Q&A: NJPW Star Tetsuya Naito on His Feud With Chris Jericho and More

Tetsuya Naito on his feud with Chris Jericho: “As a wrestler, I’m superior to him in every single way.”
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New Japan Pro Wrestling star Tetsuya Naito is ready for arguably the most significant match of his career when he fights Chris Jericho at the Dominion show on June 9 in Osaka, Japan.

Naito, the IWGP Intercontinental champion and leader of the Los Ingobernables de Japon stable, was attacked by Jericho at the New Year’s Dash show in Tokyo following Wrestle Kingdom in January, and then bloodied by Jericho at the Wrestling Dontaku show in Fukuoka.

The match with Jericho at Dominion, which will be broadcast live on New Japan World, is Naito’s opportunity to showcase his talents to the wresting world in a match that will have increased exposure due to Jericho’s popularity.

Justin Barrasso: Your title reigns have added much prestige to the IWGP Intercontinental title. How meaningful was it for you to defeat Minoru Suzuki for the title? And what is your goal with the belt in this second title run?

Tetsuya Naito: You know, Minoru Suzuki likes to call himself the ‘King of Professional Wrestling,’ but there’s no star that shines brighter than Tetsuya Naito. The Intercontinental title isn’t on a king, it’s on the brightest star in the sky once more. But my feelings toward the championship haven’t changed. It’s an unnecessary belt and an unnecessary title. My goal is to do away with it.

JB: Chris Jericho just returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling during the Wrestling Dontaku show in Fukuoka, jumping the guardrail while wearing a Bushi mask and attacking you. Jericho was involved with New Japan this past December and January in a feud that culminated in a match against Kenny Omega. Jericho has a tremendous career that has spanned nearly three decades. Do you respect his accomplishments?

Naito: He really made sure that he looked the part with the Los Ingobernables de Japon like gear. Maybe he’s a fan. The one question I have is this: what does all this spark in him? What does he get from this? In his position, he has more to lose than to gain. Still, even with all the risk to take on, the chance to wrestle Tetsuya Naito is always absolutely worth it. I get it.

JB: What would a win over Jericho mean for your career?

Naito: As a wrestler, I’m superior to him in every single way. The only place he might have me beat is in name recognition. He’s a global superstar. So by beating Jericho, the name Tetsuya Naito, and Los Ingobernables de Japon, becomes even more of a worldwide household name. And that business he pulled in Fukuoka? That was just plain rude. I need him to understand that you can’t do that and expect to get away unharmed.

JB: New Japan just announced that Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega will wrestle in a two-out-of-three falls match at Dominion. Okada has had a record-setting, historic run as IWGP heavyweight champion. Were you surprised that Okada defeated you at Wrestle Kingdom? And do you still have ambitions of once again wearing the IWGP heavyweight title?

Naito: There are a lot of championships in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Of those, the IWGP heavyweight championship is number one, the most important. That’s the truth. But it’s also the truth that right now, Tetsuya Naito is more important, has more worth than the IWGP heavyweight championship. So I’m not worried. That title will find its way to me in due course. It’s only natural.

JB: What can wrestling fans in the United States expect when they watch Tetsuya Naito?

Naito: There are lots of fans reading who have already witnessed Tetsuya Naito and Los Ingobernables de Japon, and there’s no doubt we left them more than satisfied. The fact of the matter is that if you want to amaze fans not just in America, but the UK, Mexico, Japan, worldwide, you call Tetsuya Naito. That’s my answer.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.