Naito on Wrestle Kingdom 12 double main event: Is NJPW that eager to suck up to WWE?
Q&A with Tetsuya Naito
Tetsuya Naito is one of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s brightest stars. Similar to the booking plight of Roman Reigns, Naito was championed by New Japan as a babyface but the crowd never invested in his character. Naito turned heel during his time in Mexico and joined Los Ingobernables, which he brought to New Japan as Los Ingobernables de Japon.
Naito is also a former IWGP heavyweight champion, defeating Kazuchika Okada for the title in April of 2016. He lost the title back to Okada only 70 days later. Naito captured the grueling, round robin G1 Climax tournament this past summer, which afforded him the opportunity of a title shot against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom.
SI.com: Winning the G1 Climax has afforded you the opportunity to wrestle in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Okada was also in the G1, yet unlike you, he was not victorious. Could you touch on the meaning of your G1 victory, and did your victory prove that you are the best wrestler in the world?
Naito: I think the G1 is the pinnacle of wrestling tournaments. It determines who the absolute best heavyweight wrestler in the world is. Now, unfortunately, New Japan Pro Wrestling doesn’t feel the same way. I mean, the G1 winner is supposed to fight in the main event at the Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4. The main event. But they’re calling this show a ‘double main event’. Now why is that? Is NJPW that eager to suck up to WWE? This is supposed to be New Japan’s chance to show the entire world ‘this is New Japan Pro Wrestling’. That this is why we are the best in the world. Sad to say that the G1 has gone down in New Japan’s estimation.
SI.com: You lost the IWGP title to Okada in June of 2016, and he has been champion ever since. Do you respect Okada’s record-setting run as champion?
Naito: Well, I certainly haven’t been able to hold onto the IWGP heavyweight championship for more than a year. So I think he’s put together a superb reign. It’s a tremendous achievement. Now, am I going to beat that record? Am I going to overtake his reign as champion? I’m not setting out as the next champion to break all the records; that’s just going to happen naturally.
SI.com: Okada has proudly represented the IWGP heavyweight championship. You have a propensity to toss title belts in the air out of disrespect. If you are successful and win the title, how will you treat the championship belt?
Naito: How will Tetsuya Naito treat the belt when he becomes champion? Yes! This is what’s most fun about wrestling. This speculation, this anticipation. Keep imagining these scenarios and enjoy the road to the Tokyo Dome.
SI.com: How do you compare yourself with Okada?
Naito: Of course it’s vital to be great where it counts in the ring. But that isn’t absolutely everything in pro wrestling. Outside the ring, it’s about making sure the fans enjoy themselves. Making sure they’re excited, and making sure they empathize with you. That’s where he’s lacking I think. That’s his fundamental flaw.
SI.com: There has been much discussion about the Kenny Omega-Chris Jericho match at Wrestle Kingdom. Could that match overshadow your main event?
Naito: I don’t think so. Not at all. I don’t care at all about that match. I think if anything, those two are more worried about me and Okada.
SI.com: Will a victory here prove, once and for all, that Naito is better than Okada?
Naito: Let’s find out. In the ring, out of the ring, anyway you cut it, I am better than him. And you should all keep your eyes and ears open and watch, listen and take it all in when I beat him. Until January 4, Tranquilo. As ever, assen na yo.
Q&A with Kazuchika Okada
Kazuchika Okada is in the midst of a record-setting reign as IWGP heavyweight champion. His 563 consecutive days as champion is the all-time record for the IWGP title. Okada is also a four-time champ and just surpassed Hiroshi Tanahashi, who had seven different reigns with the title, for the most-ever combined days as champion at 1,359 days and counting.
The story on Okada is that he enters this match with Tetsuya Naito as a beat up, vulnerable champion with incredible fighting spirit. Okada remains the face of New Japan Pro Wrestling, and there are Japanese wrestling insiders who steadfastly believe that Okada will remain champion throughout 2018.
SI.com: You defeated Naito for the IWGP heavyweight championship in June of 2016. Does that victory give you an advantage entering this contest against Naito?
Okada: I don’t think we’re all that different in terms of pure ability. Where we differ is that I’m much more experienced when it comes to headlining at the Tokyo Dome. That big match experience is where I have the advantage more than anything else.
SI.com: What is the single biggest difference between you and Naito?
Okada: There’s no bigger a superstar, and nobody closer with the fans, than Kazuchika Okada. That’s the difference.
SI.com: Your title reign has propelled the IWGP heavyweight championship ahead of even WWE’s titles. How proud are you of your title reign? Do you have a favorite moment from your title reign?
Okada: In all honesty, I’m not interested in records. Being the longest reigning champion isn’t that big a deal to me because records are made to be broken. But this belt has been with me for a long time now, and I don’t want to give it up. And I have to continue to be the champion so that the whole world knows about New Japan. As for moments, everything stays with me. I don’t have a particular favorite.
SI.com: What makes Naito so difficult of an opponent?
Okada: I’m not sure he’s more difficult, or particularly different from any of my other defenses. They’ve all been tough in their own way.
SI.com: Are you worried at all about interference from Los Ingobernables de Japon? And what is your next goal if you defeat Naito?
Okada: Naito right now is good enough that he doesn’t need interference, and he knows it. I’m not worried about that. As for after the match, I guess I’ll quit wrestling and study to become a doctor or a lawyer [laughing].