— Winner of the New Japan Cup yesterday and now challenger for the IWGP title. Your thoughts please.
Shibata： ‘Thank you to all of the fans that have supported me. I won the New Japan Cup, and earned the right to challenge for Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight title.’
–Is that all?
–In that case we will take questions from the press.
–Can you tell us about your comments toward Okada yesterday, and also how you feel about Fale?
Shibata： ‘He’s… Big. I definitely felt that.’
— Did that make for a tougher opponent than usual, or perhaps it was easier, even?
Shibata： ‘Is there any such thing as an easy opponent? But he’s certainly out of the ordinary. His size is his biggest weapon.’
–You were conscious of the Bad Luck Fall?
Shibata： ‘If he’d hit that it would’ve been over. I wouldn’t say that was the only thing I was aware of, but it would have made the difference.’
–In the Cup this year, you had Suzuki in the first round, Juice in the second and Ishii in the semi finals. It seemed like the Ishii match in particular left an impression on you.
Shibata： ‘Yeah. Yesterday was the final, and I had Ishii the day before. The Ishii match.. it was an Ishii match. The kind of match where I was able to just put everything out of my mind and be completely focused. The opening round, the Ota show, everything that wasn’t relevant on my mind I was able to put to one side. I’m grateful to Ishii for that.’
–You said he was awesome.
Shibata： ‘Yeah, I meant it.’
–Well it was made official today, the Ryogoku main event was decided.
Shibata： ‘Well, I knew the winner gets to challenge, but now what that means has really hit home, it’s really happening. Yesterday after the match I just went home, slept and then came here, so… when I remember the New Japan Cup, this idea of where and when the challenge happens.. our schedule is always so hectic it never really crossed my mind when the title match happens. Now it’s only a couple of weeks out.’
–Winning the Cup doesn’t feel real to you yet?
Shibata： ‘Oh, it feels real. I mean, it’s right here next to me, I won it. But today, this interview is about me challenging Okada in Ryogoku. I haven’t really been in this press conference situation before. I’m not used to it I guess.’
–Yesterday you had a lot of thoughts to share about Okada.
Shibata： ‘Oh, I have a lot of thoughts!’
–And you talked about your promise from three or four years ago.
Shibata： ‘I think when I first talked about promises maybe there were some people thinking it’d be my classmate… but then when I said the name Okada, I made my intentions clear.’
–Even since you came back to the company after your long absence, you two really haven’t touched. Do you feel like ‘this is finally happening?’
Shibata： ‘Finally, right? I faced him once in the G1 and really only very rarely in tags. In these four or five years maybe all together we’ve shared a ring for twenty, thirty minutes. It’s a very rare situation. Inside, I’ve felt that whatever I say, or even just floating the idea would see me separated from him. I get that he’s the most important guy to the company, but perhaps they’ve been overprotective of him, and I wonder whether that’s for the best. He hasn’t turned me down, by any means. I think he’s awesome, but in that period where we haven’t been able to touch, I’ve just been watching, with my sights set on him, quietly, from the background. But in that period, here’s Naito saying all kinds of things and I let this slide, and all of a sudden, it’s hard to figure out which way to go. That’s the thing about pro wrestling; it’s live, it’s raw and it’s fluid, always changing. That’s New Japan.’
— It took a long time, but you’re finally at the top of the card.
Shibata： ‘Right. These last three or four years I’ve not been vocal, we haven’t touched, I’ve just been biding my time. Look, I left, and to come back and just demand a title shot isn’t going to happen. Lots has happened over that time, lots has happened within me. And it’s true what Okada said. ‘You don’t get a shot just by coming and standing opposite me.’ ‘Come back when you’ve won the New Japan Cup.’ I went and did that. It just took a long time.’
–How do you think the Okada of today differs from the man you faced before?
Shibata： ‘Of course, he’s going to be different. That was, what, three years ago? Three year’s experience is a lot. For a high school student, it’s the difference between a freshman and a graduate. Three years is big, and it’s big for Okada, no doubt. He had the belt then, he has the belt now. That’s amazing, and it’s something I couldn’t do. But I’ve changed over the last three years too. Last year I fought over the NEVER title, I went abroad, went to the UK, learned a lot. I think in Japan too, I had more singles matches last year than at any other time in my career. And I took every challenger and every fight. That mindset, that’s something that New Japan instils in you, the Lion Mark instils in you. It’s a vital thing you can’t change or replace, and it’s what’s led me to challenge and fight for the very symbol of what NJPW represents.’
— You think you can pull out a different side to Okada when you face him?
Shibata：I think so. That’s why I wanted him. Okada.. I think yesterday was the first time I put the words ‘Okada’ and ‘IWGP’ in the same sentence. Maybe I mentioned his name before, but I never talked about the IWGP title until now. But over the last four, five years, I’ve changed, I’ve grown, and I’ve finally arrived at this point.’
— You last challenged 13 years ago. What were your thoughts on the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at that point?
Shibata： ‘Hmm. Maybe I thought about whether I’d get a belt sometime.. Last year I held the NEVER belt, that was only the third belt in my career. And then I had the British belt and wrestled for that. I think up to that point, I didn’t really feel that belts were all that important. But now I realise that they are important. You’re the focus, you can make things happen. A symbol. The champion is the icon, the face of New Japan.’
–So you want to start a movement as champion?
Shibata： ‘I don’t know about a movement, but I want a change of scenery. It’s always been Okada. It was Okada when I came back to the company, it’s Okada now. I want to change this narrative of the main events all being with similar guys, blow a hole in that logic.’
–You debuted in 1999, left the company and came back, all in all, it’s been an 18 year journey for you. How do you reflect on that?
Shibata： ‘Well, I think the last 18 years for me is something that nobody else could replicate. Whoever I face will never have had the career I’ve had. Okada, I don’t know how long he’s been doing this now, but the same goes for him. But however you look at it, wherever I’ve been and whatever I’ve done, these last 18 years I’ve always been a pro wrestler. It’s something nobody could possibly replicate.
–A lot of rough times, a lot of tears…
Shibata ‘Tears.. I said this in the ring yesterday, sweat is more beautiful than any tears shed. Sweat doesn’t lie.’
–Is there anything different in your mindset, comparing your first challenge to now?
Shibata： ‘Yes, I think so. At that time, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the IWGP meant. At that time Fujita had the belt, he was a great wrestler, I could challenge him. There was no fear in me, no trepidation. And I got destroyed. Not having that fear was what got me wiped out. These 18 years, I’ve gotten to know fear, and pain and struggle. That’s what I meant when I said however you cut it, I’ve always been a pro wrestler, even if the ring I stood in changed. So everything’s connected, all these points are connected, and it’s all connected to Okada and Ryogoku.’
— Yesterday you said you knew the NJPW of back then, and you know the NJPW of today, so you have twice the knowledge of Okada. Can you expand on that?
Shibata： ‘There’s a saying isn’t there? Born and bred. I left once, true. But I was always, always a pro wrestler. It goes back to my father, it goes in my blood. I was born into NJPW. It can’t be changed. Soto fight Okada, to be able to fight Okada, I’m excited. But I want to hit that nerve, I want to see just how much of that born and bred pride he has, just how much of that blood is in his veins. He almost hides behind this character as the Rainmaker. He doesn’t wear a mask, but he might as well. I’m not even sure of what I’m saying myself, but I want to see what I can pull out of him, see a real Okada, one nobody’s ever seen before. Maybe that troubles him, maybe that’s why he didn’t come out yesterday.’