This week I had the privilege of speaking with Ring of Honor superstar Sumie Sakai, the current reigning and first ever Women of Honor World Champion.
The 21-year veteran will put her title on the line in a Four Corners Survival match this Friday at ROH Final Battle, the promotion’s highly anticipated year-end PPV event at the world famous Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.
Her opponents? Three of the division’s best and brightest — Karen Q, “The Gatekeeper” Kelly Klein and Knockouts legend Madison Rayne.
* * * * *
YOUR CAREER HAS SPANNED SO LONG, AND YOU HAVE COMPETED AGAINST SO MANY AMAZING NAMES ACROSS MULTIPLE GENERATIONS. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE OPPONENT?
“I am so honored to have wrestled so many great wrestlers in the world! I appreciate great opportunities from each of the wrestlers and companies. I wrestled Leilani Kai. It was such an honor to wrestle her, and I heard about her from other Japanese female wrestlers. My favorite opponents were Lioness Asuka, Fang Suzuki, The Bloody [aka Bloody Phoenix]and Momoe Nakanishi. They have already retired, but I learned so much from them. I love to wrestle the other WOH wrestlers. They are making me humble and realize how much I love pro wrestling.”
YOUR FIRST RIVAL IN THE U.S. WAS MERCEDES MARTINEZ — YOU WORKED MORE MATCHES WITH HER THAN ANYONE ELSE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THOSE MATCHES, AND WOULD YOU LIKE TO WRESTLE HER AGAIN?
“I learned American wrestling from [Mercedes], April Hunter, Nikki Roxx, Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Traci Brooks, Rain and more American female wrestlers in the U.S. I am so honored to have learned pro wrestling in Japan, but I wanted to wrestle with my Japanese wrestling skills in the U.S. Beth Pheonix was my first opponent where I could do that. I still appreciate her so much. If I didn’t wrestle her I wouldn’t be here now.”
“I love Mercedes Martinez of course! I would hang out with her again more than I want to wrestle her again, but if I have a chance I would love to wrestle her!”
YOU WERE WITH RING OF HONOR FROM THE VERY BEGINNING — THE FOURTH SHOW EVER, IN FACT. WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMING BACK AND MAKING ROH YOUR HOME PROMOTION AGAIN?
“I loved to wrestle at the Murphy Recreation Center for ROH. That place and those fans made me realize how happy that I am to be a pro wrestler. I am the first Japanese wrestler to wrestle for ROH. Their name was getting popular in Japan in 2002, and I was so honored that could wrestle for them. ROH is a great company. Great wrestlers, people, fans and team. I really wanted ROH to be my home!”
HOW DID IT FEEL TO BECOME THE FIRST EVER WOMEN OF HONOR WORLD CHAMPION?
“It’s such an honor to be the first WOH World Champion. I appreciate and respect the other wrestlers. I am always feeling like a challenger in every single match. A long time ago my dream was to become a champion in Japan, and I wanted to be an Olympian. I had to quit my dream and my judo team because of personal issues. I thought following dreams was so stupid at the time, but this is a great opportunity to be the first WOH World Champion! It made me realize following dreams is awesome.”
OBVIOUSLY NO CHAMPION WANTS TO LOSE THEIR TITLE, BUT YOU ARE FACING THREE VERY TALENTED WOMEN AT FINAL BATTLE. IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONE, WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD MAKE A GOOD CHAMPION?
“Why would I say or think that!? Who would ever go into the ring with a losing mindset? I have been fighting for over 30 years of my life. My coach never taught me that way. I love challenging myself. These girls are making me amped to compete against them! But I don’t care about them, I care to win. I will also enjoy having fun with them for the fans, and I want this match to be the best match at Final Battle! I would love to wrestle Brandi Rhodes and others for this title, so I have to win!”
LOOKING AT ALL THE TALENT IN THE WOMEN OF HONOR DIVISION, PERHAPS IN STARDOM IN JAPAN, WHO DO YOU THINK IS THE FUTUER OF WOMEN’S WRESTLING?
“I am so happy that Women of Honor has Stardom wrestlers. They are so good! I know they can make everyone’s level better in WOH. I would love if they come for more shows in 2019! Of course all Stardom girls are very good, but if I had to pick one person, HAZUKI is awesome. She will be the top superstar in the world very soon.”
IT SEEMS THE WORLD IS FINALLY REALIZING HOW GOOD WOMEN’S WRESTLING IN JAPAN HAS BEEN FOR A LONG TIME. WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE NAMES INVOLVED IN THIS YEAR’S WWE MAE YOUNG CLASSIC?
“It is awesome! I was tag teaming with Meiko Satomura in Japan a long time ago. I wrestled Hiroyo Matsumoto in the U.S. I wrestled Io Shirai in Japan just last year. These women are awesome wrestlers and people. I respect them a lot. It is great that so many people will know Japanese women’s wrestling more! Hopefully Io vs. Kairi will happen very soon!”
WHO IN JAPAN TODAY SHOULD FANS BE KEEPING AN EYE ON?
“HAZUKI, Momo Watanabe, AZM and Utami Hayashishita from Stardom. And I can’t wait for Hiromu Takahashi to be back in the ring!”
TWITTER QUESTION: WHAT ARE SOME INSPIRATIONS YOU DRAW FROM OUTSIDE OF WRESTLING?
“I love to watch MMA fights! I met so many MMA fighters when I was training and fighting MMA. I love to cheer them on always, and they are making me motivated so much!”
Catch Sumie Sakai in action this Friday at ROH Final Battle, airing live on FITE TV and streaming for Honor Club subscribers. ProWrestling.com will have complete live coverage of the entire event kicking off at 8PM ET.