THE EMPIRE’s founder speaks
On January 4 2021, Will Ospreay will take on kazuchika Okada in an immense singles match. While the two have competed as CHAOS brethren for years, Ospreay now faces the man he betrayed to form NJPW’s newest faction of THE EMPIRE.
Okada knew his star was burning out as mine was burning brighter
–So, Will, it’s official that on January 4 2021, you will face Kazuchika Okada in a special singles match.
Ospreay: That’s correct.
–If we were to talk about that match happening in the Tokyo Dome this time last year, would you be surprised?
Ospreay: It wasn’t a thought this time last year, just because I was happy being in the junior heavyweight division.
–You lost the IWGP Jr. heavyweight Championship to Hiromu Takahashi on January 4 2020. At that point you planned to remain a junior heavyweight?
Ospreay: I was happy competing against heavyweights while remaining a junior heavyweight. But circumstances all changed when Okada lost the IWGP Heavyweight title.
Ospreay: Well, I felt like I had new ambitions at that point. I was on the rise. I felt there was nothing left to do in the junior heavyweight division, so I wanted to take the time to achieve something that had eluded me for seven years.
–Win the British heavyweight Championship, which you did against Zack Sabre Jr. on Valentine’s Day.
Ospreay: So I wanted to put on the extra weight I needed to compete and win that championship, and I did. And how do you think Okada reacted?
–I can’t say.
Ospreay: He changed, man. He was clinging to me, putting his arm around me. You watch our tag match from (New Beginning in )Osaka. He’s putting his arm around me, invading my personal space, because he knew that his star was burning out as mine was burning brighter.
–You think he felt threatened by you?
Ospreay: He was trying to put me in my place. He didn’t like where I was.
What is CHAOS now? Other than ‘Kazuchika Okada and his mates’?
–You said after the G1 that he was holding you back.
Ospreay: Which is true.
–But at Power Struggle you commented that you had been using Okada to get yourself more known. How have your feelings about Okada changed over the last few months?
Ospreay: Nothing changed, I just realized what the facts are. Damn, I mean, look at CHAOS, now. What is CHAOS? Other than ‘Kazuchika Okada and his mates’, I don’t know.
–You think Okada dominates the conversation in CHAOS.
Ospreay: Nobody else in CHAOS is allowed to challenge for the IWGP titles. Nobody else makes the posters, the commercials. Just him, you don’t get that, you don’t understand what he’s like. He only comes to you guys for his matches, or for his interviews, but I had to travel with him, spend time with him, put up with him.
–And you felt held back.
Ospreay: Look, you saw what happened while I was a junior heavyweight. I won Best of the Super Jr.! And where was my face on the poster the next month? Nowhere. I was hardly advertised, because of Okada’s glass ceiling. So I struck out on my own, and what happened? Have you seen the truck driving around Tokyo?
–Your face is on the side of the ad truck promoting Wrestle Kingdom.
Ospreay: Exactly. Because I used Okada to make myself more famous and now, I don’t need him.
Without the IWGP title, Okada changed; he went nuts
–You mentioned that your relationship with Okada changed after he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. How did that loss on January 5 affect him do you think?
Ospreay: He just changed, and then he goes into all this KOPW 2020 nonsense. It was just like, you remember when he lost after that huge run he had with the title?
–In summer of 2018, when he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kenny Omega after 720 days?
Ospreay: And he just went nuts. Swinging balloons all over the place. He first started doing that in the UK; I was there, and he was like a different man.
–And you think that this loss affected him mentally as well?
Ospreay: It made him insanely jealous. So he saw me, somebody with goals and ambitions, somebody for whom it might have been my time, and it drove him nuts.
–You felt that this would be your year?
Ospreay: It took a global pandemic to stop it being my year. If it wasn’t for COVID no question I would have won New Japan Cup, I would be double champion by now. As it turned out I came back for the G1 and I was a little rusty. But I still felt that jealousy, that distance from Okada.
No matter what I did, or how far I went, it wouldn’t matter as long as Okada was there
–Let’s say the pandemic didn’t happen. You’re saying you would have won the New Japan Cup, and would have beaten Tetsuya Naito to become Double IWGP Champion. In that scenario, would THE EMPIRE exist? Would you have left CHAOS anyway?
Ospreay: That’s hard to say, because THE EMPIRE came about during lockdown.
–It came about because of the pandemic.
Ospreay: Yeah. The thing is, when shows started getting cancelled, I thought it was no big deal. I underestimated everything, I just thought I’d take a holiday back to the UK, see my family. But then everything shut down.
–You were stuck in the UK until the G1.
Ospreay: It was just me and the missus (Bea Priestley). And that was a very hard time for me, it really was. I had no contact with the guys, and it was Bea who said to me ‘isn’t it weird that Okada hasn’t contacted you once in all this?’ That planted the seed with me. It opened my eyes.
–It changed your perception of Okada.
Ospreay: It made me realise that no matter what I did, however far I’d go, it wouldn’t matter if Okada is always in my way. So I had to strike out on my own; well, with a couple of friends, heheh.
O-Khan? From the moment I saw him he was unique, special. Captivating
–Let’s talk about the formation of THE EMPIRE. Great-O-Khan has said that you approached him while you were both in the UK; did you have an eye on O-Khan before he went on excursion?
Ospreay: No, I don’t really take any notice of what Young Lions do, but when he came to England, I felt I had to pay attention. You know, a lot of things revolve around me when it comes to England and the UK, because I am the greatest professional wrestler that has ever come out of that country.
–You feel you had a responsibility to see what was going on in the UK scene.
Ospreay: I mean, after all, everything, every success that the UK scene has had is on my effort, my hard work. So when a wrestler comes over to the UK, I have to take a look and see what he’s about. And I liked what I saw.
–What stood out about O-Khan to you?
Ospreay: He was just so unique. So different. Captivating. So I made a point of going to his locker room and said ‘if you need anything, let me know’. We went out to dinner a few times; he’s a good guy to have on your side.
–O-Khan has made the point that there isn’t a hierarchy in THE EMPIRE. Do you agree with that?
Ospreay: 100%. There’s no leadership, only direction, and that direction is that things are going to change around here. It’s been so long since there’s been something new and fresh around here. I devoted my life to NJPW. I moved to Japan for this company, but I did that knowing that where I was in CHAOS, no matter how hard I worked, there would be favourites above me.
–So while you’re committed to NJPW, you wanted to be your own man.
Ospreay: I liken myself to Chris Jericho. When Chris Jericho came into NJPW, he went straight for the biggest names at that time- Omega, Naito, Okada, Tanahashi. He targeted those names and got rewarded for it with those big matches. He didn’t wait in line, he did things his own way, and now I’m going to do things my own way. A lot of people see things that way too. You’ve seen a few already, but there’s more. Trust me.
The golden era is done. Now it’s platinum
–It’s been five years since Los Ingobernables De Japon had their first Tokyo Dome event. Then they were involved in one match- Tetsuya Naito vs Hirooki Goto. For THE EMPIRE’s first Tokyo Dome, three high profile matches between yourself and Okada, O-Khan and Tanahashi, and Jeff Cobb vs Shingo Takagi.
Ospreay: Point proven. We’re making an impact, making a name. Look what happened at Budokan! Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, two men who were the backbone of this Golden Era in NJPW, wouldn’t you agree?
Ospreay: And we obliterated them! In under 15 minutes! Their era is done! The golden era is done, now it’s the platinum era! Jeff Cobb will win the NEVER Championship, O-Khan will destroy Tanahashi, send him packing, and I will end the Rainmaker.
–Let’s talk about the identity of THE EMPIRE as a group. We have seen BULLET CLUB establish themselves through runins, or match interference. Even now, Dick Togo is a regular presence in EVIL’s matches. How do you view that kind of activity?
Ospreay: I’ve gotten as far as I have without any help at all. Look at what I did to the junior heavyweight division, and a good number of the heavyweights. I don’t need help ever. But, just to have someone in my corner… Look at my missus.
Ospreay: She’s one of the best female wrestlers active in Japan.
–Former World of STARDOM champion, former Goddesses of STARDOM Champion, former SWA Champion and current Artist of STARDOM Champion.
Ospreay: She’s been all over the world. She knows her stuff. She isn’t just a piece of eye candy, she’s an analyst, and she has my back. So no, I have no shenanigans. What I have is a girl in my corner who knows what she’s talking about.
In hontai, Cobb had no direction
–Let’s talk a little about Jeff Cobb. He’s been very quiet since he joined THE EMPIRE.
–And he was a surprise to a lot of people watching, because he beat you at Madison Square Garden last year, and beat you during the G1 this year. Was that something that drew you to him?
Ospreay: Actually, it was Jeff who came to me.
Ospreay: And I was genuinely shocked, myself. He already proved he can beat me anytime he wants. So when my back’s turned, who knows? But Jeff said he wants in. You know why?
Ospreay: You’ll have to ask him yourself (grins). But I have my theory.
Ospreay: He had no direction. The company had nothing for him. What a waste! NJPW had this monster of a man, an Olympian, and the company was doing nothing with him in Hontai. So he went and did things Jeff Cobb’s way and got attention right away, and a title shot right away. THE EMPIRE gave him that direction.
We get sold on a dream, and then you get smart enough to want more
–To get back to the Okada match. You last faced one another in the G1 of course, which was when Bea and O-Khan got involved.
–We saw first Bea and then O-Khan just as you were in trouble when Okada put you in the Money Clip. Was that the plan? To try and beat Okada on your own but keep an insurance policy?
Ospreay: Of course! You’ve gotta admit, I did a good job of selling like I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew. Bea was the perfect distraction. Okada looks to her and thinks ‘what is she doing here?’, and the referee needs to head to her to enforce the law. That’s when O-Khan comes in. Perfect timing. It was all in the works as soon as he came back in Japan. We had a couple of drinks, exchanged some money, and he was there for that match right when I needed him.
–Now, can we assume that Bea will be in your corner January 4?
Ospreay: Let’s just say we’ve co-ordinated outfits, heheheh.
–The Will Ospreay who went into the Tokyo Dome last year wouldn’t want any kind of asterisk on a Tokyo Dome victory, let along against Okada. But we saw what happened in Ryogoku. Honest opinion- clean fight at the Dome?
Ospreay: How the mark is gotten doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matter how it’s done. All I care about is the mark. Did I beat Okada, yes or no? If it is, good for me, because I get more money! That’s all that matters!
–Well, the fans that-
Ospreay: The fans! Look, let me level with you. We get sold this dream of coming into the business, and what a world we’re in. What a buzz those fans give us. But after a while? The wear and tear sets in. The pain sets in. And you start to get smarter. I’m smart enough to want more. Do I need help to beat Okada, no. Is it something that he and I need to settle, yes. But if he takes his eyes off me to look at Bea on the floor, well that’s all I’ll need to strike.
The sun will shine on THE EMPIRE
–You and Okada aren’t all that different in age, but with Tanahashi and O-Khan especially, there’s a sense to this year’s Wrestle Kingdom of a generational conflict, a change in theguard. Do you agree with that?
Ospreay: You remember that shirt I put out last year? In tribute to Tanahashi?
–‘Attack for the new generation’.
Ospreay: Well, it’s here. It’s our time now. Look, I respect Tanahashi a lot, but it’s time to put down your sword. He’s one of the last remnants of this old generation, him, Nagata, Kojima. He sacrificed himself to make sure NJPW is here today, that we all have jobs, that I’m here, that you’re here. Thank you Tana. I respect the hell out of that. But now, the next generation is here, and he’s standing in the way of us changing things.
–Where does Will Ospreay and THE EMPIRE stand five years from now?
Ospreay: Five years from now you’ll be talking about how THE EMPIRE led NJPW into a whole new profit bracket. How we sold out Madison Square Garden, how we sold out everywhere in Japan, in the US, in the UK. It all starts at Wrestle Kingdom.
–Any final message for Okada January 4?
Ospreay: I’ve known you for five years. I imagine the heartache you must feel knowing your little brother stabbed you in the back. So I know you’ll come at me with everything you have, all that anger. It won’t be a match, it’ll be a fight! But you don’t have what it takes. Not enough to put the knife in and twist it. Will Ospreay will finish the Rainmaker, and on January 4, the sun will shine on THE EMPIRE.