Wato’s Next? Hiroyoshi Tenzan on mentorship and more

Hiroyoshi Tenzan reflects on his 30 year career and what’s to come

Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s battle with Great-O-Khan on January 30 in Nagoya ended with a crushing loss, meaning the removal of the Mongolian Chop from his arsenal. Yet, now 30 years into his career,  Tenzan still has sights set forward, and with an eye on the next generation, is a constant supporting factor in Master Wato’s matches. We chatted to Tenzan to get his thoughts on a legendary career and what’s to come. 


I’m really glad to be with him

–So I thought we could talk about your connecting with Master Wato. You’ve been at his side for about nine months now. What first brought the two of you together?

Tenzan: Well, I’ve had my eye on him since he was a Young Lion. Then when he came back from excursion, I saw his comeback match and saw something that i couldn’t let slide. Just on instinct I went to help out. 

–It’s felt like you’ve really been a father figure to him. You have that protecting presence in the backstage comments. 

Tenzan: Well, I guess we’re different enough in age that we look like father and son. To him I’m just his senior in the roster, but it does feel sometimes talking to him like I’m telling off my son.

–You seem really devoted to being his teacher.

 Tenzan: Yeah. I really think these young kids are finding their way in NJPW, and I want them to be a big part going forward. I’m helping raise him as a wrestler, and I’m supporting him as well. In all sorts of ways, Wato’s given me a purpose, and I’m really glad to be with him.

–You taught Wato the TTD and the Anaconda Vice in November before Best of the Super Jr. Did that come with a certain sense of expectation of him?

Tenzan: Hmm. Well, he came to me asking me to teach him my moves, and we did have that talk. If it’s to get results at the end of the day, but you have to use them well. And that’s the understanding we had when I taught him.

–And what did you think of his TTD during the tournament?

Tenzan: Well the main thing that I’ve been saying over and over to him is that he has to know how important each individual thing he does is. He has to know the importance of each of his moves, and I think he’s figuring that out little by little. 

I want him to continue to grow

–We haven’t seen the Anaconda Vise from Wato of yet…

Tenzan: Well, what matters is that he knows how to put his offense together. He shouldn’t do anything for the heck of it, I only want him to use that hold when the time is right and when he can use it to get the win. It’s a little old school to think like that perhaps, but speaking as the old senpai, that’s what we want to instil in these kids. There’s a relationship of trust there, passing that move to him. It’s not the ‘how’, it’s the ‘when’ and the ‘why’ .

–There’s a history behind those moves after all. 

Tenzan: Well, and he’s only 23. There’s much more original stuff that he can do, and that I’d want him to do. I’m not at all fussed about him taking on that hold and putting it in his arsenal, but if there’s anything he wants me to teach him, then I’m here for him.

–It’s important that he thinks for himself.

Tenzan: Exactly. He has to perfect his own stuff first and make his style his own. I’ll always be there to help him, but he has to take responsibility for what he does in there. 

–You really do sound like his dad (laughs).

Tenzan: Well, I have a son who’s 17 right now. But I really feel like Wato is like another son to me. I just want him to continue to grow, aim for the top and get to that ‘Grand Master’ status he talks about.

He has to get used to talking.

–A couple of weeks ago in Korakuen Hall, Wato was victorious in the main event and had to get on the microphone to talk to the crowd. How do you think that went?

Tenzan: Well, I think he has all the physical tools, so it’s just about finding how he wants to express himself on the mic. He might not like it much, but he’ll have to get used to it.

–It’s an important part of the job.

Tenzan: It’s difficult to get yourself over without speaking at all. So it’s important to talk, and say what needs to be said. I always tell him, if he screws up, so be it, but don’t leave anything left unsaid. Don’t half ass it.

–How were you on the mic at the same point in your career Wato is now?

Tenzan: Haha! I don’t think anybody could hear a word coming out of my mouth. Back then everyone would just yell something about kicking the other guys ass! Things have changed. Now it’s really important to choose your words carefully and make sure everyone knows and understands what you have to say.

–So you’re looking out for what he does on the mic as well as in the ring.

Tenzan: I thought it was somewhere he could use some improvement so I’ve been giving him a little advice. It comes down to practice though, so if he screws up on the mic here and there it’s no big deal.

–How do you think Wato’s progressed since last year?

Tenzan: Well, I think he’s been through a lot since last June. He’s had to grow a lot in a strange set of circumstances with COVID and everything. But I’ll watch over him as he continues to grow. I think he will be a big name, and he should be a big name. He has a ton of potential.

He’s putting it all out there, and that’s inspiring me to do the same

–Of course you’re celebrating 30 years in wrestling at the same time as Satoshi Kojima. How do you feel about his performances so far this year?

Tenzan: He’s in such great shape, and he’s bringing everything he has into every match he has. He really could be in line for a title any time the chance comes up, I think.

–He suffered losses this year, but in fantastic performances. 

Tenzan: Yeah. I don’t want to hold him back in any way. If chances come for TenCozy, well that’s great, but I think if a singles opportunity comes along for him, he should go for it.

–Is he inspiring you to push hard as well?

Tenzan: Oh yeah, whenever you have somebody who came up the same time as you do well, there’s a little jealousy there and you want some of that too. He’s putting it all out there and that’s definitely inspiring. It makes me think I have to put all I have into what I do, too. It isn’t just about us being pals and getting along. There has to be a little rivalry there. 

I’m not slowing down anytime soon.

–So what do you think is next in store for, not just you but Kojima and Nagata, the Third Generation at large?

Tenzan: Well, I think Nakanishi retiring really left a hole, and it’s a little lonely without him. But for the rest of us, I want us to be doing more than simply being there to fill a spot. 

–I see.

Tenzan: I don’t want the fans thinking ‘they’re still around?’ I think I can still go with the best of them and throw down, and I hope the fans realise that. 

–Do you have any titles in mind, that being said?

Tenzan: I mean hey, what about the NEVER 6-Man titles? There’s three of them and three of us. I think if the three of us get together and how what we can do, we should be able to challenge no problem.

–So what’s going to be the theme of Tenzan’s 2021, when it’s all said and done? 

Tenzan: Well, I want to make the most of every moment, and really show in every match that I can still go. Plus I definitely want a 30th anniversary match… There’s so much I want to do that there’s no time to take a breath. I’m not slowing down anytime soon!