Still with final hopes alive, we speak to Mr. High Voltage
With just a few days left in the Best of the Super Jr. 27 campaign before the finalists are set Sunday in Fukuoka, SHO still has it all to play for. To talk about the big opposition that looms as well as what is to come in the Budokan and beyond, we sat down with the CHAOS member.
Interview conducted before December 2
Beating Hiromu? That would be big. Real big.
–Let’s continue running through your Best of the Super Jr. campaign. On December 2 in Osaka’s central gymnasium you face Hiromu Takahashi.
SHO: When we’ve come here in the past, it’s usually been in the sub arena, but this time we’re in the main arena. Looking at the pictures it seems pretty big.
–In an interview we ran with Hiromu earlier in the year, he had some pretty harsh words for you.
SHO: He did, yeah.
–He said that we only see the best of you in dedicated junior tournaments, that you tend to play second fiddle to the senior members in CHAOS.
SHO: Well, I want to prove to him that’s not the case.
–And you’ve transformed quite a bit since that interview ran before the restart. You’ve been wrestling as a singles competitor, facing a lot of heavyweights as well.
SHO: I’m a different SHO to the one he knew pre-pandemic. I’m a different guy to the one Hiromu was talking about.
SHO: I really want to show that in Osaka. Beating him would be big. Real big. He’s the same age as me, but he’s always been a few steps ahead.
–Having lost the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in Jingu Stadium, we forget how much Hiromu has achieved this year. He beat Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii during the New Japan Cup and challenged EVIL for the double IWGP Championships.
SHO: Right! When he beat Ishii, that was huge. That would make beating him all the more exciting. He’s done it all this year except winning those IWGP Jr. Tag belts. After he lost that match, maybe he’s thinking that this tournament is his chance to bounce back. He was certainly the most excited to have this tournament finally announced.
–He’s certainly motivated. You haven’t wrestled him since…
SHO: 2018, in Gunma (watch on NJPW World!).
–Two Best of the Super Jr.s ago.
SHO: Right. It’s been over two years, but he’s only gotten stronger, right? You wouldn’t think he spent over a year on the shelf with his neck injury at all. He’s just been having amazing matches every night.
–Even though he doesn’t have the title, he seems like the face of the division.
SHO: Honestly, I feel like he has five times the popularity I do. That’s why i think beating him would be such a big deal. But to borrow a phrase, I want to have a ton of fun. He’s a guy that just seems to enjoy himself all the time, and I want to enjoy myself in there with him.
–And a win certainly puts you in the final conversation.
SHO: Right. It’s a key match in more ways than one. It’s certainly a critical juncture for the tournament. Win and I have a good shot in the finals, lose and it might be tough for me. But if I win it’s more than two points. It’s getting a win over Hiromu Takahashi, and that means a ton of confidence.
That building, it was the last place my brother came to see me
–Saturday December 5 we’re in Kagoshima. You were originally scheduled to face Yoshinobu Kanemaru, but with his injury, the match got changed to Yuya Uemura.
SHO: Right. I was looking forward to getting some revenge on Kanemaru. Last year I lost via countout after he sent me crashing into Yota Tsuji (watch on NJPW World!)
–All in 4:01 as well.
SHO: Right? It’s like we barely had a match at all, but he was able to squeeze a win like that. That’s how good he is, doing the most with the least effort. It’s all two points in the end.
–He certainly got two points off you and barely took any damage, which is smart when you think about the rest of the league still to go.
SHO: A lot like Toru Yano in the G1. But still, I was determined not to let that happen this year.
–To get onto Uemura though, he’s been getting a lot of attention lately.
SHO: He really has. You never know what’s going to happen with BOSJ, but this feels like destiny for him.
–He was very persistent in saying he wanted in the tournament, which might have been key for him.
SHO: He made it happen for himself, for sure. Otherwise it could have been any number of people in that spot. I’m glad I can face him, and to do it in Kagoshima as well.
–What’s special about Kagoshima?
SHO: It’s kinda personal, but this building, Sendai Sun Arena, it was the last place my brother came to see me wrestle before he died earlier this year. It was the last day of the Heisei era.
–Last April 30.
SHO: And I remember the two of us, YOH and Uemura got together after the match and went out, we counted down to the new era at midnight together.
–Wow. So there really does seem fated.
SHO: Uemura and I are both from Ehime, and I know his old wrestling coach. So there’s a lot that connects us. I think my brother will be looking down and keeping a close eye on this match.
–Uemura has certainly been getting better every day, and bigger as well.
SHO: Right. I watched him wrestle all those matches during the G1 tour. That series was just as tough for the Young Lions as it was the guys in the tournament, but he wound up gaining more muscle, and really perfected his Boston Crab.
–And that ‘deadbolt’ Overhook Suplex as well.
SHO: He’ll certainly be looking for that in this match, and he’ll try and grapple me, we both have Greco Roman backgrounds. We’ve had our little faction, our back and forth on social media…
SHO: yeah. That’s an added little wrinkle, and I think this’ll be another one of those matches that only the two of us can have. But it’s a critical part of the league, and this is right after Hiromu, so there’s a danger of being worn out and getting caught. He’s a real threat. I’m looking forward to it.
Ishimori’s the smallest, but he’s the fastest and maybe the most dangerous
–And last on December 6, it’s you and Taiji Ishimori.
SHO: Yeah. I lost to him last year in Best of the Super Jr, and then beat him in the Super J-Cup, so we’re one and one.
–Your thoughts on him this year?
SHO: He’s scary. It’s a matter of fact that he’ll be in contention when it gets to the end of the tournament. There’s a good chance of making the final if I beat him, and I’ll probably be out if I lose. So I really want to beat him and use that win to get to the Budokan.
–And of course, if you beat the champion…
SHO: Sure. This is worth a lot more than two points.
–But beating Ishimori is much easier said than done.
SHO: Exactly. He’s the smallest entrant in the tournament, but he’s the fastest, and he’s probably the most dangerous. He has the deepest moveset of everyone.
–He turns his biggest deficit in his size to his benefit.
SHO: I think it’s all about that small, explosive power. If you think about it all your body parts are closer to your heart, they get that blood flow and energy that bit faster. And evolving that Yes Lock into his Bone Lock, that’s a tough hold. He can focus in on one body part, or he can hit you from all angles just as effectively, have you defending on one level as he’s coming for your shoulder and then suddenly change tactics.
For all I know, this is a once in a lifetime chance.
–So what do you think of the final being in the Nippon Budokan this year?
SHO: This might sound weird, but right now I’m listening to my own entrance music all the time. I’d love for that to go out in the Nippon Budokan. The thing is, I don’t know whether we’ll be in the Budokan next year, or the year after that. For all I know, this is a once in a lifetime thing. With the one block, with World tag League at the same time, with the whole COVID deal, it really us such a unique scenario. I want to make the most of that.
–This year of all years, you want to win that trophy.
SHO: Yeah. In this one block scenario, with only ten people in the field, ten selected, to win really makes you best of the best.
–I’m sure everyone else feels the same.
SHO: That’s what makes this all the more exciting. It always is every year, but this year…
–Any final thoughts?
SHO: I’ll win it! You know, so much got cancelled this year because of the pandemic. So many college sports tournaments, or the Olympics. there are so many athletes who put in all that work for something only now to question their choices. With all that’s happened, it’s important for us to step up as the King of Sports, and for me and all of us to represent and be proud of that label, and the Super Jr. label within it.
SHO: Oh, and I’ll win it. If I don’t win it, that pride doesn’t really mean anything. I will win it, be proud of where I’m at and tell the world that this is the King of Sports, this is Best of the Super Jr. for all the athletes everywhere to hear.