From Great Bash Heel to Come Back Heroes: GBH in World Tag League

Once two time World Tag League champions, the fearsome combination of Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe were torn from contention by a major neck injury to Honma in 2017. Now, GBH are back in the hunt in World Tag League 2019.

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I had two or three options for the World Tag League this year. But in the end, it had to be the Kokeshi.

–You two won the World Tag league in 2015 and 2016, but Honma’s neck injury has meant this is your first WTL together in three years. I expect Honma is champing at the bit for this chance, but how do you feel about it, Makabe?

Togi Makabe (TM): To be honest, I had two or three options for the World Tag league this year.

–In 2017 and 2018 you teamed with Toa Henare, and this year you’ve been teaming with (former IWGP Tag Team Champion partner) Toru Yano to some success.

TM: But in the end, it had to be the Kokeshi. We had a promise that I needed to keep, and I know he’s been working hard to be ready. It started with him making his comeback, then him getting back used to in ring action. Now he and I are ready to show what we can do as a team again.

–Honma, you came back in June of 2018, but only now is GBH back in the World Tag League hunt. Was there any discord there, or a period of uncertainty?

Tomoaki Honma (TH): Absolutely. Especially when Makabe started teaming with Toru Yano again, I wondered what was going to happen to us as a pair. So when he chose me to team with during the World Tag League this year, I was over the moon. Finally I feel I’m at the start line.

–Like a stopped clock that’s finally ticking again.

TH: When I was in the hospital, and I couldn’t move, Makabe said that he would keep a spot for me. That was incredible encouragement, but the fact is things do change, and I was worried about whether that spot was still there. 

–And now you finally have the green light.

TH: That’s right. I can see where this crazy dream will take me again.

–To Honma, there was some uncertainty there, but to you, Makabe, was there any doubt in your mind that Honma was the right partner?

TM: Well, he’s the Kokeshi. He’s always, always had my back. When Yano was part of GBH and he split, it was Honma that stuck with me. He’s loyal.

–This was back in 2009, when nearly all of GBH turned away, Honma stuck with you. When you won the 2009 G1 Climax, you said that it wasn’t a solo effort, but because of Honma that you were able to do it.

TM: So I can’t deny how important Kokeshi is to my own personal history. It was because of his efforts that we were able to win the WTL twice anyway, and for him to come back from his accident like he did, I can’t possibly stand in his way after that. Maybe there’s some universe where he didn’t make his comeback, where his wrestling life ended, and that’s a different matter. But he worked his ass off to be back and be back in that spot I kept for him. I didn’t make that spot. He did.

I’ve spent the entire year preparing for this. I think I made the right call.

–This year, GBH is back, but in truth, you were very close to tagging in the WTL last year, too.

TH: Right. We did an interview together for the event programs and everything. In the end, there was some concern about whether I could go for the whole tour, and the doctors recommended I sit out. The pictures were taken, it was supposed to be the two of us on the cover of that program, but even though it was the World Tag League, Makabe was on the cover by himself.

–They were scrambling with the deadline for the programs. 

TM: That was a pretty big surprise for the readers. ‘This is for the tag league but there’s only one guy on the cover?’ (laughs). It was really up in the air whether we could go or not, and that kind of doubt might have come through in the matches during the league, but there’s none of that uncertainty this time.

TH: That was such a tough time, I felt guilty and ashamed all at once. 

TM: But it took courage, to do what you did, and make that decision. Wrestlers are like racehorses, we have one track minds, and we’re fixed on the goal, of winning and getting all that comes with it. To take not just your own emotions into account, but the opinions of all the others around you into account and make a decision, that takes balls, man. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong in that situation, you have to look deep inside yourself and come up with an answer.

–You had to wait for a whole year from that point. 

TH: Because of that, I spent the last year preparing for this. I think I made the right decision. 

–And now you two are back together for the first time in three years.

TH: If we win this year… Wait, no ‘if’s.

TM: Damn right.

TH: Winning this year would mean our third win and our first in three years. The numbers have a nice symmetry to them. Plus if EVIL and SANADA were to win, they’d be three time winners too, so we definitely don’t want them to take our record.

–EVIL and SANADA came up just as you two were on hiatus, and took those two WTLs in a row to put themselves alongside you.

TH: Those guys are great, but there was a comment that Makabe made in the Tokyo Sports newspaper the other day: when you think tag teams, you think Makabe and Honma! That’s it right there!

TM: Every now and then I come up with a good line.

TH: I was surprised, myself.

TM: The hell are you talking about, ‘surprised’? 

–Makabe, how do you assess Honma over the last year?

TM: I think he’s constantly comparing himself to the guy he was before he was on the shelf. He’s driving himself forward every day thinking he has to get back to where he was before.

TH: That’s right.

TM: Truth is though, that guy’s gone!

TH: What? (coughs in surprise)

TM: I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I think that at this point it’s the right time for a whole new Kokeshi.

–Look to the future, not the past.

TM: Right. There’s too much talk of ‘the old me’. It’s humans to romanticize the past, but the Kokeshi of right now is what can appeal.

(Honma is quietly holding back tears)

TM: Honma isn’t lost, he’s in the right place in the now. I want everyone watching to cheer on the guy that he is right now. And if he sucks and has a crappy match I want them to be yelling at him to get himself together. That’s the encouragement he needs right now. 

TH: Ahh man… (Honma is in tears)

TM: Hey, save the crying for when we win this thing!

 EVIL and SANADA can do all that they’ve done, but we’re still going to come straight at them and smash their faces in. They’ve only reached the top because we weren’t there, right?

–So a new Honma means a new generation of GBH starting in this year’s WTL.

TM: Our motivation to win hasn’t changed a bit, but on top of that we’re motivated to outdo what we did when we won two years in a row. Then you have EVIL and SANADA who have won back to back years as well. They’re approaching a golden era, and we can’t beat them or win the league by going at it half-assed. They’re awesome, and we have to smash their heads in (laughs).

–So, you’re very much conscious of EVIL and SANADA trying to reach their third World Tag league victory?

TM: Of course. But the thing to remember is that they’ve made it to the top of the mountain after we already go there. We were kicked away from the top time and again, but we scaled that cliff and made it. So it doesn’t matter who’s in front of us, we can take anyone on.

–You’ve been through a lot to get right to the top.

TM: EVIL and SANADA can do all that they’ve done, but we’re still going to come straight at them and smash their faces in. They only got to where they’re at because we weren’t there, right? We’re going to show them just what it took for us to be where we are. They might be great, but they don’t have anywhere near the playbook we have, heheheh.

–You actually face EVIL and SANADA near the end of the campaign, on December 5 in Fukuoka.

TH: No doubt, they’re a tough team to beat, but we did beat them, in our last World Tag League three years ago, in Yamaguchi. We’ll show them the veteran edge.

TM: A lot of other teams and a lot of fans have been paying a lot of attention to EVIL and SANADA. I don’t watch other guys’ matches as a rule, but I might have dabbled here and there. They’re a well balanced team, and what’s more is they’re capable as singles wrestlers, too. If they were the same guys that we beat three years ago, it might have been just a case of ‘watch out for this and that and then we can get ’em’, but now, I think we’re going to have to put a little more energy into our cunning if we’re to get by them.

–There’s a lot you’ll have to watch out for. Another team that have a lot of eyes on them is the one you’ll be facing on November 28 in Korakuen Hall; Lance Archer and Minoru Suzuki.

TM: Lance is a tough bastard. Especially now that he’s US champ. He had a hell of a match with (David) Finlay. 

–November 9 in San Jose.

TM: Circumstances have made him that way. Frankly, Suzuki-Gun can go to hell, but Lance is a scary SOB. I think if he didn’t have a championship, he’d be another guy, but the title has made him stronger, made him make himself stronger.

TH: Lance was in a tag match with me during the G1 and he beat the hell out of me. Suzuki himself is great at picking his spot, and he thinks that he can win another tag league with Archer as his partner, but it’s not that easy!


In part 2, GBH talk more about their World Tag league campaign!