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Q&A with Ninja Mack, his time in NOAH

2 years ago

Q&A with Ninja Mack, his time in NOAH

By: Steven R. Jackson

Ninja Mack is one of the fastest rising stars in Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Climbing up the ranks of the promotion, Ninja Mack made history by becoming the 50th GHC Junior Heavyweight champion in Ariake Arena in October 2022.

In this exclusive Q&A, Ninja Mack shares his thoughts on winning GHC gold, taking his feud against Dante Leon over to Japan, his philosophy on what makes Japanese wrestling special, his ambitions heading into 2023, and much more!

Monthly Puroresu: Two of my first questions for you are when did NOAH contact you and upon joining NOAH, was it the first time you’d ever been in Japan?

Ninja Mack: To Japan? Yeah. When NOAH contacted me, it was right after COVID had put the world on hold and everything just started opening back up. I got a call from NOAH after I had a match with Dragon Bane. I think they saw clips of me and Dragon Bane on ‘Wrestling with Unicorns’, and those got over to some of the people in the NOAH’s office. So, that’s when they got sight of me. But in all my travels, heading to NOAH was the first time I’ve been able to go to Japan. And fortunately, the way 2022 has been, I’ve spent more time in Japan than in America.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ve been on an incredible run over in NOAH, which has included winning the GHC Junior Heavyweight championship. A massive moment and a huge honor for you. Before joining NOAH had you followed them previously and did you feel you had achieved a huge personal goal, winning the belt over in Japan?

Ninja Mack: It was a dream come true! Growing up in Texas, I watched a lot of the WWF as they transitioned into WWE. I watched AAA because in Houston we’ve access to a lot of lucha libre. We’ve such a good lucha crowd in Texas. But then randomly one night, that was my first time watching Japanese wrestling. I don’t know what show it was. But it was when I was back in high school, around 2005 or 2006. They had an hour-long Japanese wrestling show. It was just a couple of matches. But that was when I got into guys like Jyushin Liger, Naomichi Marufuji and KENTA.

Ninja Mack: I got to watch a good amount of NOAH wrestling, and when I got into wrestling, I did the Harley Race camp. That was my first introduction to actually meeting Marufuji and the NOAH crowd when they came down. When I got that introduction, I’ve always had a hook-on Japanese wrestling. So, to be able to wrestle in Japan, and have NOAH call me to give me that opportunity. Then to be able to pull off an amazing win against an incredible GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion at the time, HAYATA, (who’s one of the greatest juniors in NOAH’s history), to become the 50th GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Get into the NOAH history books as a foreigner too. A gaijin coming in. It’s been an amazing year of experience. But it’s made me hungry for more. I’ve got a taste of what’s possible. What we can achieve. I’m working harder than ever. I’ve been home at this stage for three weeks. I’ve gone to the ring and been in the gym twice every day.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s interesting you mention Jyushin Liger because the things you’re able to do in the ring, they’re very much like Liger. When I first saw you in Game Changer Wrestling your style just blew me away! Not to mention your look, with the mask and your ninja aura. Have you always been influenced by ninjas and the ninja style?

Ninja Mack: Ninjas caught my interest because growing up as an American kid in the nineties, I was into Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all the anime shows. I was already hooked onto the ninja mindset. I trained in a lot of martial arts which got me into a little bit of fighting. Plus, before my wrestling career, I worked for the circus as an entertainer. Not only that, I’ve worked in many gyms helping out other communities and teaching kids. I became involved with so many disciplines. It’s taking that ninja aspect and putting that ninja style into everything. So even before wrestling, I was doing ninja stuff. So that ninja character rolled over into my wrestling career and it was not a hard change for me.

Monthly Puroresu: Like yourself, the discipline and the culture of Japan, as well as ninjas themselves, have always appealed to me too. In terms of Japanese culture, wrestlers often say that wrestling in front of Japanese audiences is a very different experience to wrestling in front of western audiences. When you did go over to NOAH for the first time, did that come as a culture shock to you too, or was it something which felt familiar?

Ninja Mack: I can’t say I was too shocked by it. Only because I’ve been fortunate enough to travel so much. I’ve done so much in Texas, so much in the north of America; gone to Canada, Mexico, and South America. I’ve worked lucha crowds where you’re not working for TV, you’re working a live audience show for the 1,500 fans that are actually there. I’ve worked at a Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling where you’re filming your match for TV and you’ve certain TV angles. GCW; when you’re wrestling half for the FITE TV audience and half for the live crowd. S you’ve got to be a mixture of both. To get that across to the Japanese crowd was not too much of a culture shock. I went through the UK a couple months before I was able to go to Japan.

Ninja Mack: I wrestled for Rev Pro, and the UK crowd, as well as the German crowd when I wrestled in WxW, was the big thing that stood out to me. The way the crowd was, they had songs for you when you showed up. The fans over there went so wild. So going over to Japan, knowing the fans couldn’t have a voice at first, as they were limited to just clapping because of COVID, I was not too shocked by it. But also, if you can make the Japanese crowd gasp and break the rules, that’s how they said we were doing good. That was a good sign for me. But now they’re starting to get their voices back. When I beat HAYATA in that match on the 30th, it was the first time you could actually hear cheering. It was very nice to be able to hear the crowds. I’m excited to return because that was the only show I was able to do where they had a voice.

Monthly Puroresu: It must have been such a thrill to hear the audience suddenly applauding. Showing you appreciation for winning the belt.

Ninja Mack: It was wild! Six months of knowing the Japanese fans, and not being able to hear their voices. Then the first time I can hear them is the night I able to overcome HAYATA and win the belt. It was something that’s going to go down in history forever. Something I’ll cherish and I’ll grow from.

Monthly Puroresu: Another man you’ve been very closely tied to is Dante Leon. Dante also went over to Japan and you continued your rivalry over in NOAH. What was it like facing one another in Japan after you’d faced one another in the United States?

Ninja Mack: It’s crazy how you may not know someone before you face each other in the ring. But then you go out there, have a wrestling match and after the first match goes so well, with the crowd so lively, you get another promotion book you to do it a second time. Then the second time tops the first time, the crowd is bigger and that crowd is even more lively. Then, for example, GCW sees it and they call us in for JCW. A story about the JCW match is that me and Dante were supposed to be semi main-event. Joey Janela was going to be the main event. But right before myself and Dante were about to go out, Joey stops us and says ‘Hey, I’m switching things. You’re going to be main event’. Wow! When you get told that right before you go out, you’re going to be the main-event you’re like ‘Oh okay.’ It’s a different mindset to be the main event. But for Joey to throw that out to us and us pull it off as our third match on a big platform show like that. It was amazing.

Watch Ninja Mack vs. Dante Leon from JCW Opening Day

Ninja Mack: Then we took that match to Los Angeles for GCW officially, which was another huge show. Then we did it in Japan. I got Dante the first time. But unfortunately, he got me this last time to take the belt from me. So, it’s been weird to click with someone that you didn’t know. I never met or spoke to Dante beforehand. But since we had that first match and been whopping each other’s asses, going back and forth for the last two years, you get to know someone pretty well. I call it a rivalry. But I also call it a friendship. It’s not the end though. I’ve got to come back. I’ve got to get my match because he got me last time and I’m not happy with it.

Monthly Puroresu: Absolutely! I’m excited to see you regain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship and hopefully take it to the United States. We’ve seen how the Forbidden Door has opened things up over the past couple of years. The relationship between NOAH and GCW, along with the larger U.S. independent scene, has been growing exponentially. How exciting would it be for you, once you regain the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship to take it to the United States and wrestle with it on the line?

Ninja Mack: I was so close to doing that! So close! I got beat by Dante that night. Then we had the Dragon Gate event the next night. After the Dragon Gate show, I was flying home and returning to the States the next morning. If I beat Dante, I’d have the belt on me right now. That’s how close I was. I will bring the belt to the western side of the world. But I don’t mind defending it across the world. There are so many great wrestlers over in Germany and the UK, that if people want to book it, I’d go global with the belt and defend it around the world. I don’t want to just defend it in America or on TV. If you’re good enough, I want to give you the chance. But at the same time, I’ve got to get the belt back.

Monthly Puroresu: As you noted, recently Dragon Gate have been working very closely with NOAH for a couple of shows and are another very influential promotion. Their style is very fast-paced, high-flying and lucha-libre influenced. What was it like working with Dragon Gate wrestlers after working with the NOAH wrestlers in the NOAH environment?

Ninja Mack: I always tell some of the wrestlers in the NOAH office this. When I’m in that five-on-five match, I know we’re supposed to be going for the win. But I’ve got nine other competitors in front of me and I want to go one-on-one with everyone. I got to see more Japanese competition, which got me fired up and excited. I wanted to turn around and just start fighting the two guys on my team. Because I’ve wrestled Alejandro and I’ve wrestled Extreme Tiger. But in my mind, I’m thinking ‘I haven’t had chance to wrestle you two Dragon Gate stars yet’.

Ninja Mack: So, while they’re tagged out, we could go down there and wrestle for a minute. But at the same time, I know we had a job to do. We had to get them in there for the match and get the win. It was nice to see other wrestlers from other promotions. But at the same time, I haven’t even gone through the whole NOAH roster, and to me, NOAH is the best wrestling company in Japan. We’ve the best talent around. I need to go through that roster first. But yes, I don’t mind wrestling the Dragon Gate guys if they ever want to step up.

Monthly Puroresu: NOAH’s talent roster and the wrestling matches they have are absolutely phenomenal. It’s so exciting now COVID has lifted that yourself and other wrestlers from the west have been able to bring a gaijin influence to NOAH’s roster. With that in mind, when you won the belt from HAYATA, what’s it been like getting in the ring with him? Given his legacy and his wrestling skills. It must have been an education and honor to be in there with him.

Ninja Mack: Oh yeah. Any level of competition that’s going to help me get better and to the next level I really appreciate. To get in the ring with HAYATA multiple times, I’d say it was to his advantage at first. Just because of his experience. But now that I’ve been in the ring four or five times with him, I’m with it. I learned with this ninja technique, I’m on things. I’m move quick. I got in the ring with The Great Muta one time, and to be in a tag match with him, I felt his pressure and I felt his energy level, as I did being in the ring with Marufuji. I don’t treat any match any different. Every match to me is just another competitor. Some are obviously more experienced, so they’re more dangerous when you go against them.

Ninja Mack: But at the same time, everyone has a power level and if I can be next to your power level, I can just gauge you and learn from it. Even in small instances, I’m going to grow and get better. So, to share the ring with HAYATA, Mutoh and Marufuji, along with all those other big-name wrestlers, I’m growing leaps and bounds.

Monthly Puroresu: In terms of your next tour, it’s going to be a huge moment in Japanese wrestling history, because Keiji Mutoh will be having his retirement match. Mutoh’s retirement tour is currently taking place, and there will be two retirement matches. One is for Keiji Mutoh, while the other is for The Great Muta. You said about being with Mutoh and his presence. What’s it actually like being with Mutoh? Is it one of those jaw dropping moments being there with him, given his legacy in the industry?

Ninja Mack: You can feel the aura and the energy change when you walk into a room with him in it. I’ve said previously to other people and I’m a firm believer of this, even going back to when I was at Reality of Wrestling with Booker T. When Booker T walked into the arena and you’re that level of a superstar, the environment changes. The energy takes over. So, to walk into the room with The Great Muta and to feel his energy, you feel that energy change. You see people’s eyes pop up. Their eyes get drawn over there. Everyone brings a certain energy level and the higher you go in this business, the bigger your energy level. You can feel that with the older guys, where they might not be going as hard as they were. Just because they’re not 35 or 40 years old, and going as hard as they were, doesn’t mean they can’t go just as hard for five minutes instead of 25 minutes. Their energy levels are off the charts. It’s one of the few times I’ve been intimidated just walking into a room, and feel that energy level change.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s going to be an incredibly emotional moment when Mutoh does retire. Plus, being over there in Japan as it happens, it’ll be a once in a lifetime experience. Mutoh has been wrestling in various famous Japanese venues during his retirement tour. You yourself were able to wrestle in Korakuen Hall during your last tour with NOAH which is a very synonymous venue in Japan. What did that feel like? Because wrestlers do say that Korakuen Hall has got a special aura about it.

Ninja Mack: When you go to a building that you’ve been to over and over, the mystique gets lost from it. But when you’re going to Korakuen Hall for the first time, the second time, the mystique, the legacy and the history, it captures you. Even now that I’ve gone four or five times, I still walk up and take pictures of all these buildings every time I go to the shows. I don’t even know if it’s going to be something I can get tired of. I mean there’s so much history. We were playing an N64 game back at the dojo, as they still sell some of the games in the shops around there. We got one of the old NJPW games and were going through the venues, and Korakuen Hall is one of the arenas you can play in. Budokan is one of the arenas you can play in. And those are on the games back in the early 2000s. So, to be able to wrestle there 20 years later, as people have been doing for so many years, it means so much. I had it on my life checklist to be able to get over there and do it, and I actually did it!

Monthly Puroresu: It’s interesting hearing you talk about the nostalgia of the N64 game. When you were playing the game, did you play as any of your favorite wrestlers? Was there anyone in the game who you gravitated towards growing up and emulated in your own work?

Ninja Mack: I think everyone always has their influences. You can pick things from here and there. Learn from everyone. I mean the Radicalz growing up. That group of four. You had Eddie Guerrero who was such a huge influence, as well as Chris Jericho too. Those guys went back and forth between Japan. Rey Mysterio, Jyushin Liger and The Great Sasuke are all huge influences. I was influenced because I was a fan of the product as a young kid.

Ninja Mack: But now when I go back, I watch everything they do now with a different eye. I’m not watching from a fan’s perspective. I’m watching from a worker’s perspective, an athlete’s perspective. It’s even more appreciation for what they’re doing because of all the little details. The extra stuff that you’ve got to pay attention to. It’s crazy how much you don’t know at first, when you’re watching as a fan. Now, going back and watching as a worker, seeing all the extra work they have to do. It gives me even more appreciation for guys that did that.

Monthly Puroresu: I completely agree. Eddie Guerrero as Black Tiger. The original Tiger Mask too. Watching Satoru Sayama and the things he could do is incredible. You remind me very much of Sayama in the way that you move. The way you use the ring to enhance your acrobatics. I remember in GCW when you did the five back flips before moonsaulting over the top rope to the floor. It was absolutely incredible!

Ninja Mack: That was a time when I was giving a show for the fans. Those wrestlers I mentioned earlier were mainly from my fan’s perspective. From a worker’s perspective, the wrestlers I really enjoy watching are Les Kellett and Tom Pritchard. I’ve done two of Tom Pritchard’s camps and seminars, and Bruce Pritchard, his brother, actually helped us when we were at Booker T’s. When he was down there, he helped us from the director’s side with our matches. But Tom Pritchard, I’ve taken his training and what I’ve learned from him, I’ve made my own training out of it. And Les Kellett, watching all those wrestling matches from the seventies and the eighties. The way Les Kellett could present basic moves in a ring, but make everything still so good and entertaining at the same time. Those guys are huge influences.

Monthly Puroresu: NOAH has been experiencing a massive resurgence since becoming part of the CyberFight group, which also features DDT. You haven’t wrestled in DDT yet or faced much DDT talent? Would you like to face anyone in a crossover because of NOAH and DDT’s contrasting styles?

Ninja Mack: I’m all for NOAH. I’m the NOAH Ninja. But if NOAH would allow me to participate, and it’s something DDT would like to offer, they can reach out to NOAH themselves. But at the same time, I don’t know how much crossover they have. I know we’re under the same umbrella. I’m always interested in wrestling other people because I want to make myself better. But my focus right now is NOAH. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve yet to go through the whole NOAH roster. If DDT ever wanted to communicate and work something out, I’d never turn it down. But I’m not directly thinking about DDT at the moment.

Monthly Puroresu: It makes sense as I see you as the western face of NOAH. What you’ve been able to achieve and do in such a short time, along with the influx you’ve brought is unreal. So, with NOAH being your main focus, what does Japanese wrestling and puroresu mean to you?

Ninja Mack: When we say Japanese wrestling, you can compare it to strong style. When you say European wrestling, you can compare it to the catch style. But for me, Japanese wrestling, it’s not just strong style. It’s about consistency. Everything is consistent. Consistent training and studying, in the ring and away from the ring, that’d be the best way for me to describe puroresu.

Monthly Puroresu: I completely agree about consistency in Japanese wrestling. I’m very excited to see you return to Japan and see what the future holds for you, heading into 2023. So, out of all the matches you’ve had in Japan to date, which has been the one that’s been the most exciting and which one has been the most enjoyable?

Ninja Mack: Without doubt, my first match in Japan which was the three-way match I had with Dragon Bane and Alpha Wolf. Being my little introduction to NOAH, on the big stage, and going a little crazy, that was very exciting. Being able to have Kaito Kiyomiya as my first singles opponent. That was an honor. For NOAH to allow their young ace to take me on and for me to challenge him, that showed me that they’re invested in me and respect me. So exciting wise, it is the three-way match. But memorable wise, it is the Kiyomiya match.

Watch Ninja Mack vs. Dragon Bane vs. Alpha Wolf from NOAH Majestic 2022 N-Innovation

Ninja Mack: But I do have a goal which I keep preaching to NOAH’s office. I do want to go for that GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. But my big goal, my big dream right now for NOAH, which I’m pushing forward, is I want to sell out a Korakuen Hall. I want to be the reason it sells out. I love the competition of wrestling. I love the sport of wrestling. I love going for the belts. But I’m also a man of business.

Ninja Mack: When I see NOAH gets on average about 1,000 fans for a show in Korakuen Hall (I think they’ve had around 1,300 to 1,400 fans for the big crossover shows), I want to work towards being in the main event, and being the main reason Korakuen Hall sells out. That’s one of the accomplishments I’d like to go for.