The last few weeks have been difficult for fans and those involved in the British wrestling community. But amidst this new Speaking Out movement, that is hopefully changing the wrestling business for the better, SteelChair Magazine had the opportunity to speak with one of the shining lights of the British wrestling scene, Kanji. The last time SteelChair spoke with Kanji, she was headed towards a first-time-ever showdown with Tess Blanchard at RevPro in November of 2019. Unfortunately, due to a broken arm suffered a month prior at OTT Wrestling, she had to pull out. So long before shows in the UK were cancelled due to the coronavirus, Kanji had to sit at home and rehab.
In part one of our latest conversation with Kanji (which she kindly took part in on her birthday), we go in-depth into her match with Emi Sakura at OTT where she suffered her broken arm, her immediate reaction to the break, her post-match phone call with her mum, and using her rehab time to dive into promos and old Shawn Michaels matches.
The last time we spoke, you were gearing up for a match with Tessa Blanchard at RevPro. Unfortunately, that didn't happen because you broke your arm in a match at OTT Wrestling. Can you talk us through that experience and how the injury happened?
“It was against Emi Sakura, so I was in there with a Japanese star really. So the pressure was on anyway, but I had already wrestled her before. I knew her, and we had spoken before, so I knew what she was like and how good her English was and her move set. So I was very prepared for it, and it was towards the end of the match that it happened. I think what I did was, I don't know if I over-rotated or didn't rotate enough in the disaster kick off the top, so I think I came down headfirst. I put my hands out to protect my fall, which is something we're trained not to do (laughs). I haven't actually watched it back; I dare not watch it back yet. But that's what I've done, and as I hit the ground, I heard my arm snap. I heard it…”
“… It sounded like, do you know when you're eating a chicken wing, and you snap it in half to break the small bit from the big bit, that's literally what it sounded like. So I knew instantly that something was wrong. I grabbed my arm, and I held it, and I could feel the bone poking into my hand as I was holding it together. So I was practically holding my arm in one place.”
Did you manage to finish the match? I've unfortunately not seen the match, but I was aware of the injury.
“Yeah, we got through it. We had to change the finish, but I don't know, I think it was just panic that I continued. It's like, the thought of even stopping the match isn't even in your head. That doesn't even cross your mind. It's almost like you are in a real competition, and for it to end, you have to get to the end of the match if you know what I mean. It was so bizarre. It literally felt like I was in a dream. I told the ref, and I showed the ref my arm was in half, and I think he panicked and said: “I'll go get the medic.” So I laid down on Emi because obviously I hit her with the kick, so I had to pin her, and I laid on her for the pin and just said to her: “I've hurt myself.” Because I didn't know if she'd understand if I said to her I'd broken my arm, I don't know, I just panicked. So I thought if I tell her I had hurt myself, she will figure something out, and we can talk our way through it.
She [Emi] jumped up so quickly. It was amazing. It literally happened in seconds. She jumped up so quick and hooked me for her; I think it's a double hook backbreaker (laughs). So she hooked both my arms like a Triple H pedigree and as soon as she hooked me for that, I was like, “Oh my god” because I had to let go of my arm. I was the one holding my arm together. So my arm at this point is flapping everywhere as she's hooked me for it. I've obviously got to help her post off her legs for her to get me up, and obviously, I couldn't do that. So she tried to pull me up, and we like collapsed, and then she pulls me back up to do it again. In my head, I'm thinking, “Right, I just need to give her the biggest jump, and then it will be over.” So she goes for it again, and I feel her go for the pull, so I give her this big jump, and she does get me up, and she slams me on her knee. I end up lying on the floor, and she grabs my arm, my broken arm, and puts me in the Ronda Rousey armbar.”
Oh my goodness.
“But by the time she's even pulled it back, I'm already tapping because I knew instantly, “Oh my god, this is happening.” So I was tapping already, and she's giving me this squeeze to tap, but I was tapping already. And the referee calls the match, and she just leaves me to get sorted. But it just felt like forever that someone was coming in because, by the time the bell rang, I was like, “Okay, now I'm fine, I'm gonna get help,” and the ref was in my ear saying “Someone's coming. Someone's coming.” But in my head, things were taking too long, so I just rolled out of the ring and ran backstage because I was panicking going, “They're gonna chop my arm off” (laughs). That's what I was thinking backstage when I got there because it was snapped in half!”
I mean, I shudder to think what goes through your head on a “normal” day breaking your arm, let alone being in that situation and breaking your arm.
“It was terrifying.”
In hindsight, do you wish you just told her [Emi] that you had broken your arm and hope that she understood?
“I definitely think the end of the match would have been different. She would have never put the armbar on if she knew.”
Yeah, of course.
“I don't know how she would have finished it, but she didn't see my arm. I think if I said to her I had broken my arm, she might have wanted to see it and then, I don't know what her move would have been, whether it would have been to hit me with something or call the match herself, I don't know.”
It feels like you've kind of written a film script because you break your arm, and then the two moves she does to finish the match involve hooking your arm and giving you an armbar.
It couldn't get any worse (laughs).
“I know. I couldn't believe it. I do wish I told her, but you really don't think at the moment, at all.”
I don't blame you. I don't think anyone can really plan for those situations.
And you look back now, is this something that probably shouldn't have happened because a lot of wrestlers say they get injured from something they'd never imagine would cause an injury.
“I don't know, I've done the move quite a few times before and it's been completely fine. I think it was just one of those freak accidents, I think. I mean, I've broken my hand with such a tiny little thing, which is just because of the handgrip I had on with my other opponent, I broke a bone in my hand because of that. Whereas so many other people do that same handgrip, but this time, it broke my hand.”
So the arm and the hand are the unfortunate body parts?
“Yes, definitely (laughs).”
On Sunday November 24th TESSA BLANCHARD will make her RevPro debut when she goes one on one with KANJI
Ticket pre-sale starts Monday at 7pm get yourself on the mailing list. pic.twitter.com/KuamWBBuzz
— Revolution Pro (@RevProUK) September 20, 2019
We mentioned that you were headed towards a match with Tessa Blanchard. When did that pop in your head that you were no longer going to be able to take part in that match?
“I think it was when I was backstage straight after I broke it, and the medic was there sorting me out. I had a couple of the wrestlers around me, making sure I was fine. And after the initial panic of the break, even when I was still backstage because it wasn't really hurting, it was just shock. And my arm kind of went numb at the start, so I wasn't in any pain really until I got to the hospital. It was when I was sat on the floor with the medic trying to put it in a comfortable position that I was like, “Oh my god, I'm gonna have so much time off. All these opportunities I've lost.” It was literally that moment there when I was backstage getting all sorted and getting prepared to go to the A&E when all the opportunities that I built up for the future, for the end of the year, had just been written off, including the Tessa match.”
You had a lot of things going for you, and especially in EVE, it seemed like a lot of things were building for you.
“Yeah, I had a big match with Dani Luna coming up as well, which was part of a storyline, so that was wiped off the schedule as well. I was absolutely gutted, so gutted.”
I will say your tweet after the injury you really handled it in a positive and mature way. How quickly did the mentality shift from frustration to making the best of the situation?
“I was still panicking in the hospital, but as soon as I spoke to my mum on the phone, because I was in Ireland. My mum was in England, she was in Nottingham, and I was so scared to call her. I had to text my sister first and ring my sister to make sure it's going to be okay, and then, I picked up the courage to ring my mum. And it wasn't until after I spoke with her that I thought, my main priority is that I'm going to be at home. My next step is to get home and be with my mum and my family, and I'll be fine. Once I got into that mentality, things started to calm down in my head about wrestling, and I just thought, “I'm safe. I'm going to be okay.” And as long I was getting sorted, I was getting the right treatment and everything – my mum was panicking, but she had a straight head on about how I was going to get home and everything like that. It just made me settle, and I thought: “I'm still here. Wrestling is never going to go away, no matter how long I'm out for. It's going to be fine.”
What was the fear behind ringing your mum? Were you just worried she was going to be angry?
“I was scared she was going to be angry with me, but after, I knew she wouldn't have been angry with me. I think I was just worried that she's going to panic because we're so far away. It wasn't just like she was down the road, and the last thing I wanted her to do was panic and be scared that I'm not in safe hands because I was. It was Dev from OTT who came with me and stayed with me through the whole hospital experience, and he's the one that drove me back to the hotel and made sure I was fine. So I was in completely safe hands. I was being contacted by a lot of the wrestlers on the show, who were making sure I was fine, and telling me about the hotel arrangements. So I was never on my own, I always had someone there.
It was just, my mum was panicking and freaking out on how I was going to get home because I couldn't get on a plane, but my stepdad came to pick me up. He drove down to Wales that night and got on a ferry that night. He got to me by six in the morning the next day, just travelling all night. Literally as soon as I got off the phone with my mum (laughs).”
When we spoke last time, you mentioned you previously had a knee injury in a match against Jinny. You injured yourself in the Iron Woman match against Charli Evans. But I don't think you've ever had to endure a rigorous rehab like this one before?
“No. The knee injury only took two weeks, well, one week to recover. I probably should have taken more time off, but I didn't. I probably should have to be honest. I think I would have definitely had a better experience with Jinny in my first match with her if I did take more time off. With my elbow injury, I think I had maybe two or three weeks off, and I did break my hand, where I had quite a few more weeks off as well. But with this arm injury, yeah, it's a whole different game. Obviously, I had to have an operation as well, and even after the operation, its been back and forth as well whether they were to operate again. Until more recently, I've not been a hundred percent sure what my recovery time will be. Doctors were going back and forth on whether I'd need another operation or not, but now I have that closure that they're not going to operate on it again.”
Oh, great. Have they given you a time when you can resume training/wrestling?
“Well, physio, I'm only in touch with physio now. I have been discharged from the hospital. Physio is really happy with how things are going and how my progress has been, and they're happy for me to do some light training. Contact as well. But I don't think I'm there yet, but they are happy with me trying it out and seeing how far I want to take it.”
Can light training mean anything in the ring, like running the ropes?
“I think I'm happy to go and do ring cardio and things like that, but I think the biggest fear for me is, right now, bumping. And even being put in a wristlock, that scares me. So I don't think I'm ready for that, but physio thinks I should take that step and give it a go.”
Wrestling so layered, it's not just the wrestling that is so important. There's the storytelling element, promos, facials, etc. Have you spent any of this rehab maybe working on those other areas?
“Yes, I have been told and advised by other experienced people like my trainer Stixx and other wrestlers out there on what else to focus on while I can't do the physical wrestling. So they did say, focus on your character and how you can strengthen your character. Even if it is just thinking about little things you can do in the ring during the match or focus on promos and just look at yourself in the mirror and talk to yourself as if you are cutting a promo on someone. And that's all character building and strengthening your ability as a character. So that is something that I have been looking in to and thinking about, almost like taglines that my character would say?”
Do you have any good ideas for taglines?
“I don't think I'm gonna give them away.”
(Laughs) That's okay.
“Because I'm still working on them, and I kind of want to be, not like a comedy wrestler, but someone who comes out with funny lines to kind of break up a match. Whether it's during a match or setting up the match just before the bell goes. Do you know what I mean?”
Yeah, I think even someone like John Cena, there was always an element of humour leading up to a match.
“Yeah, I love that stuff.”
Going in that direction, have you watched anything to maybe take inspiration from?
“I've been looking into Shawn Michaels' career, how he started, and got to where he is. I was looking at when he first started and what his character was like and everything like that. And it amazes me because he was so charismatic from the start. I was kind of looking at that and seeing how he's built up to be the Shawn Michaels he was when he retired and just looking at all those opportunities that he got to become what he is now. Even earlier in the Bret Hart feud, he was so charismatic, and he loved the camera on him, and the camera loved him.
I think it is mainly all about confidence and believing in yourself and believing in what you're saying because I think if you believe in yourself and what you're doing, then the audience will. That's what I've picked up from him.”
With Shawn, it's also never been far from who the real person was. It's that old analogy of taking the real person and dialling it up to eleven.
“Yes, exactly, and it's incredible to see. Incredible to watch.”
Part Two of our interview with Kanji will be up tomorrow!