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Q&A with Yota Tsuji, on his wrestling journey and plans for NJPW

7 months ago Art by Iwayan Setiawan | Monthly Puroresu

Art by Iwayan Setiawan | Monthly Puroresu

Q&A with Yota Tsuji, on his wrestling journey and plans for NJPW

By: Lyric Swinton

Yota Tsuji began 2023 as a NJPW Young Lion graduate on an excursion in the United Kingdom, performing regularly for Revolution Pro Wrestling. I happened to be in the building for RevPro’s Live in London 71 in March and was blown away by Yota Tsuji’s charisma despite him still having a simple, black trunks presentation. In fact, I found myself scratching my head wondering why New Japan hadn’t called him back from excursion yet. The wondering didn’t last for long. Weeks later, after SANADA’s successful IWGP World Heavyweight title defense against Hiromu Takahashi, Tsuji made his New Japan return, revealing himself as the mysterious “X” who had been teased in vignettes for months and declaring his intentions to challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship.

The birth of the “Gene Blast” sent ripples throughout the wrestling world. Despite his grandiose entrance at Wrestling Dontaku, little was known about Tsuji leading up to his return match at Dominion since he was still fulfilling preexisting bookings in Mexico. The suspense ended up resulting in a star-making performance for Yota Tsuji at Dominion. He’s an exhilarating powerhouse with a style influenced heavily by lucha libre. Even in defeat, it was clear that the newest member of Los Ingobernables de Japon was a megastar waiting to happen and an obvious future world champion in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Since Dominion, Tsuji has had a whirlwind second half of the year. He was named as one of the three Reiwa Era Musketeers of NJPW alongside fellow former Young Lions Shota Umino & Ren Narita, and competed in the G1 Climax and World Tag League tournaments. Monthly Puroresu recently spoke with Yota Tsuji about the standout year he’s had and his goals for 2024.

Monthly Puroresu:
During your excursion as a Young Lion, you spent some time in Mexico. It’s clearly influenced your wrestling style and your partner for World Tag League, CMLL’s Zandokan Jr. Do you have any interest in representing NJPW and working with CMLL as a major player for events like Fantastica Mania?

Yota Tsuji:
Absolutely. As a top star I want to be a big part of Fantastica Mania, just like how I’m a top star on all the shows I take part in.

I think New Japan and CMLL having a joint show inside Arena Mexico would be cool, too.

Monthly Puroresu:
You’ve been named as one of the Three Reiwa Musketeers of New Japan, essentially being recognized as one of the leaders of your generation of puroresu. What do you want the Reiwa era to mean for both new and existing generations of NJPW fans?

Yota Tsuji:
Professional wrestling has evolved with the times.

There’s always people who adamantly say that wrestling was better in their day. But that’s like saying “The old times when we used to have flip phones were better. I don’t like smartphones, I have no idea how apps and stuff work”. If you get caught up with that line of thinking, you’ll just end up falling behind the times.

Think of New Japan like a smartphone: It’s still a phone. You’re still able to call and message people, but it can do a lot more on top of that. I don’t want anyone to forget that.

Monthly Puroresu:
Many industry insiders have told Monthly Puroresu that New Japan has yet to recapture the magic of the mid-2010s up to the famous Madison Square Garden sellout. Do you feel a burden to pull this company into a new era and to re-capture that magic and amount of fan energy?

Yota Tsuji:
I don’t feel any pressure. I just do the best I can at what I have to do. The result is that I’ll be the one to lead New Japan to a new era.

But it’s not only us wrestlers who have to aim for it. All of the New Japan staff need to come together alongside us and work for it. Wrestlers wrestle, and staff promote the matches and spread our wrestling to the world. We need to work together as a team to bring this new era into fruition.

Monthly Puroresu:
How did your excursion to England shape the wrestler you are today and do you have any thoughts about NJPW’s current presence in the United Kingdom and potential expansion?

Yota Tsuji:
I found my excursion to England difficult because I found it hard to adjust to the British style. If I’m honest, I feel I wasted my time there. Will Ospreay had said the same thing previously. My experience in England made me realize that I should make the most of what I’ve learned in the NJPW Dojo.

Whether I’m in England or Mexico, I have New Japan DNA in me. That’s where “Gene Blast” comes from, it’s taking that core DNA and making it explode.

New Japan have the potential to expand into South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. But I also feel New Japan lacks the promotional power of WWE and AEW, so like I said before, it’ll take cooperation between wrestlers and staff to make any expansion successful.

Monthly Puroresu:
Since returning from excursion, you’ve had several extraordinary performances against some of NJPW’s biggest stars. Is there anyone on the roster or even from a partner promotion that you haven’t faced yet that you’re looking forward to getting in the ring with?

Yota Tsuji:
In New Japan, the person I’d like to wrestle most is Tetsuya Naito.

I am a member of Los Ingobernables de Japón but I think the influence and image of Naito within our group is such a strong one that I feel I need to beat him and prove that I’m on his level, or even above him. If I’m unable to do that then the future of New Japan will look bleak.

Outside of New Japan, if I had to name someone I’d like to face, I would say Shinsuke Nakamura. As it stands, I don’t like the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. When I win the title, I’ll split it up and bring back the Intercontinental Championship then defend it against Nakamura – the man who defined the belt in the first place.

Monthly Puroresu:
You just wrapped up the World Tag League partnering with CMLL’s Zandokan Jr. What would it mean to you to walk into your first Tokyo Dome show if you had won the World Tag League?

Yota Tsuji:
I’ve always been uncomfortable when it comes to tag team wrestling, but I was able to enjoy the World Tag League this year because I teamed with Zandokan Jr. Unfortunately, we weren’t able achieve our goal to wrestle in the Tokyo Dome because we didn’t win the tournament.

It’s a dream for most wrestlers to be able to wrestle inside the Tokyo Dome; being able to stand on that type of stage cements you as the face of that era.

Monthly Puroresu: Out of all wrestlers in New Japan, who do you think you could build towards a Tokyo Dome sellout with and match the energy of rivalry such as Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi?

Yota Tsuji:
It’s not as easy as just picking someone and deciding “You are my rival”. The stories that we have aren’t that basic. All I can say now is that only time will tell as to who’ll face in the main event of the Tokyo Dome.

Monthly Puroresu:
In the past you’ve spoken about not wanting to wrestle in AEW quite yet because your name recognition isn’t high enough yet with Western audiences. In 2024, how do you plan to expand your global presence in the wrestling world?

Yota Tsuji:
The best way for me to get my name recognizes overseas is to become the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. That and winning the G1 Climax are the two best ways to becoming famous in the West.

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