Of all the big moments in EVIL’s strong G1 Climax 29 campaign, the most significant had to be his second match victory over Kota Ibushi. With a win over the man who went on to take the winner’s trophy, he was able to stake a claim to Ibushi’s Tokyo Dome IWGP Right to Challenge contract, a claim that will be disputed in hard hitting form Monday October 14 at Ryogoku for King of Pro Wrestling. We spoke with EVIL to get his thoughts on Ryogoku, and the Tokyo Dome beyond…
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I’m making waves that have never been made before. It’s an exciting time.
–To get us started, what’s your mental state right now heading into your October 14 match with Kota Ibushi?
EVIL: Well, nobody wants the IWGP Heavyweight Championship more than me. So I’m going to make that contract of Ibushi’s, that contract that has never changed hands before, change hands. Everybody wants to see it, right?
–It would be quite the sight. Ever since the system of the G1 winner challenging in the Tokyo Dome main event was introduced in 2012, the contract has never once changed hands.
EVIL: Well, it’s time for me to be the first to make that happen. I’m making waves that have never been made before. It’s an exciting time.
–You plan on breaking the expectations of all the fans that assume the contract will never move.
EVIL: Oh, it’ll happen. And that moment is getting closer and closer.
–It was in Kagoshima on September 16 that you stood opposite Ibushi after he defeated KENTA and challenged for the contract.
EVIL: As soon as Ibushi won the G1 I knew that my chance would come around. It was just a matter of picking the right time. At the end of the day that contact is the quickest route to the IWGP title.
–You’ve been IWGP Tag Champions with SANADA twice, NEVER six man champion three times, but you only held the NEVER Openweight Championship for a brief spell three years ago, and have never been IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Not many people associate you with singles championships.
EVIL: I’ve left my own mark in singles matches, but not big results. That annoys me. It’s something I plan on rectifying.
–On the other hand, SANADA hasn’t won singles championships, but he has been in more high profile one on one matchups in recent months. Naito has commented that of all people, you might feel most jealous of SANADA.
EVIL: If Naito feels that way, he’s free to speak his mind. He can talk all day; it doesn’t bother me.
–SANADA has been named by Okada as the IWGP Champion’s ‘rival’. Shingo Takagi is now proving himself as an official heavyweight. Is it getting competitive among the LIJ heavyweights?
EVIL: In the end, SANADA is SANADA, Takagi is Takagi and EVIL is EVIL. Yes, I do take some motivation from their matches, but to bring it back to me… Remember in May when I faced Ishii (May 4 at Dontaku)?
–It was an excellent match. You two were at each other’s throats for the whole tour.
EVIL: I lost that match in the end, but I felt that I was able to claim something for myself with that match. A confidence to come through in any environment.
Ibushi felt angry, felt vicious. Those strikes hurt.
–Let’s talk about your opponent in Ryogoku, Kota Ibushi. What are your thoughts now looking back on that G1 match?
EVIL: In Ota, my first singles match with him. He might not have been 100% with his ankle injury, but still, he felt angry, he felt vicious. His strikes really hurt.
–You think he was angry?
EVIL: Oh, he was angry. Those strikes were faster than I’d imagines they would be. It’s very different, watching him on video and actually being in the ring with him. They come out of nowhere. Come to think of it, a lot of people call him a genius, right?
EVIL: I think in terms of his strikes, the accuracy, the precision, the speed… I definitely got a sense of why they call him that.
–Even though he was injured and wasn’t flying like he usually does, you still felt he was worthy of that ‘genius’ label.
EVIL: Right, but even with an injured ankle, he was running, and more or less able to fly. I wondered whether he was actually hurt.
–So you thought he might have been bluffing? Ibushi said that during that match he was still finding his way around a new style, and that the match didn’t really stick with him. This time, with both of you in top shape, it should be a very different kind of match.
EVIL: That’s fine with me. I’d like to see what a 110% Kota Ibushi feels like. Of course, I’m OK with making him feel a new kind of pain as well.
–You haven’t been paired with Kota Ibushi in the past, but would you say you’re motivated to fight him now?
EVIL: Motivated? I’m motivated as hell to fight him.
–Motivated as hell?
EVIL: He’s unlike anybody else that I’ve faced. We’ve only had one singles match, so there’s still a lot that I’ve yet to uncover with him. He’s got that off the wall element to him as well, doesn’t he? I want to experience everything he has to bring. And there’s still a lot I’ve yet to put out there against him, of course. So yes, it will be a different match from the G1.
–After your tag match in Kobe on September 22, you two exchanged some stiff open hand blows. Ibushi said afterward that he was fine with your match becoming a slugfest.
EVIL: That would be pretty good to watch don’t you think? Ibushi’s palm strike… That’s something he brings out when he’s really angry, right?
–He’s been using it more often of late, but it has been the move he’s gone to when he ‘flips his switch’ so to speak.
EVIL: I saw it just for a second in Ota. I’d be fine with more. Ibushi, you can be all powered up from the very start of the match if you want on October 14. It doesn’t bother me.
–That would be a scary sight… After the match in Kobe, you said ‘I’m made in New Japan’. Appealing to your roots here?
EVIL: It wasn’t an appeal, it was something I’m proud of. It’s a pride I bring with me every match.
–The idea that you get stronger with every match in a New Japan ring.
EVIL: The other thing I come to the ring with is the will to win. That’s important. It’s an attitude I will never, ever drop. I want the IWGP Heavyweight Championship more than anyone else.
–Kota Ibushi came back to New Japan just as you were emerging as a singles wrestler. Back then when we talked, you didn’t seem to have much interest in Ibushi. Has that changed since he’s signed with the company?
EVIL: I wouldn’t say it’s because he signed with the company. It’s more something that’s changed having stepped in the ring with him.
–Getting in there with him changed your mind.
EVIL: Right. What’s most exciting about him is that we’re polar opposites of one another. The Golden Star versus the King of Darkness. If I can consume his energy, it would make me unstoppable.
The idea to show people who the top guy in New Japan Pro Wrestling is right now, EVIL or SANADA. That’s a huge motivator.
–To change the subject slightly, a big topic of conversation around NJPW lately has been Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Jay White all talking about wanting to become double Intercontinental and IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
EVIL: Double champion… I’ve heard the rtalk, but I’m only ineterested in the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. I’ve challenged for the Intercontinental title before, but I think it has a different kind of value.
–You think of them separately.
EVIL: All I have in my sights is the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. If you’re in New Japan and you don’t want that belt, you’re a liar.
–You’ve made your feelings very clear. For his part, Naito said that he wants to be the first in history to win both titles, and Ibushi has said he wants to main event both nights in the Tokyo Dome January 4 & 5.
EVIL: I see. I don’t really care what Ibushi thinks; he’s getting too far ahead of himself.
–Perhaps so. It raises the question: if you do beat Ibushi at Ryogoku on October 14, there’s a chance that you and SANADA could be wrestling in the main event January 4 for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
EVIL: Heheh… I’ve got to admit, that has been something I’ve been thinking about. All the talk is about Okada and Ibushi, but the idea of showing people who the top guy in New Japan right now is, EVIL or SANADA… That’s a huge motivator.
–Add to that, two days in the Tokyo Dome makes for a unique situation. Normally those who already have a single match set for January 4 don’t enter the World Tag League, but this year, we have January 5. It’s possible you and SANADA could still have an IWGP Tag Team Championship match on January 5 after facing one another on the 4th.
EVIL: Interesting. So we could still be in the World Tag League. And if we are, it’s likely we’d win it for a third year running.
–That would be pretty special, if you can make it happen.
EVIL: I’ve always said that I think SANADA and I can raise the tag championships to a Tokyo Dome main event level. This would be the way to do that.
–And no team in history has won three World Tag Leagues back-to-back.
EVIL: It would be history making on an even bigger basis than Naito’s plan. The Ibushi match comes first, and that’s what I’m focused on, but it’s an interesting idea.
I’m all about making something big happen at King of Pro Wrestling. Look forward to it.
–Is it fair to say that the prospect of being in a Tokyo Dome main event means a lot to you?
EVIL: Of course. That contract is more than just a piece of paper. To someone that is ‘made in New Japan’ like me, it represents the biggest and best stage that there is. That’s why it hasn’t moved in the past. It’s why G1 winners have fought to the bitter end to keep it.
EVIL: And that’s why I want to do whatever it takes to make something happen. By any means necessary, I want to show the world history being made. That contract might not be a championship belt, but there’s no doubting its value.
–Ryogoku and King of Pro Wrestling has a special significance to you. In 2015, it’s where you made your debut, joining Tetsuya Naito.
EVIL: One way or another, it’s a turning point of an event. Not always for the better, but it’s always exciting.
–Last year, you were set to face Zack Sabre Junior when Chris Jericho showed up to attack you and the match was a no contest.
EVIL: Well, I’m all about making something big happen at King of Pro Wrestling. You can look forward to it.
–Any final message for the fans?
EVIL: I’ve said it a lot already, but I will make that contract change hands for the first time. I will destroy every conception people have about the contract never changing hands. And I will shroud the Tokyo Dome main event in darkness. Don’t forget it!