Made in Japan.
On the final night of the New Japan Road series, Shingo Takagi and I went to war in what was probably my best performance in NJPW. We took each other to the limit and gave the fans in attendance their money’s worth. I dug deep and almost came away with the win, taking my time more, but still showing the fans that I am not to be taken lightly. Personally, I was happy with my performance, and with what I gave the fans that night. I was proud of what I did against a seasoned veteran of wrestling who’s had his fair share of wars throughout the years. Even the fans jumped behind me more than they had ever done before, and with their energy – just like Goku using energy in a Genki-Dama, I made it further than I had ever made it before. That being said, I was still cut up about losing the match and taking the pin fall.
Made in Japan.
Those three words rang out in my head as much as they rang out in my neck the following days after the match. Ice-pack strapped to my neck on the flight back home to New Zealand, it was all I could think about. Shingo was born, bred, and battle-hardened in Japan, he was made in Japan from the bottom up. I, on the other hand, took a long time to get here. It took me circumnavigating the world one and a half times for me to finally get a shot at training here. I took the long road, and I continue to walk it. We both came in at different times and from different angles, but what we shared was that although I originated overseas, I still hustled and ground and was forged by the fire of a Japanese Dojo. From having to adapt to the cultural differences in Japan to the rigorous training regimen, training there helped turn me from an amateur Warrior, to a professional one fighting in the top ranks.
I’m not angry at Shingo at all, I have nothing but respect for him. Unlike his other Los Ingobernables de Japon team mates, he actually sticks to the rules most of the time, and prefers a straight up fight rather than prancing around widening his eyelids with his fingers. That deserves respect. The same way Shingo learnt that I, too, deserve respect. The fans at Korakuen noticed it. Maybe they didn’t know exactly what it was but I think it was my inner spirit being let out. The Warrior Spirit. The Spirit of the Fearless. At no point in the match was I afraid of losing. At no point in the match was I afraid of dying. In the words of one of my favourite combatants around the world – MMA fighter Enson Inoue, “I’m ready to die every time I step in a ring”. It’s the epitome of what he calls “The Yamato Damashi”. The fans that night felt it, and I got the best reception I’ve ever had. That match showed me that I have what it takes to make it at the next level. If there’s anything that’s going to take me there, it’s that FEARLESS attitude.
Outside of the New Japan Road match with Shingo the past month has been quite eventful. The Destruction tour saw a huge Young Lion Cup and a return of the Toa Bottom to my favourite part of Japan, Kyushu! With the conclusion of the tour however, I had to farewell two of my best mates in Japan. (Ren) Narita and Shota (Umino). We all came into the Dojo together in 2016. Since then we’ve all been getting better and better, learning the craft and honing our skills together. I was the first to graduate the Dojo, but unlike Narita and Shota venturing into America and England respectively, my excursion was performed in a hospital bed and the rehabilitation room. My Achilles injury took me out of action and away from the New Japan ring for nine months. It taught me patience, but it tested my mental toughness and challenged me more than anything I had ever faced in my life. The strength of a sword isn’t forged in a cold furnace, it’s forged from pressure, heat, and patience. I can’t say when the three of us will be back with each other, and I’m sure people will change over time, but good luck to you and look to the future, my brothers.
The past month has also seen the 2019 Rugby World Cup being held in Japan. The All Blacks have represented New Zealand as they always do – destroying every other team Fearlessly with the power of the Haka and the Kiwi Fighting Spirit. The Japanese fans that have been watching the Rugby have also noticed and come to appreciate the cultural value of the Haka and what it means to people from my home. Performing the full Kapa o Pango (All Black) at both Kobe and Korakuen saw my biggest reactions and I’d like to thank the fans in attendance for showing your respect. It has given me motivation for New Zealanders to come to Japan and see just how much we have in common, but also to share our love for sport. We also get to show the American wrestlers here what playing contact sports is like without protective gear! 😛
And that brings me to now – the Power Struggle Tour – Junior Tag League. While I have no intention of moving to Junior Heavyweight, I’m enjoying having the opportunity to work with some of the best Juniors in the world. The fast-paced style and crazy techniques that these guys pull off is amazing. And no doubt, having experience with smaller guys will help my future goal of attaining the NEVER Openweight Championship. On the first night of this tour I luckily drew Liger on the first match. Having him come off his match at Ryogoku against Suzuki, Liger was still fired up, and his extensive years in the ring showed as he outmaneuvered me technically and had me looking like a Rookie. He showed me what I need to work on, and I respect him so much for doing so. I managed to get a convincing and easy win on their team via Tsuji, but being in the ring with Liger before he retires is a heaven-sent opportunity. While I have no beef with him, being able to say that I locked horns with one of the greatest wrestlers to ever lace his boots is a privilege. When I speak of my career in the future, I am glad that I will be able to say that I wrestled in the age of Jushin Thunder Liger.
Since the G-1 tour finished, my sights have been set on the Heavyweight World Tag League. 2016, 2017 and 2018 saw me competing in the Tournament, however it’s not until now that I’ve felt I’m ready, and a viable contender for first place. 2016 I had barely learnt how to run the ropes, 2017 I was just coming off of my Achilles injury, and 2018 I was still in the process of figuring out who I am. They’re not excuses; it is what it is. Was it not having the right partner? Was it just being unskilled? I’m not sure of that, but what I do know is that I’ve been getting better and better every year. 2016 saw no wins; 2017 saw one win; 2018 saw three wins. Going by my gut instinct as well as logic I’m expecting a number of upsets this time round, and an ever-increasing number of wins. I’ve proven to the world that I can stand with the best heavyweights in the world, and this is my chance to wind back the bowstring and take the shot.
The next question is, who will I be able to tag with? I have a few partners in mind that I’d love to partner with. I’d love to show Makabe that I’m better than the past two years, and that I can make up for letting him down, but maybe he’ll want his best friend Honma back, or even his NEVER 6-Man partner, Yano. Would I want to start a new team with one of the younger guys? Karl, perhaps? Will Ospreay, if he’s willing to step up to Heavyweight one more time? Or do I need to look to the top and ask someone like Ibushi or Tanahashi? Someone who can show me how it’s done at the very top of the pyramid. I have been developing a great relationship with both of them over the year, as they’ve seen my striving to be better and better every day. I don’t know for sure, but I do promise everyone who is reading this that I will go straight into this tournament with absolute fighting spirit and willingness to win the whole thing. I promise that at every single challenge, I will come at it as I truly am. FEARLESS.
Here are some shots from the past month:
Native Brother, and 2019 Young Lion Cup Winner – Karl Fredericks. We got that Native Warrior respect.
For the fans that don’t know – the challenging War Cry of the Haka is only one side of the blade. The other side of the blade is accepting the challenge laid down – which is what Fale did at Kobe last month.
It was complete destruction in Kagoshima for Tsuji. HAKAI!
Only recently have a rebuilt enough coordination since my leg injury to be able to get the kicking techniques right – training in Thailand help me do so, but I have a long way to go to get back to my peak kicks.
If they have a Live Action Kinnikuman, I want to play Geronimo.
Bidding farewell to one of my best friends, Narita as he embarks on his excursion. Ganbatte Kudasai! Shota was distraught about losing the Young Lion Cup Final, and refused to take a picture.
On to the next turn in the Warrior’s Road! I’ll use this current tour as preparation – to get wins under my belt, to gain more support of the NJPW fans, to hone my skills and sharpen the edge of my Taiaha, to eat any strike that has no fighting spirit behind it and to headbutt my way to the top of the heavyweight ladder. New Japan Pro Wrestling fans, I fight for you!
P.S. Go the Mighty All Blacks. #RWC2019