Talk to any wrestler working the independent circuits and they’ll tell you their ultimate goal is to be signed by the WWF or WCW. With visions of matches on “RAW is WAR” or “Nitro” dancing through their heads, the majority of indy wrestlers dream of making it big in one of the ‘Big Two.’
Western Extreme Championship Wrestling (W.E.C.W.) star Jason “The Sledgehammer” Anderson is one of the few exceptions.
The Calgary native boarded a plane yesterday, whisking him off to Tokyo where he’ll compete on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Fighting Spirit 2001” tour from January 31 to February 18.
For Anderson the opportunity to work for New Japan fulfills a life-long dream.
“One of the things I (always wanted to do) before ending my career in wrestling was go to Japan,” Anderson told SLAM! Wrestling prior to leaving for Japan. “And what better way to go to Japan than for the number one office in the world? I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait. I’m training twice a day, getting myself ready and prepared. I’m just going over there with the intent to show them what I can do… My main goal right now is to make it in New Japan. I’ve always wanted to be there and now’s my opportunity. I’m not going to let it slip by me.”
Anderson has always been a big fan of Japanese wrestling.
“When I started wrestling back in 1988 for Stampede, the amount of Japanese wrestlers that came through there at that time, I was just in awe of. (Jushin ‘Thunder’) Liger was here, (Shinya) Hashimoto, (Hiroshi) Hase, (Tatsumi) Fujinami came through, so I’ve always been a fan of New Japan since I started.”
Anderson received the chance to work for New Japan through Joe Daigo, a wrestling trainer based in Calgary who has a long association with New Japan.
“Joe goes back a long way with New Japan… they send over a lot of their guys to train with him,” explained Anderson. “(New Japan president) Seiji Sakaguchi and Great Muta came up to Calgary to visit Joe and Sakaguchi told me to give him my picture and my resume and he left with it, went back to Japan and then in December, Joe called me and said I’m booked on the ‘Fighting Spirit 2001’ tour.”
This will be Anderson’s fist trip to Japan. And even though he has a wealth of knowledge in foreign wrestling cultures having worked in such countries as South Africa, the Philippines, England, Germany, Austria, Kenya, Lebanon, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Hungary and Saudi Arabia, he says there will be a lot of pressure to perform to New Japan’s high standards.
“It’s going to be me putting the pressure on myself to do well and not to screw up. It’s going to be there in my mind. It’s always that thought: ‘Don’t screw up, don’t screw up.'”
Another reason behind the self-imposed pressure is the fact that Anderson was promised the chance to come back if he did well on this tour.
“They did say that if I do well that there is a possibility that I can come back. I have all the intent … I’m not going over there to make a bad name for myself.”
Even though it will be his first time in Japan, Anderson is familiar with the Japanese Puroresu style of wrestling, having worked with several of New Japan’s stars before.
“In 1997, I went to work in Europe for Otto Wanz for six months. One of the fellows that happened to be there was (New Japan star) Osamu Nishimura,” explained Anderson. “I spent six months in Europe with Osamu and when I came back to Calgary (New Japan) sent out Kenzo Suzuki fresh from the Japanese rugby team and I helped to train him. Then in December of ’99, I went to Europe again for Otto with (New Japan’s) Yutaka Yoshie and then Yoshie came back to Calgary and before he debuted (at the April Tokyo Dome show), he was here and we trained together. And then just recently Shinjiro Ohtani was in Calgary and we worked together in (W.E.C.W.). It was good. I’ve always liked his style. He’s just amazing. He’s so light on his feet when he was in the ring. I was in awe. He’s dedicated and that’s what I like so much about him. I’m looking forward to working with him again hopefully.”
Anderson believes that his past experiences working with some of New Japan’s stars will prove to be beneficial.
“I did train with four of their guys so I’m not going in there exactly like a foreigner who’s never been there. I do know some of the people in New Japan. It’s going to make it a little bit easier because they were here so when I go there I won’t have to get to know everybody.”
Still, Anderson watched several hours of New Japan of videotape in preparation.
“I watched the January 4 Tokyo Dome tape. I’m studying films. When I’m working out in the ring I’m starting to do more mat work and ground work, hold-counter-hold because that’s what they like to do there.”
Anderson has also asked W.E.C.W. cohort Bad News Allen, a regular with New Japan in the ’80s, for advice.
“(He told me to) just work solid. Just go out there and do your best. He told me what to do, where we’ll be staying and stuff like. I’ve been picking his brain here and there.”
“He should do good. He’s a good worker, been around a while. First time going to Japan, but I think he’ll do alright,” Allen told SLAM! Wrestling. “Go there and work hard, stay out of trouble, and if anybody tries to stiff you, stiff them back. You have to stick up for yourself, otherwise these guys will run over you.”
After he hopes to conquer Japan, another big trip looms for Anderson.
“I’ll be going out to the Middle East again to Kuwait and Dubai in three months. The tour just has to be all put together now.”
— with files from Greg Oliver