The G1 got underway from Dallas last week, with two junior heavyweights in the field; Will Ospreay in A Block and Shingo Takagi in B. It was Ospreay that handed Takagi his first pinfall defeat in NJPW, and helped drive Takagi’s desire to enter the G1, and push himself against the hardest of heavyweight comeptition. We spoke to Takagi to get his thoughts on the toughest tournament of his life.
‘Kojima was great. He doesn’t half ass a thing. But it was a now or never deal for me’
–So your G1 entry came about after defeating Satoshi Kojima at Dominion and demanding to be in the tournament.
Takagi: That time on the mic was the first time since last October I really truly spoke my mind. I think every time before I was trying to fit in with the rest of LIJ, exude that coolness.
–You were speaking for yourself rather than for your unit?
Takagi: Yeah. Before when I was asking to have SHO in the same block as me in Best of the Super Juniors, that was my true voice as well. That time, I knew I was in the tournament in general, so here it was a much more passionate deal.
–You really wanted to put yourself out there.
Takagi: Well, really my plan was to win the BOSJ and then make a big proud declaration.
–After your final match with Will Ospreay you said ‘it doesn’t matter whether they’re juniors or heavyweights, I want to face stronger opposition’. In Osaka, that opposition was heavyweight.
Takagi: Kojima was great. He doesn’t half ass a thing. But I knew once I was able to get past him it was a now or never deal for me, to say I wanted in. I’d heard that the entrants would get announced at the next tour in Korakuen.
–You had to state your case fast.
Takagi: Right. I was king of rushed. For me mentally there was a lot of pressure to get this out. And just before my match, (Jon) Moxley made the same demand.
–‘The international purveyor of violence wants in the G1!’
Takagi: My plan from before I went out was to win and then say I wanted in. But I heard Moxley say what he did from the back and it got me fired up, ‘I’m not losing to him!’ So there I am with the mic in my hand on my first time in Osaka Jo Hall.
–You felt so strongly about the G1.
Takagi: Of course, I put all I had into Best of the Super Juniors, but it’s not like it was going to end there. So what was next? The G1, obviously.
‘I’m not really thinking about my weight. I could easily go over 100kg, but my strength is in having power and acceleration’
–You’ve talked in the past about wanting to wrestle as an openweight. Do you have any concerns in pivoting from a junior heavyweight tournament into one that’s predominantly heavyweight?
Takagi: Not particularly. I think some part of me has been looking at the G1 ever since I came into the company. That’s why I went into the Best of the Super Juniors feeling like I mustn’t lose. I’m not planning on breaking my focus heading into the G1.
–You seem driven. What do you think of what you’ve seen of the G1 in the past?
Takagi: Well, obviously it’s one of the most important events on the calendar for New Japan. At one point I would have thought I was getting ahead of myself if I said I wanted in the G1. Back then I never thought I’d settle here. At Ryogoku I said I wanted to be openweight, and in Dominion I got results. Of course, I’m not taking any of this lightly.I know that from some other wrestlers opinions are flying about the field this year, and that’s good, that’s how important and competitive the G1 is.
–Comparing lineups to last year, seven wrestlers have changed. YOSHI-HASHI and Minoru Suzuki fell short, and were actively trying to get into the lineup after the fact.
Takagi: I think if you’re a fan of those guys, it’s only natural to get angry and think ‘hey, why is this guy in? He didn’t even win BOSJ’. It’s my job to shut them up with my performances.
–Just being selected for the G1 carries with it a lot of weight.
Takagi: Especially as I’ve made this proclamation about being Openweight. If I put in a bad showing, I probably won’t make the cut next year, or the year after. That’s how important the tournament is.
— You seem to be fired up just talking about it.
Takagi: I went through BOSJ, through Kizuna Road and now into the G1 without taking a break. I’ve been keeping my motivation at a high the whole time.
–Are there any particular areas you’ve been working on as you head into the G1?
Takagi: One thing I’m not thinking about is my weight. I could easily go over 100kg, but my strength is in combining power with acceleration. Getting bigger would compromise that, it’d be cutting the nose to spite the face. I’ve been keeping my strengths in mind, and I think I’m at my best right now.
–You feel like you’re better off as you are.
Takagi: Well, I don’t feel as if putting on weight would be of much benefit. It’s not as if some guy who’s ten kilos heavier than I am is automatically more powerful than I am. That said, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t think all these matches might take a toll on my body. But I’m fired up. So I’m all for just putting it all out there, going until I can’t go anymore, and finding out just what this body of mine can do.
‘In the span of eight months, I can say I’ve really reduced the distance between me and Naito’
–So to get into B block, are all of these matches completely fresh for you?
Takagi: Well, I’ve faced Jeff Cobb in a three way overseas one time, but apart from that, yeah, they’re all first time matches for me.
–That’s quite a rare case. Is there anybody in particular you have your eye on?
Takagi: Naito, obviously. I knew coming into the G1 that I would probably have to face one of my peers, but I really felt I wanted to face the guy that brought me to New Japan, Naito.
–It was last October that Naito introduced you to NJPW as LIJ’s new ‘pareja’.
Takagi: And he’s the Intercontinental Champion. No doubt about it, the chance to measure myself against a yardstick like a reigning champion is exciting.
–You face each other on August 4 in Osaka. You’ve known Naito since you were a high school senior, were both a part of the famous Hamaguchi Gym. Is there an emotional aspect to this match for you?
Takagi: We were teens back then. We both were there because we wanted to be pro wrestlers. I think from day one there was this feeling that we couldn’t lose out to one another.
–Maybe Naito had felt more strongly about that. He said that he deliberately didn’t speak to you back then.
Takagi: I felt like he really didn’t like me. He saw me as a rival. So much so that when we were sparring and he won, his reaction was never ‘yes!’ but ‘See? Told you!’
–To have that past and then to come together in the ring again, it’s a nice story.
Takagi: Heh. But for me, I really felt that when Naito got his break in New Japan, he opened up a big gap between us. Then again, I think I can say that in these eight months, I’ve been able to close that gap quite a way.
–Naito said that the level of attention you got during the BOSJ made you the number one member of LIJ for a while. He said that taking the Intercontinental Championship from Kota Ibushi put the two of you at the same level again.
Takagi: That whole set of circumstances makes facing him really exciting.
–Naito also said he wants you to come into the match feeling as if it was a battle for control of LIJ.
Takagi: Haha! I see. Well, sad to say, I can’t speak a lick of Spanish, so I don’t think I can take over LIJ.
–A problem with the Mexican roots of Los Ingobernables.
Takagi: Naito often likes to talk about how LIJ has that horizontal structure, that he wants one of us to pull him down and take his place. He likes to talk like that because he knows he’s at the top. As someone who’s known him a long time, that’s the guy I want to take out.
‘I’ve driven with Moxley’
–How about Jon Moxley? You face him on July 24. Before Moxley went to WWE, he was part of Dragon Gate USA. Did you come into contact with him there?
Takagi: We were actually in the same group together there, I drove to venues with him.
–So you were actually quite close?
Takagi: Well, this was a long time ago. 2009, 2010? He drove this really beaten up car, a mess inside and out. It made me think ‘man life is tough for an American indie wrestler’.
–Did he say anything then that stuck with you?
Takagi: He said to me ‘I’d like to go to Japan’. But I never thought that it’d be with New Japan, in the G1, and we’d be having a match against one another.
–It’s quite a story. From there he was at the top in WWE and then came over to New Japan.
Takagi: I heard that he was a top guy over there. He really fired the crowd up in his NJPW debut.
–He beat Juice Robinson on June 5 to become IWGP US Champion.
Takagi: Ospreay and I were out next but I could hear all the sound from the crowd from backstage. As he was heading back we passed by one another.
–Did he say anything to you?
Takagi: No, no. We didn’t make eye contact. But I think he sent me a message without needing any words.
–That night and on June 9, Moxley was wrestling right before you.
Takagi: Like we were talking about, when I heard him on the mic talking about the G1, I got really pissed. ‘That guy!’. I’m looking forward to finding out just how good of a wrestler he’s become.
–Another match that looks interesting for you is August 8 in Yokohama against Ishii. You both have similar levels of intensity.
Takagi: I’ve liked Ishii for a while now. His bullishness, his aura. We probably think the same way about wrestling.
–You’ve tagged against him in the past; how has that been?
Takagi: Right. You really feel the influences of Genichiro Tenryu and Riki Choshu in him. The old school, Showa way. I was taught by a Showa wrestler myself, in Animal Hamaguchi.
–Hamaguchi was a famous partner of Choshu’s, and he tagged with Tenryu in WAR as well.
Takagi: And Tenryu was once a consultant for Dragon Gate. He taught me a lot during that time. Had a real influence on me.
–Your Dragon Spirit elbow drop off the top is a classic Tenryu move. When you think about it, you and Ishii have roots that are quite similar.
Takagi: We have similar styles in ring. I can use a sliding lariat, too. But when we’ve tagged before, he’s gotten pretty angry in the ring. A ‘know your place!’ kind of thing.
–But when you and SHO were going at it, he seemed quite approving. He said: ‘It’s all good, isn’t it? That’s how you stir things up’.
Takagi: Always the cool one. I’m really fired up for this one. What does it really mean for Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii to face off in a main event? We’ll just have to get in there and find out.
‘I can’t just be beat and leave it at that. So I want Ospreay to come at me.’
–So, who from A block do you have your eye on to win and maybe meet you in the final?
Takagi: Obviously, I can’t just be beat and leave it at that. So I want Ospreay to win A block and come at me.
–That would be unprecedented: the first time the Best of the Super Juniors and the G1 Climax had the same final match!
Takagi: The BOSJ final match was decided just two days before the Ryogoku final. We didn’t have much time to really build up for a Takagi versus Ospreay match; to be honest I personally was disappointed we didn’t sell out at Sumo Hall.
–It was on a weekday, maybe some people didn’t foresee it as a big main event.
Takagi: I think that a lot of people afterwards were wishing they’d have gone.
–It definitely became a match of the year contender.
Takagi: Friends of mine, even people who I’m rarely in touch with, were all reaching out and saying ‘I wish I could’ve gone’. Well, either way, I lost the match so…
–But Ospreay versus Takagi is now a match that people know can main event anywhere.
Takagi: It was an all junior heavyweight match, but when I look back at my career so far, I hadn’t really been involved much with distinctions between weight classes.
–If you look back at your career, you have been in heavyweight leagues before with good results.
Takagi: I’ve done a lot in my career, but the Super Junior was the toughest tournament I’ve been in. It gave me a lot of confidence, too.
–That’s how tough the competition was in BOSJ.
Takagi: Thinking back to the matches I had with SHO, Ishimori, Dragon Lee, guys like that. I want to bring their emotions with me into the ring. If I lose out in the G1, crash and burn with zero points, I wouldn’t be able to look those guys in the face again. I have to go into this as a proud representative of the super juniors. That’s why I want me and Ospreay to be in the final.
–Anybody else in A Block catch you eye?
Takagi: Of course, EVIL and SANADA. And Ibushi as well, since we’re the same age.
–You and Ibushi go back to the 57 Club (a group of wrestlers who were all born in the year Heisei 57: 1982)
Takagi: When I first came to New Japan, I was asked ‘what wrestlers are you interested in?’ and my head instantly went to Ibushi. You can’t help but be interested in Ibushi. Nobody has any idea what goes on in his head (laughs).
–He’s a little bit hard to read, for sure. You’ve tagged against him before, but never had a singles match.
Takagi: When I was younger I tagged against him as well, and I thought ‘I want to face him in a singles match sometime’. Now we’re in the G1, that chance has come around.
–It’d be the second 57 Club match after Naito.
Takagi: The other guy I’m interested in is KENTA.
–Another guy coming from WWE into the G1.
Takagi: I saw him on the monitors at Osaka, him coming out and suddenly wanting to put himself in the G1. It hit hard for sure.
I paid my dues, went through the steps. I don’t think KENTA should just be able to say ‘see you at the G1’
–You mean as someone who has put in a resume in NJPW these last few months, it hit hard for him to go straight in?
Takagi: Yeah. Look, I didn’t come here because of what NJPW wanted, it was because of what Naito wanted as part of LIJ. So I was tested in the Super Junior Tag League, tested in Best of the Super Juniors. I paid my dues, went through the steps. I don’t think KENTA should just be able to say ‘see you at the G1’.
–You haven’t had much contact with KENTA, right?
Takagi: Right. The last time would have been March 2008, in a title match in Ota.
–Yourself and BXB Hulk were defending the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships against Taiji Ishimori and KENTA. The end of the match saw KENTA hit some brutal kicks in succession right to your head.
Takagi: Before that, I took the Go2Sleep. That concussed me; after the match it was Go2Hospital (laughs). I definitely wanted to get revenge right then. It’s taken 11 years, but now we’re both in NJPW.
–KENTA’s arrival brought back some memories for you.
Takagi: Maybe he doesn’t remember, but I can’t forget. Right before I lost consciousness I was thinking ‘I’m gonna get you for this!’ To tell you the truth, I think NJPW has the best wrestling in the world. I don’t watch WWE, don’t watch American pro wrestling, and honestly don’t know or care about what he did or didn’t do in the States. Just because you make a name for yourself in America doesn’t mean you can cut it here.
Takagi: I know what it’s like in this ring. For him, what kind of impact he can make here, or whether he won’t do anything of note and just fade away, that’s interesting. It’s a shame we aren’t in the same block, but I’m in no rush with him. If he doesn’t make the finals, I’m sure we’ll meet each other somewhere down the line.
–Even though this is your first G1, you’re connected to a lot of the wrestlers here. Finally, do you have any message for the fans seeing the G1?
Takagi: A lot of fans are concerned about me physically, and are asking whether I can go straight from BOSJ to the G1. Of course I’ve taken some damage, but my motivation is as high as it could be. So with my results and my performances I want to surpass all the expectations people have for me. I think I’m going to show a new Shingo Takagi not even I’ve ever seen before, and it’s got me pumped!