One of New Japan’s hottest properties in recent years, New Zealand native Jay White has seemingly done it all in the Cerulean Blue, winning countless titles and making history along the way.
Now, ahead of his highly-anticipated showdown with AEW’s Christopher Daniels at New Japan USA’s Nemesis event, Inside The Ropes‘ Liam Wyatt spoke with the ‘Switchblade’ about his career, wrestling through the pandemic, his aspirations for New Japan STRONG and much more.
Going back to the beginning of the year, I felt your match with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom Night Two was one of the best, and probably one of the most underrated, matches of the year. How was the experience for you?
I probably don’t reflect on it with as much fondness as yourself, as I didn’t walk away from that one the way I wanted to, which was to be walking away with a little bit of extra weight in those two belts, that obviously didn’t happen. So yeah, your memories of that match are going to be a bit different to mine. If you talk about people forgetting about it well, hey, that’s the result! Kota won and I guess people didn’t really care too much enough to remember it. Also, you do have to remember it was on one of the first few days of the year and it’s been a long year for a lot of people, so I could see why it may slip to the back of people’s minds, but I think the main point here is that he came out on top, so I guess that moment wasn’t worthy of remembering in some people’s minds.
Wrestle Kingdom acts almost as New Japan’s season finale for the previous year. Does this present a challenge mentally for NJPW wrestlers, in terms of getting excited for months following?
I could see that If you were used to something else but for myself, I started New Japan in 2015 – I got there on the 1st of January 2015, went to Wrestle Kingdom just to watch it. So since my first days in New Japan, that’s kind of been how it is, so for myself, no, not really. It can be a little tricky around the holiday period, having to prepare for things like that, so that would be a good point. Most of the time, especially for anyone like myself in the States or yourself in the UK or anywhere else where things like Christmas and New Year are a bit of a bigger deal than they are in Japan, you have to adjust it, I guess. But like I said, I’ve been doing that for quite a few years and I’ve gotten used to it. Would it be nicer if there was a bit of space between that Christmas and New Years period and Wrestle Kingdom? Sure, that would be better, but we make do and I make do.
Prior to joining the Young Lions system, you actually cut your teeth wrestling in the UK. What drew you to the UK scene initially?
Honestly, to me at the time, it was the only possibility. I actually was in Guernsey in the Channel Islands for 10 months. My best friend from when I was at school, he and his family were from there, obviously, he was in New Zealand for a bit then they moved back, and then when I was ready to leave New Zealand, I actually went there for 10 months to start with. I was trying to find any wrestling school in England to be honest and I just happened to search in Portsmouth, because you could get a ferry there from Guernsey. I had no idea about the wrestling scene in UK or anywhere, to be honest, I was just trying to find a wrestling school and get started anywhere. and it just so happened that I found VPW, Varsity Pro Wrestling in Portsmouth and managed to train under the UK Kid there. So that worked out for me, then in January 2013 I met Prince Devitt or Finn Balor – whatever we wanna call him – and then obviously a year later from that, I ended up in Japan.
So with that in mind, when you enter the Young Lions system, do you essentially undergo a complete reprogramming of everything you’ve learned previously or are you able to carry some of that experience forward?
No, you gotta reprogram. Yeah, taht’s probably the best word for it. Once you start to get a bit more familiar with what that reprogramming is going to entail and how the New Japan stuff is going to work., then you can try and apply some of the things that you’ve learned before, but you got to be a bit more subtle with it, because if it’s too noticeable, you’re probably going to get told “Hey, don’t do that”, so yeah, you gotta be a little bit more careful with it. They definitely reprogram you, but there’s also a lot of points where having the experience from doing things like Butlins and all of that stuff, and even just any other just regular shows in the UK, where that does definitely pay off compared to the guys that come from no wrestling background and go straight into the Dojo, they have no idea about pro wrestling and in terms of performing in front of a live crowd, whereas you have that edge, so that does help out a little bit.
We spoke with LA Dojo graduate Clark Connors earlier in the year, and I remember him mentioning having ideas bubbling for new moves and a new look post-graduation. Was ‘The Switchblade’ in the back of your mind during your training?
No, not at that point because, and this is the mistake that I think a lot of people make – they try to get too ahead of themselves with things like that. Even when I when first started training in England and I was getting my first match, my trainer UK Kid said to me hey, do you have a name you want to use? And I said I hadn’t thought about it so I would just go with Jay White because I don’t really care about the name or anything like that, I just want to learn how to wrestle first, whereas a lot of other guys, I think they try to think too much about the other stuff, the stuff that they shouldn’t be thinking about, to be honest. So when you first go away on excursion, you can start coming up with some of those ideas, but also a lot of that is just going to come with the time and experience over there. Be open-minded to it. Obviously, I did a lot of Ring of Honor, came to the UK for Rev Pro, as well as other companies in both the States and the UK, so you can kind of have an idea, but I think the most important thing is being open-minded and being a sponge and absorbing as much as you can and then you’ll find that over time you’ll kind of start, I think, to mould in the back of your mind, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, you’ll start to mould what you want to become basically.
There’s almost a parallel to an actor attending drama school and the way they reportedly break an actor down and rebuild them in-house.
Yeah, well yeah, definitely with New Japan they have and I think this is a good thing because most people are going to come in with bad habits – I’m sure I had some too – so they understandably want to iron those out and make sure that they’re not going to be an issue. We’re trying to produce guys to be part of the best wrestling company in the world, so you’ve got to meet a certain standard.
Given your success and proximity between the trans-Tasman scene and Japan, are you surprised that more wrestlers from New Zealand and Australia don’t head to Japan for development, as opposed to heading to the UK or the US?
I’m not surprised because New Zealand and Australia, in my opinion, or at least when I started, in New Zealand especially, there is no wrestling scene, again, in my opinion. Even now I would say there is one. Australia, I think, has more but I haven’t really been a part of that so I can’t speak to it too much, but compared to New Zealand, Australia definitely has a wrestling scene. But I’m not surprised that those guys don’t get straight to Japan because, honestly, I just think they’re just not good enough because you’re not wrestling enough, you’re not going enough shows whereas in the States or the UK there’s all these different companies, so many different shows, so many different guys to wrestle, so there’s so many more opportunities to learn and get better. In Australia and New Zealand, you don’t really get that. Maybe a bit in Australia, but again, you’re gonna be in the same little tight-knit circle down there so again, you’re not going to have that experience and then be able to get up to that certain level you would need to be at to get to Japan. The only way where I think you could go straight from the Australia – New Zealand region to Japan is if you are going in the Dojo as a young boy. You’re not going over as a made wrestler, you’re going in and saying “Hey, I wanna do this, but I don’t know how the hell but I’m gonna let you tell me what to do and I’m not going to stop”, so that would be the most likely way to go from Australia/New Zealand straight to Japan, and then the guys from the UK and the States, they can get there because they’ve been wrestling a lot more. It’s as simple as that.
It sounds like a real challenge for wrestlers from that part of the world to gain experience.
Right, well this is also why I went to England in the first place because New Zealand doesn’t have a wrestling scene and to me, at the time I was 18/19, I knew that if I wanted to make it, I thought I’d need to move to America at first, then I knew that I could live and work in the UK because at the time I had a European Union passport, so I could get in. I just knew I had to get out of New Zealand and in my mind, at least, there was no way that I was going to make it staying there, I had to leave because there’s not enough there for you to be able to get to where you want to get to, and I guess I was right.
How did you adapt to life in Japan? Many gaijin wrestlers I speak to who are based there seem to fall in love with the country and its culture – was this the same for you?
That’s a hard one because if you’d have asked me that two years ago the answer would be a lot different to how it is now. When I lived there as a young boy – yeah, I mean it’s a culture shock and all of that, and there’s a lot of aspects to it that I think Japan has an edge over a lot of other countries – the people, in general, are very respectful and it’s a very clean and tidy place around Tokyo, there’s no litter, everything is very clean and well organised and stuff. It was great as a young boy, obviously, I was there for longer periods of time -that’s just how it was as a young boy – and once I was done with that and we were travelling back and forth, it was still great. COVID hits and, well basically it all turns to s**t be honest, but hey, that’s how it is everywhere so you just gotta make do. So, yeah, that’s a difficult one to give a simple answer to. Obviously, I’ve got very fond memories of it. I couldn’t live there for good, everything is too compact for me, that’s probably the easiest way to put it, and some of the rules and the ways of life there are just a little bit confusing to me. But overall, it’s a great country. People are great, the crowds are great – when they can make noise. I mean, it’s still great now it’s just you can’t experience it the same but hopefully, it’ll get back to how it was.
How did you get on with the language barrier?
Hey, you pick it up, broken Japanese and English. A lot of the guys speak broken English and use a lot of hand movements anyway. You can pick up a very basic level of it, I guess, without putting too much extra into it and then if you start to stay a bit more, it’ll really pay off, but for me, it would kind of come and go in terms of how much I would either study or look into it, but the when you’re there more regularly, it’s a lot easier to keep it up then when you’re back home. It’s very easy to stop studying basically!
Presumably, an understanding of the language is not a prerequisite for joining the Young Lions system?
No, because it’s a wrestling company, although at the same time I don’t know if they look for that or not. If I’m sure if you had it, they make think ‘great’ but I would, and I don’t know for sure, but this is how I’m thinking about it, if I was them I would say “I don’t give a s**t If you can speak or not, we just need you to be at a certain level for wrestling because we’re a wrestling company, we’re not just a translation company.
You were in a unique position as having experienced this global pandemic exclusively in a foreign land. How have you navigated that?
Yeah, it’s not easy. You just learn and adapt as you go, and yeah, I mean it’s not easy, but the same goes for a lot of people in a lot of positions. These people kind of travel, people can’t see families and friends and stuff, you know, I still had to go over and had things to be done over there. So as you go for that, you just kind of take it day by day. It gets pretty rough. Quarantines get a bit too much after doing three or four of them, and then you just don’t have time in between to travel. So yeah, it’s not easy. Everybody deals with it in different ways, I think, but at the end of the day you just gotta look out for yourself and make sure you’re still doing alright.
In our interview with Chris Sabin, he suggested that the bumps have hurt more during the pandemic, owing to the lack of crowd energy and the adrenaline that brings. How have you found the experience in Japan, where fans have only been permitted to clap?
Ah, where do you start, to be honest? Yeah, in terms of having no people there, I did that a few times when we did New Japan STRONG in LA. It’s a different experience (but) for me once the battle starts, whether there are people there or not, I’m in my zone, regardless. The way I wrestle I don’t give a s**t about what the people are thinking. I’m not pandering to them, I’m just focusing on winning. So whether there are people there for that or not, that kind of doesn’t change for me. I mean it’s different. If anything, it probably works in my favour because the guys I’m wrestling, most of the time, the fans are gonna be behind them. And then if they’re stupid, they’re gonna be relying on the crowd to, I don’t know, get some fire or some life, some energy or whatever, so you know it probably works in my favour that these guys can’t feed off for that, and that probably makes it easier for me. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. I didn’t walk away with both the belts (at Wrestle Kingdom) so maybe it doesn’t make it easier. I don’t know.
From the outside, it has felt like New Japan has had an awful lot of bad luck this year, in terms of injuries and restrictions. Has it felt that way internally?
Oh, I mean yeah, when you keep seeing things popping up one after the other, and then when you’re living it and now you’re the one that those restrictions are affecting, of course, you’re in there constantly, so it’s a bit of a constant f**k around to be honest. I know there’s been a few injuries to other people as well, of course that’s bad luck, but I think you’ve got to also attribute some of that to “Is that person looking after themselves good enough days?”. You still gotta look after your body and things like that. But yeah, I think there’s definitely been some bad luck on top of it. Like I said, it’s bad luck f*****g everywhere for everybody at the moment, so it’s not like I’m trying to say it’s just here, but in our situation at least, yeah, there’s been some bad luck, but that’s life isn’t it?
You made the move from Japan to the US in May. Presumably, you’ve had a poke around the LA Dojo since arriving, have you noticed any differences in the way Shibata runs his Dojo relative to your experience in the Japanese version?
I didn’t spend any time around the Dojo, little dude. I’ve done my time in the Dojo in Japan. What they do with LA Dojo – I don’t give a s**t about that, I don’t care about those LA Dojo guys. I’m worried about the Bullet Club guys and hey, if there’s somebody that I want to keep an eye on for that, then maybe I will but in terms of training, I don’t have anything to do with that, nor will I.
As a result of moving to the States, you, unfortunately, missed this year’s G1 over in Japan. How much of a disappointment was that or was there an element of relief given the physical toll the tournament takes on one’s body?
I mean anytime when you don’t do the G1 is going to be a relief physically. Was I disappointed overall? No, as it was my choice to not do that. I saw more opportunity over here in the States with STRONG and where we’re building up some good momentum there, so I’m right about that once again. But also, I walked away with the briefcase last year, I was the real J1 champion last year, so to me, weighing up my options, it just simply wasn’t worth going back to do what I’ve already done last year, to be honest.
You’ve been a major part of New Japan STRONG since your arrival, what have you made of the whole experience since you’ve been involved and how far do you think it can go?
I’m not sure how far, I’m not gonna put any limit on that and I don’t even have a goal, to be honest, because then I would be putting a limit on it. So I’m just gonna keep riding it like everything, for the last however long, it’s kind of a day by day. We adapt as things come, but the crowds are great. Once we’ve managed to get the fans back to it, obviously that makes a huge difference and then even for those I’m sure watching it (at home), now you can watch it with the crowds, watch how they enjoy it and now they’re going to want to come to the live shows. And now that we’ve just been getting bigger and bigger each show that we do, so yeah, next goal wise, honestly, I’m not sure, I haven’t got that far ahead. I’m just making sure that I’m involved in them so that they can do as best as they possibly can.
Tell you what. If you want some sort of goal. Maybe I want to make STRONG – instead of what’s happening in Japan, with New Japan being people’s main focus and wanting to get guys to that – I want to turn that focus on to STRONG, make people think “STRONG is where it is now”. We want to see people come to STRONG and I want to make that the main thing.
May I ask about your brief stint in IMPACT earlier this year? The face-off with Kenny Omega made a lot of headlines but things seemed to quietly move on. Is there more to come from that story?
This is the question I always get that I’m always kinda perplexed by players when I’m asking “When are you doing this?” or “How you gonna do this?” If I was, would I tell you? And then if I say no, are you gonna believe me? So it kinda doesn’t really matter what my answer is because you have no way of knowing if it’s true or not. I mean, I just went down, I went out and said hi to Kenny after he had a brutal match against Sami (Calihan). I just wanted to see if he was OK. Just wanted to go and see those guys and say ‘hi’ to him. I hadn’t seen them in a little while, I just wanted to go and say ‘hi’ and then David (Finlay) came out and tried to get involved, and Obviously, after a little while, we solved the ‘David problem’, but hey, I walked away from IMPACT having added Chris Bey to Bullet Club, so that makes it worth it for me. And I got to see my old buddies in Kenny, Don, Karl and Gallows, you know?
New Japan made a big announcement recently around Pro Wrestling NOAH’s involvement at Wrestle Kingdom night 3 next year. Are you in favour of domestic promotions working together in Japan and who would be your ideal opponent from NOAH?
First part, would I support it? If I’m not there, I don’t really care. Do I see why they’re doing it? Yeah, I’m not there, so they’ve gotta try and find someone else and obviously they’re struggling. Hey, I leave and now they’ve gotta turn to other companies for help so make of that what you will.
Is there anybody from there (NOAH) I would be interested in? Not really. Do I keep tabs on all the people below me – not really. The easiest answer if I had to pick one, would just be Marufuji simply because I wrestled him once before when I was a young boy a few years ago, at the beginning of 2016 I believe, so hey, me and him can run it back.
Now, I’m gonna get a slapped wrist from my editor if I don’t ask you about the reported interest from WWE and AEW. But I’m also conscious you get asked that all the time, so I’m slightly reluctant to go down that road-
I mean if you want to tick the box and ask it, I can shut you down real quick, so then you could tell your boss you still asked me?
Ha! Well, I’d rather be a little bit more creative, so given that you’re only 29 and you’ve already achieved so much, if we take a five year view, what are the outstanding challenges or goals that excite you?
It’s a great question because like you said, I’ve kind of done it all in such a short space of time, so I’ve kind of run out of boxes to check. I mean, I’m sure there’s some others there, and again, am I gonna give away all these things? No, I don’t give away all of my plans, only give away what I want to. As I said, the thing I’ve touched I think is building STRONG to what I can see that it can be, and making other people see what it can be as well. Make that the main focus, instead of people wanting to see others go to Japan, want to see people coming over to STRONG, make that one of them (goals). Other than that, again, I haven’t really thought too much about it. Like you said I’ve done the big things; IWGP, IWGP US, NEVER, won the J1 last year, walked away at that briefcase, first and only person to successfully challenge for that briefcase, that’s history there. That’s basically all I do is just keep making history so other goals? What else am I gonna do? I don’t know, but there’s probably a good chance that it’ll be history-making each time.
You touched upon the scene or lack thereof in New Zealand, but I’m wondering if you’ve wrestled there yet and if not if that might be on the to-do list?
I ticked off New Zealand. I wrestled in New Zealand, I think in November 2016 there was a show that I managed to wrestle on, so that was cool, I ticked that off. My family came, who hadn’t seen me wrestle before, and was actually in a building where I used to work as event staff when they had concerts and sports events – I would work on the bar, serving drinks and stuff there – so that was cool and I had my old boss actually come and she watched as well! So ticked that off. We’ve done Australia, tick that off as well. Am I interested in wrestling in New Zealand again? Honestly, not really, because there’s just not much there wrestling-wise and hey, I don’t think I can get to New Zealand or anybody else can even get into New Zealand at the moment anyway!
Going back to New Japan USA then, you’ve got Nemesis coming up this month and you’re wrestling an old foe from Ring of Honor in Christopher Daniels. Are you pleased to see Daniels back in the New Japan fold and what do you expect from the match itself?
I’m glad he accepted my challenge. I’m just trying to do him a favour and get his name and face out there again. You know, he’s just been forgotten about and like I said when I called him out, he’s basically a young guy trying to make a name for himself again, so I was trying to give him that chance and that opportunity. So yeah, I’ll be excited to get in the ring with him and maybe teach him a thing or two, and show him a trick or two about this business – things that he obviously wouldn’t know from however long he’s been wrestling – what is it 40 years now? I’ve been doing this eight years and I know bucket loads more than him. So hey, maybe I can help him out and point him in right direction.