Shingo Takagi talks his first Tokyo Dome singles bout
Of all the matches across both nights at Wrestle Kingdom 15, Shingo Takagi and Jeff Cobb seem certain to have the hardest hitting. The NEVER Openweight Championship match will be vicious and iolent, all the more so since Jeff Cobb has gained a new ruthlessness since joining THE EMPIRE. We talked to The Dragon about what will be both men’s singles debut at the Tokyo Dome.
I lose out to him in every measure. But wrestling is about what you can’t measure.
–Your match with Jeff Cobb is now official on January 5. How are you feeling?
Shingo: A little different to my last two matches at the Dome. Two years ago it was the junior tag three way, last year it was the NEVER gauntlet. This is something else, a singles match.
–It’s been a tight schedule before the Tokyo Dome, with the World Tag League giving way to the last tour of the year. How are you holding up physically?
Shingo: Not bad, I think? I’m hurt obviously, but going all around the towns, seeing the faces of the people supporting us, and having the adrenaline flow is my way of overcoming that. It’s a positive in the end.
–Let’s focus on your opponent Jeff Cobb. Two losses in consecutive G1s, and of course, a direct pinfall during World Tag League. That’s a poor record.
Shingo: Hmm. I tend to go full throttle, straight ahead in my matches. That works well with a lot of guys, but he’s got 20 kilos on me. Plus he has that amateur background, and that makes his suplexes a lot better than mine. He beats me on power, he beats me pretty much everywhere. I lose out to him in every measure. But then again, it’s what you can’t measure that wrestling is all about.
–You said in the press conference that wouldn’t be able to defeat your spirit at the Dome.
Shingo: I wanted to be a pro-wrestler since I was 14. Then I’ve spent the last 16 years in the business honing that spirit. I’m going to unleash all of that on January 5.
–But you’re aware this will be a tough match for you.
Shingo: I mean on paper, it’s 100% Cobb. I’m not saying I can address that by the end of the year, but I have the chance to start the new year with this match and do everything that I can. Whether or not those stats change, first and foremost its about holding onto the title.
I’ve fought with this same self belief for 16 years
–Cobb is certainly a dangerous challenger.
Shingo: Oh yeah. I first met him on the indies in America actually, and I thought even then that this guy was a badass. Plus he just so happens to be the same age as me, Naito and Ibushi.
–He’s in that ’82 Club.
Shingo: Those guys that are the same age as me are always the ones that stick in my mind. He’s the same age as I am, and he’s been in the damn Olympics? I go straight up against him and it isn’t going to end well.
–That’s how your matches have gone thus far.
Shingo: I was hardly going into those matches thinking that I could do what I wanted against him. But things have gone how they did, and now I feel that I’ve been given this trial from God, a chance for growth, and I have to live up to that test and produce at the Tokyo Dome. That’s how I approach every match… But Cobb asked that question at the press conference, didn’t he? ‘Are you willing to die for this title?’
Shingo: I don’t think it’s about dying for this belt. It’s about living for it. That’s the mentality I have stepping in the ring every time, because I know every time I do, I’m gambling with my life. I know here, that it doesn’t look good for me on paper. But there’s a possibility there. As long as there’s a possibility I can rock him with my best shot, I can knock him down with my best shot. And if I bring every ounce of spirit that I have and throw all that there is into this then a miracle might be in the works. At the end of the day, I believe in myself, because I have to, because that’s what I’ve done every time I’ve stepped in the ring these 16 years.
–Can you sum up Jeff Cobb’s strengths in just a few words?
Shingo: His power is obvious just by looking at him, but what’s amazing about Cobb is his athleticism. For a guy his size to be able to fly like he does is unreal.
–Even as a fellow wrestler, you find him just as amazing as the fans do.
Shingo: He’s unbelievable! And he’s just built like a brick wall, so it’s a real roll of the dice whether a strike or lariat will have any effect on him at all. But like I said at the press conference, I’m stepping into the ring fully aware that this will be a suplex party. Because I know that if- if- I can throw him, even though I’m 20kilos lighter, that’s 20 kilos more force he’ll hit the mat with, and a different angle he’ll hit that mat at. If I can use that size against him, I can deal some heavy damage. So the match is all about drawing on all the resourcefulness I have, all the wrestling ability, and all my spiritual strength as well.
It’s similar to Naito and Ibushi, and different at the same time
–Do you sense a change in Cobb since he joined THE EMPIRE?
Shingo: Hmm, I think he’s gotten more serious, certainly. But I’m not sure about it. It seems a little square peg in a round hole. i’m not sure whether this is what he really wants.
–You think you’ll find out in the ring?
Shingo: Yeah, I think so. Once we get in there, all the facades go away. There’s no faking at that point. When the NEVER title is on the line, all that factional stuff, all the cheap tricks go out the window.
–Do you have any thoughts about THE EMPIRE in general as a faction?
Shingo: I’m not sure what direction they’ll take. I really don’t know what’s going on in O-Khan’s head, and as for Ospreay… He said he didn’t want to be under Okada’s thumb, and I can get that, but I think he could have gone about it a different way.
–There’s still a lot of questions around them.
Shingo: They’re talking a big game, but they haven’t produced- yet. Until then, they haven’t earned that right, they can’t go around talking like they do. Now, they each have singles matches at the Dome, and if they each get wins, well that would be a hell of a statement. But that ain’t an easy task.
–We talked about those wrestlers the same age as you. Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito are the main event on January 4, of course. Your thoughts on that match?
Shingo: Well, I have my match and they have theirs. I’m not going to jump into that scenario, and what I say won’t have any effect on what happens with them, but I can’t not be interested in that match. It’ll be a similar deal with two guys the same age, but it’ll be a very different match at the same time.
It’s absolutely a test from God
–What kind of match will this be, as distinct from anything else on the two nights?
Shingo: I think especially with the fans not cheering or chanting I want us to make the biggest noise in there. Those huge impacts, huge strikes, huge slams and suplexes. That’ll feel pretty satisfying, I think. But then there’s THE EMPIRE kind of saying how they’ll bring about a new way of looking at pro-wrestling, and that’s an unpredictable element I think.
Shingo: But I think this Jeff Cobb is a product of his environment a little. Like, he might be so caught up on ‘THE EMPIRE should wrestle this way’ that that’s what ends up screwing him over. It was a while in LIJ for me that I brought more of myself into the role.
–That’s an interesting point.
Shingo: And I know I have a lot of hangups about Cobb, but I have a lot of respect for him at the same time. I know he’s got a Japanese grandmother on his dad’s side, and I think that gives him a Japanese sense of balance. I think that’s a factor, too.
–People are looking forward to a real hoss fight between you two.
Shingo: I think between this match and Ibushi and Naito on night one, everyone will see our generation is still right at the very top of the game. But I don’t think Cobb has the same ideas I do about generations and ages. But it’s interesting where destiny takes us, you know? I debuted in pro-wrestling the same year he was competing in Athens, and then we each took our twists and turns to end up in the Tokyo Dome.
–Life takes strange roads.
Shingo: I never really thought I’d be heading into a big match like this as the underdog, but in that sense, I really feel this is a test from God. Like He’s saying ‘you find this guy tough? OK, let’s see you overcome’.
Only the strongest and the realest survive
–You’re starting your year with a big test.
Shingo: It’s all the more significant, that I take all of that punishment I’ve had to absorb in 2020 against this guy, and turn it all around to start 2021.
–It’ll really shape the year to come for you.
Shingo: You know, one thing I’ve come to realise is the importance of experience in this business, and how much of a weapon it can be for you. I’m 39 next year, it’ll be 17 years in the business. But it took me ten years to really know the first thing about what pro wrestling is really about. It took me another five to get to the level after that. I’m definitey still not a finished product.
–You never stop learning.
Shingo: No doubt. That was always the case, and it was changed a lot this year with the fans not being allowed to yell or chant. That created a different kind of wrestling, and I think that’ll evolve in 2021.
–The goalposts certainly moved this year.
Shingo: I really think from now on, it’ll be only the strong that survive, and only the realest that survive. You have to be the real deal, I think. Up to now, it was easier to gauge; those guys that popped the crowds, we thought they were the best, but now you don’t have that audible feedback, right?
–Only through applause.
Shingo: So I think if you aren’t the real deal, if you can get a pop but that’s it, if everything you have is superficial, you won’t last in this environment. Look, things are tough all over. Nobody is sitting pretty. I don’t even think my spot is a given; look at my record in the New Japan Cup, or the G1 this year! So I have to fight for all I have in 2021, starting with this match.