―After first debuting in New Japan at the World Tag League, then also appearing at Honor Rising, Sakura Genesis makes it your 3rd trip out to Japan. What’s it like coming out here? What do you like about it?
Hanson: We love everything about Japan! The people, the culture, the food. It’s just amazing for us. It’s great to get to explore out here, and to get to wrestle with all these guys. It’s pretty awesome.
Raymond Rowe: Ever since I first started wrestling, I wanted to wrestle in Japan. The guy I first started training with gave me Japanese wrestling tapes to help study and learn from. So coming to wrestle in Japan, and specifically New Japan, has been a goal of mine since 2003. To be here, and have repeat tours as regular competitors is truly a dream come true for us.
―Have there been things you’ve gotten used to more since your first trip to Japan?
Hanson: For sure getting around on our own, figuring out the train systems in Tokyo so we can get out and about. When we first came we needed someone to help us wherever we went, but now we’re able to get out there on our own. Going to the gym, getting lunch and all that.
―Coming from ROH, and as an American wrestler, what’s it like wrestling in New Japan?
Raymond: To a certain degree, wrestling is wrestling. Wrestlers are going to be similar no matter where you are in the world. But wrestlers all over the world look at New Japan as the top caliber of wrestling in the world. There may be others that generate more income, but every time you talk about match quality, intensity and talent, New Japan is number one, no question.
So to come here, compete on that level, be able to stand toe-to-toe with these guys, and feel the history and level of competition… it’s like nowhere else in the world.
Hanson: This is where the respect is. I’ve been wrestling for about 13 years, and Ray…what, 14 or 15 years? And even just coming here once for the first time, the way we were treated by the fans and the wrestlers has been great. And we feel the respect for what we’ve done here from all over the world.. It’s been pretty amazing. So if there’s one word that can describe New Japan for us, it’s respect. No place like it in the world.
―The Ryogoku finale to Sakura Genesis will be your first IWGP Tag Team title challenge. How do you feel?
Raymond: It follows up on what I was saying earlier, y’know. Since I was starting out back in 2003 I wanted to come to Japan. And then you fast-forward to where we are now, we’re not only in Japan, but we’re going to Sumo Hall. One of the most historic venues in all of Japanese wrestling! We’re going to be challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, the most respected and historic tag team title in the history of our sport. So you have to kind of take a step back and appreciate what all that means, not just personally for me, not just in terms of our careers, but in wrestling history in general.
It’s a challenge, because you want to have perspective and be respectful of the situation, but at the same time you don’t want to get caught up in that. You have to continue to do things the same way you’re used to, keeping your preparations the same, and approaching the situation in that same competitive manner. It’s easy to get distracted, but we’re focused on the task at hand
Hanson: It’s been a long road. As Ray said, we used to get those VHS tapes back in the day, pop ‘em in the VCR and study these matches from Sumo Hall. Now we’re gonna wrestle at Sumo Hall for the IWGP championships. It’s awesome.
―Finally, we’re seeing the dawn of a new era for New Japan now. What do you think about New Japan branching out overseas?
Hanson: It’s exciting. With New Japan World, everyone all over the world can tune in and check it out. Like I was saying, we were popping in VHS tapes, mail order from overseas, tape trading…it was a different time. Now you can login online and watch live! And now with the expansion, New Japan travelling outside Japan? It’s a really cool time in pro-wrestling, a really cool time for New Japan, and a really cool time to be a pro-wrestling fan! Now you can buy a ticket to see New Japan stars live in America. There’s nothing better.
Raymond: Well I’m pretty sure the tickets are already sold out for that first New Japan weekend event. They sold out super quick, right? That speaks to the excitement about this place. New Japan is the best pro-wrestling on the planet. And with the expansion of New Japan World, the English commentary, it’s making it more and more accessible for the West. With New Japan starting to hold events on US soil, it’s a game-changer. It really opens up the marketplace for new fans. It’s gonna bring eyes to product, and whenever someone new logs into New Japan World, they’re staying. Because their perspective of what pro-wrestling is changes. The Japanese Strong Style is something that is only represented here. Some try to imitate or replicate, but you just can’t. This is where it started, where it’s been perfected. That fighting spirit. It’s a different breed here, and something we fell in love with before we got here and we fall in love with it more every time we step in the ring and hear the fans. To know that it’s growing and stepping on the global stage is really exciting.
Hanson: And we can feel it, because we’re travelling the world. We’re in America, we’re going to Mexico, England, Europe…and everywhere we go people are asking us “What are you doing next in New Japan? When are you going back to New Japan?” They want to know all about what we’re doing here. Not just Japan or America, the whole world is glued into what’s going on over here.