One of Los Ingobernables De Japon’s founder members discusses LIJ history
From being the man to complete the trio that was originally names Los Ingobernables De Japon in 2015 to being a key force in the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship team with EVIL and Shingo Takagi, BUSHI’s reputation as the glue that has bonded LIJ together is well earned. As the group approaches its fifth anniversary, we spoke with the jet black deathmask to talk about the faction’s history.
NJPW’s never seen anyone like Hiromu
–So let’s continue our talk about LIJ history. In December 2016, on the last day of the World Tag League, Hiromu Takahashi joined the group; Takahashi returning from Mexican excursion and being reunited with his teacher in Naito.
BUSHI: Well, I didn’t know much about him at the time; I didn’t know that Naito had a hand in training him. That all happened before he debuted, so by the time I came in in 2012, he was another Young Lion.
–Did you have much contact with Hiromu at the time?
BUSHI: No, not really. But when he went on excursion, I wound up meeting him when I was just on vacation to Mexico. We went for dinner a few times, and I really thought he was making good use of the experience, putting on good size as well.
–When he came back he was able to shoot himself to the top flight very quickly, be it through his in-ring ability or his own strange charisma. Did you see that potential in him beforehand?
BUSHI: I can’t put my finger on it, but he definitely had something. I think it’s this persuasiveness in him that really makes him stand out, his expressiveness.
–Naito has said he enjoys all the little things that Hiromu does, but acknowledges him as a distinct threat.
BUSHI: He has this ability to instantly make himself the featured act even when nobody’s looking at him. I don’t think NJPW has ever seen anyone like him.
If I acknowledge him as the guy, then that’s a damning position for me, right?
–That Wrestle Kingdom, Hiromu won his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (watch on NJPW World!), and it was like he was strapped to a rocket. How does that make you feel as a fellow junior heavyweight? Were you supportive in giving him that push?
BUSHI: Well, here’s the thing. I’ve not wrestled him once since he’s come back. I trust Hiromu, we get along, but there’s a part of me that wants to keep a distance.
BUSHI: I don’t want to sit here and say ‘Hiromu’s the man, he’s the standard to follow’. If I acknowledge him as the guy, that’s a pretty damning position for me to be in, right?
–He’s still a rival to you.
BUSHI: That said, it’s on me to make myself a challenger. I need to put in those results. I need the fans and the office alike to be thinking it has to be me against him. Not ‘it could be BUSHI’ but ‘it has to be BUSHI’.
I visited him in hospital all the time, but there wasn’t anything I could do
–Your NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag team with EVIL and SANADA was the bulk of your focus in 2017.
BUSHI: Well, I couldn’t accept the fact that we won on January 4 that year and lost the belts the very next night. That one day reign was not something I could easily forgive.
–You lost at New Year Dash to Tanahashi, Taguchi and Nakanishi. That match really saw the birth of Taguchi Japan, and they became your rivals through the year in different formations (watch on NJPW World!).
BUSHI: They got the rub off of us, really. LIJ was hot and that passed on in our matches with them almost every single night. However over Taguchi Japan is or has gotten is all credit to us.
–Let’s fast forward to July 7 2018 and Hiromu Takahashi’s neck injury in San Francisco. What do you remember from that incident?
BUSHI: I was watching that match on the monitors backstage. It was such a different situation to my own spinal injury; I was stretchered out that night, but he walked out on his own power, after he finished the match and won. I thought ‘hey, maybe he’s OK’ to be honest, but the truth was anything but. It was a real shock. It really broke my heart; we were teaming a lot at the time as well, remember. I would visit him a lot in the hospital but I felt kind of useless; there wasn’t anything I could do but say ‘rest up’.
–Well, you had the perspective having come from a long injury yourself.
BUSHI: Well, I think something like that can become a real turning point for a wrestler. You get that distance to really consider how to approach wrestling.
–The way you joined LIJ is evidence of that. Did Hiromu’s injury take a toll on the group as a whole?
BUSHI: Yeah, it did. We had spent a lot of time on the tours doing ten man tags all together, so it did feel like there was a hole in the group.
–Naito has said that LIJ felt complete once it had five members.
BUSHI: We all felt that way I think. If you think back to all those old kid’s hero shows, all the Power Ranger stuff, it would be five heroes, right? With one missing it felt off.
He instantly made an impression, instantly made an impact for us
–At King of Pro-Wrestling 2018, Shingo Takagi officially joined LIJ, but he wasn’t necessarily welcomed with open arms, correct?
BUSHI: I’d say that’ fair. I always felt that he opened up a lot of possibilities for us as someone with a very different style and approach to the rest of us, but there’s always a little bit of apprehension when there’s a big change like that.
BUSHI: But I think it’s important not to be resistant, and to give everything a chance. For my part at least, I knew Shingo as a person already, and I remember really having that opinion, of wanting to see how things panned out.
–You and Shingo shared that Hamaguchi Gym background. Takagi and Naito had the famous sparring rivalry in those days, where Naito could never get the win over Shingo. What were your thoughts on him?
BUSHI: He was… meaty.
BUSHI: At one point he took a break from wrestling training to do a bodybuilding contest.
–On Hamaguchi’s advice, in fact; to help him flesh out for wrestling.
BUSHI: I wasn’t in Hamaguchi’s for as long as Naito was, so I maybe only sparred with Shingo once or twice, if that. But he was one strong bastard, even then, that’s for sure. I didn’t know Naito would get such a complex about him though (laughs).
–That period definitely made its mark on him (laughs)
BUSHI: I get it though. In the end, while I was there, Shingo was focusing on bodybuilding, and Naito was recovering from a hurt knee and wasn’t training as hard, so I didn’t spend that much time training with either. If I had, I would absolutely have looked at them as rivals rather than friends.
–Is it true you used to breakdance on the mats at Hamaguchi’s?
BUSHI: Hahaha! How did you find that out? Yeah, I used to do something different every now and then.
–That’s where you get that ‘BUSHIroonie’ after your missile dropkicks. You actually spent more time with Takagi after Hamaguchi’s when you trained for a while in Dragon gate…
BUSHI: Not many people might know this, but I’ve really had deep ties with Shingo. But when I went into Dragon Gate, he had just debuted and was very focussed on what he was doing, so our paths didn’t really cross that much. Still, for him to do all that he did over there and have all that success, I knew he would be a big deal, coming into LIJ.
I’m excited to fulfill that promise to Hiromu
–You went on to team with Shingo through the Super Junior Tag League that year, and then won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at Wrestle Kingdom 13 (watch on NJPW World!). How was it, teaming with Takagi?
BUSHI: We worked great together. And not just him; when Hiromu came into the group, I thought ‘this can only be a plus for me’.
–But there must be quite a few differences between the two when it comes to tagging.
BUSHI: Differences… Well, they’re both different types of wrestler, and very different to me. They’re both very strong willed in their own ways as well, but for whatever reason, everything with both of them just worked out naturally.
–Naito has said that with Hiromu you were carrying the team somewhat and giving the support your kohai needed, but with Shingo the dynamic was a little different, that there was much more tactical thought on your part on who should do what when.
BUSHI: Hmm. I read Naito once said that ‘Hiromu’s a great dancer, and BUSHI’s great at making him dance’, and I thought that was quite an artful way of putting it. I guess he was thinking that’s the way everyone saw us, but for me personally it was just the natural way things worked out. I let nature take its course with Shingo as well, and we did well. In the end though, Shingo and I were able to win the tag belts, something I haven’t done with Hiromu yet. I’m excited to fulfill that promise to him.
–Naito also said that being able to cater yourself to your tag partner is a real skill of yours, that you’re able to blend with anybody in a team almost without thinking.
BUSHI: Well, i think that’s the key to tag work, you have to cater to your partner. I have my own abilities and my own presence of course, but you aren’t going to get anywhere just thinking about yourself.
Touring as the Hamaguchi Trio was definitely weird
BUSHI: Actually, when you got in touch about doing this interview, I reached out to Shingo, to see if there was any stories he could remind me of. He reminded me that as he was coming in in 2018, the two of us had a meeting in Ueno.
–Was it the same place you had that fateful meeting with Naito?
BUSHI: No, that was a cafe. With Shingo, it was a karaoke place!
–You and Shingo Takagi going for karaoke is quite an image!
BUSHI: Ha! We didn’t sing a single song, though. We figured we could get a private room and discuss everything properly in secret. We spent about two hours talking over the other teams and the kind of things they did, as well as the general style in NJPW. We’d known each other for a long time, but I don’t think we’d talked as much together before. In the end, he paid; he said ‘I’ll pay for the room, so you leave first’. I think that was our first bit of teamwork right there!
–Teaming with you was no accident during that tour then; you helped him display that strength he has.
BUSHI: Perhaps so, yeah. It was a strange one, that tour; Naito would join us on the tag matches, so it was the real Hamaguchi Trio teaming together.
–You and Shingo defeated Roppongi 3K in your first match of the Super Junior Tag League. After that match, Takagi said ‘I’m not Hiromu Takahashi’s substitute’, but were those voices something that you were aware of in LIJ?
BUSHI: Oh yeah. Before we started teaming together, I did an interview in Weekly Pro-Wrestling and said that exact same line; then he went ahead and stole it like he’d thought of it in the first place (laughs).
–Thief! By the way, having feuded with them quite extensively, what are your thoughts on Roppongi 3K?
BUSHI: Well, if you just look at their track record, nobody is touching them at the moment, right? Three Junior Tag Leagues in a row, four championship reigns. No active team has that kind of record, but…
BUSHI: Well, even if you look at something like Twitter followers, guys like Ryusuke Taguchi, or Hiromu, or even me have way more. So you start to wonder whether they have appeal to the public as champions. It’s like a restaurant that has a Michelin star, but people not coming through the door.
BUSHI: And when you take into account that on February 22, me and Hiromu got the win over them with LAT, we should be in line for a shot at some point. If we were to win, that would make me NEVER 6-Man and Junior Tag Champion, Shingo double NEVER, Naito double IWGP, Hiromu IWGP Junior and Tag champ… We could have four double champions in LIJ.
–That would be quite the feat. One would assume that Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado would be in opposition to that…
BUSHI: The match we had with them in Sapporo in 2019 (watch on NJPW World!) was the best match I’ve had in the junior tag division, I think. The crowd were super into it, and everything just clicked. Maybe part of that is because we won, or because I was able to take Desperado’s mask off, I don’t know (laughs). But we lost the titles the next match.
–To RPG3K at Anniversary that year, and then you lost the rematch.
BUSHI: I remember watching that match back in the hotel afterward, and their promo afterward was terrible, some nonsense about eating Hiroshima oysters and okonomiyaki. Well, we lost so I can’t complain, but…
The reactions were great, the match was good, but I was gutted afterward.
–Hiromu finally returned at Power Struggle last year. That was after you challenged Will Ospreay for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship; your first challenge in over two years. Your thoughts on that match?
BUSHI: The reactions to that match were really positive. It was a great match, but I was gutted I didn’t walk away with the title. I don’t know whether it was because of his flying, or making me take my own mist…
–That was quite the moment. Afterward Hiromu returned, won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on January 4 and had Jyushin Thunder Liger’s last match on January 5. It’s fair to say that he rocketed himself back to the top of the junior heavyweight division.
BUSHI: I’d be lying if I wasn’t jealous. In a different universe, I won that match against Power Struggle, then I would have wrestled Hiromu and made good on what I always felt; that I wanted to be a masked man that surpassed Liger’s legacy.
–Instead it felt like you were laying the table for Hiromu’s return…
BUSHI: Right. I don’t want that to be the end of things. If we do end up having Best of the Super Junior this year, I want to make that right. We’ve had EVIL wrestle SANADA, Shingo wrestle Naito, all those matches, but me and Hiromu has never happened. That would be an ideal BoSJ final or IWGP Junior title match, but the fastest way for it to happen would be if we were both in the same block.
I’m not interested in the NEVER title, but I would wrestle Shingo
–Even if you didn’t get a title shot right away, a win over Hiromu in a BoSJ block match would mean you had a claim.
BUSHI: A lot of people lately are talking about Shingo’s NEVER Championship, right? I’m not interested in the belt, but I would wrestle him.
–You’d like to take on Takagi?
BUSHI: Well, we were in different blocks and I didn’t make the final of BoSJ last year, then he went heavyweight.
–This year we almost had Hiromu vs Naito, we’ve seen EVIL and SANADA in the New Japan Cup, and might have EVIL vs Naito at Dominion. These matches within the group itself seem to be becoming a theme for LIJ.
BUSHI: Well, me, EVIL and Shingo have the NEVER 6-Man titles. Why not have Naito, Hiromu and SANADA challenge? That would be a hell of a match. All of that competition is what makes us stronger, it elevates the group, it’s only ever a good thing.