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Tetsuya Naito On Bryan Danielson: ‘I Never Really Felt That I’d Like To Wrestle Him’

“In my opinion, the best wrestler in the world is Tetsuya Naito, and that’s what counts”

In only three months, Tetsuya Naito will headline Wrestle Kingdom 18 for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He will challenge Sanada for the IWGP world heavyweight championship in the Tokyo Dome, a match afforded to him after winning the vaunted G1 Climax this past summer.

This marked Naito’s third G1 victory, and it was particularly noteworthy.

Courtesy NJPW

Courtesy NJPW

In a 34-minute classic, Naito defeated Kazuchika Okada. It stands as an outstanding example of what makes New Japan so riveting: decade-long rivals sharing the ring, building a solid pace by beginning with working on specific parts of the body (both attacking the head and neck), then hitting the high notes with a memorable crescendo.

The final 15 minutes of the match were especially gripping, capturing the emotion and suffering necessary to win this tournament. While Naito’s semi-final victory against Will Ospreay garnered more attention, the finale with Okada was even more spectacular, further amplified by the suspense and tension embedded into the encounter.

“It’s true that Okada is a special opponent for me,” said Naito, speaking through a translator. “But if you ask him, Okada’s rival is Sanada, so Okada and I don’t have a rivalry, I guess.”

Naito always leaves a mark with his intentionally dry, biting words. In his own distinct manner, he has emerged as one of the absolute best wrestlers in the world. His three G1 victories illustrate that, crafting stunning matches in each of the finals, defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi (2013), Kenny Omega (2017), and now Okada, three men who have been among the very best in the world for the past decade.

“In my opinion, the best wrestler in the world is Tetsuya Naito, and that’s what counts,” said Naito. “I don’t lose sleep thinking about how other people feel.”

Courtesy NJPW

Courtesy NJPW

Airing live tomorrow on FITE, New Japan returns to Las Vegas tomorrow for its Fighting Spirit Unleashed event. Naito is part of the star-studded card, teaming with Los Ingobernables de Japon brethren Hiromu Takahashi in the co-main event against Sanada and Yuya Uemura.

“Obviously what awaits is the chance to see the man that won the G1 Climax wrestle,” said Naito. “And for fans to fully enjoy the presence of Los Ingobernables de Japon.”

With stars from New Japan arriving in America, that led to Okada appearing this past on AEW Dynamite. He teamed with Orange Cassidy in a main-event loss to Bryan Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli, adding another layer to his growing feud with Danielson.

As Danielson begins to wrap up his full-time career, he is wrestling a variety of world-class opponents. People throughout wrestling are lining up to oppose him; Naito, however, is not among those interested.

“Back in the day when he wrestled in NJPW, I’d watch his matches on TV and in the buildings,” said Naito. “I liked watching him, but I never really felt that I’d like to wrestle him.”

Naito was asked if he would instead ever extend an offer for Danielson to join LIJ.

“Invite him to LIJ?” asked Naito. “That is an easy answer. No gracias.”

The working relationship between NJPW and AEW allows for plenty of scintillating matchups. Naito was also asked about the possibility of a match pitting LIJ against the Blackpool Combat Club, offering a chance to see him wrestle Danielson, Castagnoli, and Jon Moxley.

“I don’t really know about the state of wrestling in other countries, so I don’t know if that’s an attractive match,” said Naito. “But if it were a question of us challenging them, of course they would accept. There is no more attractive competition in the world than Los Ingobernables de Japon.”

Courtesy NJPW

Courtesy NJPW

For Naito, his focus is on Wrestle Kingdom. Earlier this year, he lost to former LIJ partner Sanada in the New Japan Cup. Following their match, Sanada announced that he could not reach his full destiny in LIJ, then left the group to lead a new stable in Just Five Guys. Sanada went on to win the New Japan Cup, setting up his current run as IWGP world heavyweight champion.

“I have no ill feeling towards Sanada leaving LIJ,” said Naito. “He can do what he wants. But I’ve got to say, I think he must be regretting that he left LIJ now.”

The wrestling world is in a treat tomorrow, as Naito will inevitably have a moment where he shares the ring with Sanada at Fighting Spirit Unleashed.

“I think it’ll be unanimous in Las Vegas–everyone will come away knowing that Tetsuya Naito will win the Tokyo Dome main event January 4,” said Naito. “This is your chance to see Tetsuya Naito wrestle in the flesh, in the now. Enjoy.”