IWGP Champ SANADA Discusses His Relationship With Challenger Hiromu Takahashi

On April 8th, the IWGP World Heavyweight Title picture in New Japan Pro-Wrestling got a very fresh coat of paint. That was when the newly repackaged, clean-cut, and dapper SANADA — having left Los Ingobernables de Japon for Just 5 Guys — defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the title for the very first time. It was almost seven years to the day since his NJPW debut, where he first joined LIJ to help Tetsuya Naito defeat Okada for the title, and next week, on May 3 at Wrestling Dontaku, his NJPW journey continues to go full circle as he makes his first defense of the title against former LIJ stablemate Hiromu Takahashi.

"Hiromu and I, even when I was in LIJ we never really spoke much," SANADA told NJPW's official website in an interview published Monday. "[I]t would usually be me and [Shingo Takagi] on the road. Me and [Takagi] would usually go get dinner or Starbucks or something. [BUSHI and I] had a lot of history [in AJPW], so even if we didn't speak much, we were able to communicate." As for Takahashi, though, SANADA says that they rarely spoke, even when they shared a locker room, though he did refer to the "Ticking Time Bomb" as "Mr. Fried Rice" because it was his preferred pre-show meal. "We never had any meaningful conversations, I don't think."

How much of these comments are storyline and how much have reality blended in is unclear, but the rest of SANADA's discussion of Takahashi was in explicit kayfabe territory. "One thing that gets to me about all this is Hiromu saying he wants to face Naito if he beats me for the belt," he added. "He sees me as a stepping stone? Maybe he might not think that way, but that's the way he comes across. It's like he's more interested in wrestling Naito than winning the title."