A companion piece of sorts to “The Big Cuddly Wrecking Ball: Shigehiro Irie”, the green-haired teddy bear himself was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me regarding his time spent wrestling in the United States. VOW’s own JoJo Remy kindly translated my questions into Japanese but Irie wanted to put his acquired English skills to work!
Prompted by his love of American pro-wrestling and adventure, Irie departed Japan for the United States at the end July 2016, wrestling a total of 19 matches over the course of three months.
— Shigehiro Irie（入江茂弘） (@tachimukau_irie) September 26, 2016
His opponents included the likes of Chris Hero, Eddie Kingston, Colt Cabana, Joey Ryan, and “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. Irie’s been a fan of American wrestling since he was a little bear cub, citing Bill Goldberg as a personal hero but he was also inspired by the wrestlers of his home country, namely the legendary face washer, Shinjiro Ohtani.
For Irie, it wasn’t too difficult adjusting to American culture and embracing the lifestyle. “I think it’s great that people (in American culture) can say “I love you” so easily,” said Irie. Although he wasn’t aware of the popularity of DDT and Japanese pro wrestling in the west, the fans showed him kindness during his stay. “American fans cheer much more than Japanese fans,” he said. “Japanese fans are quiet.” Irie himself became a big fan of American foods and fine dining institutions such as Taco Bell and Steak ‘n Shake.
I love Steak'nShake!! pic.twitter.com/FUQdt9IRbP
— Shigehiro Irie（入江茂弘） (@tachimukau_irie) August 12, 2016
One thing he did have to adjust, however, was his in-ring style. “When I got to America, I realized that I wasn’t so big.” In order to compensate, Irie added a little extra momentum to his moves, in addition to utilizing more submission holds. In fact, Irie received some sound advice from All Japan’s armbar specialist, Atsushi Aoki, who told him submission holds are very effective against larger opponents.
When asked which match was his most memorable during his time in the states, Irie said it was his 8/19 bout against Chris Hero from AAW Showdown that left the biggest impression on him.
— Shigehiro Irie（入江茂弘） (@tachimukau_irie) August 20, 2016
As for which American wrestler he would like to face the future, Irie quickly named Sami Callihan, a match-up that would most certainly put asses in seats.
Having since returned to his familiar stomping grounds of DDT, Irie’s number one goal is to win the KO-D Openweight Championship and bring the belt back to America to defend. “I want to prove that I’m a great wrestler,” Irie said. He will be challenging the newly-crowned champ, HARASHIMA, on 12/25. Irie already has a victory over HARASHIMA, pinning him in his return tag match at DDT’s UTAN Festa 2016. In that match, Irie was able to show off some of the new offense he picked up during his adventures in America. We’ll have to wait to see if Irie brings in the New Year with the KO-D Openweight Title around his waist.
When it comes to the ever-changing climate of puroresu, Irie remains optimistic looking forward. “Japanese wrestling is incredible entertainment,” he said,” so I’d like it to become more popular in the future.” As would we all. DDT is set to launch its new on-demand service, DDT Universe, in January 2017. The service will livestream all shows from Korakuen Hall and Sumo Hall throughout the year, in addition to including footage from off-shoot promotions such as DNA and BASARA. Monthly subscriptions cost 900 yen (about $8.50 USD) and as a bonus, the website will feature an English-language option.
I would like to thank Shigehiro Irie for taking the time out of his busy schedule and give a special thanks to JoJo Remy for his assistance in translating the questions.