Photo Credit: Bill Pritchard

Jushin Liger & Togi Makabe Talk Retirement, NJPW’s Survival, Training Young Lions

New Japan Pro-Wrestling published a great interview with Jushin Liger and Togi Makabe. The two legends discuss Liger’s decision to retire, how the company survived rough business years, and the future of the company.

Check out highlights below:

His reaction to Liger’s retirement:

Makabe: Honestly I thought ‘is he serious?’

Liger: Hahaha!

–It came about so suddenly, you couldn’t believe it?

Makabe: Right. At first I thought ‘is Liger serious?’ And then I thought ‘is the company serious?’

–Like, ‘why didn’t the office stop him’?

Makabe: Yeah. I mean, it’s partly because of him and all he’s done that NJPW is so famous all around the world. And, maybe it’s weird to say this, but he’s in a mask and body suit. It’s not like you can tell how old he is, right? And he is still absolutely jacked, so his appearance hasn’t really changed.

–He hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years, so you’re saying you think he can still go.

Makabe: Ever since I was a fan I always thought ‘Liger’s ripped, so why wear a body suit all the time?’ Well, it’s good motivation for those kids in the Dojo to try and catch up to him.

On how NJPW was able to survive its the mid-2000s:

Makabe: I mean, when it was really bad, there were nights where we were drawing 200 to a house show. Tohoku was like that, right?

Liger: We weren’t able to draw 500.

Makabe: 200! You could just walk down the street and round up that many to come. But that’s how bad it was.

That’s the level we were at! But you get those few people and drive them crazy, and then they’ll each say ‘oh that was a blast! I’ll invite so-and-so to come with me next time’. If you can do that, then you’re making a difference. That’s what I said to Liger and he got fired up.

Liger: After someone who’s your junior says something like that to you, and you don’t respond by giving it all you’ve got then you can’t call yourself a senpai. You don’t get to stick around here just by putting in the miles.

–You never once turned tail?

Makabe: Not at all! Me and Liger are honest to a fault. We were just all in ‘OK, let’s do it!’

Liger ‘Oh captain, my captain!’ (laughs). But NJPW is where it is because everyone thinks that way.

Makabe: Absolutely. Guys like Okada are giving it their all at the top now, and I totally recognise that. But if there’s ever any wrestlers around that think they can take a break and be happy where they are, I’m always there to stick my boot up their lazy asses.

How Shibata made Makabe commit to training young lions more:

Makabe: Well, Shibata had his accident, and hasn’t been able to get in the ring, but his passion for pro wrestling is still there, and he’s been able to pass that to those kids in LA. That’s what I was thinking one time as I sat on my porch smoking a cigar…

Liger: You don’t have a porch and you don’t smoke cigars.

Makabe: Whatever. But I was thinking ‘he’s going to work with those young kids and then what?’ It hit me, that he was thinking of our Dojo in Noge as rivals. And I was thinking, who’s really watching over our kids right now? I couldn’t think of any one person. Of course they were all training hard, but it wasn’t like when I was young, when there was someone from above just constantly beating those fundamentals into me.

–The training system had changed.

Makabe: I thought it wasn’t good enough. It freaked me out a bit, honestly. So the next day I was eating at the Dojo with KUSHIDA and I said ‘we need to do this right.’ The next day we went back to square one, bumping, taking an arm, and making sure the fundamentals were done thoroughly.

–Is that so?

Makabe: KUSHIDA would do squats and all the warming up with them, and then I’d start teaching them the techniques. I thought if I taught this way, then those young guys will understand that someday they’ll have to do the exact same thing.

–Some day they’ll become the teachers.

Makabe: Taguchi’s doing more recently too, right?

Liger: Yeah, the coach has been training with them every day. Same way, starting with the basics. Forward rolls. When you have the seniors passing their knowledge down like that, it keeps the essence of NJPW, that’s been there ever since Inoki and (Karl) Gotch, alive.

Makabe: You know I think when business was bad and the entire company was in trouble, we were complicit in that, losing that mindset. In the modern era, everybody believes that New Japan is the best wrestling in the world, and they work hard as a result, but nobody was teaching that core essence to the young kids coming up. That’s when word came that Katsuyori Shibata was doing exactly that in LA.

There is plenty more in the full interview, so check it out.