ‘Normally you lose, you suffer. You benefit. You know why? Because you started right at the bottom’. He said ‘that’s hardly a nice thing to say!’. But truth is, as a babyface, he can lose any number of times and the fans still love him. That’s the kind of appeal he has. When I explained that to him his perception of wrestling changed, I think.

— That’s a nice story.

Makabe: I think a lot of people never thought Honma would get his break but I always thought he’d make it. Maybe not as a TV star! But one time I got hurt and couldn’t make a booking so he filled in for me. In the TV world chances like that come and go in an instant.

— You really helped make Honma a star.

Makabe: He often thanks me, but it’s on him. He made the most of his chances.

— So to end things here, what message do you have to your fans as you approach 20 years?

Makabe: I always say the exact same thing. When I’m out there, I show you what real pro wrestling is all about. If you see my matches, you’ll know that the strongest of plants can grow from the weeds. You can’t get to the top without suffering for it. Especially in this business.

— Spoken like a true survivor.

Makabe: I was a nobody in NJPW, and now I’m the most well known name in the company. That’s crazy, right? I’ll tell you what. If I’m what drives you to watch NJPW for the first time, that makes me happy. Hell, even if you start watching and become fans of Okada, or Naito, or one of those other sons of bitches. How’s that for dedication?