NJPW and ROH present G1 Supercard on Saturday April 6 at 7:30PM EST!
We are now tantalizingly close to the huge phenomenon that is G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden. One of the most talked about matches on the card will see the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship defended in an interpromotional three-way match: ROH’s Bandido and CMLL’s Dragon Lee will both challenge New Japan’s champion, Taiji Ishimori.
NJPW1972.com caught up with the Reborn Bone Soldier to get his thoughts on wrestling at the world’s most famous arena on April 6.
‘Ryusuke Taguchi? What a pain in the ass he was’
— You’ve held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for three months now, ever since beating KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Your thoughts on your reign thus far?
Ishimori: I’ve been very public about my plans for the junior heavyweight division. You’ve heard me say I want to tear the whole thing apart and build it up again in my image, make it reborn. I think little by little I’ve started to do that.
— You’ve made a strong start to your reign with a pair of defences already. Has your perception of the title changed any since winning it?
Ishimori: The IWGP Junior division… through my career it was something I was constantly thinking about. Not just since coming here last May as the Bone Soldier, before that I had wrestled in New Japan and that IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship seemed so tantalizingly out of reach. But what’s surprising to me is that when I finally decided to go for that title, it was so easy for me to take it. (grins).
— It was an easier process than you thought. A lot of wrestlers say that when they finally win a championship it really changes their outlook. How do you feel about that?
Ishimori: Really? Eh, I don’t feel all that different.
— Your first defence of the title was against Ryusuke Taguchi (New Beginning in Osaka, February 11). He seemed to give you a lot of trouble…
Ishimori: Taguchi? What a pain in the ass he was! Before that match I was just constantly thinking somebody had screwed up in the booking office. And then during the entire tour he was deliberately trying to p*ss me off. There are some aspects of my past I really don’t want to reflect on if I can help it. But here comes goofy Taguchi reaching into my closet and pulling out every skeleton under the sun. Maybe it popped the people and the guys in the back, but to me I was just furious every single night.
— Taguchi is certainly a master of the mind games. But he brought out a little mischievous side of you in the process.
Ishimori: I don’t know about mischievous, but… I guess in a way he helped show how I’ve been ‘reborn’, hah. Once he started, I wanted to pay him back with interest. He was such a pain in the ass.
— You’re pretty much unrecognizable from your time in the ‘Sailor Boys’ that Taguchi tormented you over.
Ishimori: I’m unrecognizable because I’ve spent my entire career trying to cover the whole damn thing up! I’ve never let anybody find out about it! Then he starts talking about the Sailor Boys and all the fans had to get Googling!
— Everyone started looking up that video.
Ishimori: I heard a rumour that there was a video up there of us singing ‘Keep On Journey’ that had, like, ten views on it or something, and then all of a sudden it blew up to five figures. I freaked out.
— Taguchi singing it in the bath…
Ishimori: It all escalated pretty quickly. I’d try and one up him and then it spiraled out of control a little bit. It was a learning experience, I guess. Something to bear in mind going forward. ‘The Taguchi Problem’…
I don’t want Liger again. I don’t want to face that crazy old man again.
— You went from Taguchi to facing Jyushin Thunder Liger on March 6 at the Anniversary Event. It turned into a very significant match.
Ishimori: He’s a legend. Just the icon of junior heavyweight wrestling in the Heisei era. If you look at me size wise, I’m a small guy, even for a junior. But Liger opened the door for people like me to become wrestlers. His influence went worldwide and there are countless people who became wrestlers because of Jyushin Thunder Liger. He raised the bar. Considerably, no doubt.
— You called Liger into the ring and nominated him to challenge you; he responded by calling you “kid” …
Ishimori: I know, I’m 37 for crying out loud! I guess when you’re Liger’s age everybody is “kid”.
— You objected to that.
Ishimori: But when I actually got in the ring with him… He really is a beast. That frame he has; his musculature is like tough armour for him. He hasn’t slowed down any either. Even toward the end of that match, I never once felt like he was getting tired at all.
–Considering his age and career, it’s pretty remarkable.
Ishimori: I mean, even if you just think about the mask and that costume, it’s something that would hinder a lesser wrestler. But he doesn’t slow down at all. I was just thinking ‘what the hell is up with this old man?’
— In the end though, you won by submission and the next day Liger announced his retirement.
Ishimori: Hehehe. I guess I can say that I’m the guy who retired Jyushin Liger.
— How did you feel hearing the news?
Ishimori: I watched the press conference. He’s just there, bright and to the point “I’m retiring!” It’s like, right to the very end, he’s not letting the veil slip, you know? That was a little tough for me to be honest.
— It seemed losing that match to you played a big part in his decision to retire.
Ishimori: Hmmm, I don’t know, I think if you read between the lines of what he was saying it felt like he was going to retire after that match win or lose.
— But if you look at it another way, that’s what made that match all the more important.
Ishimori: Well, if that’s how he was feeling as he came to challenge me, then that’s flattering in a way. But I will say, I don’t want Liger again. I don’t want to face that crazy old man again. That’s a feeling only people who have been there and done it can understand.
I think Bandido can wrestle Japanese style, can wrestle American style. He’s a guy that could wrestle in any promotion in the world.
— After you defended against Liger you threw out an open challenge, and Dragon Lee came to answer it.
Ishimori: I mean he certainly has all the goods. I just thought ‘hey, ok, I’m down’.
— But after that, Bandido from ROH threw his hat in the ring.
Ishimori: Yeah. I actually didn’t know that Bandido had signed with Ring of Honor. After I left my last promotion and went freelance, Bandido was my first opponent, actually.
–Ah, that’s right, for Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
Ishimori: Yeah, PWG. I’ve wrestled him one on one, too.
–Just before you became the Bone Soldier, correct?
Ishimori: Right. April 2018, I wrestle Bandido in a singles match, May 2018 I debut as the Bone Soldier, and then April 2019 I see him again in Madison Square Garden! Hell of a year…
— Quite the turn of events.
Ishimori: You never know what you’re gonna get in life.
— Bandido carries a reputation for tremendous athleticism and a high-flying style. How did it feel to wrestle him?
Ishimori: Obviously his background is in lucha, but that’s not all he has going for him. He’s wrestled in Dragon Gate before, so has some Japanese experience. I think he can wrestle Japanese style, can wrestle American style. He could really wrestle for any promotion in the world.
–He’s only gotten better over the last year. But it must be surprising to find out you’re wrestling him again on such a big stage.
Ishimori: Mind blowing. I mean, when we faced each other for PWG, it was at this tiny place. Sold out there were about 300 people there. One year later, Madison Square Garden for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
–Is there a little peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve faced him before?
Ishimori: He’s not a complete unknown, sure. It’s Dragon Lee who’s more of a mystery.
You compare what the three of us have done over the last year.. It’s a can’t miss match. For the fans and for me.
— So you’ve never faced Dragon Lee?
Ishimori: Not at all. We were in opposite blocks during Best of the Super Junior last year. The first time we shared a ring was when he came out at the Anniversary event.
–There are no warm-up matches before MSG, so the first time you touch will be in that match.
Ishimori: Right. What’s it going to be like with him? If you think about it, all three of us have our roots in Mexico.
— You all have lucha libre as your backbone.
Ishimori: Right, and our body types aren’t all that different. Bandido is a little larger but that wasn’t something that came into play in particular during our match. I think if you compare what the three of us have done over the last year… To be honest, it’s a can’t miss match. For the fans and for me (confident grin).
–What do you think about Dragon Lee’s in-ring style?
Ishimori: He had those great matches with Hiromu Takahashi. Tough, tough matches.
–A little different from the usual lucha libre rhythm.
Ishimori: Right. Watching those matches you see that he’s taken on a little bit of the Japanese style.
–He has a lot of adoration for Katsuyori Shibata and his breed of Japanese wrestling.
Ishimori: I think that’s what’s led him to come to Japan so often, even as a Mexican. When he came out to answer my open challenge, the crowd went crazy. The fans have high hopes for him.
At one point last year I was planning on coming out as Ishimo Lee…
— OK, I have to ask. Tell me about Ishimo Lee.
Ishimori: Believe it or not, at one point last year I was planning to come out as Ishimo Lee. Last year it was Hiromu and Lee in San Francisco, right? I was going to come out as Ishimo Lee and challenge the winner. But then Hiromu got injured and I didn’t do it.
— Well now we can finally see you and Dragon Lee. What was Ishimo Lee going to look like? Different to normal?
Ishimori: Was Ishimo Lee a different guy, or just the same old Ishimori? I’ll leave it to your imagination. More fun that way.
— Have you been in three-ways before?
Ishimori: Quite a few, yes. I’ve been in three-ways in Japan and America before, but not three-way title matches. The key thing is the winner of the fall gets the title, so I can’t let the match go down to Bandido and Dragon Lee. If I do, even if I’m not pinned, I still lose the title.
— The championship can change hands even without you being involved.
Ishimori: I have to be careful and win the match for myself. That aside though, I think there’s a real potential for this match to steal the show.
–There’s a lot of hype from the fans about it.
Ishimori: There’s definitely a lot of interest in the three of us being in the same ring. But I think we can live up to any expectations.
–And although you all have lucha backgrounds, you’ve each taken your own journeys and evolved differently.
Ishimori: We’re all completely different. Dragon Lee is mainly a CMLL guy who’s learned a lot in Japan, I started in Mexico and have been all over. Then Bandido started as a freelancer in Mexico, went worldwide, and then wound up in ROH.
–Bandido was a very hot free agent for a while.
Ishimori: Yeah, I can understand that. As soon as he wrestles one match anywhere, any promoter in their right mind would want him long term.
–He should leave a big impression on the NJPW fans as well.
Ishimori: Oh, for sure. Visually he leaves a big impression as well. You see that mask and instantly he gets stuck in your head.
‘I thought “so there really is a god of pro wrestling looking out for me”’
— So, to wrap up here, what are your thoughts on Madison Square Garden?
Ishimori: I think a lot of people view it as a Mecca for pro wrestling and martial arts. I associated it with boxing a lot more, so didn’t really know much about it as a pro wrestling venue.
— There haven’t been any major cards there these past few years. But this year WWE’s Wrestlemania is in New Jersey, and one night before, New Japan is in MSG. It’s a unique situation.
Ishimori: The world is watching. I really think this is the biggest moment in my career. It’s crazy to think not one year ago I was revealed at Dontaku as the Bone Soldier. I can’t imagine telling myself this would happen a year ago.
Ishimori: To be perfectly frank, a few years before I came to Japan I kind of felt I was spinning my wheels a little bit. I even considered quitting. But to have this big a chance come around, it really made me think ‘so there really is a god of pro wrestling,’ and that they’re looking out for me. (grins)
–With that in mind, it’s like your whole career has been leading to this.
Ishimori: Heheh. Well, I think it’s important to enjoy being on this huge stage and to savour this huge opportunity, but at the same time, I have to produce results and come away with the win. Like I said before, there’s a lot riding on this match, the fans are expecting big things. I plan to not let them down, and to be the winner. Me, the Bone Soldier, Taiji Ishimori.