TFTT: Growing up, who were some of your favorite wrestlers to watch in both Japan and US?
SI: Tiger Mask (first), Choshu Riki, Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, Andre the Giant, Dynamite Kid, etc.
TFTT: What made you want to get involved in pro wrestling and MMA?
SI: It was kind of natural. I married Mr. Inoki’s daughter and we moved to Los Angeles from Boston. Mr. Inoki moved to LA too after his retirement around the same time. Mr. Inoki decided to from a new organization called UFO (Universal Fighting arts Organization) back then. It was like a crossbreed between pro wrestling and MMA. Don Frye, Brian Johnston, Gerard Gordeau participated along with Tiger Mask, Naoya Ogawa, Hidaka, etc. Anyways, he needed my help for translations and meetings here and there, some wrestlers came to visit LA to see him, and it came to a point where it wasn’t just helping or part time job but needed me full time and became a job. Then more and more involved. UFO, Inoki management office, and New Japan pro wrestling and now IGF.
TFTT: What do you prefer more, MMA or Pro Wrestling?
SI: I really enjoy both. I think that’s why we continue to promote both MMA and pro wrestling under one event.
TFTT: Do you feel that MMA in Japan has lost its popularity compared to when it first debut in Japan?
SI: Oh yes, a lot. After PRIDE got sold to UFC, Japanese MMA industry just collapsed. You can bring in foreign big names or the best card but it’s just not there anymore. Only niche, not mainstream.
TFTT: Describe your time in New Japan Pro Wrestling and what your role in NJPW was?
SI: I first started as an assistant for foreigner bookings. Then in charge of LA Dojo in Los Angeles when that project took off. Thanks to Dave (Hollywood Pro wrestling) for TV and many great staff and pro wrestlers back then it was a great show. We kind of produced a similar show like NXT now back then. Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe at WWE, Lyoto Machida at UFC, along with Rocky Romero, Alex Koslov, Machine Gun at NJPW. There are a lot of great wrestlers who came out of that dojo. For me, just timing of politics in the company just forced me to go up the ladder to director then President at the end there.
TFTT: For those in wrestling who don’t know. Japanese Icon Antonio Inoki is your father in law. What was your favorite Antonio Inoki match and your thoughts on the great success he had in the US with classic matches against Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and countless others?
SI: There are a lot but I really liked vs Hulk Hogan for the first IWGP tournament. VS Big Van Vader in his retirement count down, vs Muhammad Ali for one of the first major MMA match, vs Great Muta, and etc. There are just a lot.
TFTT: Were you excited when you start working with Antonio Inoki and did he show you the ropes in the wrestling world?
SI: I was and wasn’t at the same time. I met my wife in kindergarten. I just saw Mr. Inoki as my friend’s dad in the beginning. Tiger Mask which was a popular animation back then also came out with a real pro wrestler around the same time which also helped me more interested in watching pro wrestling. So as a kid, I was able to see the inside and outside of the business. I knew it was a hard world and it wasn’t just the good stuff the fans can see. So both excited and not since I kind of knew what I was going to be involved into.
He did give me lots of great advice here and there especially when we spent lots of time together back in LA.
TFTT: Do you wrestle or do you work behind the scenes?
SI: I don’t wrestle, mostly behind the scenes. But yes I have taken a couple of bumps. (laughs)
TFTT: Describe what the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) is about and how often do you run shows?
SI: We run shows about average every two months. Mr Inoki’s pro wrestling style is called “strong style” or toukon “fighting spirit”. Japanese pro wrestling was becoming more and more entertainment based and so IGF didn’t want to let spirit of Inoki’s style die out in pro wrestling. It is focused on the actual fight inside the match and passing down the genes of Inoki’s pro wrestling style.
TFTT: If someone wants to train at the Inoki Dojo, what is the process of going to train there? I heard the Japanese Dojo’s are very hard and it takes alot of dedication to get threw them?
SI: Pretty much whoever wants to train this kind of pro wrestling style is welcome. Wrestlers contact me through Facebook and sns. We had wrestlers fly themselves in wanting to train. But yes lots of wrestlers didn’t maybe think it was going to be that hard and so have quit.
TFTT: Is there anything else you want to talk about or promote or anything Antonio Inoki wants to promote?
SI: This year is the 40th anniversary of Inoki vs Muhammad Ali fight. We are planning lots of events right now. So please check us out.
On personal notice, I have teamed up with the chief designer of LA Dojo back then and have made a clothing brand called FIXER. The series consists of series called “strong style kills” focusing on the real lion. (A message of we are the real lions, the real strong style. Basically since NJPW has gone entertainment now and doesn’t focus on king of sports, pro wrestlers are the strongest theme anymore so) Thanks to lots of wrestlers, fighters, and real strong style believing fans, we have been getting lots of great support.
TFTT: Im going to give you a list of Japanese Legends and American Wrestlers who are famous in Japan and can you just give me your thoughts on them and if you ever worked with them?:
Great Muta. Yes have worked with him. Great wrestler. From a person who can barely walk with his really bad knees but can wrestle that much, he is a genius.
Great Kabuki. I haven’t worked with him before. But really respect what he has done for the business and love his character.
Hayabusa. I haven’t worked with him but have met with him a few times. Even the greatest athlete can become injured, just shows how dangerous pro wrestling can be.
Tenyru. I haven talked much with him but have met with him a few times. I love his match against Mr Inoki at the Tokyo Dome. One of the greatest historic matches. The only wrestler to win against Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki in the business. He has recently retired. True legend.
Masa Chono. I enjoyed the short feud we had at New Japan. Very smart person. He has given me lots of great advices. I really enjoyed the time when he worked with IGF for a year also.
Akebono. I really respect what he has done for pro wrestling too. From the top sumo wrestler and transitioned to MMA fighter and now a pro wrestler. He has done so many great matches for he pro wrestling industry. On a personal note, I can talk English to him so much easier between us to communicate.
Tenzan. One of the nicest person in business. Really cares about others.
Ric Flair. I haven’t directly worked with him but love the Inoki vs Flair match from North Korea. A historic match.
Hulk Hogan (Iciban). When USA fans watch what he can really do in the ring, people can get really surprised. The KO scene of Mr Inoki as a kid really shocked me and pretty much the whole nation back then. Inoki’s family and our family lived in the same apartment building in Tokyo. I remember him visiting Mr. Inoki’s apartment then came down to visit ours. We watched his match on TV together. Never did would I ever have thought of working years later with him.
Randy Savage. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to talk to him but I really enjoyed his matches at wcw.
Vader. I have worked with him at IGF. I loved his match during NJPW days. Great wrestler. He gave great advices to some of our Igf wrestlers when he came. He shared with us some of his very interesting stories in his life. Really respect him.
Cactus Jack. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to really talk to him but have saw him a few times. I have seen his matches and I really think they are great.
Terry Funk. I have met with him at CAC and various places. Really respect his heart of pro wrestling and what he has done for the business.
Abdullah The Butcher. One of the greatest heels, really scared me when I was a kid. Was able to invite him as a special guest at IGF before. Really respect him, many great advices.
Giant Baba: I have never met with him. From running into his protege or students and comparing them to Mr. Inoki’s, I kind of understand how completely different their thoughts might have been in terms of different wrestling styles. So that’s why it has been good. All Japan and New Japan, two different styles and two different organizations. The difference made the fans always wonder which one was better back then. Without Mr Baba, there would be no Inoki and the reverse too.
Bull Nakano: I haven’t met her in person but have seen many of her great matches during All Japan Women’s pro wrestling. Really respect her pro wrestling.
TFTT: Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for this interview sir.