Kazuchika Okada speaks out about NJPW’s return and the New Japan Cup taking place after a three month delay.
Kazuchika Okada will be back along with all of New Japan Pro-Wrestling on Monday June 15, before the New Japan Cup takes place starting Tuesday June 16 with Okada facing Gedo in the first round! We sat down with the Rainmaker to get his thoughts on the forthcoming matches.
It’ll just feel great to be back in the office, so to speak.
–So we’re finally back, after 110 days since February 26 in Okinawa. How does it feel?
Okada: At last! Really, that’s all you can feel. Not just us as wrestlers, but the fans probably all feel that way too. That and ‘oh yeah, I love this’.
–The absence reaffirmed your love for wrestling.
Okada: It’s weird, right? Most normal people would never enjoy doing something that hurts so much, and yet when I heard the matches were starting again, I was celebrating! But my life is in that ring. It’ll just feel great to be back in the office, so to speak.
–Finally stepping back in.
Okada: Just like baseball players or soccer players need that stadium, we need that ring. Otherwise we aren’t really alive. I feel like I can breathe again.
–So was it tough going through this absence?
Okada: Well, I had coming back in mind all the time, so it wasn’t too negative. Everybody was doing all they could to keep the word out there, on social media, or YouTube…
–The Together Project really turned into something to be proud of.
Okada: Everybody really came together to make sure nobody forgot about NJPW.
–You said way back in March when we started this time off that working to compensate for a lack of matches was important.
–And you took part in CHAOS talk shows on NJPW World (watch with subtitles here!) and started audio blogging with the NowVoice app.
Okada: Yeah, some of the timing worked out well. I had a radio slot on TokyoFM, Sunday Rainmaker.
-That was airing right when Tokyo was in its state of emergency.
Okada: Right. Hopefully some listeners saw the news about us coming back and realised ‘oh, cool! He really is a wrestler!’ Now we’ll have some new fans! (laughs)
–So you were working to not just maintain the audience but build on it while matches weren’t taking place.
Okada: Right. There’s a lot we can do to not just reach the fans but reach people who aren’t fans yet. Talking to them is just as, if not more important.
–You made a contribution to the Japan Relief Fund’s Coronavirus campaign as well.
Okada: Well, look, if the people on the front lines can’t do their thing, then we can’t do our thing either, right? So it was definitely important that I support them anyway I can. Doctors and health care workers are doing so much to look after us ordinarily, let alone in a situation like this. Especially as wrestlers, it’s these guys looking after all of us if we get hurt, and it was definitely important for me to make something happen.
It’s up to us to create that sold out atmosphere through NJPW World
–So, the matches start again with Together Project Special, and then the New Japan Cup will run from June 16 through to the semi-finals July 3 without fans in attendance.
Okada: Well, that’s to be expected, really. We’re only able to do this now that the state of emergency has been lifted and we’ve all been antibody tested.
–We’re doing all we can.
Okada: Well, we’re being pro-active at last, and that’s the main thing. Like, if you’re thirsty, you don’t go outside with a cup and wait for the rain to fall, you go and get water yourself.
–So even though we have restrictions in place, just being able to wrestle is a win in itself.
Okada: Of course there’ll be people who say it’s all better with fans in attendance. But look at it another way; it might well be that these are the only nine events in NJPW history without fans in attendance.
–That might be the case.
Okada: That’s a really rare chance, and it’s really cool that the fans get to see that. I think it’s up to us to create that sold out atmosphere through NJPW World and I hope the fans can join us in that. Watch the matches live and just share this experience with us.
Gedo? Jay would be one thing, but this is a nice warm up.
–There’s not too much time to warm up here, as we jump right into potentially six straight singles matches if you win the New Japan Cup and go into Dominion. Great for the fans, tough for the wrestlers.
Okada: Oh, I don’t think it’s a problem. I mean, I have Gedo in the first round! Jay (White) would be one thing, but this is a nice warm-up.
–This is a rematch from December 2018, shortly after Gedo joined BULLET CLUB…
Okada: Right. Maybe everybody’s on a bit of a high because these matches are back, but there’s some absolute idiots, absolute chumps that think I might lose. I’m sorry, but I feel I have to say that word. Chumps.
A reminder of #GedosRevenge
— Gino ‘Juicy’ Gambino (@MrGinoGambino) June 14, 2020
–Some pretty strong words.
Okada: Look, if I can lose to Gedo, NJPW is doomed. If I had somebody tough in that first round, then I would have to think about a lot of things. I’d have to consider a gameplan, I’d have to think about how to approach a match without fans in attendance. But it’s Gedo, so it’s not a problem.
–More than confident then. Does your history with Gedo come into play at all here?
Okada: No, not really. I’m past that. I don’t feel anything for Gedo any more. It’s the first round for me, and that’s all.
The final? It could be anybody in there with me. But it has to be me
–Assuming you get past Gedo, you would be facing either Yuji Nagata or Minoru Suzuki in round two on June 24.
Okada: Hmm. My head says Suzuki, but my heart says Nagata.
–Is that so?
Okada: I haven’t had the chance to wrestle him for a long time, especially as he hasn’t been in the G1. I think we’ve only had the one singles match.
–On August 12, 2015 (watch on NJPW World!). But you have wrestled Suzuki a lot.
Okada: It seems we face each other once a year, and I have him more than under control. I think my tournament block is the most winnable, frankly. Looking at it, the day three block is the block of death.
–Tanahashi vs Taichi and ZSJ vs Ibushi with tag title implications, and you have SANADA and Shingo Takagi in there as well. Looking at the whole bracket, who do you think you might face in the final?
Okada: It could be anyone, really. But it has to be me in the final. I have to be in that first main event in Osaka Jo Hall.
–July 11, the Cup final in Osaka Jo Hall, has the winner move onto the next night at Dominion. Ever since Dominion moved to Osaka Jo in 2015, you’ve been in every single main event.
Okada: Right. It’s my house, and it has to stay that way.
It’ll be a special chance to show the power of pro-wrestling
–As you’ve said, we’ll be in Osaka Jo Hall for the New Japan Cup final and Dominion. One third of regular capacity in the venue for those nights; what are your thoughts?
Okada: Well, I want us to show how good New Japan Pro-Wrestling is. That isn’t just in a ‘let’s have great matches’ way. It’s in a preparedness sense as well. I want everyone to see just how seriously we’re taking these anti infection measures, just how professional and responsible we’re being. All of it. The matches are just one part of making this a success. Soccer is slowly bringing fans back as well, right?
–J-League is planning to have crowds back on July 10.
Okada: So on this kind of scale, we’re second. Earlier than a lot of other things, so we’ll really have a magnifying glass on us. It’ll be a really special chance to show the power of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, but that responsibility is on all of us wrestlers, and all the staff as well.
–It’s a big match for all of us.
Okada: Well, I think there’ll be a lot of people saying ‘NJPW is doing X, so we should do Y’. That doesn’t just go for other wrestling promotions, but other pro sports as well, just the entire world of entertainment and sports.
Naito has it all to lose. He loses, and what was all that ‘history making’ stuff about?
–Win the cup and you’d be challenging Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships. You’ve said that only the heavyweight means anything to you, but…
Okada: That hasn’t changed a bit.
Okada: And if you were going to ask me whether I’m more interested in the double title thing, the answer has to be no. Then again, part of that might be down to the fact Naito’s only defended them once.
–Before the stop, on February 9 against KENTA.
Okada: It’s really on Naito to show himself, and show the merit of those titles. When we’re back, that’s the big question, right? Who will make a mark?
Okada: Look, even if you win the cup, if you lose the next night, that’s it, it’ll be forgotten about. naito will still be the man, right?
–Right, the Cup is important, but Dominion more so.
Okada: But on the other hand, for Naito, it’s one and done. He has it all to lose. Naito loses on July 12, and what was all the effort for? What was all that making history stuff about? That’s the kind of pressure a champion faces.
–As big as the New japan Cup may be, a title match is a level beyond.
Okada: I’m used to clearing that hurdle. I definitely plan on showing Osaka what a champion looks like.
–When we spoke back in March, you said that there was a chance for 2020 to be the biggest year in wrestling. How do you feel about those comments now?
Okada: that hasn’t changed. It’s definitely on us to make up for these three months we’ve missed. I’ve talked about an all-star card a lot, but I think top priority will be to show the power of NJPW.
Okada: I think that fans right now are excited just to see NJPW back. At the moment we can’t pack an arena full of people, so to cross those barriers and have an all-star card wouldn’t mean as much. The time has to be right.
–So first thing’s first, NJPW has to be NJPW.
Okada: I mean, we haven’t had matches in over three months and that’s left people a little stir crazy. There are people that think I mgiht lose to Gedo for crying out loud! (laughs)
So the last half of 2020 is going to be a huge time for NJPW, and NJPW first and foremost. Everybody’s been through a rough ride, and it’s up to me and NJPW to show the power that we hold to make people happy and show just how perseverant pro-wrestlers are. No matter what happens, we’ll keep standing up and keep fighting.