NJPW superstar Tama Tonga spoke with Sports Illustrated to talk all things pro-wrestling, including his goal of competing as a singles wrestler. Highlights can be found below.
On wanting to compete as a singles-competitor:
I’ll be honest, after everything that has happened this year, and thinking about everything I’ve accomplished as a tag team wrestler, this tournament has made me think a lot about being a singles competitor. I never gave it that much consideration before. You’ve seen my G1 matches [filled with outside interference] in the past where I’ve thrown a lot of tournaments away, but this year has really made me do a turnaround and reconsider. I’ve accomplished being IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion six times. I think I’ve got my fill of that. I’ve been off for nearly half of the year, and I’m excited to be back. This tournament has given me a taste of being a singles competitor. Do I need to prove something? Maybe. Maybe I do. I’ve proven myself in a tag team. Now I need to see what I can do as a singles competitor.
On David Finlay:
I have a lot of respect for David. We have a lot in common. We both came up through the New Japan system. That whole system is built on respect. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we can do together in singles competition.
Traveling to California for the NJPW Strong event and feeling at ease thanks to social distancing:
This was my first flight during the pandemic. I was very wary of it, but everything was good. There was social distancing when we boarded the plane. And the New Japan safety precautions in LA put me at ease, with the testing and social distancing. That gave me even more confidence in our company. We social-distanced in the locker room, everyone was separated, and the ring was sprayed down after every match, The safety precautions definitely put me at ease.
Deciding to shave off his signature beard:
The coronavirus and the year 2020 made me shave off my beard. I had too much time at home. I’ve been working out, making sure I was prepared physically and endurance-wise, but I took it a step further. I thought about cutting my hair, but then I thought, let’s start with the beard. There’s been a pretty big reaction so far, but it’s good to have a change. That’s what I needed. It was time to do something different.