IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito might not be wrestling, but he’s still a target.
While NJPW has been away from the ring thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, everyone has nonetheless been keeping busy. In fact, many of NJPW’s best have been keeping busy by directing comments toward the double IWGP champion Tetsuya Naito. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on some controversial remarks from fellow competitors, and some wild actions from his teammates…
Hiromu wrecked the whole thing!
–So for a lot of fans, staff and wrestlers, while we haven’t been able to hold events, there’s been a lot of reflection on past matches.
Naito: Ah, yeah, that makes sense.
–Have you been doing some of that reflection?
Naito: Hmm. Well, I guess my key year was 2015, right? I went to Mexico that May, came back in June in Los Ingobernables. Then came EVIL, BUSHI, SANADA, Hiromu and Shingo Takagi. 2015 was the start of it all.
–The last five years have been really significant.
Naito: Right. If you find yourself with a little bit of extra time on your hands in the current situation, I’d suggest reliving the last five years of Los Ingobernables De Japon.
–There’s more little details to uncover.
Naito: Yeah. If you take the time we have now, you can remind yourselves ‘oh this and that happened’ and that way I think you’ll be rewarded when we start back up again. I mean, obviously I’m going to give you a hell of a good time whether you go back and do your homework or not, but there’ll be more in it for you if you do.
–It’ll make that return all the sweeter.
Naito: Damn right.
–Back in March you and Hiromu Takahashi had a certain talk show in Korakuen Hall. As part of that, there was a series of highlight videos from LIJ’s past moments…
Naito: Ah, yeah… Those were great videos. Of course, Hiromu had to wreck the whole thing!
–It was quite a wild show.
Naito: I wanted us to talk over those videos and remember little details together. I heard they really put the hours in on short notice, editing all that.
–It was an all night effort, apparently.
Naito: I’d heard whispers about that, so it was all the more annoying to have Hiromu turn it into the Hiromu show (laughs)
— Well, Hiromu and Invisible Hiromu.
Naito: Ah, man, that was terrible! At least they made the history videos public separately so the fans can check them out.
Ibushi’s not in a position to complain. He lost.
–Sorry to change the subject a bit, but we interviewed Kota Ibushi a few weeks ago.
Naito: I know, I read the whole thing.
–He said, referring to your Double Gold Dash win in the Tokyo Dome, that it ‘wasn’t fair’, saying you were the only one in the scenario who didn’t put anything on the line.
Naito: He did say that. And, hey, maybe he was right. But the fact is, he lost against Kazuchika Okada. So for him to say that after he lost two straight nights, that’s kinda uncool, right? It would be different if he’d have said that before Wrestle Kingdom.
Naito: He loses two straight, and then comes back and says ‘Naito wasn’t fair’. That just makes him look like a geek. Why not say that before the Tokyo Dome, with us all gathered there? He could have turned to me and said ‘hey, you don’t belong’, and that would have been cooler. Instead, it’s just him whining because he lost. Nothing more.
–He referred to you as a delicate flower that needs the water of attention.
Naito: Heheh, yeah, I saw that too.
–There always seems to be something about Kota Ibushi looking down on you somewhat, observing.
Naito: Observing? Huh…
–Well, after you took the double gold, he went on to win tag gold with Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Naito: Right. Well, let’s put it this way. There’s no doubt he belonged in the Double Gold Dash. But he lost to Okada on night one, and he lost to Jay on night two, so this is his retreat.
Naito: But, in this game if you stand still, you’re moving backwards, and he knows that. He wanted to take a step back but not be buried by everyone else, so he figured he’d go for the tag titles and keep his name relevant that way. Hey, he’s a smart guy… Sometimes.
Tanahashi’s carrying him, and that’s disappointing
–You respect his smarts.
Naito: Thing is though, looking at the two of them, it’s kind of clear that Tanahashi is carrying that team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just ‘ah, Ibushi is till being carried here…’
–Ibushi is lacking something?
Naito: I just think when you look at the two of them, Tanahashi is carrying him, and that’s disappointing.
–I think a lot of people had eyes on him to see where he fit in after he officially nbecame a contracted NJPW wrestler. But the situation within hontai has settled, and perhaps he feels he doesn’t really have to assert himself, perhaps.
Naito: Maybe. But he’s such an incredible wrestler, he’s so good in the ring, that if he were better at asserting himself, he could be much higher on the pecking order. He just seems to get comfortable and settle.
–You’re not interested in Golden ☆ Ace as a tag team?
Naito: I mean, that’s a spectacular team. Just those two guys together is something. Plus, it’s been a while since…How should i put this? Like if you put Tanahashi and Ibushi against EVIL & SANADA, then all of a sudden, there’d be a lot of focus on those tag titles.
–Have you ever thought about being involved in the tag team scene again?
Naito: Well, I have given it thought, but it’s not for me to talk about wanting this or that. Right now, everything is about me holding both belts and heading toward next year at the Tokyo Dome.
Okada has it backwards
–Let’s change gears and talk about Kazuchika Okada. He told us recently that he isn’t interested in the double gold, but he still wants the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Naito: He did, I saw that interview too.
–He said that if the New Japan Cup had gone ahead, and if he had won, he wouldn’t have wanted to challenge for both belts. What’s your take on his approach?
Naito: Heheh. I think it’s awesome, isn’t it? He has never once shifted from that position, from that obsession with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. I really do respect that. And I think it’s a good thing to have different stances and different viewpoints being put out there. It’s good to have guys that think there should only be one belt. I mean, I think I should only be putting one belt on the line. Maybe the company should listen to that and rethink everything? Do we really need to be running these double title defences into the ground?
–You defended both titles together and February 9 and were scheduled to do so again on March 31.
Naito: If every defence I have is going to be for both titles, then what’s the point of having two titles? Why not unify them at that point? Maybe that’s a conversation that we have, but for the time being there are two titles, so why not use them both? I think it should be fine to defend one title belt at a time.
–You’ve made that opinion clear. One other thing that Okada mentioned in our interview was that he felt you’d become ‘complete as a wrestler,’, but that he wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or not for you.
Naito: It seems the losers are particularly vocal, huh. But if anybody is the total package as a wrestler, it’s him, right?
Naito: So it follows that he should have those doubts about himself, that it isn’t good to be a complete product so to speak. Like if he thinks that once you’ve attained that completion, the only way is down; if he thinks that about me, it’s pretty surprising he wouldn’t think that about himself.
You think I’ve reached my goals now? Frankly, that’s none of your business
–You have always been vocal about the three goals you had in professional wrestling: to wrestle for New Japan, to become IWGP Heavyweight Champion in your 20s, and to wrestle in the main event at the Tokyo Dome.
–You got two out of the three. Then you gave yourself new goals: to win in the Tokyo Dome main event, and to be the first ever double IWGP Champion. Now that’s done, there are some who feel you’ve done all you set out to do, that you’ve finished, in a sense.
Naito: Finished… Well, I did clear those missions I set for myself. But there’s more that I want now I’ve done that. There’s more that I can do, now that I’ve done that. Yeah, I’ve heard those comments, but frankly, that’s none of your business. I know the path that I want to walk on. I’ve seen what I want to do next. So to the people that bring that kind of thing up, mind your own business, heh.
–But with the exception of KENTA, nobody has really talked about wanting both titles since you won them.
Naito: Heheh. Right. I mean, I only said that I wanted to be the first in history, to achieve all this. And I did. I never asked anybody else to affirm my decision, to want the same thing I want. And if the response to all this is what it is, well, there’s no point in defending these titles together, is there?
How about I win the G1, stand in the ring in Ryogoku this October… And name Hiromu my challenger at the Dome?
–We can’t end this interview without talking about your cancelled match against Hiromu Takahashi.
Naito: Man, everything happens in March, huh.
–It seemed as if the stars had aligned perfectly for you two.
Naito: Right. It was in March 2010 that I actually offered to teach Hiromu. Ten years on, we were both champions. Everything had come together, it was really too perfect. And then, it really was too perfect (laughs). But hey, now it’s time for me to make another opportunity, fo rthat match to happen. Make that opportunity to call him out again. Where and when? who knows. Maybe Osaka, maybe Ryogoku, maybe… the Tokyo Dome?
–You see this match as too good to cancel, only postpone.
Naito: Well, I know Hiromu said this in another interview, but he should win Best of the Super Juniors, and I should win the G1. I mean, the G1 is in October this year, right? At ther end of the year, I don’t think we’ll be doing the whole briefcase defence thing.
–That’s a good point. The Tokyo Dome main event is usually decided in October, and that’s when the G1 Climax finals are scheduled to be.
Naito: So, how about I win the G1, stand in the ring at Ryogoku and call Hiromu out to challenge me at the Tokyo Dome?
–Well, if you had won the G1, nobody would have the right to complain.
Naito: Especially if Hiromu was Junior Heavyweight Champion and the BoSJ winner.
–So you’re thinking Wrestle Kingdom 15?
Naito: It would certainly be a turnup for the books. Nobody ever picks the IWGP Heavyweight Champion to win the G1.
–It hasn’t happened for 20 years, certainly.
Naito: You have such a big target on your back as the champion that it’s difficult to win the G1 as IWGP champ in my opinion. And this year, especially if I’m the double champion, it’d be even harder. Still though, if I pulled that off, it isn’t like a challenger is suddenly going to naturally appear right?
–Well, you’d appear so dominant at that point…
Naito: This would all be something new. And there would be some interesting preliminary tags before that Hiromu match happened, right?Six of us in LIJ makes for a bunch of six man tag matches. We’ll have all LIJ main events every night at the end of the year (laughs)
–There’ll be a lot of wrestlers who won’t want that to happen.
Naito: And that’s a great thing, right? It’s a great thing for the fans too; enjoy this time to speculate and imagine what it’ll be like when we’re back. I’ll be ready for it.