Kazuchika Okada talks Wrestle Kingdom 15 and Will Ospreay
With Wrestle Kingdom a week away, we spoke to Kazuchika Okada’s match with Will Ospreay, and the generational battles that THE EMPIRE are seeking to wage at the Tokyo Dome.
I guess most of all, I thought ‘the time’s finally come’
–We’re just a few days away from Wrestle Kingdom 15 and your match with Will Ospreay in the Tokyo Dome. First of all, can you tell us what was going through your mind on October 16 when Ospreay turned his back on a man you used to call your little brother?
Okada: I guess what I thought most of all was ‘the time’s finally come’. He’s had a lot of opportunities to stand across from me in the past, last year’s G1 just to give one example, and he’s become tougher, stronger. And now… Yeah, I thought ‘ok, the time’s finally here’.
–Speaking as a ‘big brother’?
Okada: No, speaking as a wrestler.
–So what he did didn’t trouble you?
Okada: Oh, it troubled me. It messed me up. I called him out here from the UK. I took him under my wing, I took care of him, and I’m not just talking about in the ring here. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little sad.
–Was there a lot of anger there, in the moment?
Okada: Actually, not really. I just had ‘why?’ running through my head. And then looking back at it after calming myself down, it was, like I said, it was going to happen eventually. And then that arrogance really came out of him on the mic at Power Struggle.
–After what happened with Ospreay, and before that with jay White, do you think there’s a target on your back, like you’re marked for betrayal?
Okada: Well, I think that’s possible, for sure. That’s part of the job, showing what you have, your fire. Grabbing the brass ring. But it’s complicated. Especially when you think back to Jay, I ended up losing to him that year in the Tokyo Dome. He ended up showing more fire than I could. It hurt me pretty bad as a wrestler.
–You’re a high value target to everyone in the business.
Okada: Backstabs and betrayals or no, that’s how much presence and prestige that Kazuchika Okada has. If you can manage to beat me, you go right to the top.
–Even if you say so yourself.
Okada: Look, even if it is me saying this, there’s no denying it. A win over Kazuchika Okada means a whole hell of a lot.
You have to be really in the moment to bring it
–So what’s your take on Ospreay since?
Okada: I feel pretty strongly that ‘if you can, then you should.’ He felt that if he stabbed me in the back, he could instantly shoot himself to the top of the pack. Personal issues aside, that’s all fine and good. But then he started firing off excuse after excuse. He was saying there was a glass ceiling, that he couldn’t be the top guy in CHAOS because I was there. Guess what, I’m still here whether you’re in CHAOS or not. So forget the excuses; if you think you can beat me then you should beat me. Show me how good you really are and see if that’s good enough.
–But you’re not going to be a pushover for Ospreay.
Okada: Damn right. I’ll admit it, 2020 was a bad year for me, results wise. I need this win to start 2021 right. I’m not going to lose this one.
–You mentioned your track record this year, a year away from the IWGP titles, and losses in the New Japan Cup, not making it to the G1 final. How do you assess your 2020?
Okada: I… don’t know what it is. New Japan Cup, EVIL joining BULLET CLUB really brought it. Then in the NEVER 6-Man title tournament, it was YOSHI-HASHI’s time, and he really showed up, he really brought it. And I think that’s what’s been lacking. I haven’t brought that fire this year. That isn’t something you can just turn on and off like a switch. You have to really be in the moment. That might be a big theme in this match with Ospreay.
–So this is an important match for you, not just results wise.
Okada: Right. I want a match that brings everybody up, the world over. We’re in a tough, tough time, everyone is, and I want everyone watching to go ‘holy s**t’ and get fired up. Maybe that’s why the world’s in the state that it’s in, Okada hasn’t been getting results (laughs).
–Perhaps! If you’re a champion again, all will be well in the world at last!
Okada: That’s the plan. absolutely.
I want to bring back all the fans that drifted away
–Ospreay has made a lot of grandiose statements about the Tokyo Dome, including that he plans to end your career.
Okada: Well, I guess it’s poetic justice in a way; I made a living saying those exact same things not long ago (laughs). But if he means what he says, then that speaks to how motivated he is. He’s putting himself in a position of risk, to put him in a spot where he said what he did and still loses. At the end of the day, I’ll fight just the same whatever anyone says to me. So I want to take on Ospreay while he’s at his most motivated, because then a win means that much more.
–At the Budokan, and then again at the press conference, you referenced ‘an IWGP level fight’. Do you have designs on what might be beyond Wrestle Kingdom?
Okada: Hmm. When I mentioned IWGP, I wasn’t necessarily saying I planned to be back in the title hunt. If you looked at the big title matches this year, it really hasn’t been what IWGP is about, don’t you think? BULLET CLUB interference in all these main events. Frankly, I think that’s turned a lot of people off. I think there are fans that have fallen away this year, and I plan to bring those fans back at the Tokyo Dome. Have those fans think ‘I knew NJPW was always great, as long as Okada’s at the top’.
–So in a way, you’re treating this match as if it were for the IWGP Heavyweight title.
Okada: Right. No runins, no interference, no BS. Pro-wrestling, who’s better, who’s stronger. I think that wrestling, and wrestling at the IWGP level should leave the fans satisfied. I think IWGP matches, and my IWGP matches are at the top of that list.
–Ospreay will almost certainly have Bea Priestley in his corner. Does that trouble you?
Okada: Wrestler in her own right though she may be, I’m certainly not planning on getting physical with her. And if Ospreay at this point in his career needs her help to win matches, then what does that say about him? No, I’m planning on this being a one on one, pure contest, and I’m planning to blow people away.
He’s a different man
–You’ve faced Ospreay before, but then he was your teammate.
Okada: Right, and since he’s formed THE EMPIRE, he’s a different man I think. Before he was all about being a ball of energy, and all those amazing moves, but now he’s much more settled, considered. He’ll wrestle you a lot more. This is the first time I’ll be up against this Will Ospreay in a singles match; I think it’ll be a very different style.
–You said that you weren’t necessarily throwing your hat back in the IWGP title hunt, but there are certainly a lot of fans who would like to see you back in that mix.
Okada: Oh, I’m not so sure about that (laughs).
–You’ve spoken at length about having no interest in the double championships.
Okada: Well, since Naito won the belts last year, we’ve only been in a couple tag matches, and I haven’t really watched the double title matches. My 2020 just ended without me being anywhere near the title picture. I don’t really know what the situation is like with those titles. If the fans are happy seeing the double titles defended then it’s all good I guess. But I want the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and that’s all I have eyes on. So to get to that point, I need to get results, and that’s what I plan on.
–So would you like to be the one that breaks those titles up?
Okada: I really don’t know. I might start to get into the whole two title idea. Or I might think that there’s no need for the IC title. Or that I’ll be into the double championships and won’t be into the tag belts. Or I might want to be a tag champion. I don’t know where things might take me next, and to be honest, I want to enjoy that feeling.
–Do you not feel that some fans are concerned about your place in the pecking order with you being separated from the main eve-?
Okada: (interrupting). It’s not really being separated. I wouldn’t call it that. I didn’t have an interest in the double title concept, in that scene. In a normal year, I would have had that fire to get back in the title hunt. I would have been checking out every title match I wasn’t in. But that didn’t happen this year.
And I don’t think I’m qalone in that. I think there are fans that feel the same way, that have fallen off NJPW this year. A good part of that is because Kazuchika Okada doesn’t have the top belt. So what I want to do at the Tokyo Dome is show how good Kazuchika Okada is. Show how good NJPW is, and bring those fans that fell off right back into the mix. When those voices pick up after Wrestle Kingdom, when people start saying ‘Kazuchika Okada really does need to be the IWGP Champion’, then that’s when I’ll think about challenging…. For the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Key word Heavyweight.
–One gets the feeling Ospreay has similar designs on the IWGP championship.
Okada: Well, that would mean I have that much importance to him as an opponent. That he thinks a win over him instantly makes him championship material, that says a lot. In my position, I don’t think a win over Ospreay is enough for me to then say ‘OK, next up, IWGP title match’. Him thinking I’m a stepping stone, that speaks highly of me, doesn’t it?
–I’d say so.
Okada: So if I let him win and then dictate the pace then that sends the message that stabbing me in the back was the right thing to do. I want to stop that from happening. I have to stop that from happening. If not, it’ll haunt me for the rest of my pro-wrestling life.
–This match is that important. Do you think that Ospreay is still green in a sense, as a very top flight wrestler?
Okada: I’ve said before that I think he’s the most impressive wrestler in the world. The same is true even though he betrayed me. Now, from here on out, I’m sure he’ll only get better and better. But to be recognised as the best wrestler in the world, he has to beat me. Because I’m the best wrestler in the world. So I’m keeping my praise a little… indirect (laughs).
Having Wrestle Kingdom in the current climate- it’s only a positive.
–Obviously, we can’t sell out the Tokyo Dome in the current pandemic. Even with our limited capacity, there might be a lot of people thinking they don’t want to come, with everything that’s happened with COVID. Do you have a message for those people?
Okada: I’m obviously very grateful to every fan that comes to the Tokyo Dome. And for all those people that want to come, but can’t, well I’m just as grateful and happy that they’ll be watching on NJPW World and FITE. I’m just really grateful for everyone who shows their support for NJPW right now.
We can’t use our venues to capacity. We can’t have fans their raising their voices to support us. There’s a lot of negatives, obviously, but if you change your point of view you can turn those into positives. There’s not been another time like this in our 49 year history. This will likely be the one and only year that you have a Tokyo Dome with empty seats. This will be the one and only time the fans that pack our buildings, and will do again, will be sitting and watching on their TVs at home. It’s unique, and there’s always positives to come from that.
Of course, of course I want every seat full. Of course I want everyone screaming. But instead of thinking about that, I’m going to focus on this being the one and only pandemic Wrestle Kingdom, the one and only event of its sort. I’ll certainly never forget it. And when we recover from all of this, we’ll be able to look back on these two nights and say ‘things were this tough, but look at how far we’ve come’. Whatever happens, I think about it positively. And as a pro-wrestler, the plan is always to show the fans, whether they’re at the venue, or watching on TV, or online, just how amazing New Japan Pro-Wrestling truly is.