Yujiro Takahashi speaks on his first G1 in five years
G1 Climax 30 is unique in the history of the tournament, in that there are no debutants in the twenty man field, ever single competitor aware of the rigours of the month long tour that represents the pinnacle of professional wrestling. Unique in that field is Yujiro Takahashi, who is wrestling in his first G1 campaign in five years, itself an unprecedented absence in the modern era. We sat down with the self professed ‘Tokyo Pimp’ to get his thoughts on this year’s tournament.
(Interview conducted before the G1 Climax opener)
A lot of the fans were shocked, and I take that as a good thing
–You’d been making backstage appeals to be part of G1 Climax 30. How did you feel when your name was finally announced?
Yujiro: I’ll be honest, I was taken aback a little bit. Even though I’d put it out there, I was still like ‘for real?’
–You were surprised by it.
Yujiro: I had my match right after the announcement so I was standing by backstage and heard my name called. I couldn’t stop smiling on my entrance.
–There was big reaction to your name from the live crowd.
Yujiro: Well, I think that reaction came from the fans being taken by surprise. There was a lot of shock, a lot of ‘really? Yujiro?’ and I take that as a good thing.
–But your feud with Kazuchika Okada over the summer gave you a spotlight. Okada had high praise for you after your match in Nagoya.
Yujiro: Well, I think when he turned his attention to me, I thought ‘I can use this’, and that’s when I started making my case for the G1. Then we had that handicap match… Even I would say, losing that match directly would have made a G1 case pretty difficult, but at least Gedo was the one taking the loss. Had that match been a lumberjack strap match like I’d wanted, and if I’d have lost that, well, I wouldn’t be in the G1.
–You’re quite analytical about the whole process.
Yujiro: Well, if you think about it, apart from Okada, I’ve only wrestled Goto in the New Japan Cup singles wise, and I lost that match too. So whoever makes the final call was judging me for the matches themselves and not the end result I guess.
Even if I wasn’t in the G1, I was working hard in my spot within BULLET CLUB
–You were in the G1 for six years straight from 2010 to 2015, and then didn’t make the cut in 2016. Was that a shock for you at the time?
Yujiro: It was a surprise, yeah. I was kind of thinking ‘nearly G1 season’, like I was taking it for granted that I would be in there, and then when I wasn’t…
–There had to be space made, with EVIL, SANADA, YOSHI-HASHI and Kenny Omega all being in for the first time.
Yujiro: Well, cutting veterans is one thing, but here I was in my 30s, supposedly in my prime. Seeing the reality of the situation really hit home to me. I realised I had been over valuing myself.
–A lot of people forget that you challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in November 2012.
Yujiro: I had really rested on those laurels and let myself slip. Not making the cut was embarrassing. It sucked. I drank a lot of tequila that summer. A lot. (laughs)
–And before you knew it you were out for the next three G1s as well.
Yujiro: I mean, if you really look at it, it is surprising that I would make it back in. When you don’t make the cut, it becomes very, very difficult to get back in. I know that more than anyone. It’s a game of musical chairs really.
–It became hard to find your spot again.
Yujiro: Especially as NJPW expanded overseas these last few years. We had more and more foreign wrestlers to compete with, too; the roster was getting bigger.
–And during the period you were out of the G1, you settled into a support role within BULLET CLUB.
Yujiro: You know, that really saved me, I think. AJ (Styles), (Karl) Anderson, (Bad Luck) Fale, those guys were all so, so good to me.
–Joining in May 2014, you were the first Japanese member of BULLET CLUB, and the only one for quite a while.
Yujiro: My English isn’t all that great, so for the first little while I was a bit lost (laughs).
–So were you studying hard?
Yujiro: I heard the best thing to do would be watch TV shows in English over and over, so I wound up getting ‘Friends’ on DVD and just wearing out the box set (laughs). It helped me make real friends, so.
–That’s a nice story.
Yujiro: And then, between 2016 and 2018, I was able to tag with Hangman Page. That was a big deal for me. He was a young guy with a lot of potential, and it was really great teaming with him.
–You challenged for the IWGP Tag Team Championships in August 2016. (watch on NJPW World!)
Yujiro: Yeah. I’m really proud of that team. You know, even if I wasn’t in the G1, I was working hard on my position, and I felt I had my spot. I don’t think that would have happened if I were in hontai.
EVIL and Jay being at the top, it’s win win
–So would you say you felt at home in BULLET CLUB?
Yujiro: I’d say so. Until the Elite became a part of it.
–It was quite a complicates situation in 2018, when you had Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale heading up the BULLET CLUB OGs, and Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in the Elite. You were initially on the Elite side of things, correct?
Yujiro: I guess it turned out that way because I was teaming with Page at the time. It was a case of Kenny and the Bucks running away with what they wanted to do and doing their own thing, dragging us with them. I think Chase felt uneasy with it all as well.
–And then in January 2019 you and Chase rejoined Tama’s side.
Yujiro: Even when Chase was with the Elite, he was still wearing the traditional BULLET CLUB gear (laughs). I think that was his little bit of resistance.
–How has BULLET CLUB been for you since, with Jay White at the lead?
Yujiro: I think that it’s back to being one vision now. It isn’t exactly like it was when the Elite came in, but it does feel like it should.
–KENTA came into the group last summer, and then EVIL at the New Japan Cup final. Plus Ishimori, Jado and Gedo and Dick Togo, that makes seven Japanese members now.
Yujiro: It used to be just me (laughs), but I don’t feel jealous about that at all. Everybody’s fit in really well in their roles, and I think even the guys that couldn’t make it into Japan were happy to see EVIL join.
–You have good chemistry with KENTA backstage as well.
Yujiro: Ah, you mean during World Tag League (laughs). Him using the camera like that, it shows that he was in the top company in America.
–You assisted EVIL en route to his double IWGP title win in Osaka.
Yujiro: Now he and Jay are right at the top of BULLET CLUB together, right? That can only benefit all of us. It’s win-win.
We were on such different levels that I couldn’t be jealous
–The same year that you experienced that low of not being in the G1, Tetsuya Naito won his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and was on top of the world, it seemed.
Yujiro: There was such a gap between us. We were on such different levels that I couldn’t even be jealous. When he was still in hontai I felt that envy toward him a little, but when he came back from Mexico and started LIJ, that changed everything. Him winning the New Japan Cup and then the title, that was huge.
–Naito himself has admitted that he found it hard to stand out as a young wrestler, and that you were the bigger presence back then.
Yujiro: When he was an opening match guy? Perhaps. He got much, much better. Of course then we were in No Limit together, and YOSHI-HASHI and Okada entered the mix.
–Did you think back then he would become a top guy?
Yujiro: Of course. That’s why I came to him with the idea to tag.
–Oh, No Limit was all your idea?
Yujiro: Yeah. It all came out of the Best of the Super Jr. one year. I was in the lineup from the beginning, and then someone got hurt and Naito filled in.
–It was 2007; Naito filled in for Jado. He was only in his first year, so it was a big break for him.
Yujiro: Back then, you used to have Tokyo Sports and Weekly Pro-Wrestling giving special awards out at the end of the tournament. Naito won one of them, even with his position. It really made me think ‘this guy’s gonna be big’. Even in the opening matches, you could tell he had a feel, he had the instincts. I figured, that if I were to tag with him, it would help my position. Tags are the best way to do that; it’s hard to vault yourself instantly to the top of the card as a singles guy, but if you tag first… It was already working for Hirooki Goto and Ryusuke Taguchi at the time, see.
–Goto and Taguchi made a big splash. They were even able to challenge for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championships while they were still Young Lions.
Yujiro: And then me and Naito tagged, and what happened? We were the first team to ever become IWGP Junior Heavyweight and Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
–The team lasted until May 2011. It was you that ended things…
Yujiro: I didn’t think that he would get as far ahead of me as he did…
–You were all Japanese in college, and had a very impressive amateur record. Did you think that would help you as a singles?
Yujiro: Hmm. Here’s the thing. This is just my opinion, but I think an amateur record can handicap your career if anything. Yes that backbone can help you mechanically and physically, but that isn’t all that pro-wrestling is. To reset your attention and build yourself up in the pro ranks is very difficult. That’s what I reckon anyway.
–Based on your experiences.
Yujiro: Naito didn’t have an amateur track record. He just loved all of this so much, since he was a little kid. That got him to Animal Hamaguchi’s gym, and got him into NJPW. I’m not going to say that route is guaranteed to give you a better sense for everything, but I think that’s a more advantageous route than the one I took.
–That’s your advice to people wanting to break in?
Yujiro: At the end of the day, everything you do as an amateur doesn’t mean much when you turned pro. If anything I think you get people feeling ‘oh, he was a good amateur guy, but as a pro…’ This business isn’t easy.
I want to come after everyone. They’re all above me in the food chain.
–You weren’t in the G1 between 2016 and 2019, but until being out of the running due to an eye in jury in ’18, you were able to show your worth as a singles wrestler in the New Japan Cup.
Yujiro: Right, I had Juice Robinson two years in a row in 2017 and 2018, but I didn’t get through. Hang on, didn’t I wrestle Baretta in the New Japan Cup?
–That was in September 2017. He had just transitioned to heavyweight, and you were his first opponent.
Yujiro: Ah, that’s it. I lost then as well…
–They were all good matches though. Did you feel that you were in position to still do well as a singles wrestler if you were given the chance?
Yujiro: You know, maybe this isn’t the answer you’re looking for, but I find tag wrestling much more challenging than singles. Obviously singles gets more attention, and the G1 is the most popular and the toughest series we have, but…
–You think tag wrestling has more merit, for you?
Yujiro: Simply because you have more bodies in the ring, you have to be thinking more. That’s why you see so many singles stars start as tag wrestlers I think. The style is different, but the smarts have to be there, and if a chance comes around…
–That chance has come around for you for the first time in five years then. Is there anyone in A Block that you’re particularly looking forward to facing?
Yujiro: Everyone, really. It has to be, right? Everybody’s above me in the food chain. So every match is worth wrestling, and every match is an opportunity. I don’t have anything to lose.
–It sounds like this is more of a special G1 to you.
Yujiro: I’m excited, to be honest. I’m in the same block as guys like Will Ospreay, Shingo Takagi. I’ve only been in tags with them a couple of times, lost to both of them though.
–You face Takagi on October 5. When you tagged against him on September 9, Shingo said that he wanted to face you one on one.
Yujiro: Ehh, he might have only been saying that because he was tagging against me that tour, heh. It’s definitely one to look forward to, but they all are.
–Thinking about it, with Takagi, Ibushi and Okada as well as yourself in there, there are a lot of guys in A Block that debuted in 2004.
Yujiro: And I’m the only one of those who debuted in NJPW. It was quite the year for wrestling. Go Shiozaki debuted that year, too. In the end, we’ve had very different experiences these last 16 years, but I do find myself comparing myself to them.
–Your match with Ibushi will be your first since the 2013 G1. You won that match.
Yujiro: I wouldn’t read much into that. He was still a junior then, too. Same with Taichi, he’s a completely different guy now to the one I faced in Best of the Super Jr. years ago.
Really I’m fighting for a spot in next year’s G1
–On October 7 in Hiroshima you face Tomohiro Ishii for the first time since 2015. You beat him for the NEVER Openweight Championship back in 2014 in Korakuen.
Yujiro: He got his break in the G1 after I did, but he really used it to elevate his position. He’s a delicate sort, very detailed, and that comes through in his matches. He puts a lot of thought in.
–October 10 in Osaka is something we really have to talk about, you facing Jay White.
Yujiro: He spent all that time away from Japan, but he hasn’t lost a single beat. I can remember when he was that ‘blue eyed Young Lion’, and everything he had to go through, all humble and meek. He reinvented himself like you wouldn’t believe, heheh. But he’s absolutely in the right place as BULLET CLUB leader and a top guy here.
–Your last group match in Ryogoku is against Jeff Cobb.
Yujiro: He was an Olympian, right? I’d love to try and get on the mat with him.
–Two great amateurs.
Yujiro: It’ll be really interesting, seeing how that comes together in a match. With all these different opponents, it’s going to be a big long month.
–What did you think about there being no preview tag matches this year?
Yujiro: I think every wrestler is happy with that decision, aren’t they?
–You wind up giving too much away to your opponent that way?
Yujiro: I don’t think you need preview tags during the G1. This way it gives the guys a chance to rest up just a little bit. I’m not young anymore, heh. I’d rather wrestle with my head a little more.
–There’s a real chance that if you can put together a strong run in this G1, you might make your way in next year, too.
Yujiro: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Being in this year isn’t just something to celebrate, it’s the start of some serious work. I have to get results, and I have to have good matches. Of course, like everyone, I’m in it to win it, but I’m also fighting to be in the mix next year as well.
–Maybe next year we’ll be able to see your ‘accomplices’ with you on the way to the ring, and at the press conference.
Yujiro: Haha! Well, times are changing when it comes to having different women with me every night. I know every now and then people are saying it isn’t the best sight for the kids in the crowd. It might get a nice reaction before the matches, but especially with COVID…
–We haven’t seen Pieter for a while, either.
Yujiro: Ah, that’s such a shame. But I know she’s been really happy for me making it in and I want to do her proud.
–Any last message for the fans?
Yujiro: A message for the fans? “I’ll do my very very best” (laughs). But I think this is a really key tour for me on a lot of levels, and I want to show what I can do.