Former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito says retirement is on his mind as he prepares for Wrestle Kingdom 16. Still, he doesn’t expect to hang up his wrestling boots anytime soon.

“I’m not saying I’m going to hang it up tomorrow,” Naito said in an interview with New Japan Pro Wrestling’s English language website. “It’s just that the word ‘retirement’ is looming in my mind. That’s a sad thing for sure, but it’s motivating at the same time.”

Tetsuya Naito will turn 40 years old in June. He says he once viewed that milestone birthday as an endpoint for his career.

“To tell the truth, when I started in the business, I thought I’d go until I was 40,” Naito said.

Tetsuya Naito lost the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships to Kota Ibushi at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom. After the loss, Naito vowed to return to the main event this year, but he fell short of that goal.

Naito currently finds himself outside the title picture and wrestling matches on the Wrestle Kingdom undercards. He says that only serves as motivation for him. He says he wants this week to be the start of his road to Wrestle Kingdom 17.

“I wanted to bounce back within a year,” Naito recalled. “It isn’t enough for me to say ‘there’s always next year’; at my age and my career level, there isn’t always next year. I absolutely need to be in the main event on January 4, 2023.”

Tetsuya Naito will be part of a 6-man tag team match on the January 4th card for Wrestle Kingdom 16 in Tokyo Dome. He’ll team with SANDA and BUSHI against Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb, and Great-O-Khan. The second night’s card on January 5th will see Naito face Jeff Cobb in a one-on-one match.

This year’s Wrestle Kingdom includes a third night of matches. The card at Yokohama Arena on January 8 will feature matches between wrestlers from New Japan and Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Tetsuya Naito is part of a 10-man tag team match that is currently set to be the main event on that night.

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