Baliyan Akki’s love of professional wrestling has taken him from training in a backyard in India to a regular in Gatoh Move, Emi Sakura’s Tokyo-based promotion that’s most widely known as the pre-AEW home of Riho. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Akki has been a key figure on Gatoh Move’s empty-arena series Choco Pro, working as a wrestler, translator, MC, cameraman, and sometimes commentator on the program. 

Emily Pratt spoke to Akki for Deadlock about the uniqueness of Gatoh Move and Choco Pro, his wrestling fandom and early wrestling career in India, and his recent work with the legendary Minoru Suzuki and Masato Tanaka. Akki also gives his recommendations of Gatoh Move’s best matches. The conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity. 


Learning Pro Wrestling In India

Emily Pratt: I’ll start by asking you kind of a basic question. When you were watching wrestling as a kid, who was your favorite wrestler?

Baliyan Akki: That’s pretty easy to answer. I started watching wrestling somewhere around, I would say thirteen or fourteen, pretty late compared to what usually happens when you watch wrestling. It was somewhere around, like, 2007. The Attitude Era had ended and it was supposed to be the downside of it, but for me it was perfect. I would say John Cena was like my kid hero. Like, he was the dude. He really was the man at that point. I think that ladder match between Edge and John Cena for the WWE Championship, that was the match that got me hooked.

Was there any match or wrestler that made you want to start wrestling? 

No, I actually never even thought about it. It was just something that I really had fun with. To me, it seemed like it had everything. At that point, what I used to think was if you watched movies, you would have a serious movie or a comedy movie or something, or you would have action; there’s only like one thing. Wrestling, to me, had everything. There were backstage segments, there was backstabbing, there was love stories, there were dramas, there were funny things, and there were fights. So to me, it was like this thing is the ultimate entertainment. I really loved it. 

Me becoming a wrestler was a very separate thing. It was a very separate decision when I was, like, in high school. It seemed to be something that I would like to do. Before that I never had the idea that I would like to be a wrestler. I just enjoyed it.

You’ve talked about training before and it sounds like you essentially trained yourself, basically. Could you talk about how you started training?

Okay, if I had to say in a nutshell, at the point I wanted to become a wrestler there was no wrestling school, company, or wrestlers in India. I didn’t even have an idea how to be a wrestler at that point. It was basically like my high school has ended, I don’t have any university, so what do I do?

India is also a very strong kayfabe country, so you literally have no idea how to be a wrestler. But then after like five months I found a guy who had a ring in his backyard, because he was such a WWE fan he just made a ring. So I just talked to him, “Can I use your ring?” and stuff, and he was like “Okay.” So I moved to that city and just started giving him money every month to be able to use his ring.

I was lucky that one other dude, one other guy from India, contacted him around that same time. I got in touch with that dude and we went there the same day and we trained together for one year just staying in that city. Just every day, go there, watch tapes, New Japan, maybe like the dojo drills from all the promotions I could find. Torrent stuff. (laughs) Because we had no money we would like find links and go “Oh, I saw that video, but I can’t get it, so let’s find a torrent link” or something like that.

We’d just build each other up and go “Okay, if you fall like that, that hurts, let’s not do that.” A mode of basically eliminating things that hurt until we got something right. That was basically the process and we went through the bumps – “If it hurts, let’s not do that, let’s do it some other way.” For one and a half year I did nothing but train there every morning, just do a physical, then two-three hours of ring, then a physical, then two-three hours of ring.

I didn’t actually know there was wrestling in Japan at that point, but a buddy of mine was an incredible fan of, like, King’s Road, like the old school NOAH and basically All Japan, those kind of matches. That whole era of wrestling, he was a big fan of it, so he showed me a Japanese match and it just blew my conception of what wrestling could be away. I kind of rejected it at the beginning, I was like “What is that?” but in like a week or so I was hooked and then somehow it got in my head, like, I had to go to Japan.

I just started messaging and trying to talk to promoters here and I found one. I was nineteen, I think, at that point. I wanted to come here, but as you would have it, I had nineteen years old, no degree, no job, and I had an Indian passport. It’s not an easy thing to get a visa from a big country like Japan, so I got rejected. I spent two years trying to get a visa to go to Japan, and voilà, here I was. 

When you started watching Japanese wrestling, was there any match or any wrestlers that really stood out to you or influenced you?

Yeah, it was like a process of elimination, to be honest. I just found like link to link to link to link, basically like a rabbit’s hole I just couldn’t get out of. The first match I saw was from Tokyo Dome, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki. I still remember that. And that match was the very embodiment of what it could be, the furthest thing I could see from American, WWE style wrestling.

Because all I’d ever seen before that point was WWE. That’s all there was. I even didn’t know there was wrestling outside of WWE. I had no conception of independent wrestling at all. Didn’t do much research, to be honest, before I decided to become a wrestler. (laughs) You could say I just jumped headfirst.

But I saw that match and it was so story-based, not just two big dudes bumping into each other, but every wrestler had their own kind of wrestling and they were so true to their style. I couldn’t conceptualize that kind of wrestling. So because it was a New Japan match, that was when I started watching New Japan. Like, he was a big fan of King’s Road, I saw those matches too, but because that first match had such an impact for me and that was a Wrestle Kingdom match, I started watching New Japan.

Then I found like Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi, then I started watching Kota Ibushi matches, then I found more of the DDT style and the indies. Then I started watching DDT, then I started following the indies. Actually, one time – I still remember it, I was so stupid and such a kid – that I decided to not watch any big shows.

Because, like, in my head, when I was doing this, we didn’t have somebody who was giving us guidance. We were just like two kids just poking in the dark and hoping we stuck somewhere. So, like, we used to do practice matches every day, and we would have like a specific kind of match, like “Let’s do something like this” and we would just go all out, just beating each other up. That’s basically what it was.

But I had the idea that okay, not every match could be Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, right? Like there has to be an 8-minute first match. That’s why you have the main event of 40 minutes, right? So I got it in my head somehow that okay, there’s no way we’re going to be main eventers. We can barely get into this business. Like, we are not even in the business. I’ve been training for one and a half years, 18 months, and I’m still nowhere near my debut.

So I’m like, okay, there’s no way, we’re becoming main eventers. So let’s find small matches. What does the first match do? I’m like okay, even if you watch New Japan’s first match, that’s a pretty big match. Okay, let’s watch the indies. I’ll find the most indie show in Japan and I’ll see the first guy who wrestles on the first match. On that indie match, can I compare to that dude? That was my process of elimination to study professional wrestling. 

And for three months I stopped watching all big shows, no big main events, nothing, just find the independent show and watch the starting one hour of it. So much torrent, to be honest. Sue me for it. (laughs)

How did you end up actually having your first match?

Even while I was training with those kind of matches, eight minute to ten minute to twelve minute matches, I sent those matches to Japanese independent companies here. And there was one manager of one company that said “I like your stuff. If you come over to Japan, let me know. We would love to have you.”

I don’t speak any Japanese at all at that point, so I’m using Google Translate and I’m like “Okay I would love to come, but I don’t have a way to come. So how about you tell me how to come?” And he was like “Okay” and he gave me all that stuff. Now that I know him, now that I’m trying to prepare my documents, I don’t even have a passport at that point.

So I decide to focus on going to Japan. So I leave my training, I go back home, I try to make a passport, get the documents needed for a visa. I had no conception of how to go through the immigration process, so I studied that for like two, three months, tried to find all that stuff that I could, and in between that I started messaging, like, some people that would say “We are a wrestling promotion in India.” They were really, really, really not, but they were saying it.

So I started traveling to those people. In India, we have a train system; it’s pretty big. So it would take like one day to get to South India – because I lived in North India close to New Dehli – so I would go to South India and talk to some guy like “You have nothing. Don’t waste my time.” I would go back home and then I would find somebody else trying to promote that they have a wrestling show and I would go to them. “You also have nothing, you don’t even have an idea. You don’t even know kayfabe. What are you talking about?” And I did that like three, four, five times.

But one dude at one point called me and I went to meet him, and he was one of those dudes who had nothing, but he messaged me again and said, “Okay, I’m finally organizing a show, and would you like to come?” And I’m like, “You mean a real, real show?” And he’s like “Yeah.” So I went there. He actually had a ring and they were trying to promote a show. The guys who he was doing the show with were all like bodybuilders, big dudes, with basically like two weeks of wrestling training.

There was one interesting case though. I met a dude who was trained by TNA when they did an Indian television show, Ring Ka King, I think, and they trained the Indian guys who were in that show for two weeks. It was four years ago. He trained for two weeks four years ago, and he was doing other jobs since then, but at least he knows what wrestling is. Other than that, there were these big bodybuilder dudes, who were wrestling-looking dudes, to be honest, WWE wrestler looking dudes. So that was basically the first show I had. I will never forget that match. I hope nobody sees it ever, but I will never forget that match. 

It was the end of January 2015, I remember. I started wrestling training December 2012. I had my first match January 2015, and that match was incredible because one dude showed up who made my life what it is today.

One of the people who was at the show, was called to organize the show, actually knew what wrestling was. He was a smart dude. He wasn’t a wrestler, but he had worked with TNA when they came to do the Ring Ka King. He had worked with WWE as an official in India trying to do work for them. There was one more Indian TV show, made by WWP [World Wrestling Professionals, now Champions Pro Wrestling], a South African company, and he’d worked with them as well. He’s been involved in the industry for quite some time. Wasn’t a wrestler, but had a dream of making a company. So when I met him I’m like “Okay, this dude I can work with.”

So after the match we talked and basically we decided, like, I need to have a company so I can wrestle and he wanted a company because he always wanted to be a promoter. So me and him teamed up and made a company in India called Wrestle Square. It still goes on. You can watch it. Last year we were actually able to have a TV show of our own. We are at that level, so I’m really proud of it. We have one show every month somewhere in India.

That’s awesome.

It is! He saved me. That dude is a savior and one of my best friends to this day. 


Getting A Break In Japan

And skipping forward in time, you get to Japan, you don’t speak Japanese, and you don’t have a job there. How do you get into the wrestling world in Japan?

Just pure luck. The amount of stupidity I’ve done in my career is incredible. If I think of where I am today, I should not be here. I should be at home on my mom’s couch, to be honest. Like, I shouldn’t be here.

Okay, so I got a visa and everything and I’m going to Japan. But I had a booking in Singapore before that because after I started doing shows in India, I was decently okay as a wrestler, so I started getting bookings internationally. I got booked in Singapore before I was supposed to come to Japan.

Duly note, I had decided to move to Japan to do wrestling and I had zero connections in Japan. Even the company that I had emailed before when I couldn’t get a visa is no more. That company ended. So I’m trying to move to Japan with zero connections, just hoping I’ll go to Japan and I’ll find someone. I’ll go to a dojo somewhere… 

So I did a show [for Singapore Pro Wrestling] and I was very lucky that a wrestler called Masahiro Takanashi from DDT was having a title match in the main event of that show. And I wrestled with a guy who he used to wrestle, so just by pure luck he ended up watching me wrestle. And he was laughing because I was, like, so bad, but I was just going with everything. He might have liked my energy and my willingness to just do everything. 

“You’re really interesting,” he said to me. I had like a whoosh in my head: okay, he’s from Japan. “I’m coming to Japan,” I said to him. He was like, “Really? Who are you going for?” “Nobody.” He was like, “Really?” “Yeah. “Well, okay.” 

There was somebody there, his friend who spoke both English and Japanese, so I was able to talk to him through him. He is called Hoshitango [Imachi.] He’s from Argentina, a sumo wrestler in Japan who also wrestled for DDT…

I was like “I’m going to move to Japan in two weeks.” And [Takanashi] goes, “Okay, if you do show up, give me a call.” I’m like, “Okay.” I show up, gave him a call, and one week later I was getting introduced to Gatoh Move and DDT, and I’ve been wrestling for both of them since.

What did you think when you were introduced to Gatoh Move? Because it’s a very unique promotion.

Very unique, yes. I cannot even explain to you in words the first time I showed up to Ichigaya Chocolate Square. I hadn’t even dreamed of something like that. It wasn’t possible in my head that wrestling could be done in a place like that. I just showed up like “Maybe it’s their office?” I’m very sure it’s their office and we’re going to a show, and then they’re like “Oh, this is where you’re wrestling.” 

I was actually surprised because I had tried to talk to Gatoh Move a lot because Gatoh Move had a Thai branch. They had Gatoh Move Japan and Gatoh Move Thailand. So Thailand was reachable to me because I can go to Thailand without any visa; it’s one of those countries where I can just show up. So I actually wrestled in Thailand for another company, but I really was interested in Gatoh Move because Gatoh Move had both Thailand and Japan promotions, and if I can get into Gatoh Move Thailand, then maybe I would have a connection to Gatoh Move Japan and maybe I’ll have an easy time going to Japan. Like, I had a lot of things in my head. And I tried two years to talk to them, but we were never able to meet the schedule. If I was in Thailand, their manager was in Singapore traveling.

And the first training I show up to in Japan is Gatoh Move. I thought really, that must be a joke. I was so surprised when I saw Emi Sakura because I knew her. I’d seen her photos in all the Gatoh Move profiles in Japan. She was the one I was trying to meet all those two years.

Here, it’s basically like if you show up to training and if you show you can hang in the training, you’ll get a match. That’s basically the drill of all the dojos and all the companies. If you are a newcomer and you don’t have a name, you’ve got to kind of prove yourself. After we did the trainings they asked me, “What are you doing on Friday?” I go, “Nothing.” They said, “Do you want to do a show?” I’m like, “Absolutely” and they give me a show, and that’s a show in Chocolate Square.

Before that, actually, I debuted for DDT. I went to DDT, I introduced myself to the office, to the owner [Sanshiro] Takagi-san and all that. I was introduced to a booker who used to book for their sub-companies like Ganbare Pro and DNA; they had like five promotions at that point. So he was like “What are you doing tomorrow at two PM?” and I’m like “nothing” and he said “Show up to Shinkiba 1st Ring and we’ll have a match for you” and I had a match in Shinkiba. 

Once you started wrestling in Gatoh Move, how did you adjust to working in Ichigaya Chocolate Square? Did you pick it up pretty quickly or did it take a while to get used to? 

I think it took a while. At least in my head, it took a while. It’s not just Ichigaya Chocolate Square, that was easy. I got comfortable with the environment very fast. I started using the windows, the outside. The place was okay. The concept of their wrestling was hard because Gatoh Move is very unique in the particular kind of wrestling they do. They’re some of the most entertaining wrestling in the world, and it’s the hardest to do. Like, literally every match I rack my brain and think like I have to pass a university exam just to do every show. That part took a while. 

If you were going to sum up what Gatoh Move wrestling is, what that style of wrestling is, how would you explain it?

That’s a difficult question. The image in my head would be what happens if, let’s just say me, and a 40 kgs girl fight. Apart from the age, she’s 40 kgs. She’s at least ten inches shorter than me. If we wrestle, realistically, I should be able to just basically annihilate her, to be honest, right? So for me to fight in a way that I would fight with somebody bigger than me, it doesn’t make sense. I should be fighting accordingly to the person that I’m fighting.

Also, in return, if she’s fighting someone who’s twice in the size and ten inches taller, there should be a way for her to win if she really goes for a win. It should look, with the possibilities and the things we do in the match, like it should be able to happen.

Like, every person has their own way of fighting. A 40 kgs girl who’s not that tall and not that big in size should be able to take a giant down if her way of taking a giant down is the way of fighting from a small guy’s or small girl’s perspective. If she goes just blow to blow with me, that’s not realistic. Like, if I just head-kicked her, she shouldn’t be back up in like two seconds.

It is the most realistically unrealistic-looking pro wrestling. They are going for the most realistic thing possible, but because they’re wrestling that way, other people always say it is the most unrealistic. Why am I not head-kicking her? Because my purpose is to have an incredible match. But because I’m not head-kicking her, that also makes things very real because now she actually has a fighting chance. So on our side, we’re going for the most realistic match.

The people who see it that way love it and find it incredibly genius, and the people who say why am I not doing that don’t like it, basically. It’s pretty white and black with people who love Gatoh Move or not. The people who love it love it incredibly. If it’s not your taste, you can’t really go with it. Needless to say, it’s very much to my taste.

What’s the creative process like at Gatoh Move? Does it mostly come from Emi Sakura, or does everybody have a lot of input?

No, everybody. Like, that is one of the best things here. All my seniors, especially the guy wrestlers who I’ve seen guest here and I’ve wrestled, are all world class. No doubt in my mind, world class. They can have a five-star match with an eight-year-old girl and a 300-pound man. They understand professional wrestling so deeply that it doesn’t matter where or when they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with. They’re geniuses at what they do.

Emi Sakura has made a kind of professional wrestling in her mind, and she loves that kind of wrestling, but the genius part comes from the wrestlers who can go other places and do normal professional wrestling and come to Gatoh Move and do the kind of wrestling that Emi Sakura wants to do, and do it brilliantly. That, in my head, is way more incredible than just doing one kind of wrestling.

Like, I have to do it too. If I got to, let’s say, DDT, I can’t just wrestle a Gatoh Move style match because I’m wrestling big dudes and they’re just coming and trying to take my head off. And if I go to a company called Hit Up, they have this more strike-based wrestling and I do that kind of wrestling. If I come to Gatoh Move, I have to basically think for two hours, sit down and think “Okay, what new am I going to do today?”

I have to invent something every match because there’s a universal problem that 90% of the audience that show up at least three times in two weeks is the same. So I can’t really do what I did last week or four days ago. If I do the same match, they’re going to get tired pretty easy. So, not joking, I make at least one move, one setup, one new thing, one new use of the Ichigaya place, every week. That takes a toll on you, but also it fires up your creativity like nothing else. Best place to become an incredible wrestler in the world, no question. 

Something else kind of unique about Gatoh Move and Emi Sakura as a trainer is I know she trains some people pretty young. Like, Rin Rin is a minor and Emi Sakura trained Riho when she was a kid. Is her training different for the really young wrestlers in comparison to the adults?

Yes, it’s very, very different. They take into account the fact that they’re young. Like, if she’s eight years old we’re not going to ask her to wrestle like a 20-year-old. There’s no point in making her train like a 20-year-old. That’s where the philosophy really makes sense. Because if I’m just going to head kick her, she needs to train her neck, bump, and all those things. But if I’m not going to do that from the get-go, that is not our philosophy, the eight-year-old girl has a way of wrestling like an eight-year-old girl, and she should be wrestling like an eight-year-old girl because she is eight years. Like, she’ll be doing cute things, she’ll be running around, trying to take things down, going for my ankles. She’s cute she’s innocent, and if you can’t see that innocence, what’s the point of having her wrestle when she’s eight years old? She has something unique to her and Emi Sakura is trying to bring that out.

That is basically her style of training. Like, you are unique to yourself and there should be a way for you to train that would bring out the best of you. Let’s have the fundamentals down and as safe as possible, and then we will go for something that’s you. Like, you know LuLu Pencil, right?

Yeah.

There’s no way LuLu Pencil can exist in Japanese wrestling, in traditional Japanese wrestling. I don’t think you can train LuLu Pencil anywhere in the world. There’s no wrestling promotion or promoter or trainer than can make LuLu Pencil other than Emi Sakura. It’s literally impossible. And she is incredibly unique and incredibly LuLu. Like, there’s no one like her.

That is basically how [Emi Sakura] trains. Because [LuLu] really is that kind of person. That’s the person that can become LuLu Pencil. But if [Sakura] just tries to beat her down, make her like a traditional wrestler, then she will never be the incredible, the mighty LuLu.

Gatoh Move’s Lulu Pencil & Emi Sakura – The Pencil Army.

Could you explain what Choco Pro is and how it’s different from regular Gatoh Move?

I was actually just thinking of making an independent video of it, because recently I’ve seen a lot of people asking. Okay, let’s start from why Choco Pro came to be.

Emi Sakura has always wanted to be big, but she doesn’t want to let go of the things that make Gatoh Move special. So if you want to get big and you have to throw away all the good parts of Gatoh Move to become big, that’s not how she wants to do it. Basically a very “I want to do it my way” kind of strong woman, Emi Sakura.

She basically had the idea of “I want to be the biggest while staying small.” Like, in Japanese it’s called “chisai mama ookii,” becoming big while keeping on a small scale. Which is really hard because that’s not how things go, realistically. So, they started this YouTube. Maybe we can get in front of millions of people while making shows from where we are, Ichigaya Chocolate Square, which can only hold 70 people at one time.

The example you can see is Riho. She is incredible. She went from 70 people to like 10,000 because she is incredible. Like, you can move, you can become big even while you are small. 

So when the pandemic hit, I made it to Japan one week before the pandemic hit super hard, which was very lucky because I would have been stuck in India doing nothing for two years (laughs) if I didn’t make it in time. Literally, I came here, I did five shows in one week, and then suddenly every other show that I had booked was nowhere to be found.

So I was sitting, literally, and Emi Sakura goes “Do you know what Super Chat is?” And I go “What is that?” and she goes, “Can you find it?” I go “Okay,” and I search it and I go, “Oh, this is so cool, maybe we can do something with it.” She was like, “Okay,” and the next day, ChocoPro was announced, and the next night, before 48 hours had passed, I was wrestling Minoru Suzuki in ChocoPro Live 1.

That was how fast it was, which was mind-boggling, to be honest. She was like, “If we want to do it, we’ve got to do it now” because every wrestling is going to stop in the world. People said, “no people shows,” right? “No fans shows,” “no audience shows,” was said a lot. Emi Sakura hates that word because she says like, “The people who are watching, are they not an audience? Why are you calling them zero fans shows? If I do a YouTube live, there are 300 people watching. Are those people not fans? Like, people from America woke up at six AM in the morning to watch us, how am I not going to call them an audience member?”

So, like, the idea of ChocoPro in her head, it was a process of finding ourselves. We did it, and then she refined it and said “Let’s tweak it this way,” and then we tweaked it, and then we have what we have in ChocoPro live now.

Her idea was, and I quote, that “It is not a show of zero people. We are not showing wrestling without the fans. It is a kind of wrestling that can only happen if there are no audience members in the venue.” It’s the other way around, basically.

The perfect example she gave was, let’s say you go to see a play. There’s a stage, there’s people acting, and you’re sitting down in the audience, right? But then there’s also movies. Does the movie not have, because it’s not made in front of the people and people are not literally acting in front of you, is the movie not having any audience members? Like, you don’t say “I’m not in front of the movie so I’m not an audience member.” Vice versa, the people [at plays] don’t say like, “Why is there no screen?”

So the very concept of how we are making it is different than when we have a live audience, and I think you can tell that because when I was in Choco Pro, the things I can do increase a lot because I have more things to play with. First of all, the perspective is from one person. It’s not from 360. It’s from literally one place where all the audience is. So I have an incredible thing to play with because there’s an extra element that I can include in my wrestling, which is the single perspective, the first person experience of a camera. Which makes it, to be really honest, it makes it like 3D chess from 2D chess. (laughs) That’s basically how it is. 

So her idea of having a wrestling that only exists in the internet is we are not showing you a wrestling show that’s like we’re doing a normal show, the only thing is we’re trying to cheer for the crowd but there is no crowd. That is not what we’re doing. We are doing a show that is only made for the person who’s watching across that camera lens. You only, is what the wrestling is for, you are all the audience. I’m going to do everything I do for the audience for you. You are my audience right here. That might be the biggest difference from Gatoh Move or any live audience pro wrestling and Choco Pro. That actually, I think is the specific difference from any no fans show in any other company and Choco Pro.

I think that’s why people find it so wholesome. They don’t feel the empty arena feel. Like, that feel is zero in Choco Pro. It doesn’t feel empty at all even though there’s only six people here and we are taking turns doing commentary and refereeing because there’s only six people. We don’t even have twenty wrestlers like any other wrestling show would and it still feels incredibly wholesome. The way the show is produced is specifically so it doesn’t feel like that.

Yeah, Choco Pro is so friendly. Normally when you watch Gatoh Move, you’re kind of living vicariously through the audience and it’s like “Oh, this seems really nice,” and then Choco Pro is like “Oh, it’s directly to me now.” It’s interesting.

For me! All for me? It must feel – I wrestle in Choco Pro and still I watch that show like two, three times. We started doing watching parties because I wanted to watch the match, and I’m like, “If I’m going to watch the match anyway, let’s put it on YouTube live” and that’s how we started doing the watching parties for our own shows, because I really wanted to see it. It almost feels like they’re doing everything for me, just me. Like, the me who’s watching it on my screen, they’re doing everything just for one person that is me.

On Choco Pro 1, you mentioned you wrestled Minoru Suzuki. How did that come about? Did you ask to wrestle him; did you find out you were going to wrestle him?

No, actually Emi Sakura has a very bad habit of not telling me ever what my match is going to be. So she actually has a video of the first time she told me I’m going wrestle Minoru Suzuki. I think I heard that she was thinking of booking Minoru Suzuki before, but I had no idea she had booked him. By the way, from the get go, I could not even imagine that Minoru Suzuki was going to come wrestle here. Like, first of all, let’s pause there.

But she goes “and you’re going to wrestle Minoru Suzuki.” First of all, I’m like, “Are you just pulling my leg?” But it doesn’t feel like she would pull my leg. She’s not that kind of person. It takes like 30 seconds for it to get into my head, to be honest. You can actually find the video on Emi Sakura’s twitter. So yeah, that’s how I found out, and the next day I was wrestling Minoru Suzuki.

Wow. How was that? How was the experience of working with him?

As a wrestler, for me, very frustrating. Because it was like something monstrous has entered a garden of flowers. You know, like it was frustrating in that sense because the scope of him as a performer, I couldn’t grab it completely in that match and that was incredibly frustrating for me as a performer, as a wrestler.

It made me swear if this pandemic dies down, there’s no way I’m not wrestling Minoru Suzuki again. No way I’m not wresting him again. Because I’m sure he’s going to retire when he’s like 88 and dies in the ring. I’m pretty sure he’s going to wresting ‘til that day, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to wrestle him again. Maybe in India, maybe in Asia some other place, maybe somewhere. But it helped me incredibly. I think if I had had an incredible match with him, I don’t think that would have fired me up that much.

The things he has – the necessities of being a good wrestler, a great wrestler, and a wrestler who’s popular and demanded is very different, in my view, especially if you are in the industry for quite some time. You can be a great wrestler and nobody knows you. Everybody says you’re good, but you’re not the one who’s getting everything. Or you can say he’s getting everything and he’s a decent wrestler. You have all those examples everywhere. 

So what it is necessary for you, even if you are good, to show the fact to the world that you are good and to be in demand and popular, I think those two things are very different. And it moved me to find the answer that I can be in that sense, a big wrestler. I think that helped me a lot. I’m really grateful for that. That was a very important match for me.

And you also wrestled Masato Tanaka. How was that experience?

Infectious. Really incredible. That is the embodiment of someone who loves wrestling. No joke. He was so excited and so much into the fact that this was his first match ever outside of a ring… His willingness to do new things after 27 or something years of career and how much he was into the match just blew me away.

I want to be that kind of wrestler who, once I have 25 years of career, I love wrestling enough that I’m wrestling some young wrestler who I know nothing about and have no idea what kind of things he can do or handle, and I’m in a place that I’ve never wrestled before, even in an environment that I’ve never been in before, and I’m still excited and want to do everything I can to make the show incredible. I want to have that kind of energy when I’m 25 years into my career. It was infectious to see. Inspiring, really. Masato Tanaka is incredible. I can’t praise him enough. He really taught me a few things too in that match. 

Oh really, what did you learn?

Well, first of all, is that, okay, it’s okay that you are a performer first of all, but to answer the expectations put on you by your promoter and be performing in a sense that can be fulfilling for you, for your opponent, and for the audience. Everything comes, and then there’s you. First of all comes what is demanded of me because I’m being booked as a talent. Like, that professionalism is incredible to see. It was also there with Minoru Suzuki as well, but it was so clear when Masato Tanaka was there.

I was like, “Okay, these are things that you want to have if you want to be in a new place and make an impression, and just leave it like everybody is happy that you were there.” Like, it increases your profile as a wrestler if you go to any place and do a work like that. That really blew me away. I want to do stuff like that from now on. 

For your wrestling career, what’s like your top goal, or like your number one dream?

It was very clear when I was in India. I could answer that in like three seconds, pretty easy. But since I moved to Japan and especially since I’ve gotten invested a lot in DDT and Gatoh Move and now that I’m doing Choco Pro, everything is muddied. What I think is great has changed drastically. What I think I would love to do and I would do that 18 hours a day and it still not feel like work has changed a lot too. Like, what I aspire to as a wrestler has changed a lot.

I think it’s basically like the more you learn, the less you know, that kind of philosophical thing, that’s how I feel right now. I just want to go places, to be honest with you, right now. I want to go literally every place imaginable. Horrible, good, bad, I don’t care. I just want to go places and like, I want to continue to go places until I don’t feel like what I feel like right now. That is basically my goal right now as a performer. Shitty answer, I know, but still. 

No, that makes sense. I think a lot of people are feeling that way right now about their lives.

Yeah, yeah. But I’m happy though. Because I’m living the dream. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m incredibly happy.


This Is Gatoh Move

We asked Akki to recommend two Gatoh Move matches, one in which he wrestles and one in which he doesn’t. He came up with four, two from regular Gatoh Move and two from Choco Pro. If you’re interested in checking out the promotion or catching on the best of what you’ve missed, these are some good places to start:

Mei Suruga, Yuna Mizumori, and Mitsuru Konno vs. Riho, Emi Sakura, and Sayaka Obihiro

This six-woman tag was Gatoh Move’s last match of 2018 and featured all six of the promotion’s regular performers at that time. “If you know what Gatoh Move can do and what those ladies can do,” says Akki, “That is the match. That mat, there’s barely enough space for six people to lay down. The things they can do in that match it’s hard to believe. So if you want to see what they can do, what the Gatoh Move team can do, watch that match.”

Masahiro Takanashi vs. Baliyan Akki

Akki’s second singles match against the man who introduced him to Gatoh Move and DDT took place in July 2019, before he left Japan for six months for a tour of the UK. “I put everything I had in that match and I think it was a pretty good match. I’m pretty proud of it.”

Yuna Mizumori vs. Emi Sakura, Choco Pro 28

This thirty-minute Last Woman Standing Match “will let you know why Emi Sakura is first and foremost and is meant to be a wrestler, not a trainer or a promoter. That match will really tell you. It blew me away. I’ve never seen that Emi Sakura in the 3 years that I’ve been here.”

Baliyan Akki vs. Mei Suruga, Choco Pro 6

Akki says his most praised matches from Choco Pro have been against Masato Tanaka and Yunamon, “but I think the match that I loved the most wrestling was me vs. Mei Suruga from Choco Pro season 1. It was a random match, but I love that match.”