Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima are considered "dads" in New Japan. The two men regularly team with the young lions on the New Japan tour shows, helping build the next generation of NJPW stars.
I spoke to Nagata and Kojima while at the Crockett Cup in April, and while there was a language barrier between myself and the two legends, they were more than gracious with their time in giving me their thoughts on the landscape in NJPW.
When I asked about the young lions that currently stand out, Nagata pointed to Ren Narita, saying, "He's still slim. If he makes a bigger body, he's the future. Shota Umino (also) has a big future."
The 51-year-old Nagata and 48-year-old Kojima are no longer in their physical prime, but the two men can still turn it up a notch when in the ring. Earlier this year, Nagata showed he's still able hang with a top guy in the business when he went toe-to-toe with Tomohiro Ishii in an underrated match from the New Japan Cup.
Nagata told me about the match, "Hard match. But I like that style. Ishii is a good speed. I enjoy it."
In 2017, Nagata retired from working the annual G1 Climax tournament. He had participated in 19 G1 Climax events, winning in 2001. Nagata said about the G1, "Many wrestling fans hope I have a G1 comeback. I'm okay (not being in it). If people push for me to be in it. Okay, I'm back."
Kojima also took part in the 2017 G1 Climax, but has not officially retired from the tournament, which prompted some poking from Nagata. When I asked Kojima if he would be returning to the tournament he said, "I hope so." Nagata laughed at him saying, "He never (said) he retire(d). I said I retired years ago. He won't do it."
During our conversation, two things stood out to me. First, Nagata's excitement at being at the event. He couldn't stop taking pictures of the building and taking sneak selfies of Kojima while he was talking to me. Of all the wrestlers who showed up to the NWA Crockett Cup, Nagata was the giddiest of the bunch. Kojima was a close second, but unlike Nagata, who was working his first NWA show, Kojima had been around the NWA atmosphere before, although not quite like this. While Kojima is a former NWA World Champion, he held the belt in 2014 when the NWA was still in a state of flux. The Crockett Cup offered him a chance to interact with more legendary names of the past.
And he couldn't contain his excitement when showing me his autographed photo of the Rock N Roll Express.
"Very exciting. When I was a child, they were big stars. I want to wrestle them," said Kojima.
On the subject of legends, I asked him about potentially facing Nagata or Jushin "Thunder" Liger, who is set to retire early next year. All three men have teamed on recent NJPW shows. Kojima last fought Nagata in a one-on-one bout in 2015 and it's been nearly a decade since he squared off with Liger in singles competition.
"They are older than me but I hope they have more fights. Yeah, (I want to face Liger). He is a legend. Big heart. I like him."
Kojima and Nagata were unsuccessful in their bid to capture the 2019 Crockett Cup but something tells me they would happily return next year if given the opportunity. NJPW Dominion takes place this week, on June 9th. Fightful will have full coverage of the show.