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Notes from the Underground – Tyler Bateman, Nanase and AKARI

1 year ago

Notes from the Underground – Tyler Bateman, Nanase and AKARI

Introduction by Thom Fain

In this feature, we want you to hear from the wrestlers competing in the independent, off-radar, and somewhat underground rings of Japanese wrestling. The lights may shine brightest in the Tokyo Dome, and at sacred venues such as the Nippon Budokan, but before wrestlers can make it there they must walk one of two paths: that of a Young Lion – forever devoted to the organization who moulds them – or that of a freewheeling fighter, traveling to parts unknown.

Exclusive interview with Tyler Bateman of NJPW STRONG

Monthly Puroresu: It’s our Fall Edition! So I wanted to start off with a fun question. What’s your favorite horror movie? I’m going to go with Phantasm for Monthly Puroresu.

Tyler Bateman: My favorite, it’s usually a rotating top three that includes The Thing. 28 Days Later is usually fairly high up the list for me. I saw that like five times in the theater. And I will say [An] American Werewolf in London is a placeholder. I feel those are always three. The Thing is usually at the top though, 1982’s The Thing very specifically because the remake, that was a surprise prequel name.

Monthly Puroresu: Would you call yourself a horror fan, then?

Tyler Bateman: Oh definitely.

Monthly Puroresu: So tell us about your journey as a pro wrestler. Today, you stand in a New Japan ring as part of its STRONG roster. You’ve been here almost from the start; from New Japan’s current western expansion effort. Take me back to when you first worked for the company compared to where you’re at today. Can you do a little mental journey?

Photo c/o @tylerbatemanofficial

Tyler Bateman: When I first started [with New Japan] everything was shut down [from the pandemic], and I randomly get the email and I was jumping, Like, crawling out of my skin. Like my skeleton could’ve crawled out through my mouth. It probably would’ve. It was such a big deal to me and it still is every time I work for New Japan STRONG regardless of where it’s located. Any time I get to spend on the cerulean blue I feel is something that one: If I had explained this to me back in 2000 when I started training, or 2001 when I first started being able to be on shows, is that I would’ve told you that you were a liar. Every time I get to be here on the cerulean blue for New Japan STRONG is incredibly important to me.

Monthly Puroresu: I wanted to ask how you deal with pain. You’ve been down a lot of roads. How do you turn pain into motivation?

Tyler Bateman: Say it both is and isn’t hard. Whether it’s like physical pain or emotional pain, you can find a way. You can have that either work against you or you can find a way to bend that to your will and have it work for you. Sometimes, as odd as this may be, and maybe not coming from me, but sometimes getting hit real hard wakes you up, so to speak. And you’d say: “Oh, okay, now I know exactly what we’re doing and exactly where we are.” And so a lot of the time it helps in its own strange way. You know, I’m saying emotional stuff too. Like you get all twisted up about something outside of the purview of professional wrestling. Well, use that energy that is provided and once again, bend that to your will and then put that back outward to other people.

Monthly Puroresu: You have character, you’ve got persona; you’ve got something that comes with time in this business. Can you reflect on how New Japan handles its guys that are trying to find their character and find their way – their Young Lions, versus how you, as a veteran of the U.S. indie circuit, came into your own?

Tyler Bateman: I know for me it was a lot of trial and error, and trying things and fault, like faltering and failing or not even necessarily failing completely; just finding out that over time this didn’t work. So more adjustments had to be made. When I started out, my whole persona was your classic over the top, like, “Oh, he’s crazy!” type of guy. And oddly enough, I started off wearing jeans and a t-shirt wrestling, because it was that early 2000s and that wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. I worked my way through pretty much every other gear style and then somehow worked my way back into like a fancier version, a more expensive version of non-traditional gear. So that’s part of my discovery. As far as persona, it was just time and my interests in life and culture, all that flowing into the final product.

Monthly Puroresu: Some of your interests, we talked about horror movies. We met Auntie Hydie together backstage at PRESTIGE. It’s kind of that early 20th century madman – there’s something to it that reminds me of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Kind of the evil characters and–

Tyler Bateman: Oh, Auntie Hydie especially. Hydie’s very good at being over the top, but in a way that still fits into the thing that feels like it may not feel right for the overall world that we live in. But it feels right for the thing that she is doing. For the period of time or the timeframe that, that thing has tumbled out of the void, then it definitely fits for that persona.

Monthly Puroresu: Going back to the Young Lions that are coming up through the system here. We’ve got the LA Dojo. Some of them are from the U.S., some visit from Japan. Do you enjoy mentoring or seeing those young guys flourish? And in terms of how Shibata-san runs that dojo, what’s it been like working with his trainees?

Tyler Bateman: I’ve been very lucky. I think I’ve wrestled all the Young Lions that have come out of the dojo between original, when we’re in the closed taping Strong settings to here. I wrestled Karl Fredericks before he was in the Young Lion system to be fair. But Clark [Connors], Alex [Coughlin], Kevin [Knight]. DKC I knew from before he was in the Young Lion system. And after I can tell you if you get ahold of one of the Young Lions, you don’t need to worry about the quality of their wrestling. If there’s one thing that the New Japan system I feel has consistently always put out, especially under the peripheral of Katsuyori Shibata, it is quality. You will not have to worry about the fundamentals, you’ll not have to worry about the strength of the job, so to speak. If that makes sense.

Monthly Puroresu: So you’ve wrestled these guys within the New Japan system. Your career has gone beyond the New Japan system, many, many indies. What’s the craziest request or thing you’ve had to do? Like, what’s something random that you’ve run into on the independents that you could enlighten our readers about that particular journey?

Tyler Bateman: I mean, crazy? Like I don’t get asked to do a whole lot of things that I would consider insane necessarily. But, some of the venues I’ve wrestled at are interesting. I’ve wrestled in bars, I’ve wrestled in parking lots. I’ve wrestled in parking lots in front of a strip mall. I’ve wrestled like in a ring set up I think it was in the back lot or area. It was in a yard area near, it was a boys and girls club [with] Locker rooms that are smaller than this area that were standing in. I’ve had to change in the back of like U-Haul trucks before. And that was, the locker room for the entire card because the ring is set up in a courtyard between two bars. So everyone has to change in the back of a truck and stuff.

Monthly Puroresu: So what keeps you going? What keeps you motivated throughout that journey on the road, is it just a sheer love for the craft?

Tyler Bateman: I was gonna say… I’m dangerously mentally unbalanced, and say that has to be so important. Why would you keep doing these weird –like, why would you keep putting yourself in these situations? None of these have I been like, “Ugh, well I don’t know if we’re making it back from this,” or for instance, one very long road trip it was 36 hours one way and somehow less time on the way back. But it is absolutely mental. This is all I’ve legitimately, ever wanted to do. When I was growing up, I only had one consistent answer. I mean, other things would pop up because I was a kid. Of course I’m sure at some point I wanted to be a cowboy, or a cop, or a fireman or a helicopter – because kids can be ignorant, and sometimes you want to be things that you can’t be. But the one consistent answer I always had through everything, is that I always wanted to be a professional wrestler. And when I stop and think about it, it’s pretty wild considering the amount of time I’ve been able to do that.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s awesome, dude. And Ring of Honor was recently revived by Tony Khan. Can you tell me your feelings you still hold onto about that brand, and what it means to you? What do you want see from ROH moving forward?

Tyler Bateman: With Ring of Honor, it was the first place I would have a full-time job in professional wrestling. Now because of my luck being the way it is, it was also right before the world shut down [from covid-19]. So that threw like a bit of a spanner in the works, but my time with Ring of Honor was important. They took very good care of us, maybe to the detriment of the company and the grand scheme of things, but they took really good care of us. I don’t think any one person missed a check at all, so I have to be grateful for that. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I got while working for Ring of Honor; the people that I worked with, the relationships that I’ve built and the things I’ve been able to spin off from that. All in all I had very, very little to no negatives about Ring of Honor. I feel Ring of Honor was important overall for professional wrestling. I would love to be able to see it get back to the point where it can be its own brand and be its own thing. I mean, still within clearly the bubble that it’s within, it’s going to be a certain way. But as far forward as it could go, I want see that.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s been moving forward under Tony Khan.

Tyler Bateman: I mean it’s, it will always be connected [to All Elite Wrestling], like I said because of the bubble that it’s in. But, like I said, places like Ring of Honor are important overall for the grander scheme of professional wrestling. The more places, the more alternatives at a high level people have to work with, the better off the overall business is.

Monthly Puroresu: Talking about wanting to be a professional wrestler as a kid, it got me nostalgic. One match that stands out to me from that time period,is Mick Foley vs. Shawn Michaels at In Your House: Mind Games. I don’t know if you remember that one.

Tyler Bateman: That’s one of the main shows that sort of showed Shawn had a tough, different side to him. That he had that great extra dimension in him. Yes. Had this reputation of being like pretty boy, you know. But that match brought something new to the table for Shawn.

Monthly Puroresu: Well, let’s say if you were trapped on an island, you could only take one taped match. One taped match in the history of pro wrestling. Could you narrow it down?

Tyler Bateman: One match is hard. Like real, real hard. I could give you a top four or five, but one is really difficult. I’m gonna mention several and be like, well it could be any one of these. I love [Genichiro] Tenryu versus KENTA in NOAH. I’m terrible with the dates. But I think it goes maybe 10 minutes and it is physically uncomfortable to watch at points because they’re both, it’s Tenryu versus KENTA and it’s exactly what you would imagine you would get from Tenryu versus KENTA and beating the dog piss out of each other. I also love Katsuyori Shibata versus Jun Akiyama. I think it was the Wrestle-1 actually. Same reasons. I just love the physicality. I love the intensity of it. I love that it, they make everything feel like everything matters.

Monthly Puroresu: It is, it’s a fight. Yeah. Every punch matters.

Photo c/o @tylerbatemanofficial

Tyler Bateman: Yeah. And then any combination of, I wish I had a specific Fit Finlay match to pull out my head, but most things might fit the same time because that same, it’s just very little to no waste of movement using grinder. Everything feels realistic. Everything feels like it matters.

Monthly Puroresu: Until he brings in Hornswoggle.

Tyler Bateman: I mean even, even then when spots without Swoggle we’re still Finlay being Finlay. The guys with that, that certain level of grit and like, I wanna say dirt about them, but you know what I mean, just that

Monthly Puroresu: The foundation of being like a fighter more than a performer.

Tyler Bateman: Homicide’s a great example. Just like the overall just feel it presence. It’s a lot of that too. Samoa Joe versus Kenta Kobashi, the Ring of Honor match, that was an excellent bout of professional wrestling.

Monthly Puroresu: You have mobility as a big man, and your time you’ve put in your craft – you’ve grown, you’ve got yourself in a unique position on the card here specifically. Are there any monsters or wrestlers from the past that you draw influence from when you’re going through and thinking about your position here in New Japan Strong?

Tyler Bateman: I feel like sometimes I wear my influences on my sleeve, butI don’t know how obvious it is for people. I love Tenyru, and I’m a big Jake “the Snake” Roberts guy. Big on DDT guys – there’s like three of them that I always mention: I love Jake Roberts, I love Arn Anderson, I love Raven. And they’re also, all three of those guys are more psychology forward. They’ll all work real hard for you, because they’re psychology forward. Strong promo all three of those guys. And Tenyru I love, like I said, just a presence of the physicality and the fact that like, especially even as he got older too, he would stand and fight with you. He may know he is going to lose going into that exchange, but he’s going to make you stop on each one of those exchanges. I love Fit Finlay. I love William Regal. Once again, that combination of styles because they can, they can wrestle you–

Monthly Puroresu: They can be technical.

Tyler Bateman: They can break you down piece at a time or, you know, they’re also capable of just knocking the shit out of them, you know? So I like a combination of things.

Monthly Puroresu: Now we’re living in a wrestling boom period. When you think about all the roads you’ve been down, all the towns you’ve visited, all the bars, the parking lots, everything. Can you tell readers why they should be enjoying this moment, this current moment, this boom period in pro wrestling history?

Tyler Bateman: I feel that professional wrestling currently i

s more easily accessible than ever before. There are several streaming services that cater strictly to professional wrestling. I feel that if you have internet, and any sort of social media savvy, it’s easier. Maybe it’s not necessarily the easiest, but easier to find local professional wrestling as well. Even if you can’t make it to shows, social media also makes it so we can see clips and gifs, video packages and music videos, that can almost help carry you into the paid shows. I would’ve loved to have had that level of access when I started.

Monthly Puroresu: Awesome. And finally, at this stage in your career, what are your sights set on in terms of opponents, titles and personal goals?

Tyler Bateman: So, I’ve been wrestling for 21 years. I don’t know how much road I have left in front of me, but I’m positive there’s more behind me than there is in front. At this point I just want to go as far as I can, and work as hard as I can, with that time I have left. But if something were to take me to Japan, that would be wonderful. If wrestling could take me to Europe, that’d be great. If I am able to continue to travel, even if it’s slightly here in the U.S., I value that. Who do I want? Give me anyone, give me everyone. Give your f-–in’ hard men. Give me your flippy boys. I just want to see what we can do together.

Exclusive interview with Nanase of SECRET BASE

Monthly Puroresu: Tell us about the moment you just knew that becoming a pro wrestler was the perfect choice for you, and what was going on in your life when you elected to take on this endeavor.

Nanase: By coincidence I found my way into wrestling, and competed in a local wrestling organization. I was very happy to receive support from everyone there. I learned that wrestling is so much fun. This experience moved me to become a pro wrestler. Since then, I hope to have more wrestling matches and bring more smiles to people.

Monthly Puroresu: Some western fans might not know about PW SECRET BASE, but I understand it was created as a Toryumon wrestling school to carry on that tradition. Can you tell our readers about what makes SECRET BASE a special place for young athletes looking to become a professional wrestler?

Nanase: Secret Base is a place where younger talents can develop themselves at their own pace. We have wrestlers that specialize in different types of wrestling (Lucha libre, strong style, etc) and can learn to wrestle in a style that fits them the best.

Monthly Puroresu: You often post photos of food on social media (SNS), making those of us in the West jealous of all the tasty Tokyo treats! What’s your favorite food to eat after wrestling a physical match against a tough opponent?

Nanase: Hahah. It’s easy to answer ramen! I especially love spicy ramen. They’re like superfoods that I can eat no matter how damaged my body may be.

Monthly Puroresu: Speaking of tough opponents, are there any particular Joshi wrestlers –perhaps in TJPW, Ice Ribbon, Triple-666, Actwrez girl’Z, Marvelous or STARDOM who you think you’d have good chemistry with?

Nanase: There’s a lot of wrestlers I’d love to fight, even as a fairly recent debutant. I would definitely like to wrestle Dalys and Stephanie Vaquer from CMLL once again.

Monthly Puroresu: Unlike in America, where a couple of companies really dominate the attention of wrestling fans, people in Tokyo have many options to watch wrestling on any given night. Each of the promotions has their own special flavor, offering fans a unique style of event. What would you say SECRET BASE offers someone who might stumble into an event?

Nanase: SECRET BASE allows people to discover how fun wrestling is, even if they don’t know much about this incredible sport. We cherish the great times that audiences have at our shows, from children to adults. So, I recommend watching SECRET BASE’s show with family.

Monthly Puroresu: You are cultivating somewhat of a fan base on social media (SNS), the mysterious masked Joshi who recently made her debut. What has it been like for you to finally get some wrestling matches behind you, and to create that connection with fans?

Nanase: I have received so much love from fans! I am amazed and delighted!

Monthly Puroresu: Your profile has “future luchadora” written in English. Does that mean you hope to come to North America or Latin America, and wrestle with others who share your philosophy?

Nanase: Absolutely! That is my dream.


Monthly Puroresu: Finally, for fans visiting Japan from the West, what’s the best way to keep up with SECRET BASE or check out a show?

Nanase: Thank you for the most important question. Please try to take a look at our official website. We are looking forward to meeting you all!

Exclusive interview with AKARI of PURE-J

Introduction by J. Curbelo

As she was embarking into a pro wrestling career in the extremely niche 2009 Chilean scene, AKARI was introduced to the wonders of puroresu with clips of KENTA and Command Bolshoi while receiving a harsh reality check: She would amount to nothing if she stayed in Chile. AKARI decided that she would only become a wrestler when she arrived in Japan, but she would have to wait a whole decade for that to happen. Over three years after that, The Red-haired Ninja is one of PURE-J’s most emblematic young wrestlers, with a 441 day reign as Princess of Prowrestling Champion (rookie title) in her accolades and a catalog of intense matches with and against formidable opponents such as Meiko Satomura, Leon, STARDOM’s Thekla, Mei Suruga, Team 200Kg, NXT’s Sarray and, of course, Command Bolshoi herself. She had an opportunity for PURE-J’s top championship against Yuu on September 23rd, 2022, which she lost. In addition, she also got to team up with fellow Chilean Stephanie Vaquer at Ice Ribbon two days later.

Monthly Puroresu: Unfortunately you come off a bitter loss to Yuu for the PURE-J Openweight Championship which remains away from its own home for now. If you received one more opportunity tomorrow, what would you do differently?

AKARI: To tell you the truth, I lost due to multiple factors so I feel the outcome would be the same. Yuu’s strength, especially, is unfathomable. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I get to challenge for that belt again but I will definitely prepare myself for that moment starting today.

Monthly Puroresu: For the uninitiated, PURE-J would be the spiritual successor to the iconic JWP promotion under the leadership of Command Bolshoi and her unmatched mind for pro wrestling, but tell us about the promotion through your point of view. What makes you so proud to be on its roster?

AKARI: Bolshoi being the leader of this company is enough of a reason for me to be proud. Being the largest popular or profitable company isn’t always the most important thing, but rather who is in charge of it and what they have done in the past. That’s what matters to me.

Monthly Puroresu: Your story is one of the most unique ones in joshi. You were going to start your career over a decade ago, but the Chilean wrestling scene paled in comparison to what you saw from the Japanese circuit. Now in 2022, Chile’s wrestling market has grown tremendously. Despite there still being a long road ahead for them, would you ever return there, even if temporarily?

AKARI: Quite frankly, it’s not something that catches my eye too much, not that I would outright refuse to do it because you never know what could happen in the future. I do fancy the idea of visiting there to see my family and, if any local promotion needs my help, I have no problem teaching everything I’ve learnt in Japan. I would even do it for free because I don’t want to profit off of something that was given to me for free as well. However, I’m not that interested in actually wrestling there.

Monthly Puroresu: After seeing it through a screen for so many years, how would you describe the feeling of walking into the prestigious Korakuen Hall considering your journey up to that point?

AKARI: There were two first impressions. The first one was during my third day in Japan when Bolshoi introduced me in front of 2000 people as the newest member of PURE-J, announcing that I would wrestle her in my debut match at her retirement event. The second one was one week after that show, now as an actual wrestler. It was so bizarre to me. A place that I saw as a fan when watching JWP or NOAH, and now I was standing in that place. It was hard to grasp but it was amazing.

Monthly Puroresu: What inspired your red filled, oni mask carrying aesthetic?

AKARI: I’ve always been into red and black. Back in Chile I was managing a ninja wrestler so I adopted his look, which I really loved. Then, after my debut in Japan, I wore Bolshoi’s attire for eight months as a tribute to her until January of 2020 when I reverted back to my true ninja style.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ve made clear in the past that you have a specific vision for pro wrestling and the way it should be done. This leaves you with rather strong views on bigger companies like STARDOM and the way they do puroresu. What differentiates each company’s in-ring product from one another and where does PURE-J have the edge?

AKARI: I think the difference would be that STARDOM has an extra flair that has nothing to do with puroresu but rather taking advantage of their roster’s beauty to draw more people in. A mixture of idol culture and puroresu. On the other hand, PURE-J focuses solely on doing puroresu and offering a spectacle that is coherent wrestling wise. It’s not just about doing a bunch of awesome moves and strikes but having each move and each strike make sense in the match, I think that’s where PURE-J surpasses STARDOM.

Monthly Puroresu: While PURE-J has a distinct appeal that has earned them a loyal cult following, there is always room for expansion. In your opinion, what needs to happen for your promotion to reach the next level?

AKARI: Little by little we’ve become more known but the Japanese tend to follow things in one old-fashioned way. I think breaking away from that system is the key to advance to the next level. Having us, the youngest wrestlers in the company, become the strongest and having a chance to go overseas and prove ourselves would be greatly helpful.

Monthly Puroresu: Which wrestlers in the joshi scene deserve more attention, respect and acknowledgement than they get and why?

AKARI: AKINO always comes to mind. She’s a legend. A wonderful wrestler. She’s respected in Japan but I’d like to see that internationally as well. I feel that people don’t talk about her as much as they should.

Monthly Puroresu: Do you think Kaori Yoneyama will attempt to retire again or has she learnt her lesson back in 2011?

AKARI: I don’t think so. At any rate, that moment ruffled a lot of feathers. Time ended up healing all wounds and it became just a laughing matter but it was quite a tense situation at that point.

Monthly Puroresu: What about you? Do you see yourself wrestling until you die like Aja Kong intends to do or do you have other plans in mind? How do you see your legacy when it’s all said and done?

AKARI: I actually do [laughs]. I intend to wrestle for as long as my body allows me to. If I get to become “that 50 or 60 year old foreigner wrestler” I’ll be more than happy [laughs]. I don’t think about my legacy yet, to be honest.

Monthly Puroresu: Over four-hundred days. How would you describe the challenge of being Princess of Pro Wrestling Champion for so long following the lineage of people such as Arisa Nakajima, Rina Yamashita, Hana Kimura and Suzu Suzuki? Are there any unfulfilled goals left from your reign or will you keep pursuing other championships moving forward?

AKARI: It was fantastic. I was happy when I won the championship but I also felt it was a big responsibility because of all the wrestlers that held it before me. I didn’t want to be seen as an undeserving champion. On top of that, I was the first foreigner to win it, but I was also the one who defended it the most with seven matches. I think I accomplished everything I wanted to do with it so now I’m going for bigger titles and, why not, other promotions’ belts too.

Monthly Puroresu: Companies like Gatoh Move and TJPW have done a very good job breaking language barriers online and captivating audiences on an international level, mostly in English speaking countries. Do you think modern joshi puroresu could be embraced by a wider Latin American audience too? Have you talked with Command Bolshoi about using your Spanish to convey PURE-J to that market?

AKARI: As a matter of fact, yes. More Latin American fans are coming our way through social media, pretty much while we hardly try, but we’ll put in more effort to accomplish even better results.

Monthly Puroresu: No matter everything you’ve accomplished so far, a phrase you usually say on social media is “There’s a lot left to learn and improve”. How’s the process of evaluating yourself as a wrestler? Do you ever feel that you’re being overly critical of yourself or can you keep a healthy level of self-exigency?

AKARI: I can do both with no issue. Professional wrestling is an infinite stairway of knowledge and my only concern is to keep climbing it without growing stale or going downwards. That’s my goal.

Monthly Puroresu: Over the years you and Rydeen Hagane have been building a fateful saga of matches. How would you describe her and your rivalry together?

AKARI: We get along very well outside the ring but when we get in it there’s a competitive drive where she wants to show off her strength to me and I want to prove I’m strong too so that’s how we end up having great matches. I truly love wrestling her.

Monthly Puroresu: Now more than ever before, wrestling companies worldwide are collaborating constantly, and joshi is not the exception. You often represent PURE-J in other promotions. We have seen SAKI carry PURE-J’s Daily Sports Tag Team Championship on STARDOM shows. The woman you’ve just challenged, Yuu, recently came back to that ring as well. TJPW has lended their own characters like Sakisama and her servants to ChocoPro. And we cannot leave the ASSEMBLE series of shows out of this list. Is collaboration the future of joshi puroresu or is it merely a platform for each company to go their separate ways eventually? Would you like to see a modern day version of the Big Egg some day?

AKARI: ASSEMBLE was very similar to Big Egg, I believe that was the intention. There were multiple tournaments that gathered all the joshi puroresu promotions ten years ago too. I think that -as Japan’s coronavirus situation eases- it’s going to be done again and I would love to see it.