Smack dab in the middle of the AEW Double or Nothing pay-per-view that the world is still buzzing about, was a match between six women hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. As good as each of the women in that match was, one of them stood out because of her gear, paying homage to Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Little do people in the wrestling world know that she is a legendary figure in her own right. Emi Sakura is one of the most renowned Joshi Wrestlers from her home country, and I had a chance to interact with her shortly after her legendary performance.
Emi Sakura is not just a seasoned performer but a tutor as well, having nurtured and honed 50 professional wrestlers following in her footsteps. Moreover, she's also the central figure behind the Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling promotion, which has been making waves in Asia.
Special thanks to Baliyan Akki, one of India's finest pro wrestlers, for helping me out with the translation.
What was the whole experience like competing at AEW Double or Nothing?
Sakura: It means a lot to me that I was chosen for the first AEW event. To be one of the six female wrestlers selected from Japan makes me very happy and glad.
Why did you choose to pay tribute to Freddie Mercury during the performance?
Sakura: I came to know about Queen from the film- Bohemian Rhapsody. I didn't know anything about them prior to the film. But when I watched the film I discovered them, and through my pro wrestling, I want others to discover them just like I did.
Of course, I know that a lot more people know Queen than they know me. But I still love them so much that I want to spread their music in any way that I can.
Sometimes when I visit the UK for matches, the crowd gets into the contest in a very different way as compared to Japanese audiences. So something like 'We will rock you' can resonate with a receptive audience, I think.
I wanted to bring this feeling to the United States. I don't know what the future holds for me. This could have been my first and last match for AEW. As compared to the others in the roster, I didn't really have a character. I wanted to make an instant impact.
Aja Kong is strong. Riho is cute. I wanted to stand out as well. And that's why I chose to portray Freddie Mercury to stand out.
So the word is that Kenny Omega is such a big fan of Joshi wrestling and of yourself that he wanted to get you guys down. Is that rumor true?
Sakura: Kenny Omega understands and appreciates the emotion and spirit of Joshi pro wrestling. He wanted to showcase this art to the world. Kenny Omega teamed up with Riho in Gatoh Move in 2013 and while he hasn't participated since he's very much aware of what's been happening with us and with Riho.
Omega wanted to show what Joshi pro wrestling, the 6-woman format that it is known for, is, to the whole world. In fact, I would say that he's a bigger fan of Riho than me. I'm just lucky that I work for the same company as her.
What was the intention in starting Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling?
Sakura: I don't really like being a freelancer. I started Gatoh Move Pro Wrestling to have a whole group of like-minded people working together as a group, as a package unit. When we go somewhere, we go as a unit.
What do you think of Joshi wrestlers like Kairi Sane, Io Shirai, and Asuka who've gone to WWE?
Sakura: Those three are great, but Japan has a lot of great female wrestlers apart from them right now. They can get new eyes on Japanese pro wrestling because they have the world watching them right now.
Why do you think the world is becoming more interested in Joshi wrestling these days?
Sakura: The world is changing. Even beyond wrestling, women are getting recognition in every single sphere. It's the right time. We have the support of the world.
Baliyan Akki, one of India's best pro wrestlers set this interview up. What do you think of his journey from India to Japan and his growth as a pro wrestler, having worked with him?
Sakura: Akki knows the struggles and frustrations of pro wrestling. He knows his path and knows the goals he needs to achieve to get where he wants to. Even though we're a female-oriented company and he is part of mixed tag matches, he makes use of every opportunity that he can get right now.
If his attitude had been 'I'm the best in India' or 'I won't work with females', we wouldn't have gone so far together. But he was looking to learn everything he could and this is why he's lasted so long. In the beginning, it was different. We didn't have enough females and hence, he was brought on. Even though that's not the case anymore, we still want him to be a part of our group.
Our dreams are very different. I know we're going to part ways at some point. But even though this is the case, I want to cheer his dreams on.
The only thing I don't like about him is his obsession with karaoke. (Laughs).
Who has been your best opponent through your 24-year long career?
Sakura: Riho. I've wrestled her since she was a kid. Yes, she was 9 then. I wrestled her when she was in Jr. High, and then in High School and then, as an adult. Our last match is in July. She's leaving the company. It's a singles match. I want that match to be the most special one between us.
Tell us about your relationship with Riho.
Sakura: Riho has been with me from the start, the whole time to this day. In the beginning, there were only twelve students I had. Others stopped, but she's been with me right from the very beginning.
Special thanks to Baliyan Akki for the special translation and Sakura San for her time.
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