Manabu Nakanishi Retirement Interview (2/3)

Manabu Nakanishi sits down with Katsuhiko ‘GK’ Kanazawa in the second part of his retirement interview

Check out part 1!

Choshu would teach you by doing. He knew you couldn’t do something, it was a matter of whether you had the guts to try anyway

GK: So let’s continue with a look at your training. Primarily, it was Hiroshi Hase who trained you. I would assume that even with your Olympic background, he wasn’t going to give you any special treatment?

Nakanishi: No, of course not. He had been following me since college, and I think he knew ‘this one’s going to take some time’.

GK: A real surprise when you came in was that even before you had turned pro, you already had a physique that put most of the roster to shame.

Nakanishi: That’s a bit much! Hase said to me coming in that if I could use all that extra weight like airbags on me, I could have a good match, but that if I got my body moving, I’d be blown up in a minute flat. He was right.

GK: You looked the part, but you had an amateur wrestler’s body.

Nakanishi: You move different as a pro, and I was gassed right away. I looked jacked though… I don’t know if I look jacked now!

GK: You’re definitely still jacked now!

Nakanishi: Nah, I’ve started to deflate!

GK: What memories do you have of Riki Choshu as a teacher?

Nakanishi: Choshu would teach you with his body rather than his words. He would know that you couldn’t do something, but it was a matter of if you had the guts to try anyway that was the thing with him. You’d be getting hit, getting kicked, but learning some lessons along the way. Non-verbal ones. 

GK: At the time, Choshu called you ‘a freak’, his own strange compliment for you.

Nakanishi: I didn’t really get it at the time…

GK: You had this superhuman, powerful aura about you.

Nakanishi: But it took such a long time, and so much frustration to get to a point I could use that power properly. I’d say it took ten years before I was in a position where I really felt capable.

When I bowed to all four sides, I was apologizing for the sh**ty match

GK: But it was after just two months in that environment that you made your debut. Was that a shock to you?

Nakanishi: It was in a way, but it was also something I didn’t have a say in. They tell you jump and you ask how high. But I was really no good with pressure. I was packing away chanko before then, but I started losing weight. That’s what Nagata said to me ‘your debut’s coming up and you’re losing weight’.

GK: Did your contemporaries seem like they had it together before their debuts?

Nakanishi: Right, so I really didn’t know what to do. But Hase telling me ‘all you have to do is what you always do’, that’s what calmed me down.

GK: And there you were debuting as the partner of Tatsumi Fujinami, in the SG Tag League. Fujinami, who’d won it the year before!

Nakanishi: I really didn’t have any confidence at all. It was just a matter of getting through it unharmed. All the magazines would write things like ‘he’ll probably get hurt and drop out’ which was pretty harsh! But every night I was just happy I got through it. 

GK: You were really only using the duck-under suplex at this point, offensively?

Nakanishi: Before I debuted they were asking me what I could do move wise. What with my amateur background, I figured the duck-under would work. I did it where I was kind of flying a bit, too. I don’t know how effective it really was, but the others said nice things. 

GK: You debuted in an amateur singlet and headgear, not the usual costume…

Nakanishi: Gear was being made for me, but it wasn’t done in time. Choshu asked if I had anything at all, and this old amateur practice gear was all I had. He said ‘go wrestle in that’.

GK: And you made your debut against Scott Norton and Super Strong Machine. that’s an insane match to be thrown into.

Nakanishi: It was like a rollercoaster. I managed to hit the duck under and a German suplex. That was it, but there was a pretty big reaction. In the end, I got squashed with a powerslam. 

GK: Norton was 150kg at the time. That’s a lot of man to throw.

Nakanishi: Timing, pacing, whether the people were watching, I didn’t know, I just went for it. Norton’s an absolute pro, and probably didn’t go into that match planning to mess me up too bad, but after I did that he came right at me. 

GK: Norton’s lariats and powerslams were brutal. Afterward, Machine was quite complimentary. He said your elbows certainly knocked him for a loop. 

Nakanishi: After the match I was just thankful I was still alive, but that elbow to Machine as well, that was just a matter of thinking, ‘right, let’s do this’.

GK: After the match, you bowed to each direction of the crowd, and it looked like you were crying a bit. Did that just come suddenly?

Nakanishi: I was just overwhelmed. It was kind of an apology. Sorry for the sh**ty match.

GK: Haha!

Nakanishi: The magazines wrote something like ‘the plucky big man Nakanishi with a rare show of emotion’. Nah. You hear about diamonds in the rough? This country boy was the rough in the diamonds! Hahaha!

GK: So those were tears of frustration for you?

Nakanishi: Hmm, when the match finished I was more relieved than anything. But I felt terrible for letting down Fujinami, who had won the whole thing the year before. I wanted to run away but I couldn’t. I looked terrible. 

GK: To me, I really felt that you were a true Young Lion in spirit in that moment. 

Nakanishi: Ahh, I think that’s a bit much, but I was put in such a weird situation, and it made me so timid. It’s like the anime character Kinnikuman. When he’s up, you can’t stop him, but one blow to his confidence and he’s crushed. That was me then.

GK: In your second match, you tried the duck-under suplex on Bam Bam Bigelow, but couldn’t pull it off.

Nakanishi: Too much weight. 

GK: 180kg is a lot of humanity. You were again moved to tears after the match.

Nakanishi: I mean, I couldn’t even hit the duckunder. I got none of that match at all. I really had a long way to go as a pro, and I knew it.

GK: Also during that league, Hiroshi Hase and Kensuke Sasaki beat the hell out of you.

Nakanishi: Yeah. I was thankful for that. It was a real life or death struggle for me.

GK: You did get your first win on the tour though…

Nakanishi: Against the Z Man, Tom Zenk.

GK: His partner was Jim Neidhart. A German Suplex got the win for you. That must have been so gratifying.

Nakanishi: Hmm, it was more that Fujinami was doing all the lifting for me in that case, match wise.

GK: All the same, that tag league must have been a fantastic experience for a Young Lion.

Nakanishi: It helped give me a foundation. Being able to enter that tag league was a big experience getter, even though it showed me I had so far to go. But the fans got to see my big moves, and that was something. Them making a noise for you when they see you going for somethin’ that’s a big help y’know? I learned a lot, going against all those guys.

GK: To go back to your look for a second, in the 1993 Young Lion Cup, you were rocking somewhat of a mohawk.

Nakanishi: I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured it would give me at least a little bit of visual impact! I really had no clue about what looked good, I just went for it. When I started to get thin at the back, I just went for the shaved look, but back in the day, I would try perms, all sorts.

GK: You looked like a real pop star when you won the G1 in 1999 (laughs)

Nakanishi: What the hell was I thinking? 

GK: And after that the perm only got stronger.

Nakanishi: I think I wound up damaging my roots that way, that’s why I started to go thin up top. Eh, my pops, my uncle and my grandpa all went bald so I beat them in the hair stakes at least.

I went out fishing with Hashimoto on the day of the typhoon, we caught a crab…

GK: I’ve heard a lot of stories about you from your Dojo days. Do you look back on that time fondly?

Nakanishi: I do. I had a lot of fun back then. Especially with (Shinya) Hashimoto. He was such a good guy. Looked after everyone, even someone like me. Wasn’t the most patient guy though!

GK: They called him the ‘King of Destruction’, but he was more impatient than destructive?

Nakanishi: He liked fishing. So he often took me with him, but he was so impatient, he’d get pissed off. I was able to catch more than he did! I remember one time, a typhoon was coming, and he decided we should go out and see what we could catch. We managed to get a crab that was stuck near the flood gates. We took it back and put it in the soup that day; it looked good, turned the soup this vibrant red, but I guess there was all this dirty stuff in the shell? It absolutely stank the place out. Taketsune Futori, who was in charge of the kitchen at the time absolutely lost it. 

GK: So you got on with your senpai Hashimoto. How about the people in your class with you?

Nakanishi: Well, (Hiroyoshi) Tenzan went on excursion part way through, but we’re from the same part of Kyoto, so when we both went to visit home, he’d let me ride in his car. Didn’t take a Yen for gas, didn’t take a Yen for the toll booth. We stopped off for a snack and there were these sweet donuts the size of your head at this place near Kyoto. He buys me one. Then we get to mine and he’s chatting with my parents, pouring my dad tea, introducing himself as my Dojo senpai. 

GK: You were his first opponent back from excursion, right?

Nakanishi: I was. He’s just so kind hearted. And Kojima, when Hashimoto decided to rib him by putting a bunch of cicadas in their room, I felt terrible so I cleared them all out. I could have left one behind in the pillow case, but I didn’t.

GK: Change of heart?

Nakanishi: Nah, the idea didn’t come to me until later! Hahaha! And I remember me and (Yuji) Nagata would always sneak out and go drinking together. 

GK: I hear that you and Kendo Kashin were often at loggerheads. You never got through to one another?

Nakanishi: He walked his own path, that one…

GK: But when you went out drinking, he’d still join you?

Nakanishi: We all came out of the same oven at the end of the day. He might not look it, but he’s very sociable. Him and Nagata both. Nagata would always take the lead, take the journalists out, and that kind of thing. Kashin would come up with the most ridiculous statements. Me, I was just following on a lot. We all came from the same environment, but we were each really different. 

More in part 3!

KATSUHIKO ‘GK’ KANAZAWA is a veteran pro wrestling journalist, broadcaster and producer. His career in the industry began with ‘Weekly Fight’ in May 1986, and he would go on to an editor-in-chief position at Weekly Gong. Currently working as a freelancer, his voice is often heard on Samurai TV, TV Asahi and NJPW World.

GK’s blog: (Japanese)



photography by Taiko Kuniyoshi