With the full tournament lineup for SUPER J-CUP 2019 confirmed, NJPW1972.com caught up with Rocky Romero to get his thoughts on the tournament lineup, and to break down the first round matches fans will see in Tacoma.
— Rocky Romero, it’s now official: you’re in the Super J-Cup!
Rocky: I am! I’m pretty stoked about it, actually. For a junior heavyweight, the J-Cup is the tournament that got a lot of us hooked on pro wrestling. Even more than Best of the Super Juniors, that was the tournament that made the rounds among people who were getting into NJPW and Japanese wrestling in the late 90s and early 2000s. To be in it is a dream I never thought would be possible.
–You’ve been on English commentary during the G1 Climax. Has it been difficult to prepare while balancing your commentary duties rather than wrestling during the tour?
Rocky: It’s been difficult. I got into really good shape for BOSJ; I had a little extra time at home to prepare and that’s always a little easier than being on the road. This time I’ve been on the road for the G1. I’m just trying to eat right, make the workouts good enough and be in the best shape possible, even through the travel on the tour.
–The Super J-Cup is a demanding tour. Potentially four singles matches in three days, potentially two on the last night.
Rocky: It’s intense. The most intense.
–One of the most exciting things about the Super J-Cup is the potential for new matches and new faces we don’t normally see. One of those is your opponent in the first round.
Rocky: Soberano Junior.
–Some fans might be familiar with him from the Fantasticamania tours. Do you have any thoughts?
Rocky: I’m not all that familiar with him. The thing that sticks out when I’ve watched him is his rope work. He runs the ropes differently to everyone else, so I’m curious to see how that impacts our match. How it’ll affect our timing, whether he will try and control the pace. I know he’s fast and he’s a great, kind of traditional luchador.
I usually fare well against luchadors, my time in Mexico helped prepare myself for that, and early in my career around LA there were a lot of lucha guys, but obviously a CMLL wrestler is on a different level to that.
–There’s quite a lucha influence to the tournament lineup. Caristico, Dragon Lee are there, but you also have BUSHI, SHO, YOH, guys who have spent a lot of time in Mexico.
Rocky: If you think about it, it’s always been that way, going back to Delfin or Sasuke in the first J-Cup, and then even further back to junior heavyweights in general, like Gran Hamada.
–Another new name in the Super J-Cup is Clark Connors. Watching him from ringside during the G1, how do you feel he’s progressed?
Rocky: I think he still needs a little more time in a New Japan ring. The experience he’s had during the tour, even training from Shibata isn’t enough to prepare you for actually being there competing in front of all these people on this level. Whether you’re in the tournament or not you feel a lot of pressure.
He’s done quite well. He’s made some mistakes as well. But I think they should just throw these Young Lions out there sometimes, see if they sink or swim. That’s the best way.
–Ren Narita benefited a lot from being called up to BOSJ.
Rocky: Yeah, and look how much growth Shota Umino got from being in the New Japan Cup, even if it was just for one match. I’m interested to see just how well he does, especially against who he’s facing.
–That would be TJP. That’s a name our newer Japanese fans may not know, but that you know very well. You were both in the original LA Dojo together.
Rocky: It’s kind of cool. The old guard, the original LA Dojo versus the new LA Dojo. TJP’s technical skills are going to mesh really well with Connors’ amateur background, I think. And TJP was in a Young Lions Cup himself back in the day (in 2004 as Pinoy Boy, TJP went 2-2-3, including scoring a win over Hirooki Goto) so he’s familiar with the Japanese system. New fans are in for a treat with him. He’s so smooth, just flawless with his technical execution in the ring. He’s a treat to watch.
–You have quite a spectrum of experience in the tournament. Soberano Jr. and Connors are very young, but then you have the veterans such as yourself, TJP and Amazing Red.
–Our Japanese fans aren’t so familiar with Red, but in the west, he got a huge following from the early days of ROH and TNA.
Rocky: He’s so, so, influential. Put simply, this guy has innovated more maneuvers than anyone can count that are still being used today. Look at his Code Red, which Goto uses a version of today. He’s… Amazing! (laughs)
It’s crazy, him being in the tournament. I think it all stemmed from (Will) Ospreay. Red said he was going to retire and take some time away from wrestling, which led Ospreay to become very vocal about wanting to wrestle him before he hung the boots up, because Red was such an influence on him. Now we have the J-Cup, and Red versus Ospreay in the main event in Tacoma.
–Caristico faces BUSHI in the first round, another lucha feel to that match.
Rocky: It’s interesting, because when BUSHI was in Mexico, he wasn’t a top star in a top company. Now he’s wrestling one of the most important lucha stars in the last 10, 15, 20 years. Caristico is why lucha libre got such a huge wave of popularity in the mid to late 2000s.
–Your guys, SHO and YOH have more familiar ground in the first round. SHO and Taiji Ishimori know each other well, and YOH and Dragon Lee were in opposite blocks during BOSJ, but there’s some familiarity there.
Rocky: They’re in good territory there. They have a better chance than Clark Connors (laughs)! They should be great matchups. Ishimori and SHO have met before and know each other well, so that’ll be a case of who the better man is on the night.
–Jonathan Gresham and Ryusuke Taguchi could be a sleeper hit match. Two technicians…
Rocky: Technical wizardry and the shenanigans of Taguchi on top. But Gresham shows some shenanigans every now and then, too.
–And then there’s a very personal matchup in the form of El Phantasmo and Robbie Eagles.
–This will be Eagles’ first New Japan match as part of CHAOS. Looking at it, you have five CHAOS members in this tournament, the odds really favour you!
Rocky: If a CHAOS guy doesn’t win, we aren’t doing our jobs right! (laughs) It wasn’t the plan for CHAOS to grow like it did, but it has with the addition of Robbie. Robbie is a fantastic wrestler in so many ways. He’s speedy, he can fly, he’s a great technician. He’s probably the most well-rounded wrestler in this entire tournament, and we’ve only scratched the surface of his true potential. With ELP it’s very personal. It could be a big win for Robbie, but then ELP, with his trickery…
–Not always the best of guys.
Rocky: He’s a terrible human being. A scoundrel!
–So, any picks for this tournament? Obviously Rocky Romero is…
Rocky: At LEAST to the second round.
–At least? (laughs)
Rocky: I don’t know if I can make it to the finals but I’m feeling good I can make it to the semi-finals.
–Anything else in the first round? Eagles, SHO, YOH, Ospreay all through, I’m guessing.
Rocky: Oh, CHAOS is gonna do great. TJP over Connors, I think. Connors just isn’t ready yet. Taguchi and Gresham, that could go either way. I’m going with the Coach. I respect him as a Coach now.
–Could we get the long awaited Coach versus Coach rematch in the tournament?
Rocky: Coach versus Coach 2 in the Walter Pyramid, August 25! The perfect setting. On a basketball court in the pyramid and everything. Maybe if it was a rugby field, outside, he’d have the advantage but this is basically in my favour.
–He had the home court advantage in Korakuen during BOSJ, but now it’s all coming up Rocky.
Rocky: We’re selling RPG3K basketball jerseys on the New Japan Shop now as well. The stars are all aligned! (laughs)