Tetsuya Naito Talks Sakura Genesis, Windy City Riot, Jon Moxley, More | Interview

This upcoming Saturday, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) will hold its signature event, Sakura Genesis. In the main event of that show, Tetsuya Naito will defend the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against 2024 New Japan Cup winner Yota Tsuji.

And one week later on April 12th, Naito will main event another show, this time in Chicago as NJPW returns to America for Windy City Riot. Naito will go one-on-one with AEW's Jon Moxley in that main event contest.

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Ahead of the big title defense and match against Moxley, Fightful's Scott Edwards had the chance to interview Tetsuya Naito. The IWGP World Heavyweight Champion discussed his matches with both Tsuji and Moxley, as well as the potential of NJPW's new generation, the roll call at Wrestle Kingdom, and so much more.

Here's what Naito had to say.

Edwards: At Sakura Genesis, you will defend the IWGP World Championship against fellow Los Ingobernables de Japon member Yota Tsuji. He’s been very open about how you’re been the one wrestler he’s wanted to wrestle since returning from excursion. After watching him as part of LIJ and seeing his run through the New Japan Cup, do you feel he’s ready to not only face you but try and take the championship from you as well?

Naito: "Tsuji's been brimming with confidence ever since he's returned from excursion, and there's nothing but huge potential there. Having won the New Japan Cup, it's obvious that he's the strongest challenger for me right now. Speaking as a fellow LIJ member, I want him to have an even bigger presence than he has right now, but for that to happen he needs a setback to overcome. I'm happy to provide that setback April 6th in Ryogoku."

Edwards: For the first time since the 2019 G1 Climax, you’ll be facing Jon Moxley at Windy City Riot. What was your reaction to his challenge? You said in a prior interview that you didn’t know too much about him besides the match you’ve had prior. Have you gone back and watched any of his work from the last few years to prepare for the match? Or are you not worried about what he brings to the table, even though he’s defeated you before?

Naito: "To be honest, I really don't follow American pro-wrestling, so I didn't know much about him at all. After he beat me in July 2019 though, i remembered his name and remembered his face. This is only our second match, so I'm glad I finally get my chance for revenge. Being able to do that on his home turf in the States is really something, so I plan on beating Tsuji in Ryogoku and then going head-to-head with him as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion."

Edwards: Now that we are a few months into 2024. What is your assessment on the new generation of New Japan. Furthermore, what steps do the others need to take to show results like Yota Tsuji has thus far?”

Naito: "It's been a hectic start to 2024. I hope that guys take that as an opportunity for them to shoot for the top, and I look forward to facing them for the IWGP World Heavyweight title."

Edwards: After winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship has your opinion on the belt changed? Do you still believe that the IWGP Heavyweight Championship needs to be brought back to keep the lineage going, and preserve New Japan’s history. Or have you come around to the idea of abandoning it and trying to craft something new?

Naito: I don't want to be seen as switching positions since winning the title at all. I was against the formation of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship until the very end. But in the end, I couldn't prevent it from happening. I wanted to become a pro-wrestler because I wanted to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, that much is true, but I also don't want to erase the fact that I didn't succeed in what I set out to do. It's a complicated situation, but I don't think it's right to separate these belts now.

Edwards: Los Ingobernables de Japon and you have connections to CMLL through multiple members. Is there anyone in CMLL you’d like to defend the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against?

Naito: "No, but I would like for the fans in Arena Mexico to see the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion."

Edwards: You and Kazuchika Okada shared a special moment in his final NJPW appearance. You’ve also said you plan to make him regret leaving New Japan. What are your feelings regarding “The Rainmaker” and his decision to leave?

Naito: "Hasta luego. We'll meet again."

Edwards: Despite the changes in New Japan recently. There are still a lot of wrestlers from your generation still active and going strong. Does seeing that make you want to work even harder to not lose to those other guys from your generation still trying to claw their way up to the top of New Japan?

Naito: "I definitely have mixed emotions about being in the position I'm in. I do think that there needs to be a changing of the guard if you will, but I think that should be an organic process of someone forcing their way through, not something the company forces on people."

Edwards: Tetsuya Naito has accomplished so much in his career. Multiple title reigns. Multiple Tokyo Dome main events. The roll call to close out Wrestle Kingdom. So much has been done. As you sit here now, leading NJPW into this new age, what is there left that you hope to accomplish in your career?

Naito: "I had that goal of a roll call in the Tokyo Dome for so long and this year I was finally able to achieve it. Next is a roll call in my spiritual home of Mazda Stadium in Hiroshima."

Edwards: EVIL attempted to ruin the roll call at Wrestle Kingdom much like KENTA did years ago before SANADA made the save. Do you have an appreciation for SANADA helping you there, years after you were unable to have that moment? And what did having the moment of the LIJ roll call feel like once you got to finally do it inside the Tokyo Dome?

Naito: "For a little while there, with EVIL, SANADA, and myself you had three Los Ingobernables De Japon members, current and former, in the ring at the same time after the Tokyo Dome main event. It was nice to feel that I did the right thing by creating LIJ in the first place. SANADA's someone who clearly has so much talent, but just hasn't been able to fully express it. Maybe he needs a little shove, the courage to take a step like I had..."

We'd like to thank Tetsuya Naito and NJPW for helping put this interview together and translating the responses from Naito.

Sakura Genesis will be live this Saturday at 4 a.m. EST on NJPW World. Along with Naito's title defense in the main event, the show will also feature Jon Moxley's return to NJPW and Shingo Takagi challenging EVIL for the NEVER Openweight Championship.

On April 12th, Windy City Riot will be live at 8 p.m. EST on NJPW World as a special pay-per-view, which is available to purchase now.

While Naito will go one-on-one with Moxley for the first time since 2019, the show will see IWGP Global Heavyweight Champion Nic Nemeth face Tomohiro Ishii in a first-time-ever matchup. Also set for the show is a STRONG Women's Championship match and a NJPW World TV Title match.

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