Back in November, the wonderful and lovely Danielle let everyone know that AXS TV will be doing a 13-episode run of New Japan pro wrestling, with Canadian punsmith Mauro Ranallo and mixed martial artist Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett providing taped commentary. With the premier episode of NJPW coming up tonight, I figured it was appropriate to introduce Josh to the With Spandex audience to assuage any fears that he’s some random fighter with no background in pro wrestling.
In an interview with Wrestling Inc’s Raj Giri, Barnett details the beginning of his wrestling fandom:
When did you first become a wrestling fan?
Ever since I was a little kid. I grew up in a great era of professional wrestling. WWF was just really coming into it’s own. The start of WrestleManias, the legendary performers like Macho Man, Hulk Hogan, Honky Tonk Man, Iron Sheik, Sgt. Slaughter. The AWA was still around but there was talent that would go back and forth between the two. NWA wrestling was around, it was an awesome era to watch wrestling. Then of course the wars between WWF and WCW, which was pretty cool. Also, it became the era of tape trading and all this Japanese professional wrestling made its way over.
So you got in to Japanese wrestling fairy early?
Yeah, I was pretty interested in it because I was a big anime and Japanese fan. All this stuff was introduced to me through all these channels that need programming but don’t have the budget or the facilities to produce their own stuff. So they did the next best thing and go out and grab all this content, re-dub it, package it and sell it on the airwaves across the U.S., so I was already in to that kind of thing anyway– anything unusual or different. WWF at times had a pretty decent influx of Japanese talent like the Orient Express, the Jumping Bomb Angels, Hakushi, then there’s [Great] Muta and all of this talent going to WCW in their deal with New Japan. Seeing them pull out moves the American guys weren’t at the time, I just followed the bread crumbs back to Japan, mainly via tape trading.
Oh, yeah, that’s another thing about Barnett, he’s a giant anime fan. He’s said before his inspiration is Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, so that’s what we’re dealing with here.
You started in MMA first, did you have interest at that time to get involved in pro wrestling?
It wasn’t something I thought about. I didn’t really know how one would break into that in the first place. I thought it was awesome, but I wouldn’t have even had an idea how to get involved. Luckily enough, a friend of mine was working for New Japan, so I contacted him and said “Dude, I really want to get in the ring and wrestle. Can you get me in touch with them?” He said it was no problem and told New Japan I was interested and it just set the wheels in motion. They approached me and set up everything from there on out and became way bigger than anything I ever thought it would be.
Did you have much pro wrestling training before your first match in New Japan?
None. I had not a single day of pro wrestling training. I spent two days working on a match with [Yuji] Nagata. A lot of that was him getting comfortable with what I could or couldn’t do, or did or didn’t know. I told him he could throw me any way he wanted. I already knew how to bump from Judo, I can suplex, I can do any half throw or submission from amateur wrestling, Greco, or fighting. So he’s like “lets take some wrist clutch exploders” and I’m like “whatever.”
I am definitely a coward, but I don’t think many people would be so nonchalant about taking wrist clutch exploders from Yuji Nagata on their first day of wrestling training.
Were you still fighting while you were wrestling for Inoki and New Japan?
Oh yeah, my first match was 2003. I came up with the idea that I’d like to fight as well as wrestle. They asked if I could do that, and I said I would reach out for fights here and there. I said I’d train any time I’m home and on tour, and I did every day. There’s a lot of training in New Japan. When we’d get to the arena Nagata would run us through conditioning drills. All of the Japanese wrestlers would get in a circle, count off 20 hindu squats and then move on. He would do 300 squats before he hit the ring that night. A lot of times we would grapple and wrestle, and I would actually teach a lot.
The person I probably taught the most was Liger, he trained with me almost every day. I also worked with Goto and Minoru, Nagata and Nakamura. I trained Nagata to fight. It was short notice but we did the best that we could. I worked with Nakanishi, anyone that wanted to get any kind of catch wrestling training I was there for. On the other end of that, Liger showed me a ton about working and selling in the ring. The Americans like Scott Norton, Christopher Daniels, Perry Saturn, Mike Barton (Bart Gunn), helped me a lot with pro wrestling culture and with learning how to work in the ring. Chono showed me how to hit ropes. Just every day picking something up, and chain wrestling with Nagata. I’m just absorbing everything, I’m constantly training in the ring, so I wanted to fight. On the road someone would hold pads for me, so I’m good. I had everything I needed.
Being molded from the ground up by Jushin Liger sounds like a good deal. Also, it’s pretty impressive when the worst guy to have a hand in your training is Bart Gunn.
Check out Josh’s thoughts about laying down commentary