With the Road to Destruction, and thus the Young Lion Cup upon us, anticipation is at a fever pitch, not just from the fans, but the Young Lions in New Japan, LA and Fale Dojo camps themselves. NJPW1972.com sat down with the competitors from the New Japan Dojo to find out their thoughts on the tournament, and what opponent they most want to beat.
It’s come at a good time for me, you could say. I just teamed with Jon Moxley through the G1 Climax, and I hope I can bring some of that experience to the tournament. Last time there was a Young Lion Cup, it was entirely Japanese wrestlers, but now you have New Japan, LA and Fale Dojo guys, so there’s an aspect of ‘whose Dojo is toughest’ that is pretty interesting.
I was in the last Young Lion Cup, and came into it feeling like I really didn’t want to lose. I was saying ‘I’m going to win this thing,’ but to be honest, that was a little premature of me. Now I’ve had two and a half years experience, and I want to put all I’ve learned in the World Tag League, the New Japan Cup and during the G1 tours into practice. I really feel I can’t lose this time!
Last time you could say that my not winning was down to a lack of achievement, results, success and experience. Now I’ve had some of each. I’m the hurdle for the others to clear now. I’m not thinking of anything other than victory.
I want to beat:
Everyone, obviously, but especially the LA Dojo guys. Up to now, we’ve just been losing against them, over and over, right? I don’t think the New Japan Dojo has gotten one win yet, right? I think we all know by now just how good those guys are, but I really feel like I want to humble them a little bit, or crush them entirely.
Then there’s my contemporary, Ren Narita. I started three months before him, but I had his debut match, and we could only draw. Then in the Young Lion Cup in 2017, I got my first win against him. I think we wrestled each other in a singles one other time in Okinawa, and that was it maybe? I know I’ve worked hard and gotten stronger, but he’s done the same. He’s put his reps in, been in Best of the Super Juniors, wrestled every tour.
He is my contemporary, so he’s been beside me this whole time. I’ve seen him grow, seen the work he’s put in. I definitely feel like I can’t look past him, and I can’t lose to him. I want to see just what kind of match we can have with one another now, how we’ve come on since our debuts. I don’t have any ill will toward him at all; we both want the best out of each other, so I’m excited to find out who’s the better man.
I’ve gotten so much good experience out of Best of the Super Juniors and the G1 tour that there really couldn’t be any better timing for a Young Lion Cup to me. I’m the only one in the cup that’s been through a singles tournament with seniors and foreign wrestlers when I was in Best of the Super Juniors, so I think that gives me a leg up on all the other guys.
I think it’s a real blessing for us to be allowed to enter a Young Lion Cup. Then you think about how the LA Dojo has come up, how there are Young Lions there and now we get to fight them too, it’s such a great opportunity, such a great experience.
A lot of people got in touch with me when the announcement was made, a lot of people wishing me luck, telling me to do my best to win, but of course, I can’t even think about losing. My BOSJ experience was so important to me, and it wouldn’t do at all for someone that was selected to be in Best of the Super Juniors to end the Young Lion Cup with a losing record. I don’t want to let down the opponents I’ve wrestled like that. No bad matches, no bad results; I plan on winning the whole thing!
I want to beat:
It has to be the LA Dojo guys. Especially Karl Fredericks; I lost to him during the G1 and Super J-Cup tours and I don’t want it to end that way. I don’t know about the other Japanese Young Lions, but there’s a ‘mustn’t lose’ mindset that’s ingrained in me. I don’t think we need to be saying to one another ‘let’s beat those LA guys,’ it’s just something we’re all thinking. A Japanese guy should win the Young Lion Cup. Clark Connors, he was an amateur wrestler like me, so that’s another opponent that I think I’ll have a good match with. That little bit of anger and competition will make it all the more interesting.
Shota and I have one year in terms of experience (on Tsuji and Uemura) but I think that doesn’t make a difference here. We’re all in it together. I don’t want to lose to Shota either, mind you, but it’s the La Dojo guys I have my eyes on.
I’m really happy to be involved in a tournament like this. I’ve been saying my goal is to be in the opening match at the Tokyo Dome, and if I produce good results here, then that should happen. Obviously, I plan to win the whole thing.
After the G1 tour there’s been a bit of a summer break, but I’ve been using that time to train. I’ve been putting the hours in at the gym, and I’ve gotten leaner; I was at 103kg and now I’m at 99-100; I’ve been working on my conditioning as well.
I’ve never been in a league like this, and perhaps Umino and Narita have an experience advantage, but I don’t think that’s relevant. I want to prove that the human spirit is capable of anything, and I plan on blowing away everybody’s expectations!
I want to beat:
I think of my fellow ‘Lion Mane’ team mates, a win over Narita and Umino would mean the most to me, and be the biggest indication I’m moving toward my goal. I don’t know how Umino’s changed since he’s attached himself to (Jon) Moxley, but I really don’t think any of that makes a difference. Back in Fukuoka in May, (Hiroshi) Tanahashi said that ‘a real pro wrestler isn’t the type to wait patiently in line’. Those words really hit me close to home. Before I’d felt that if those two were still here, then I couldn’t move up as a Young Lion, but now I want to get rid of that mindset and take those two down.
Then there’s Clark Connors as well. On August 12 in the Budokan, he tapped me out, so I definitely want to do the same to him during the Young Lion Cup. I definitely have that ‘versus LA Dojo’ mindset; NJPW is about the Lion Manes, and not this LA stuff. The wrestlers might be good, but the La Dojo is trash!
I’ve been saying in my backstage comments that I’m number one. Now I finally have the chance to show that I am number one among my fellow Young Lions. I was delighted to be entered, but I also know that I have to produce and I have to win, so that’s where my thoughts are right now.
I don’t want to lose to anybody in this league, so my goal is to win every match. During the summer break, I’ve been sparring, working out, practicing. I always give it my all when I’m training, so I’m always ready. I’m confident I can beat people with my overhook suplex, and I’m building up a strong offensive arsenal.
I associate the Young Lion Cup winner with foreign excursions afterward. I definitely really want to have that experience. Then I want to be in the New Japan Cup like Umino was, the Best of the Super Juniors like Narita, and then the G1! The Young Lion Cup is the first step to all that, so I’ll be taking each match as it comes, and working toward my goal!
I want to beat:
Obviously, everybody is a rival in this league. I want to beat everyone, but Ren Narita is particularly important. I debuted against him, but I’ve never been able to get the win. Then when you think about it, through the whole G1 tour, he and I had the only non-tournament singles match on the whole run. I think that meant something, meant that he and I have special significance. I want to take every loss, every bit of punishment and turn it around in the Young Lion Cup.
I’m the only one of the Japanese Young Lions who hasn’t faced any of the LA Dojo guys yet. I’ve watched their matches, but haven’t had the chance to be in the ring with them, so I’m curious about just how they wrestle. I’m looking forward to getting in there with them, and of course i want to win.
All through the G1, the LA Young Lions were beating the Japanese guys. At the Budokan on August 12, I really felt that I’m the only one that can take them on. It lit a fire under me I’ve never had before. The plan is to make the whole cup mine.