On a recent episode of the Perched on the Top Rope podcast, Lee Walker sat down with pro wrestling legend Ultimo Dragon, as well as WCW’s Sonny Onoo, who helped interpret for Ultimo Dragon. Many U.S. fans might remember Ultimo Dragon from WCW, while others might recognize him from the many belts he had all over his body.

In 1996, Ultimo Dragon defeated The Great Sasuke at the J-Crown, unifying eight junior heavyweight belts from other promotions. Part of the J-Crown was the WWF Lightweight Championship, and Ultimo Dragon was the NWA World Middleweight Champion as well. This meant he held nine titles, and he was looking to earn a 10th by challenging for the WCW Cruiserweight Title. Ultimo Dragon recalled challenging for the belt and what happened after the WWF Lightweight belt was shown on WCW TV.

“Of course, he was with all the belts. It was shown on WCW TV, and of course, we got a phone call,” Onoo and Ultimo Dragon recalled. “He says, I’m not particularly sure of the dates but I’m pretty close. What I remember is that I had eight belts, and Dean [Malenko] had the WCW Cruiserweight belt. Whoever wins it, wins at all. I think the day before that, we got a call from WWE saying, ‘Well, you can do that but not on their TV.’ That’s kind of how I remember it.”

Ultimo Dragon would defeat Dean Malenko at Starrcade 1996, winning his 10th title, a record that still stands to this day. Ultimo Dragon would continue to work in WCW until 1998 where he suffered an arm injury. The surgery was botched, causing nerve damage. Ultimo Dragon talked about his injury and why he still decided to go to WWE despite it.

“After I got hurt, I can’t use my hand, even now. I don’t have feeling in my hand,” Ultimo Dragon revealed through Onoo. “I can’t move it very well. If I got hurt in a ring, I could probably justify in my mind. I don’t want to retire because they screwed up my operation. I had few additional operations to try to fix it, then I went to WWE. I had an opportunity. I took the opportunity, but it was very difficult. What I really realized now is I got to see WCW, how they work, and I got to work in WWE. I’m not saying which one’s better or worse, but because I experienced it, that makes me a better individual.”

Ultimo Dragon was in WWE for around a year. There, he actualized his dream of wrestling in Madison Square Garden, but would eventually leave the company.

“Rey Mysterio was there, of course, but he says they looked at it. They’re similar characters, both wear masks, smaller, cruiserweight, but I didn’t understand at the time,” Ultimo Dragon admitted through Onoo. “That’s true, and I didn’t realize it till afterwards. They asked him if he would take his mask off. That’s one of the reason why he left. Rey Mysterio was really popular. As a masked man, there really wasn’t a spot for him. Of course, I’m a promoter as well, so I understand, certainly, a lot more now.”

Japanese wrestlers like Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura have found their own success in WWE. However, they are mainly known for their in-ring work, and their characters are more built off their charisma rather than through promos. Walker asked Ultimo Dragon and Onoo if they think stars like them should have an interpreter alongside them.

“He said he believes it’s much easier, especially if you’re doing television,” Onoo interpreted for Ultimo Dragon. “I agree with him because what happens is this, it’s very hard for a writer to progress the story. They’re going to have a great match, just like he did. Matches are not the issue. Especially a company like WWE, it’s story-driven. Perception is reality. For them to have an English-speaking manager that doesn’t speak Japanese, it doesn’t make any sense. They need someone like me, the same part that I played, who can speak fluent English, who can cut a promo on their behalf. They do that for Brock [Lesnar]. They do that for English-speaking talents.

“He said there’s many great wrestlers, but if you don’t have the ability to communicate, and be able to sell the storyline and make it compelling enough so that people go, okay, we’re going to have Ultimo Dragon vs. Wrestler X. We know it’s going to be a great match because they’re great wrestlers, but the storyline, especially in WWE, who’s storyline-driven, needs to be able to sell the match. And last thing I’ll tell you is this, because English is my second language.

“Last thing a fan wants to be able to go is, ‘What? What did he say?’ Me, with English being a second language, it’s very difficult for me to understand somebody who speaks with broken English. A lot harder than you because English is your first language. I have all the respect because people who speaks with an accent speaks two languages. I have a lot of respect for that, but in this context (pro wrestling), it’s very difficult if you can’t translate that image, that thought, the storyline to the fan because fans will turn on you like that. They’ll start screaming, ‘What!’ And it’s over.”

If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Perched on the Top Rope with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.

counter