Master Wato has his first official NJPW interview!
Master Wato made his official NJPW in-ring debut with an impressive win over DOUKI at the New Japan Cup finals in Osaka Jo Hall. Immediately following, he made a quick and firm friend in apparent mentor Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and some quick and foul foes in Suzuki-Gun, most notably Yoshinobu Kanemaru. We sat down with the young master to discuss his debut and plans for the future.
As soon as DOUKI appeared it became ‘OK, first him, and then everybody else, one by one’
–So, let’s get started by talking about your official debut. July 11 and 12 in Osaka Jo Hall; how was that experience?
Wato: Like I was finally back. It was great to show the fans a new side of me, but at the same time, it was ‘OK, the real fight starts now’.
–We first saw signs that you were coming on June 15, in that teaser video.
–So we found out later that it was you in that video, but you were doing some moves we don’t normally see from Japanese wrestlers.
Wato: Right. It was something different, I think, a neat little way of showing myself. I would have liked to have done more to show myself in the ring, but then a certain someone showed up.
–Just as you gave your first address to fans on July 3, there was DOUKI with that iron pipe.
Wato: There was only one thing for it after that, so that brought us to Osaka.
–DOUKI was laughing at you backstage after that, asking if anyone had had such a ‘pathetic debut’.
Wato: We both have a shared past in Mexico, but I didn’t think he would be lying in wait for me like that.
–That first moment back to any wrestler is important, but was it a bit different to what you had envisioned?
Wato: Yeah. I talked about reaching the very top in NJPW, and I had plans to challenge Hiromu Takahashi out the gate. But when DOUKI showed up it became ‘OK, first him, and then everybody else one by one’.
That was about 60% of what I can do
–DOUKI has steadily grown his footprint here in NJPW over the last year. What was it like to step in the ring with him at the New Japan Cup final?
Wato: His moves pack a bigger punch than I was expecting. I don’t think I was in that much trouble during the match, but his Daybreak DDT definitely came as a shock.
–If you were to give yourself a grade on that match, in terms of how much of your potential you were able to show, what would you say?
Wato: I’d say… 60%. I don’t think that’s all of who Master Wato is. I want to gradually show off more of what I can do. Especially now I have an opponent in mind to take down.
–We saw some moves and some kicks from you that we don’t normally see in pro-wrestling.
Wato: I thought those kind of strikes would be interesting to see in a wrestling match. I want to create a blend of pro-wrestling, MMA, karate, kung fu.
–A real hybrid. We saw quite a bit of lucha from you as well; how would you sum up your style in the ring?
Wato: I think mostly strikes. About 50 percent. 20 percent grappling and the rest high flying.
–So your backbone is those kicks.
Wato: Yeah, I’d say so. If I think of new moves, or double team combinations, I’m usually thinking about kicking.
RPP? I’ll explain when the time’s right
–You finished that match with a facebuster from a powerbomb position…
Wato: That’s not a move you see a lot in Japan lately, so I thought it would stick with people.
–So you’re thinking about how to be original at every step of the way.
Wato: Right. I definitely want to show people things they haven’t seen before.
–And that top rope maneuver you’re calling RPP.
Wato: Yeah. A lot of people fly by jumping up, but with that move I jump outward, and twist in midair. It’s similar to the kind of move Soberano Jr. does, but other than that it’s pretty different to anything else.
–It’s a gorgeous move, but high risk. Did it take a lot of practice?
Wato: It started out as something very different. At first I was thinking of something like an inverted Stardust Press, where it would end in a splash. But the more I tried different things, there were more rotations in there and it became the RPP.
–What does RPP mean?
Wato: It does stand for something, but I’m not ready to say what it is just yet. When the time is right, you’ll know.
I’ll fight Kanemaru anytime
–Before you could even take in the satisfaction of winning your match with DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru came along and hit you with a backdrop.
Wato: Yeah. I said in my backstage comments that Suzuki-Gun sure love jumping people. In my mind, I was thinking ‘again?!’
–Certainly being the new face makes you a target.
Wato: When it comes to Kanemaru, he’s obviously a tremendous wrestler, but I want to outdo him and come out on top. I have a lot of options for finishing moves, not just RPP. I’ll fight him any time.
–You said after Osaka that it seemed as if Suzuki-Gun were coming for you, so you’d take them all on. Desperado was dismissive though.
Wato: Well, the very fact he felt he had to respond says that he’s got an eye on me. When I beat Kanemaru I’ll really be on their radar.
I think I had a triple take when Tenzan came out
–It was Hiroyoshi Tenzan coming out to make the save for you after Kanemaru attacked, which was quite the surprise.
Wato: You’re telling me! I wasn’t expecting Kanemaru, and then I didn’t expect Tenzan either. When I saw him I think I had a triple take (laughs).
–Is there something in particular that connects you two?
Wato: Hmm, I guess we’re both from west Japan, Kansai, so I guess that’s a bit of a link? Either way I’m glad to have him on my side.
–He said he’d back you up with everything he has.
Wato: I never for a second expected it, but I’m really happy that he’s there. I’d like for us both to go on this journey together.
–It’s definitely an interesting combination.
Wato: The wild bull and the way to the Grandmaster…it’s definitely exciting.
As soon as I knew I was going in a junior heavyweight direction, hontai was the fit
–So with everything you’ve been through since that debut with DOUKI, is it safe to say you’re a member of NJPW hontai?
Wato: Right. That’s the team I’m on.
–Tanahashi has commented that recently wrestlers have returned from excursion and gone right into heel factions, but you’re bucking that trend.
Wato: Well, looking at the landscape of the junior heavyweights, hontai was the place to be in my opinion. The biggest thing in my mind is Hiromu Takahashi and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. I don’t want to team with him, I want to be wrestling him for that title. Then, when it comes to the junior heavyweights in hontai, I felt I could really fill a gap there.
–There certainly has been a shortage of hontai juniors in recent years. KUSHIDA left NJPW, Jyushin Thunder Liger has retired, Tiger Mask has been recovering from illness. Ryusuke Taguchi has been fighting alone of late.
Wato: Exactly. So this is the best fit for me.
–On the other hand… Hiroyoshi Tenzan has been burned by relationships in the past. He was thrown out of Great Bash Heel after leading the faction in its early stages, and then Takashi Iizuka famously betrayed him. There were some rumours that his trust might be misplaced…
Wato: Well, I don’t know about that. (laughs)
–Really? No promises? (laughs)
Wato: All I know is right now, being together is the right move for me. I haven’t thought about anything like ‘that’ at all. But people change, you know?
–Anything can happen. And with that in mind, what kind of mark do you want to make on NJPW going forward?
Wato: Whether it’s in the moves I use in the ring, or the choices I make outside of it, it’s all with the same goal. I want to bring something that has never been seen before in NJPW.
–Those kicks being one example.
Wato: That’s right.
–Certainly NJPW fans tend to think about Kota Ibushi when it comes to kicking power. That would be an interesting tag team!
Wato: Right now, we have common enemies in Suzuki-Gun. As time goes by, if the chance comes up, it’s something I’d definitely be interested in. As we team up more, I think we can come up with some effective combinations. I think the chemistry will keep getting better.
I dig the Strong Style philosophy. I dig that LA Dojo has really embraced that
–While you were away from NJPW rings, the LA Dojo has been established and really grown in presence. What do you think of how things have developed in the US?
Wato: While I was away I saw a lot of new things happening, a lot of changes with the US developments, the president changing. It’s wild to see, but it’s exciting.
–And the next generation is coming up. What do you think about Yuya Uemura after having the chance to team with him?
Wato: He’s a big dude (laughs).
–You could be interacting a lot with him in the coming weeks, being part of hontai, and being in the junior heavyweight division.
Wato: Right. I’m sure he’s not far from going on excursion himself. I hope he stays in top shape. He’s got a bright future.
–In the US, Karl Fredericks is leading the way. He graduated from the LA Dojo just as you made your return.
Wato: All those LA guys, their matches have been really cool to watch. I would really like to head over to the LA Dojo and be part of what they’re doing someday. I dig the Strong Style philosophy, and that they’ve really embraced that over there.
–So you’d like to mix it up with your American contemporaries?
Wato: Well, at the same time, I’m not ever going to lose out to them. I have my sights set higher.
–Namely the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Wato: Right. First and foremost I want that title. I want everybody to recognise me truly as the Grand Master I’ve been calling myself. And I want to become a junior heavyweight that’s capable of competing at the heavyweight level. Those are my three goals right now.
–So you’ve been watching the junior heavyweights competing with heavyweights of late.
Wato: Yeah. Even with the weight difference, it’s been exciting to see the junior heavyweights step up and be able to beat heavyweights. I want to be in that position.
I want to be in my first Best of the Super Jr. I want to stand across from Hiromu Takahashi more than anything
–This year the Best of the Super Jr. tour was cancelled, and we don’t know about the tournament’s status at this point in time. Your thoughts?
Wato: I’ve never been in BoSJ, but it being the most direct route to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, I want to be in one and I want to win.
–So you want it to happen in some form.
Wato: Of course. I want to stand across from Hiromu Takahashi more than anything.
–Hiromu wasn’t the only junior heavyweight in New Japan Cup this year. What are your thoughts on SHO of late?
Wato: His strength is unreal, and he likes to use his feet as well. I’d love to go blow for blow with him.
–He has that MMA backbone as well.
Wato: It could well be decided in the ground game, then. I think the key would be to stop him from using that raw strength. Kicks, grappling, flying. It’d be an awesome match. I’d love for that to happen.
–It’s safe to say that you want to be facing just about anybody and everybody in the junior division.
Wato: With the roster we have in Japan and overseas, it’s no question that things are going to reach even bigger heights, especially with me in the mix. i’m going to use these educated feet to stand right at the top in NJPW!