As previously reported, 30-year-old British submission specialist Zack Sabre Jr. has won the 2018 New Japan Cup, and has earned the right to face Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The bout will go down on April 1st at NJPW Sakura Genesis, just one week after the upcoming Strong Style Evolved event in Long Beach, CA.
Following the New Japan Cup finals, Sabre sat down with members of the Japanese media to reflect on his first year with the company and set the stage before his battle with the record-breaking champion.
On the global reaction to ZSJ being the first British-born winner of the New Japan Cup:
“Foreign fans were not surprised, because for the rest of the world I’ve won championships, tournaments, and pretty much anything worth winning. European, American, Icelandic, Antarctic, polar bears, everyone in the North Pole – Santa Claus was not surprised that I won the New Japan Cup. So maybe it’s only Japan that had to catch up. Hopefully now everyone understand that for four years I’ve been the best technical wrestler in the world. I don’t care about being the best wrestler in the world. I’m the best wrestler in the world because I’m the best wrestler in the technical wrestler in the world, and this year Japan’s going to understand that.”
Does ZSJ believe he has a chance to submit Okada because of the size difference between them?
“No. I should just give up and go home… Why would I be here if I didn’t think I could beat Okada? I have no interest in pinning Okada. I will submit Okada and he will lose the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the first time in two years, not because someone pinned him, but because he chose to give up. [He] will give up and he will give me that championship, and everyone will forget about Okada being a record-breaking champion. They will remember that I was the first British heavyweight champion, and I did it by submission.”
On ZSJ’s opinion that Japanese wrestling has lost its way:
“This company used to be based around submissions. What happened? What happened!? An English man has to bring back your tradition. British wrestling used to be based around submissions, Japanese wrestling used to be based around submissions. Everyone now is just too concerned about American bulls—t and posing, and looking and a camera and having a t-shirt. It’s a disgrace. A man wearing skinny jeans dressed like this is the heritage of Japanese wrestling. This is the future of wrestling. I’m like Brian Eno in the 70s, making ambient music based around traditional skill. I’m using something that’s old, and I’m making it new-style, and I’m doing it at the King of Sports.”
“I lived and trained in Japan for four years. I won a couple of championships, but this [New Japan Cup] is the start of my career now. I had a crossroad in my career where I could choose what I did next. I chose New Japan because I was destined to wrestle for this company, and I will change this company and all of professional wrestling.”
On his monstrous run in the New Japan Cup beating some of New Japan’s very top stars:
“Okada’s time is over. Congratulations Okada. Two years – you had a great run. It feels like 1,700 years. You’ve been the champion forever, but now a dashing, young English man is going to take the reigns. Naito tapped out. Ibushi? The referee had to help him. Sanada tapped out. Tanahashi, the ace, is finished. There’s a new Ace. Is it you? No, the new Ace is me, idiots.”
“Has anyone in a run-up to a title match ever defeated four top level wrestlers in what, two weeks? Most people don’t do their laundry in two weeks probably. I’m going to fly to Los Angeles, come back, win a championship, fly to New Orleans, win some more championships, go home, do my laundry, go to Spain, win another championship, fly over to Germany, probably win another championship – that’s less than a month!”
On what ZSJ has planned if he can win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship:
“I’m going to take it to Britain and make the first IWGP Heavyweight title defense in Europe, and then I’m going to take it around the world. IWGP stands for ‘International’ but right now the championships really only exists in Japan. This company is the best professional wrestling company in the world, but it’s still only based in Japan. I have travelled around the world on my own, on crappy airplanes, not sleeping, wrestling everyone, most awful wrestlers, and I think that it’s time that if this company wants to truly expand, then I’m the man to do it.”
Watch the full NJPW press conference with Zack Sabre Jr. on New Japan World.