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Q&A with MAO, on freedom and life philosophy

11 months ago Artwork of MAO, DDT wrestler by Monthly Puroresu.

Artwork of MAO, DDT wrestler by Monthly Puroresu.

Q&A with MAO, on freedom and life philosophy

By: Thom Fain and R. Faliani

During the pandemic, professional wrestling as a whole took a big hit. In true dramatic fashion, one of the names that quickly rose to the occasion and saved DDT Pro-Wrestling was 37Kamiina’s own, MAO. With deadly kicks, sick dives and a defying attitude, MAO entered the ranks of DDT Pro-Wrestling and became a main player on his own right.

MAO embraced his true nature and with his charismatic approach to wrestling he found a place to express his idea of what it truly means to be a pro-wrestler. He lives, breathes, and embodies DDT.

He became a tag-team sensation alongside Shunma Katsumata, and on his own road to freedom he challenged everyone’s expectations by becoming DDT Universal Champion. Underneath the lights of DDT’s dramatic dream lies a 26-year-old with time to spare and goals to reach.

A man with an “empty head,” a blue heart and an endless song that reflects the world of pro-wrestling back to the viewer in unique and artistic fashion. We got the chance to interview MAO and found freedom defined.

Beyond the hot saunas, an artist stands in the center of DDT’s wrestling universe. He likes to be in moshpits, likes the same kind of music you like, and he has a white canvas in his head. MAO faces the cruel reality of what he likes to call a “f***ed up world”, with his own “f***ed up wrestling.”

DDT wrestler MAO appearing on 'Freedom of a Blue Heart' CD case.

Artwork courtesy of Peatzilla

Monthly Puroresu: Shall we start with the question everyone’s asking? As a former Universal Champion, how are you feeling about your match against Tetsuya Endo?

MAO: I want to get the belt as soon as possible, because I’m more fitting to hold the Universal belt. We’ve had press conferences, a few matches, but I really want to get the belt.

Monthly Puroresu: We saw you saying a lot of things about Tetsuya Endo as champion. What do you think of his title reign until now?

MAO: It’s definitely not going to be interesting. That’s for sure. Endo stands for the Universal Belt as to only defend it in the DDT ring, but I believe that the Universal Champonship should be much bigger than that. Yes, you can defend it in the DDT ring, but you also have to get out, explore the world and defend it elsewhere as well.

Monthly Puroresu: Could you feel the energy and the love from the US fans when you were at WrestleCon? What kind of promotions or where would you like to to defend that title, should you win it at Mega Max Bump?

MAO: Whoever wants to face me, I would definitely love to defend it against them. I want to go to Prestige Wrestling first, because it’s the first promotion to actually invite me over to the United States or outside of Japan. I have a dream of wanting to defend the belt at Prestige Wrestling whenever I can.

Monthly Puroresu: Maybe you can have your rematch with Kevin Blackwood?

MAO: Kevin Blackwood is a great wrestler and if I don’t go, I won’t know what kind of great wrestlers are waiting for me over there. I definitely would love to go again and challenge lots of people.

Monthly Puroresu: But you’ve got to get through Tetsuya Endo first. In case things do go as planned, and if you’re crowned the champion, is there anywhere on the East Coast you might like to wrestle in addition to Prestige Wrestling and the LA urban California area?

MAO: I don’t know my geography of America very well, but I know where Florida and New York are. My first time wrestling overseas was at New York at WrestleCon back in 2019 in our ‘DDT is Coming to America‘ show. I would love to go back to that very same location again.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s great to hear. You had a phrase that was “Life is hard, be harder”. Is that phrase in some ways inspired by your hardcore punk background?

MAO: It’s actually from Brody King’s band. It’s a phrase from all their songs. The chord really strikes with me because life really is hard. So the best way to go about it is just become harder yourself.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s really a great philosophy. It also helps you understand DDT’s way of doing things. Now that we’re into the punk rock topic, do you think that that’s the reason why DDT is so fitting for people like you or your 37Kamiina partners?

MAO: Well, it’s probably only like me and Daisuke Sasaki in DDT, because they aren’t really like, influenced by music per se. I guess you could say, compared to the rest of members in 37Kamiina, they’re not really deep into the culture, so it’s probably only just me and Sasaki.

Monthly Puroresu: Can you tell us about how you feel in the ring like the artist known as MAO and why you might be such a good candidate for us to interview on this concept of freedom?

MAO: My head is empty. I don’t really think a lot about it, I don’t really think about my future at all. I’m just all about, blank hair and just talking bulls***t the whole time on Twitter and in the ring. I’m just expressing my personality and my style. My emptiness. What you see here is what you get in the ring.

Monthly Puroresu: We’re talking about freedom and in terms of your lifestyle: How much time do you spend having fun versus training for wrestling? And does wrestling take a lot of work for you or does it come naturally?

MAO: For me, my life is all about enjoying myself. Whether I’m training, building my body, or spending time with my friends, I think that you’ve got to enjoy whatever you’re doing, regarding every aspect of your lifestyle. I try not to do what I don’t like.

Sometimes I have to do it once in a while. But I’ve always done my best in enjoying whatever I do for it. In terms of working hard or playing hard, if I had to compare which one I enjoy the most, hanging around with my friends is a little bit more fun than actually training.

Monthly Puroresu: In terms of working for Sanshiro Takagi and the CyberFight staff, we often hear when we interview wrestlers on that side of the equation versus Bushiroad, they tell us how many constrictions they have and how strict the rules are on that side of things. Do you enjoy working for the staff there and is that one of the reasons you feel you can thrive as a championship title contender?

MAO: It’s very fitting to this topic! It’s truly freedom working under Sanshiro Takagi and DDT because if I was in any other promotion, I probably wouldn’t actually be allowed to play in my own band. When you actually ask Takagi: “I want to play in this band”, he would be like: “Oh yeah, that’s great. Do it. It’s good for you.” He’s probably the guy with the most freedom in the whole company, actually.

He’s been there ever since he was young, even though he’s 53 now. So they allow all the people in DDT to do whatever they wan to do. Just like Shunma Katsumata running his own sauna spot, Yuki Iino running his own personal gym training.

Monthly Puroresu: Chris Brookes, with BAKA GAIJIN.

MAO: Yeah, Brookes and BAKA GAIJIN. So this freedom is essentially what equates DDT. DDT equals freedom basically. And when I was doing my training, when I was still working up my way up, whenever I tried something in the ring, none of my seniors ever said: “Oh, this is wrong, you can’t do this.” They’re all like: “Oh yeah, you should try it and experiment. See how far you can go with that.” That’s why DDT equals freedom.

Monthly Puroresu: And it’s been that way for more than 10 years. The first time we saw a Kenny Omega feud, we were like: Where did this guy come from? Where did he train? Did he learn this from Harley Race? No. He was able to try so many things and become this sort of progressive and ground-breaking guy because he was there in DDT. So do you sense that the gaijins like Kenny Omega and Chris Brookes, when they come to DDT because of this ethos, they’re able to find new cool things to do in the ring just as easily as the Japanese guys?

MAO: A lot of people’s impressions of DDT is that they watch a Yoshihiko match or they watch the Campsite-Pro Wrestling match. If you ask maybe ten foreign fans, they probably would say one of these two. A lot of people recently have seen less of that aspect of DDT. So that’s why I do my best to appear in all the Street Wrestling shows as much as I can. Because I don’t want to destroy the dreams of the overseas fans that have this image of DDT.

Monthly Puroresu: Following that topic, and now that you mentioned Yoshihiko, your clip wrestling Yoshihiko in GCW went viral and many people asked what’s the true nature of wrestling in regards to that clip. For MAO the artist, the performer, the wrestler, the free mind, what is wrestling exactly?

MAO: For me, wrestling is: If there’s me, there’s an opponent. There may or may not be a ring. The opponent could be a broom, it could be a non-living object. It could not even be a human, it could be even an invisible man as well. But as long as there is an opponent living, non-living, non-existent, and a referee and a place to wrestle on, that’s wrestling to me.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s great. There’s a lot of people that always debate about the true nature of wrestling, and it’s so refreshing to see a wrestler being able to say it because he’s the true protagonist of the art. We’d like to use the publication to do what you said and shatter this image that maybe foreign fans have of the homoerotic spots with Danshoku Dino or the LEGO casket matches. Because as we know, whenever you sit back and just let yourself watch DDT, it’s fun! It reminds you of when you were a kid watching wrestling again.

We love it so much that it gives us our own sense of freedom. We want to help dispel the stereotypes with puroresu as a whole. So, of course, following the topics of freedom and your empty head, when you say that you have an empty head, can we use a metaphor, like an empty canvas for an artist where he can just do and perform at his best?

MAO: I’m like a sponge – an empty sponge with nothing inside yet. So whenever I see something, I immediately get sucked into it. That’s how I just absorb everything; like a sponge. Even if I hear bad words or slang or swear words, I would immediately remember them. So yeah, we can use it.

Monthly Puroresu: You’re very open-minded too. And Sanshiro Takagi allows you to be open-minded rather than take a Cornette perspective of what wrestling “should be”. This is the antithesis of that. So now that you’ve said you’re a sponge, we want to ask you something that we have been very interested in.

You have a band, right? Is there any kind of inspirations while you perform in your band that you use while you wrestle?

MAO: Playing in my band is a different way to express my lifestyle. The thing about bands is that it’s all about connection. Whether I’m playing in a band or wrestling in the ring, they’re actually very similar because, you have a good show, you have a great performance, and then everybody just goes for a nice drink at the end of the show.

Of course I get inspiration from playing in the ring. But on the other hand, I also get inspiration from my in-ring work back into my band. Whether I’m playing in my band or whether I’m wrestling in the ring, whatever I do doesn’t really change. That’s the same as well when I go overseas to wrestle, like in the United States.

Monthly Puroresu: We’re just curious about your band and what kind of venues they play. Where can we catch you playing? And what kind of music are you working on?

MAO: We always play in this place called Shinjuku Antiknock. We’ve been playing there for like eight years. Ever since I moved from where I lived to Tokyo. I had friends who helped me all the time. So we’ve been playing in that one spot the whole time, ever since we were active.

DDT wrestler MAO, playing in his band at Shinjuku Antiknock in Japan.

c/o MAO on Twitter

Monthly Puroresu: Following the topic of your band, is there any desire for you to perform in America when you come over for excursions or something else?

MAO: Personally, I don’t really have to go to my band, but on that note, I actually got close with a band called Jackknife in LA. We always share DMs once in a while. My dream right now is to perform as a guest vocalist for one of their songs in the future.

Monthly Puroresu: Of course, maybe we can spread this message and make promoters interested in this.

MAO: Yeah, anyone who wants to work with me, in terms of performing, please drop me a message.

Monthly Puroresu: To close the topic of empty heads and white canvas, is there any inspirations outside of wrestling that you use for your character and for your personality in DDT?

MAO: I obviously get inspiration from animation, from games and from Japanese comedy shows. How close can all of these different ideas and inspirations fit into my vision of my character is? I get lots of input from so many of these different places. So it’s very difficult to really narrow down which of these different medias fit into my character. I actually do training in mixed martial arts and kickboxing as well. But if you see how the style works compared to how I’m actually in the ring, it’s not really a perfect fit. So even in these expects, I always wonder like how much of MMA and kickboxing can really fit into my character. So I really think a lot about working my character in the ring.

Monthly Puroresu: You also mentioned on your Twitter profile that you learned your kicks in moshpits. So we can say that you’re like an experimental artist or an experimental genre of music. You blend it all together. You take influences from all different parts of Otaku, music and fighting culture, and blend it into this one beautiful art form.

MAO: Even if it’s like the furthest thing you would see from wrestling, I can somehow connect it all the way back to wrestling. So if I would actually like call me a genre of music, I would think I’m shoegazing. Because it’s a lot of different sounds that don’t really mesh well together and there’s no sense of distance from when you hear it. But when you really just close your eyes, you can hear a very beautiful sound from that. So yeah, I’m definitely shoegazing.

Monthly Puroresu: To follow up on that, what are some of your favorite Japanese artists?

MAO: There’s a band in Japan called Supercar, they’re pretty good.

Monthly Puroresu: On the topic of bands, and now that we’re talking about punk, we recently came across a band called “The Blue Hearts”, and they had a song that we think can represent you at your fullest. It’s called “Owaranai Uta”, an endless song. Do you feel like your wrestling performance is like an endless song?

MAO: So, we actually went to karaoke with Shunma yesterday and we sang some Blue Hearts songs. They have a lot of great music. So yeah, we belted it all the way in karaoke yesterday.

Monthly Puroresu: You last wrestled for that belt in 2020 against Masato Tanaka. Do you feel like you can be a true contender for that belt in the near future?

MAO: I’m always ready to challenge for the belt if I’m given the opportunity. But right now I’m working towards the Universal title and I’m also Tag champions with Shunma. So right now it seems that the Openweight title is more of a heavyweight class thing with Yuji Hino only wanting very big boys to challenge for the belt.

Maybe if the weight restrictions were a little bit lighter, I would challenge for it again because if there’s one thing I can’t do is power fighting. I can not do it, as you can see from last year’s D-Oh Grand Prix.

Monthly Puroresu: When you think of the pinnacle of wrestling do you have any particular title or championship in mind? What’s your ultimate goal in wrestling, and when do you see yourself achieving that?

MAO: If you think of an ultimate goal or like a final goal in wrestling, and once you achieve it, you get satisfied. That’s not wrestling. For me wrestling it’s constantly fighting, constantly being in the front lines, forever challenging multiple opponents and of course try to not get injured or sick. It’s just like you said, an endless song.

Monthly Puroresu: We’ll ask one final question. What should fans in the West be looking out for as you fight for the Universal title and then hopefully makes your way back to the US? Is there anything you want to express to your overseas fans, or any overseas fans of puroresu?

MAO: I hope to come back to the US. I’m actually in talks of a UK tour right now. My current goal at the moment is to be able to be seen like in person as frequently as someone like Maki Itoh or Miyu Yamashita in the US. I hope to be able to wrestle in different places overseas. I hope many people around the world can see MAO, and if you ever see me, please give me your support.

This interview was translated by Ash Mann, CyberFight’s DDT Pro English commentator and social content producer.