Impact Wrestling returns to the Chicagoland area next weekend for a whole lineup of events leading up to their annual Bound for Glory pay-per-view, emanating live from The Odeum Expo Center on Sunday, October 20.
I had a chance to sit down with “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin, former ROH World Champion and IWGP Intercontinental Champion, who will be facing Japanese sensation Naomichi Marufuji at Bound for Glory in a bout that could very easily steal the entire show.
This is a match that Elgin has personally been waiting and preparing for for most of his professional wrestling career. In our interview, which you can check out in its entirety below, we had the opportunity to discuss his history with Japanese wrestling and Marufuji specifically, Impact’s upcoming move to the AXS network, as well as his up-and-coming students and who he’d like to see get a shot on the Impact roster.
YOU HAVE PUBLICLY SPOKEN ABOUT HOW EXCITED YOU ARE GOING INTO THIS MATCH WITH MARUFUJI. IN FACT, I REMEMBER WATCHING HIM WALK THROUGH THE CURTAIN BACKSTAGE IN ST. LOUIS A FEW YEARS BACK AT A SHOW YOU WERE RUNNING, AND HOW SPECIAL A MOMENT THAT WAS. CAN YOU SPEAK TO YOUR HISTORY WITH HIM, AND WHY THIS MATCH AT BOUND FOR GLORY IS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“I got into Japanese wrestling at a really young age. As a matter of fact it was 1992. I was very young, but wrestling just looked different. When I started wrestling, back when we got the influx of Japanese talent again, and a lot of the performers were from Pro Wrestling Noah – Marafuji being one of them. I remember everybody was really hyped for KENTA, but when I watched the matches, I liked Marafuji better. I liked his style, his presence, and everything he offered so much better. He was one of those guys that I always wanted to wrestle.”
“In 2013 I was actually going to wrestle him for Ring of Honor but he got hurt in Japan before he was supposed to come over for that show, so it never happened, and ever since then it’s been a match I was dying to have. We’ve had some interactions – he was in the G1 when I was in the G1, and as you mentioned I brought him to my show in the States and we interacted there. I appreciate his talent and I think he’s one of the best wrestlers out there, and he has been for some time, so I’m excited to get in the ring with him.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT JAPAN AND THAT STYLE THAT DRAWS YOU TO IT? YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT A STRANGER TO THE SCENE, HAVING WORKED FOR NEW JAPAN IN THE PAST, AND YOU RECENTLY HAD AN INCREDIBLE MATCH WITH DAISUKE SEKIMOTO FOR BJW THAT GOT A LOT OF BUZZ.
“I think for such a long time wrestling in North America has been so much about show, and to me – people get into wrestling for different reasons. Some get in for money, fame, some get into meet people. For myself, it was to be an athlete and compete at a high level. To me, the one place you can for sure go and your performance matters, and that’s all that matters, is Japan. To go to Japan and succeed – you have to be one of, if not the best at what you do. That draws me to it.”
“I had great success with New Japan, and as you said I had great success with the match with Sekimoto. Now I’m wrestling Marufuji for Impact in Chicago, and then going to Noah soon after. I get to cement that legacy and prove that all the hard work and dedication over half my life spent trying to perform at such a high level was worth it, because I’m able to do so.”
HOW DO YOU TRAIN FOR A GUY LIKE MARUFUJI? HE’S GOT THE STRIKING OF SOMEONE LIKE KENTA, BUT THE AURA OF A TANAHASHI, AND THE RESPECT AND ENDURANCE OF AN OKADA. IN SOME WAYS HE’S THE PERFECT JAPANESE HYBRID WRESTLER. HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A MATCH LIKE THAT?
“At the level I’ve found myself at, I don’t really change my training. And what I mean by that is, everybody I have to step foot in the ring with is a threat, and they’re all high-class athletes at a level not every wrestler in the world is. I”m very fortunate to be at a level that when I step foot in the ring, it’s with somebody that is ubertalented. I don’t necessarily change my training, but I think that it’s in my favor due to appreciating the talent of Marufuji for so long, and knowing exactly what he brings to the table; how he does it, when he does it, and that’s gonna give me an edge going into Bound for Glory.”
FOLLOWING BOUND FOR GLORY, IMPACT IS MAKING A BIG MOVE TO AXS ON TUESDAY NIGHTS. THERE’S SOME NEW COMPETITION ON THAT NIGHT WITH LEAD-IN PROGRAMMING FROM THE NWA AND AEW – AND THAT’S JUST ONE NIGHT OF THE WEEK. WITH SO MUCH WRESTLING, AND IT BEING MORE ACCESSIBLE THAN EVER BEFORE, HOW DO YOU STAY RELEVANT IN THAT LANDSCAPE? HOW DOES IMPACT STAY RELEVANT?
“I think that recently, with being unfortunately on Pursuit – and I say unfortunate because the product has been so good for Impact Wrestling and not enough people are seeing it – moving to AXS… As you said, the lead-in with NWA – I saw social media blowing up about the old school feel of the wrestling and the presentation of NWA. Now obviously Impact’s presentation isn’t quite the studio atmosphere, but to me since even before entering the company, I watched the product and where Impact prospers is that old school feel of wrestling for wrestling’s sake. What matters are the championships. Everybody is fighting for that goal of becoming champion, and that is something I feel that has often been lost in wrestling – especially in North America.”
“I think with more eyes on Impact we’re gonna be able to cater to some of those other fans that were looking for something different, and looking for the sport aspect of professional wrestling in a North American company. On Tuesdays a perfect lead-in is NWA, because although their presentation is different, I feel the end goal of what the wrestlers are competing for is very similar. I think Tuesday nights are gonna be one of those wrestling nights where it’s a great old school feel, and wrestling for sport rather than entertainment.”
SOMETHING MANY FANS MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT YOU HAVE A STELLAR TRACK RECORD AS A TRAINER. YOU HAVE HELPED CREATE SOME TREMENDOUS TALENT AND CONTINUE TO DO SO. WHO SHOULD FANS BE KEEPING AN EYE ON, AND IS THERE ANYBODY YOU’D LOVE TO SEE GET AN OPPORTUNITY IN IMPACT?
“Funny enough, a few students that I suggest people look out for are going to be on the ALL GLORY card the weekend of Bound for Glory. Pro Wrestling Revolver has two of my students – Logan James and Tyler Matrix – on the card, and those two guys have been making some waves in the midwest, and I feel are really going to stand out. Jake Lander will be representing Galli Lucha out of Chicago. Those are the three students that have been really putting in the miles and traveling with me, getting their names out there.”
“Reilly MaGuire, Nick King, Corey Roberts, the ‘Little Blue Dragon’, and Orion Creed have really been making some waves in the midwest too. There’s a good batch of students out right now. A little bit more time for the most recently named ones to get to a high level, but I really think that Matrix, Lander and Logan are ready to introduce themselves to an Impact crowd.”
“Besides that I think I’m really high on Alex Zayne right now. He has a lot of potential and is just starting to reach it, breaking out, but in a place like Impact he’s gonna have a chance to work with guys like myself and Eddie Edwards, and he’s gonna be a tremendous talent if he gets the opportunity. I would kill for him to be on Impact television, specifically, personally if I was calling the shots I would put him in the ladder match at Bound for Glory, but I’m not in charge so that’s not my call.”
YOU MENTIONED ‘ALL GLORY’, WHICH IS TAKING PLACE OVER BOUND FOR GLORY WEEKEND IN CHICAGO. IMPACT IS BRINGING TOGETHER A BUNCH OF MIDWEST INDIE PROMOTIONS INCLUDING WARRIOR WRESTLING, WHERE YOU RECENTLY FACED BRIAN CAGE. IT’S ALSO TAKING PLACE AT 115 BOURBON STREET WHICH IS A BUILDING YOU KNOW VERY WELL. I ASSUME YOU’LL BE KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON THIS SHOW?
“Not only will I be keeping a close eye, I have hounded some people within Impact to watch it with me so that they don’t miss any of the talent that I want them to take a look at. I know I named Alex Zayne and my kids, but there’s a guy like A.J. Gray that’s on the card that is just fantastic too. Blake Christian is on it too, and he’s really good.”
“These guys – I hate to say they’re ‘under the radar’ but they’re kind of newer and breaking out. I think that’s what we gotta look at. The guys that are newer are the ones that we need to go after right now, because we’re just moving to AXS, we’re just getting that platform, and the newer guys are the type of people that we want on that platform. They’re gonna be in it for the long haul. In two years time they’re gonna be even greater. Those are the types of people I think we need to focus on right now.”