El Desperado talks his twin title wins, Hiromu, Liger
The end of February and beginning of March saw a wild fortnight for El Desperado. One day he wasn’t on the current tour, and wouldn’t be on the next. An injury to Hiromu Takahashi later and he would seize the opportunity to challenge for both the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team and singles championships, won them both, and then challenge World Heavyweight Champion Kota Ibushi in the main event at the Nippon Budokan.
With Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru set to defend their tag titles against Roppongi 3K in Ryogoku on Sunday, we spoke to the ever opinionated double junior champion.
The one thing that’s changed? People listen
–So, first of all, how do you feel about holding double gold?
Desperado: Nothing special. It isn’t as if this was an end goal for me, not as if I can say ‘job done’ now that I’ve done it and hang it up. Of course I was working toward this though. But I always had this image of winning it from Hiromu Takahashi, and Ryu Lee; when he defended the title in Fukuoka, he called me out, even though I wasn’t a name then; I wanted to defend it against him as well.
–So you had an image mapped out in your head, defences and all.
–You went from having no titles to having two in a four day span.
Desperado: Add in the match with Ibushi and it was probably the biggest ten day stretch of my life. But I’ve always been the type to take a broader view and keep my perspective, so I wasn’t exactly celebrating in the street or anything.
Desperado: So it was really just drinks with friends. And it was all nice, but it came about differently to how I’d imagined it, so it was a little anticlimactic at the end of the day.
–Obviously Hiromu’s injury played a big part in your success. Is there anything you want to say to him right now?
Desperado: It’s nothing to get depressed over, y’know. I’ve been through the same thing. But it’s no use crying over spilt milk. Whining about it isn’t going to heal your injury, and these things happen. There are idiots out there who troll out the same line about ‘he wrestles that style and he’s bound to get hurt’ and then the guys they talk about go on to work another 10, 20 years. It’s just dumb luck.
–So when Hiromu announced his injury, did you feel you had to jump on that opportunity?
Desperado: As soon as it was official, the singles and tags both just opened up. So as soon as he made that announcement, I called ‘Nobu and he had the same idea.
–This is your first IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign, and you’re now a double champion to boot. What’s your idea of what a champion should be like?
Desperado: Listen, the championship isn’t the end point for me. It’s the means to an end. With this, now it won’t just be Ryu Lee, or Hiromu Takahashi. There’ll be some amazing people out there that I haven’t seen yet that want to step up, and it’s going to make for some kick ass matches.
–So you really welcome that target on your back.
Desperado: Oh yeah. This belt is the symbol of the junior heavyweights in New Japan. So this is the bait I’m going to use to bring some incredible people here, to create matches that’re going to blow everyone away, myself included. It’s going to get a lot more fun around here, heheh.
–As double champion you’re now the standard bearer for all the juniors. Does that change your outlook at all?
Desperado: Not really. To be honest, I don’t really feel as if my position has changed any. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t feel quite real yet, or maybe that’s just the perspective I was talking about. I have the belt. So I have to come here and say that I am the champion. But I don’t quite feel like the champion. Maybe it’s the circumstances I won it in, and when it comes to the three way, what I left with was the feeling I didn’t beat Phantasmo.
–But you did pin El Phantasmo to win the match.
Desperado: I won the match, which is why I have the belt. I won the match, which is why I got to wrestle Ibushi. But I was the one who took that huge move in the match.
–The cradle piledriver on the ramp.
Desperado: Right. Now you can say that he was able to deliver that move because of the circumstances we were in, because it was a three way. But the flip side is, I only won that match because it was a three way. The rules saved me.
Desperado: Plus, I still haven’t forgotten losing to him in England. So there’s that as well. But if I had to say one thing has changed, it’s that people listen now.
SHO isn’t faking it anymore
–You feel like you’re more persuasive now? More influential?
Desperado: Look, I’ve always been the talkative type. I’m not all shy like SHO, or like (Master) Wato who can’t string a sentence together. But now I have this (belt), when I make a noise, the company has to listen a little, right? So it all comes down to think before you speak.
–You’ve made similar statements before, that you would have more of a right to speak out if you were champion. So now that you are a champion and you have that right, what’s your take on the rest of the junior division?
Desperado: With SHO, he might have lost when he challenged in Hiroshima against Hiromu, but I felt like at least he isn’t faking it anymore. He isn’t trying to shoehorn catchphrases in there, isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. And look where it got him, to the main event.
–So you feel he’s changed somewhat?
Desperado: Yeah, I do. And I’m not saying that as the champion here, it’s something I noticed in him before I won the belts.
–Meanwhile you said Wato can’t string a sentence together.
Desperado: I could not care less about that man. I don’t like him, don’t hate him, don’t feel anything at all. Yeah a little bit ago I was talking about how much I hated his guts, but since we haven’t touched lately he’s gone completely from my field of view. He is just there, that’s all.
–You’ve put out some pretty harsh comments about BUSHI in the past. Did your views on him change any after you wrestled in that three way?
Desperado: Well, I haven’t had a singles match for this title yet, so I don’t feel like I’m quite the champion. But I’ll say this, and I don’t want it twisted; BUSHI and Phantasmo were both tough as hell in that match. And what BUSHI said before the match, that was something.
–He was carrying the expectations of his partner Hiromu.
Desperado: Well, yeah, but on the other hand, if Hiromu hadn’t named him then would he have been there? But you know, whatever. I can find fault with a lot of things in their relationship, but he took that responsibility seriously and stepped up when he should have.
–You’re only the fourth double junior heavyweight champion in history, after Minoru Tanaka, Prince Devitt and KUSHIDA. Is that particularly significant to you?
Desperado: No, not really. That’s for the fans to think about, isn’t it? To say ‘oh hey wow, you’ve got two belts’. Me, it’s a case of OK, what do I do now? It’s a part of a process. If this was the end goal, then I’m finished, right? But it’s the means, not the end.
No doubt I’ve closed the gap to Ibushi
–So speaking of what you want to do now, have you given much thought to your defences?
Desperado: First thing is Phantasmo. No doubt. Out of all the juniors in NJPW, he’s the one I want to beat most. Be it the three way, or other matches with him, he stands out in a way nobody else does. Yes he’s ridiculously athletic, but he has something extra to him as well.
–So you want to prove you’re better than him one on one.
Desperado: Obviously I want to beat him. But there’s also a bit of me that just wants to enjoy being in there.
–There’s still a lot to come between the two of you.
Desperado: I think there’s a lot more he can do, and there’s a lot more that I didn’t use against him yet. I did use back to back Pinche Locos to beat him though. Don’t write that like ‘chain Pinche Locos’ or anything like that. Let’s call it the ‘Phantasmo Killer’, heheh.
–What was the reasoning behind using the move back to back?
Desperado: I’d taken his finish just before, the CRII. I figured one wasn’t going to get it done, and I wanted to be sure.
–So Phantasmo is at the top of your Junior Heavyweight opponent wishlist. How about tag?
Desperado: I want to go generational. Give us Jado and Gedo, or Gedo and Dick Togo.
–You’ve said before that you want to face Gedo and Togo.
Desperado: Nobody can match them when it comes to experience level, right? That’s the way I see it. Mind you, I could just as easily say that there are no other decent teams so it might as well be them, but that wouldn’t fly, would it?
–Let’s go back to the match with Ibushi in the Nippon Budokan. Looking back now, how do you feel about that contest?
Desperado: Obviously, in terms of physical ability, he’s above everyone else. He’s tough, he hits hard, but I think that mat wrestling wise, there’s not anyone that could top him either.
–Did you feel that there was a big gap between you two in that match?
Desperado: There’s no doubt that in the seven years between our matches, I’ve closed the gap. He did a whole bunch of stuff in those seven years. He went from junior to heavyweight, won the big titles, turned into some kind of monster against Nakamura, kneed the soul out of Tanahashi. He stepped up. But I’ve done a lot of growth myself, y’know. I became at least a little more worthy of an opponent to him.
–You’ve closed the gap but you do feel there is a gap.
Desperado: The one thing I knew in my gut that I would do in that match was to counter Kamigoye into Numero Dos. I did it, did it perfectly, and he was able to break my grip. So yeah, there’s the gap right there.
If I beat the heavyweight champ, my way, no complaints; that would be surpassing Liger
–Jyushin Thunder Liger was on commentary for that match and had some fairly negative comments about you. He said that Ibushi had you in the palm of his hand, was able to wipe you out. That he was disappointed as a former junior wrestler.
Desperado: Liger has this quirk I guess, and he said it with me and Hiromu in the Budokan, he hates guys trading strikes in the last part of a match. As soon as he sees someone stand their ground and trade in the last part of a match he’ll say that it isn’t the time to throw. He’ll say that every time.
–But you and he see things differently.
Desperado: I’m not going to go out and try and get a pat on the head from him. If I wrestle my way, and beat the heavyweight champ, my way, no complaints, well that would surpass everything he ever did. Going out there to wrestle a match Liger wants to see? Nah, that’s not me.
–How do you feel about saying he was disappointed?
Desperado: Well, because he was so ingrained in the junior heavyweights, right? I don’t know, maybe Ishimori or Phantasmo are different, but the division is filled with guys trying to surpass Liger at the moment.
–What do you think it would take for you to do that?
Desperado: I don’t think that way. When I retire, if people around me say ‘hey Desperado’s career surpassed Liger’s’, well then, I would have done it. It’s not for me to judge.
–But it does always seem like Liger has a special place in your mind.
Desperado: Well, he made all this, right? Junior heavyweight wrestling. He’d say ‘oh it was the original Tiger Mask’, but for smaller guys being able to fight it out, Liger is the foundation of all that.
–Were you jealous of Hiromu Takahashi, that he was the one to retire Liger?
Desperado: Of course. I think the Desperado that’s in front of you would be worthy of being in that match, but I wasn’t at that level then. It took time…
History remembers the winners, right?
–And it took time for you to become junior heavyweight champion. But now you have both belts, if Best of the Super Juniors were to return to June this year, there’s a good chance that you might be in that tournament as a double champ.
Desperado: I’d like to be double champion for BoSJ, but I don’t know whether we’ll be doing it in June. There’s visas to think about, right?
–You think it’ll be difficult for the non-Japanese wrestlers.
Desperado: I don’t want to bad mouth what we did last year, but that kind of ‘using what we have’, I think that kind of thing we can do once a decade, if that. This should be the biggest festival for junior heavyweight wrestling possible.
–So what is in your immediate future, do you think? What’s your final message for today?
Desperado: Before I get to that. You know back when I challenged Ibushi? He had those two belts then, and I said ‘hand ’em both over’. They got unified after that, so if I’d have won, I would be the very first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, would I not?
Desperado: And then it got all messed up. It was a non-title match, then it was a title match, then people were messaging me like ‘I don’t like Ibushi, make sure you win,’ ‘I don’t want these titles unified, make sure you stop him’.
Desperado: And more than me stepping up to face Ibushi in a title match, the discussion was all ‘what about the two titles?’. That really, seriously pissed me off.
–That became the focus.
Desperado: The match was me versus him, not me versus the belts. And I wanted to say that clearly, still want to now. It’s nothing to do with me. So I think NJPW’s timing was bad on the whole deal, and announcing first as a non-title match and then flip flopping had me mad as hell. I want to make sure that’s on record.
–I see. So what about the rest of your year?
Desperado: I’m going to do the same damn thing I always do. I did what I did, and now I’m the double champion, so I was doing something right. Well, the tag belts, they’re in the right place right now. They should be with me. The singles, right now I’m at the phase of ‘I have this belt and that must mean I’m the champ’. It isn’t ‘I’m the champ and that’s why I have this belt’. That’s the stage I’ll get to one step at a time. But at the end of the day, I got double gold. History remembers the victors, right?