Hiromu Takahashi gives his first interview since his return at Power Struggle
‘I’m glad I stayed hidden’
–So we finally saw you make your return on November 3 in Osaka. Can you reflect on that a little?
Hiromu: Well, to take things further back, as soon as I knew I wasn’t going to be at Best of the Super Juniors, Osaka was a no-brainer.
–You’d picked your spot early on?
Hiromu: What I want most of all is the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The biggest stage to take that championship is at the Tokyo Dome. The Tokyo Dome challenger always gets decided at Power Struggle. So me coming out then made the most sense and got the most attention.
–When you came out to challenge Will Ospreay after he beat BUSHI, the reaction in Osaka was unreal.
Hiromu: Hardly anyone knew I was going to show up, even in the company. I think my surprise was a success.
–How did it feel to walk through the curtain that night?
Hiromu: I was definitely nervous, but it was a good kind of nervous. It’s not often you get to have that feeling. I’ve been in this business nearly ten years now, but that nervous excitement was like my debut again. Just wondering what it’d be like to walk out, thinking what I was going to do when I got out there.
–Not even you knew ahead of time what you were going to do out there?
Hiromu: I couldn’t. I had some idea of what I wanted to do, but as soon as my music hit everything just flew out of the window.
–Your mind went blank?
Hiromu: Yeah. I didn’t do any of the things I’d wanted.
–It certainly felt like you did everything you wanted and then some! You were running back and forth down the ramp, throwing yourself into guardrails. We were in Hiromu’s World for a minute there.
Hiromu: There was a lot more that I had envisioned… But I like that. That mental strain, that release, it was all real.
–How did it feel, to have that blow up in Osaka?
Hiromu: The one thought I had was ‘I’m glad I stayed hidden for a year and a half’.
–On his podcast, Hiroshi Tanahashi said that you did well to save yourself for that moment and not ruin the surprise.
Hiromu: I heard that. Once I decided on a goal, I didn’t want to just go out there early and blow it. So I did my best to bide my time.
Hiromu: That frustration is always going to build. But a key point of spending time away was thinking about how best to come back rather than be concerned with showing the world ‘this is how I feel now, this is the colour of my hair right now, this is the tan I have right now’, all that.
‘Strength is feeling OK about throwing everything away.’
–This might be hard to talk about, but would it be OK if I ask you about the injury you sustained in San Francisco against Dragon Lee (now Ryu Lee)?
Hiromu: No problem at all.
–You actually won the match, even with a severe neck injury after a Dragon Driver by Lee.
Hiromu: Hmm. I’ve watched that moment so many times now. Over and over, where I get dumped on my head. In slow motion.
–Just that moment?
Hiromu: The thing is I don’t actually like watching myself. I don’t watch my matches back.
Hiromu: Heheh. We’ll be on the LIJ bus and Naito will be saying ‘did you watch the match back last night? If you did this instead of that it’d be better’. And I’ll go ‘yeah, you’re right, for sure…’ but I never watch the matches back.
Hiromu: I don’t want to look back on my matches, don’t want to reflect. If I do that, I’ll just be hung up on thinking where things weren’t any good. I’ll rarely watch anything back.
–So with that said, the incident with Lee has a special significance.
Hiromu: I feel like I shouldn’t ever forget it. Some part of me shouldn’t move on from that. The moment it happened, I thought, ‘oh, man, I’m done wrestling’. For a moment I was paralysed there and I was thinking ‘well, that’s it’.
–That’s how serious it was.
Hiromu: (Referee Marty) Asami came over and I told him to stop the match. But I had so many thoughts going through my head. That this can’t be the end, that I can’t end my career like this.
–All that in just a few moments.
Hiromu: Right, I think all in about a second. And just that stubbornness kicked in, not wanting to lose to Lee, or lose the (IWGP Junior Heavyweight) title…
–So much going through your head…
Hiromu: And right as I’m thinking that I can’t end my career like this, I tried to move my hands and feet and I had feeling back. So I told Asami to keep going.
–Not to stop it.
Hiromu: I think my actual words were ‘just kidding!’
–A moment as serious as that and ‘just kidding’!
Hiromu: Asami had a really worried look on his face, like ‘are you sure?’ And I was thinking, this is what strength is.
–What do you mean?
Hiromu: Like you’re OK just throwing everything away. I can’t describe what it’s like, but the feeling someone has when they’ve decided they can retire, that it can end. It’s like I was high. I felt invincible.
–You had nothing left to fear.
Hiromu: I took moves from him after that and didn’t feel a thing. Just kept going.
–You kicked out of a Desnucadora even after that.
Hiromu: That invincibility, it was something else. And then, all of a sudden ‘hey!, I won!’
–You surprised even yourself. Lee tried to go for another Dragon Driver and you turned it into a Canadian Destroyer before hitting the Time Bomb for the three count.
Hiromu: I think he got tired. He’s had a busy week, and the day before our match he wrestled three times. I thought at the time he wasn’t his usual self.
–Lee was wrestling at his limit.
Hiromu: I think that’s why I pulled through in the end. Anyhow, I won, and thought ‘ok, now’s the time to look cool and tough’. Right that instant is when all the pain came and I realised I wasn’t going to play to the crowd.
Hiromu: I just thought ‘OK, at the very least, walk out on your own two feet and hold the belt up at the end’. And that, I thought, was the end of my career.
‘Adrenaline is a scary thing’
–Just to have the resolve to do that much…
Hiromu: I just really, really didn’t want to get stretchered out. It took all I had to walk the aisle. And then Naito was there backstage.
–Naito wasn’t in the locker rooms, but was watching from Gorilla. When he saw you hit your head, he rushed to meet you.
Hiromu: He goes ‘are you OK?’, and I just reply ‘no’. That’s when I couldn’t move anymore. The trainers were right there, I was taken care of right away. I was just really calm, it was strange. Adrenaline is a scary thing.
–It was pure adrenaline that got you through the match.
Hiromu: That ring is a strange place. A strange source of power. You get a surge of strength in there, do what shouldn’t be possible.
–…And then you went to the hospital.
Hiromu: Before that in the trainer’s room just before I went to the hospital, a lot of thoughts were going through my head. I couldn’t move, but I was thinking, hey, I’m still alive, right? I can probably still wrestle. I even asked the trainer when the next tour started, but he told me ‘don’t even think about it!’
–Well, that goes without saying, or it should.
Hiromu: But I was thinking I’d maybe miss one tour and be back for the G1.
–That’s how you saw it panning out.
Hiromu: That year’s G1, NJPW were running Hachioji for the first time in a while. My hometown, so I thought I couldn’t not be there. Or that I’d be better by then. Or that even if I had to retire I’d at least do that night.
–Hachioji was factoring into your retirement plans.
Hiromu: But I had a lot of time to think. It sucked. I went by ambulance to the hospital and then had to wait eight hours for a CT scan.
–It was a long wait.
Hiromu: And all I could do was stare at the ceiling, just wondering why I was waiting so long. The staff member who came with me was trying to keep me updated, told me that people were in critical condition and needed immediate care. That made me think ‘ah, ok, it’s only a minor injury for me’. But I never thought it’d be eight hours.
‘This isn’t so much my comeback match as Hiromu Takahashi’s second debut’
Hiromu: I could feel the pain getting worse at that point, and asked for a pain killer. They gave me something and all of a sudden everything felt great. I asked what I’d been given and they said it was morphine.
–Because morphine is a narcotic, its very strictly policed in Japan, even for medical use.
Hiromu: After I was given that stuff, it was like being on cloud 9 for a while. You just don’t have a care in the world. But it only lasted about 30 minutes before the pain came back. It was pretty scary, coming back to earth, and I decided I didn’t want it again.
Hiromu: And after that, I was in hospital in San Francisco, I couldn’t go back to Japan. The trainer stayed behind to be with me, and I’d be saying stuff to him like ‘what am I going to do for work now?’ I honestly didn’t think I was coming back.
–You figured you were done.
Hiromu: Yeah. I just really wanted to still do Hachioji.
–That was still really important to you.
Hiromu: I love Hachioji. I thought even if I couldn’t wrestle, just let me be out there. So that was the first place I was really stubborn about coming back in, heheh.
–It was a difficult time.
Hiromu: So much was going through my head, and a big thing was thinking that I had my last match, in San Francisco, against Ryu Lee. I was that convinced about it, that you could say that I did retire then. December 19 isn’t so much Hiromu Takahashi’s comeback as it is my second debut.