Rionne Fujiwara is an Australian wrestler who has worked primarily in Japan so far in his young career. He debuted in February 2013 after being convinced to train for pro wrestling at the end of 2011 by Smash wrestling star Akira Nogami. Best known for his work with Wrestle-1, he left the company in June 2015 and earlier this week announced that he will open the show for Tatsumi Fujinami’s ‘Dradition’ event on 1st October 2015 in Koraken Hall, Tokyo in a singles match against Noboyuki Kurashima.
Born Rionne McAvoy in Sydney to an Australian mother and English father, he was in the UK recently to visit his dad and had travelled up to the North West last week for some additional training. British wrestling legend Marty Jones was on his way to collect Fujiwara from Piccadilly station when he had the idea of setting up an interview while he was in the UK and contacted me to conduct it. Needless to say I was honoured to do so.
What are your earliest memories of being a fan of pro wrestling, and what made you want to be part of the business?
My earliest memories are of watching Wrestle Mania 3 with Ricky Steamboat vs ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. That’s when I started to really get into the larger than life characters, but the person that really made me want to be a wrestler myself was when I was watching Shawn Michaels. He did some really unique stuff for the time and I loved it; that and the whole Attitude Era were when I started wanting to actually do it.
What brought about your move from Australia to Japan?
I was born in Sydney and then lived most of my life on the Gold Coast, but I originally moved to Japan to train in Karate. I had trained in Martial Arts in Australia, in Karate & Kickboxing and was entering competitions. That was how I got my start in pro wrestling actually, because it was through the Martial Arts training that I met Akira Nogami, who used to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling.He introduced me to Yoshihiro Tajiri and the rest is history, I started training with Tajiri, Akira and Yoshiaki Fujiwara at the WNC [Wrestling New Classic] dojo.
Do you feel that your martial arts background (being the 2000 Queensland Karate Champion as well as having trained in Kickboxing & Aikido) helped prepare you for pro wrestling?
It helped me prepare for Japanese pro wrestling, more than for the American style. What with the stiff kicks and submissions and whatnot, I felt more prepared for that aspect of it and I felt kind of lucky that there were those parts of it that I could do already, and to be training with a group who could help me build on that.
What is the hardest part about training to become a professional wrestler?
Probably the hardest part of training for most people is to get into incredible shape and maintain that level of fitness that you need to do this. There are a lot of people who want to try and get into wrestling who are not in great shape, but if you really want to do this and it’s the only thing you want to do, to be any good at it you have to dedicate yourself and train as hard as you can. Here in Japan they train you to the breaking point but you can’t give up. It’s brutal, doing a minimum of 500 squats each day and hundreds of push-ups, but if you can take the pain there then you can take the pain of life as a wrestler.
How did it feel to walk out in front of a crowd for the first time, and how long before your confidence grew to a point of feeling comfortable in front of an audience?
When my music hit for the first time I was just like ‘this is my dream’. I was a late bloomer, I didn’t debut until I was twenty seven years old and it was just a dream come true. It probably took about a year before I’d say I was somewhat comfortable, but I loved it.
8 months after your debut (October 2013) you had a match with Yoshiaki Fujiwara, which is when he decided to give you his name. What are your memories of that match, of Fujiwara himself and what did it mean for him to show you that level of respect?
Fujiwara is such a legend, so it was the ultimate honour for me to be able to carry on the name from him. I remember in the months leading up to that match I was watching hours of footage of his matches. I was watching how he carried himself, how he would set up for certain manoeuvres, trying to work out what he might want to bring to the table for that match. When we got to the end and he announced that he wanted for me to adopt that name, it was just completely surreal.
The match with Yoskiaki Fujiwara was in Korakuen Hall, where you will also be working on October 1st for WWE Hall Of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami (which we will get to in a moment). What is it like to work in that venue?
When you read books by any of the world’s biggest and best wrestlers, like Chris Jericho for example, they all say that Korakuen Hall is one of the meccas of professional wrestling venues. You obviously have Madison Square Garden for North America, but next has to be Kōrakuen Hall ; every worker wants to wrestle there. I was a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to actually debut there, but when I worked for The Great Muta’s company, Wrestle-1, we worked there every month and I really count my blessings for that. I felt honoured to work in that building.
What were the circumstances of your move to Wrestle-1 and what were Keiji Mutoh and the company like to work for?
It all came out of the blue. I was working for Tajiri’s company WNC and the stuff the company was doing was really entertaining, then out of the blue I get a call from Tajiri and he says ‘you’d better be sitting down for this’. Me and Tajiri were quite close because I was one of only a few people who he had working in his office, so I was with Tajiri every day. He said ‘WNC is closing and you, me (and I think about five other guys) have the offer to go to Wrestle-1. Now the money’s not great, but it’s a monthly salary and you wouldn’t have to have a second job. You’d be a full time pro, so the job is there if you want to come with me.’ So that was it, I decided to take the offer and go over. As for Muta, he is such a legend. The aura and presence that he has commands respect with everything that he does and as soon as he enters a room you can feel it. It’s amazing. I was lucky to work in a match with him actually, it was a four on four tag match and I was on the team he captained, so that was an amazing experience.
You announced on June 26th that you were going to leave Wrestle-1. Why did you decide to leave? Are you planning to wrestle more back at home in Australia and internationally now that you are not with Wrestle-1?
I decided to leave because the style they are doing overall is not really a fit for me, I prefer doing the more shoot-style wrestling, trading submissions and whatnot. What they are doing more is the high pace, high octane kind of stuff, which is not bad by any means, it’s just not what I really want to do. My contract was coming up so I decided to move on. I want to see what I can do just working freelance for a while and see what happens. I’ve actually had an offer to work for Fujinami on his upcoming show, which should be announced in the next few days.
I’ve wrestled at home in Australia three times now. The most recent was January of this year and they actually flew me out there for that. It was my home town, so it was great to wrestle on the Gold Coast. I think that maybe when I wind down in Japan I might want to go back and see what I can do to help build up wrestling in Australia, because it has a following but it’s pretty scarce, at least in the area I’m from. Now that they have a couple of guys and girls from Australia in NXT it’s helped the local scene and it’s starting to pick up a little bit, which is great. I just want to see what I can achieve in Japan for now, then eventually I see myself going back to Australia and coaching.
You are of English and Irish descent according your website. What brings you to the UK on this trip?
My dad is from here and he wanted to come over to visit so I decided to come with him. I was trying to get some matches to work over here for All Star Wrestling with Brian Dixon or something with Johnny Moss in Cumbria while I was here. I was staying in Cumbria so that would have been good but it didn’t quite work out this time. I’ll be back over here next year and maybe then I can sort out working some matches. I met up with Marty Jones today, we did some training, he showed me a lot of really cool stuff and I’ve made a really great contact there. I am a really big fan of Catch wrestling, so with all of his experience and knowledge it was amazing, he’s like a walking encyclopedia of Catch wrestling.
From an outside perspective, what do you think is British wrestling’s reputation and legacy to the rest of the world?
The World Of Sport stuff is amazing from the 70s & 80s. Everyone else around the world still watches that and tries to learn from it. The holds, counters and even the feeling-out process is all stuff that people need to learn and implement in the future. When I go back to Japan, I’ll be joining the Tokyo branch of the Snake Pit dojo, so that will be interesting. I really want to absorb this Catch wrestling style because it’s fantastic stuff. British wrestling is obviously growing again at the moment, it had a down period in the last couple of decades but it’s really starting to pick up again, which is a great thing to see.
What is your travelling, training and performing schedule like? What were the main highlights and downsides of being on the road?
Since I went freelance there hasn’t been as much going on, but when I was with Wrestle-1 it was non-stop training and travelling. I had a couple of days off here and there for some minor injuries but apart from that you spend your whole life in a gym, just doing weights and stuff, not even necessarily wrestling training. The highlights of being on the road in Japan is seeing every aspect of the country, all the cool places that you can go to and the camaraderie with the other wrestlers. The downside is the long travel, it can be lonely on the road sometimes. You go out and have your match, go back to the hotel, sleep, eat and go the gym, so everything becomes repetitive. It’s still a good thing to do though, it’s a good life.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to break into the wrestling business?
Follow your dreams, but doing this is not easy. You need to find someone who will train you properly. You have to train really hard and you have to keep going, give it your absolute all, but if you do that and you’re trained properly then you’ll have the tools to succeed.