February 26, 2004
Apocalypse on his first NJPW tour
By JASON CLEVETT -- SLAM! Wrestling
On November 25th, 2003 a very nervous Apocalypse embarked on his first venture to the Far East. After training hard under the watchful eye of Tokyo Joe, the man who sent Owen Hart to Japan, as well as current stars TJ Wilson and Dave Swift, he was deemed ready to head to one of the top companies in the world.
Apocalypse had a lot on his mind knowing that he would debut in a main event match at the famed Korekuen Hall, teaming with former WCW star Scott Norton (who he would team with several times on the tour) against Josh Barnett and the IWGP Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan.
"The magnitude of being to Korekuen Hall in the main event was mind-boggling. The match started with Tenzan and Scott, and then Josh and I both tagged in, and I had my ass handed to me for five minutes," The Dungeon-trained star recalled for SLAM! Wrestling. "I turned it around when Tenzan tagged in and I did a frog splash, which I hadn't done in a long time. Scott and I clicked as a team right away. Overall I felt good about the match."
It was during the match that Apoc had a surprise. Dubbed "The Shadow" by the promotion, it took him a few minutes to realize that his name was echoing through the hallowed arena.
"I didn't realize it at first because I hadn't adjusted to the new name yet. I heard people chanting and didn't know what they were saying. When Josh put me in a submission hold it clicked. 'Oh they are cheering for me ... Why?' It was surprising that they got behind me that way. The crowd in Tokyo really took to me, I don't know why but it was a nice feeling."
It is obvious that he is humbled by the experience and floored with not only the fan reaction, but how positive the company and his fellow wrestlers were.
"I was overwhelmed by everything. After the match in the back I was close to crying, it was really emotional. To be there and the way the crowd and the rest of the wrestlers reacted to me was really positive. When you are used to wrestling in front of 50-200 people and suddenly you are in front of 1,000 people screaming your name it is a pretty big change. The size and the magnitude of the company makes it so much better. I felt so appreciated, the other wrestlers work hard to help you. Even when the office is telling you what you could do better, they are so positive about it you don't get down on yourself. It took me a long time to settle down that first night."
It wasn't the last time that Apocalypse would go toe-to-toe with champion Tenzan. The two faced off in a singles non-title match on November 30 in Fujisawa City. There was little concern on Apoc's part, as Tenzan had spent time in Calgary last summer and the two had trained together. He was thrilled with the results, and considers it one of his best matches from the tour.
"I was really happy with that. He is a tough guy, for working as long as he has and being such a great champion. To me, he is one of the best champions I have seen in a long time, anywhere. He was my definition of what a champion should be, when he lost the belt I was very sad. It was a great honor to wrestle him and give him as much as I could."
A few nights later, fans in Japan and around the world were floored when Tenzan was upset by Nakamura, a much less experienced but still very talented wrestler. Nakamura beat Tenzan by submission with a Shining triangle to an arm lock. Apocalypse watched the match on the monitor in the back. "Everyone was watching that match. A lot of us were surprised; no one thought that a young guy like Nakamura could beat a champion like Tenzan. When Nakamura came out of nowhere and pinned him, the crowd and the back were all just in shock. I was sad to see it because Tenzan had only been champion for a few months. He had helped me a lot, both when he visited Calgary and back in Japan. It makes it hard to see someone you admire so much to lose. That isn't to say anything negative about Nakamura, he is an excellent wrestler, but when you see someone like Tenzan doing so well, to see him stopped it was like 'Woah, what the heck?'"
Unfortunately, Nakamura was forced to forfeit the title due to injury, and recently Tenzan regained the belt. To Apocalypse, there is no more prestigious championship in the world then the IWGP crown. "WWE titles have been changed around so much people have lost some interest in them. With two world champions, it dilutes it. Over in Japan it is different. They have two belts but they are totally different. The IWGP Title is the most prestigious title in wrestling today, to hold that belt you have to go through a lot. It has so much history behind it that could be a book in itself. The fans appreciate that more because they don't see as much cheap wins. Even if a bad guy wins they win strong. New Japan has done a really good job keeping their belt important. Personally I would rather win that belt than any other championship in the world."
It was the first real overseas journey for the Stampede veteran. In the summer of 2003 he was scheduled to spend several months in England for All-Star Pro Wrestling, however he was stopped by Customs who refused to allow him into the country and wouldn't let him contact his promoter. With that in mind, Apoc was well prepared to ensure that he would have no difficulties, with proper passports, visas, and professional attire.
"You have to make sure you dress nice because you don't know what you are going to encounter," he said. "Getting into Japan was a little freaky. The line was huge; I had a good half an hour wait. By the time I got to the counter they had just sent a guy through so they just looked at my stuff and sent me on my way. I was running through the airport going 'Woohoo! I'm here!' I knew this time I had all the right documentation."
It was during his tour that news broke out on the death of Jerry Tuite, known to North American fans as "The Wall" in WCW and "Malice" in NWA-TNA. Tuite was working for rival promotion All Japan at the time, but his death sent shockwaves through the entire wrestling community. "One morning we were getting on the bus to head out to the next show. Norton came on and looked at me and said 'Do you know The Wall? They found him dead this morning.' The bus just went silent. A lot of the guys in the company had met him before and spoke highly of him. It is sad any time you hear of a wrestler dying, and with so many people going in 2003 it was worse. He was working for All Japan and I am sure that they took it hard. It was a sad day regardless of promotions."
On a more positive note, the tour also marked a birthday he would never forget.
"On the actual day of my birthday I did nothing. We had the day off, we were going to go out but Scott Norton wasn't feeling well. American Dragon and I did laundry and walked around. I walked around by myself exploring and then went home and contemplated throwing my PlayStation out the window because it had stopped playing DVDS," he joked. "I started to feel sick that night, I had such a bad fever that I thought I had SARS. My actual birthday pretty much sucked, but my girlfriend and my Mom called me and I had a birthday card Mom had given me before I left."
Things would look much better at the show the following night. "The wrestlers brought in a birthday cake and the guys sang Happy Birthday to me, and gave me presents. That made up for feeling low the day before. Here were all these guys I hardly knew and they had a cake for me and it was a big deal to them. I was taken aback as I wasn't expecting it. I will never forget that. I've had some bad birthdays in the past, so I don't enjoy my birthday anymore. Scott made me realize how much better things were then I thought and I shouldn't live in the past so much."
What surprised him even more was his excellent win/loss record: four wins, nine losses and two main events, rare for a foreigner on their first tour.
"I was almost surprised when I did win. I enjoyed all of the singles matches that I had, I worked a lot of talented guys. My first match was against Toru Yano. He was very impressive, and I was really nervous. I felt like I had rushed things, so I wasn't as good as I could be. But I made up for it against Nagai, he gave it to me pretty good but I still snuck out the win. What really made me feel great that the crowd was so positive. Even when I was trying to be the bad guy, they still cheered for me. All of the singles matches I felt good, sore often, but good."
Just as important as achieving his dream of competing in Japan was the friendships that he forged with both North American and Japanese talent. Having studied tapes and respected so many of Japan's top stars, it was an honor to compete against them and be accepted by them.
"Shinya Macabe was one of my better matches over there, he taught me a lot and we got along well. Jado and Gedo were both heels through and through but they are very funny. I enjoyed sitting and talking with them. It was hard to really get to know the local guys because I didn't see them much during the day. The referees Tayama and Uno were really helpful for anything. I found that Josh Barnett and I had a lot in common which was surprising. Back in my high school world, a guy who looks like him wouldn't be friends with someone who looked like me. We'd drive Scott on the bus crazy because he would be trying to watch a DVD in front of us and we would be yakking about Warhammer or music for an hour."
Overall, the Calgary athlete had nothing but praise for the company."They really are 'The King of Sports.' They don't use the pyro and effects that WWE has, so it is more real. When two guys get in the ring there, you don't just expect to be entertained, you expect a fight. I don't think there is wrestling anywhere like in New Japan," he said, before sharing his thoughts on the talent. "They really are the best, their workers are the best in the world. Guys are always improving, and I can see the young boys that they have someday being big. Scott Norton remembered watching Tenzan as a young boy, and look where he is now. You watch them because you never know who they could be. It was an experience unlike any other. I haven't worked for a lot of companies, let alone big ones, but I have no complaints. It was a dream come true to be there, now that I am home its sad. I am proud to be in Stampede, but I would like to be there as much as possible."
Reports out of Japan say it definitely will not be the last trip, as fans and the company alike were impressed with his humbleness, work ethic and talent. Apocalypse hopes that he will soon be back.
"I hope it is the first of many to come. Since I have been home every day I miss it. You can only do so much here, all I can do is train to go back so that I am better then I was the last time. I did the best I could to make everyone happy, because it made me so happy to be there, and I don't want it to be the last time."
The Shadow Results
Jason Clevett is a freelance writer from Calgary. Presents, story ideas, comments, and marriage proposals can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.