I recently interviewed one-half of the IWGP World Tag Team Champions, Tama Tonga, who will be competing in this year's G1 tournament. Below is the full interview:
What is the hardest part of working for a company that is on the other side of the world? Is it the Jet lag?
"The Jet lag, man. The 13 hour fight there and back, that's probably one of the hardest. At first, you know I love flying, but I've been doing this now for 7 years and each flight has just been coming down, down. The seats aren't getting as comfortable, so sitting for 13 hours, man that's rough."
With the G1 series, how hard is that on your body? It seems like at the end of that tournament, everyone is so banged up.
"It's grueling and it's a tough schedule, especially when you are wrestling 19 days of the month and it's all single matches. Everyone is going hard with the hits and bumps. That just... doing that every day of the week and getting 1-2 days off that week, it's... your body better be ready to take some punishment man."
What are some of the challenges with so many intense matches in a row?
"Staying healthy. Trying to stay healthy, try not to get injured, even when you do you still have to go through. You still have to come through with all the matches. Dieting, you have to make sure you are eating and drinking enough water because after half of it you want to drink some alcohol to help you get through."
Did you grow up a wrestling fan? I know a lot of people who grow up in pro wrestling aren't fans as kids.
"Not really. We watched it, but we weren't like, oh my God! Our pops was in it."
Yeah. Your dad is wrestling Hulk Hogan on NBC. That's got to be just, as a kid you can't comprehend that I'm sure.
"Most of the time, we were just coming on to watch him and then we'd go on with our day. Watch him or watch The Rock, but after that our mom would turn off the TV and tell us to go and do our homework. Our mother wasn't really about the wrestling life. She was trying to keep us away from it."
So, if your father was not a wrestler, do you think you would of still pursued being a pro wrestler?
So, you mentioned your mom. I heard in past interviews that she said that she would get upset with you and your brother when you were swearing during your matches. Growing up, who was in charge of discipline? Who were you more afraid of - your mom or your dad?
"Man, we were all afraid of my mom, even my dad. We were all afraid of her. That's the boss-lady. We weren't too far from her rules and what she says goes man."
That's crazy because your dad is King Haku, Meng. One of the most famous tough guys outside the ring. I feel that any wrestler from the 70's and 80's has a story about your father. Have you ever seen any of that up close?
"I mean, at home when I would get a butt-whooping. No, to be honest with you, I've never seen any of that. When he came home he was always a loving father. He always separated business from family life."
So, what's your reaction when you hear some of these stories?
"Mixture of emotions like, damn. Kind of unsure of what I should think like, damn, I live with a badass, but I always think like, man, if only people knew about my mom, but overall it was travelling around and hearing these stories, it was a learning time for me and still is. I got to learn about the other life---about him working and providing. All I knew was the father at home and now that I'm older and travelling I'm learning about the work father."
Does he help you much with your in-ring or giving advice?
"All the time. That's our mentor. He watches our matches and we get critiqued. Come home and say hi Dad, and ask him what he thinks and then he'll say, 'that sucked!' He's really hands on since we started. As we grew older we don't steer away from his counseling. We always come back and ask him what he thinks. We're never too up there to think we're too good for advice."
So many people from Tonga, New Zealand and Samoa are all doing so well in the industry right now. What is that like? They're kind of doing away with the stereotypical stuff, you know what I mean?
"Yeah. I'm glad because I almost fell into that stereotypical stuff because my dad had that idea because that is what he knew. We grew up in a different era. We grew up in America, playing sports, we grew up reading comic books and our imagination grew so I didn't want to be just a Hula-dancing gimmick. There's more to us than that, plus our athleticism, I just wanted to bring that creativity on there and steer clear of that stereotypical image."
What is it like to be part of the Bullet Club, from the beginning till today about just how popular it has become?
"It's cool. It's a learning experience and you are seeing from my perspective I'm seeing it evolve, from the very beginning to where it is now. What I see going into the future I feel like I have a hand and in control of little things that I can have control over and take it into an image and continue on to the success that Bullet Club has had."
Did you ever think from the time it was first formed that you would see so many merchandise in the United States?
"Yes. I think I was the only one. I thought it was the coolest name, logo and if you have those two from the very beginning I thought that it would be a very cool thing to do and would catch on to people really quick. They may not know it's for wrestling, but it's cool looking."
When WWE was taking that aggressive approach to sign New Japan wrestling talent; from Finn Balor, to AJ Styles, Gallows and Anderson, Nakamura, what was that like on the company backstage along with the morale to lose that many guys in a quick span?
"It's frightening to lose your top guys. The guys that have been bringing a lot of success to the company. Your go-to guys. Not just the top guys, but the middle guys, the pillars of the company. 'Machine Gun' Karl Anderson, Gallows, those guys were pillars of the company. They were my mentors. They taught us the game and it was frightening, but at the same time it opened up doors for us to step up and use the talents and wisdom that was bestowed on us from the young mentors so this is where we are at right now. At the time it was crazy and hectic, but we came through it and we're doing alright I would say."
What are your thoughts on how much Kenny Omega has climbed the ladder as well since those guys took off?
"He's one of the best wrestlers in the world and I'm glad to have him on the team."
Was there concern that he was going to go to WWE earlier this year or did anyone think he was most likely staying?
"I don't know. To be honest with you I wasn't too sure."
One of the most notable things about you in the ring is your presence and how you slither around in the ring. Do you work a lot outside of the ring just thinking about ideas like that and how to project yourself?
"Yeah, in a way yes. It's iffy yet. I'm a hands-on type of guy. Once I'm in the ring I have to just call it on the go to whatever comes to mind, whether it looks foolish or cool we'll figure out in the end, but I just call things on the fly and on the outside my mind is all over the place I can't keep it on just one thing."
It does seem like that with every wrestler that comes out of the Dojo, they have some solid fundamentals and a great base. With your brother training there now, what do you think it is about that training style that makes it so successful for up-and coming- wrestlers?
"There's a set hierarchy and you respect that and you work your way up, but you do work your way up so every step is earned and every step you have to work for is not skipping one step to get to the top, but we have great management with guys who can see alright. Those kind of little things, because we are working as a team so it's all about character development and wrestler development so we place them with guys that can help them grow."
What do you think about the NXT style with the way New Japan does things?
"I'm sorry man, I don't watch NXT. I mean, good because they seem like they are doing good. I don't really watch but I should be."
Do you get to watch much of other wrestling because you did have that stint with CMLL?
"Whenever I go to some place I try to figure out they're style hands-on. I don't do much watching wrestling, I just go in and figure it all out in the moment."
Who has been your favorite opponent so far?
"My favorite opponent has been Tanahashi. I have a couple with Tanahashi and Goto, even Ishii, Sanada. Those guys I found out that I can mesh well with easy."
There's been a lot of controversy with Shibata's injury with that headbutt. What were your thoughts about that? Do you think it was an accident or do you believe there are certain moves that should be taken out like a headbutt, a non-worked headbutt?
"If the dude wants to do a damn headbutt, let him do a damn headbutt. I'm not all about ruling anything out. You rule out anything and put restrictions on an artist where you can't use this paint brush this way or up, you can't use this color. You are limiting the artist and how he decides to embark on his journey in wrestling let him do it. He's the one suffering for it."
Were you ever worried about those headbutts when you were wrestling him?
"I got them, but you know, what am I going to say? Don't headbutt me please?"
WWE, they've outlawed like chair-shots to the head and that kind of stuff. Do you think more guys are concerned with head trauma in wrestling?
"Yeah, like Football. That's the risk we take of being a wrestler. That's the risk you take being a Football player. You're going to die. Some die in the ring, so are we going to stop wrestling? There's these risks that you are going to know you are getting into before you sign up for the Military, you know the risk of going to war, you might get killed, but you sign on the dotted line you know that risk so you just go with the flow. This is an art form, if you don't want to take the risks of some of that stuff then don't be one. Don't come in here and set rules to make it safer, that's the other companies to be safer. They have the PG one, that's what is great about wrestling, there's variety, you choose what kind of college you want to go to, whatever you want to work, you decide. I'm getting deep over here."
What were your thoughts when you heard that New Japan was going to host shows in the United States? It's a big move and feel like it's the most popular because I remember when New Japan was coming along the United States line.
"About damn time. It's time to expand, time to move forward and grow and time to expand and have more job opportunities for the boys. We can't just have one company run the whole world with like 60 people out of the millions trying to become wrestlers. You need variety, you need more jobs for guys that really want to do this and can provide a living so this is great. More job opportunities for everybody, it's great."
It also sold out quick. It wasn't really a surprise I guess. Were you surprised about it or not really?
"It wasn't a surprise at all."
What do you think is next after this?
"I don't know, keep moving, go to Midwest and East Coast and possibly Florida."
Do you see yourself doing tours more often?
"Tours where, in the States? Yeah. I hope so. We'll see, all I can do is hope. I don't know what is going on with the company, but I hope so."
Thanks for taking the time with talking to me with your busy schedule, I really appreciate that. You have a store on ProWrestlingTees.com right?
"Yes. You can find me on ProWrestlingTees.com/Tama Tonga, also my Social Media: BadBoy_TamaTonga also on Twitter you can find me at @BadBoyTamaTonga, also on Facebook, Bad Boy Tama Tonga, and website TamaTonga.com, which is releasing soon, not open yet, but it is releasing soon."