In part 2 of our conversation with Kanji, we break down her incredible Iron Woman match with Charli Evans at Wrestling Resurgence's Iron Woman show, the challenge of putting the match together, and wanting to go to the next level and wrestle an hour. Kanji also opens up about her initial reaction to COVID-19 shutting down wrestling shows here in the UK, and shows her support to the women who have spoken out in the recent Speaking Out movement.
Now, COVID-19 has hit the world, and a lot of the wrestling world has shutdown. What was your reaction to that and was it more of a positive in a way because wrestling stopped, so now you have more time to get ready for whenever wrestling may resume?
“At first, it was just shows stopping, so I was really gutted because at that point, I was going to shows and watching the shows, and watching wrestling constantly, and just being around it again. I felt so much comfort just being beside a wrestling ring and watching my friends wrestle in front of me, and that just made me so happy because I was scared at the start of my injury to go to a show, as I thought it might upset me because I can't get in the ring and do it. But, I got past that, and I just had so much fun watching. I went to watch EVE's Wrestle Queendom, and I had so much fun just being a fan, and seeing my friends so happy to be in the ring. It just made me so happy and so proud to be in this industry and to know these people and be so close to it.
So that was the mindset that I got myself into, and then obviously the shows stopped due to the virus, which meant that mindset of mine had stopped. So I was gutted not only for my own mindset but for the other girls and guys that had to stop doing it for this reason. But then training stopped as well, which meant there was no wrestling for anybody, and that was really upsetting. But in every situation, I always try just to find a silver lining and just look at it from a different angle because otherwise, you're just dwelling, and your negative emotions will become heightened. I think that's a pit that no one should go into because then it affects your happiness. So I always try and keep a positive mind and look at every situation at a completely different angle, just to see the broader picture. And in this stage, I saw that everything is on hold, so I haven't got that pressure to come back and rush back.
So I just gained so much patience in my recovery, and I was not getting angry at myself because I felt like my arm was taking too much time to recover or the fact that I couldn't do a press-up. I wasn't getting angry at myself; I was more patient and thought that the time will come. So that's how I've taken it on board and how I see it.”
That's the perfect mentality, and for everyone, it's more time with the family. Of course, not all of wrestling has stopped. AEW and WWE have been running shows. What's your thoughts on their shows without actual fans in attendance?
“At first, when I watched WWE's show without fans, it was strange because there were no reactions, and there was a bit of an awkward element sometimes when you notice – when there is a moment in the match or after the match that there is no audience. So it became a little bit awkward. But I watched Mania live, and I completely forgot that there was no audience for the whole thing. I think the only time I realised there was no audience was when Mojo and Gronk were on the pedestal. I think you're just so focused on the wrestling and the fact that this is Mania, you forget that there is no audience. From watching Mania and continuing on watching the rest of the shows, I don't realise, I don't notice that there is no audience. I don't know if that's the same for everyone else, but I don't know.”
Has there been anything that's caught your eye with these shows? Perhaps how certain wrestlers have handled having no live audience.
“Um, I don't know. I think it's hard to tell with shows as big as WWE that are televised because they are trained to work to their camera anyway. So for them, it's probably not such a huge issue that there is no audience, whereas, on independent shows, the audience is the thing they're performing too. So they feed off the audience's energy, whereas on shows like WWE and AEW, their main focus is the camera and performing to the people at home. But I don't know, I think even in these times when there is no audience, the wrestlers seem to be more vocal. They know we can hear them now, so they're finding opportunities to talk to us with their voices and not just their bodies.”
In an interview, Edge said he told the camera man on one RAW that he was going to look directly at him because there was no crowd.
“Yeah, that's good. It's little things like that that really pull out how talented these wrestlers actually are. I think it's amazing. They're very adaptable and versatile.”
I mentioned earlier that I listened to your podcast with Charli Evans (The Grappling Arts), and I also recently watched your Iron Woman match with her. It's crazy to say this because you two are so young in your careers, but it reminded me of the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michael Iron Man match.
“Oh, wow, really?”
Yeah, I think because of the pacing. It wasn't big move after big move. You built to that finale at the end because we didn't see a fall until the last two/three minutes, I think. Because of that, it reminded me of Shawn and Bret.
“Thank you so much. That's a huge compliment.”
You're welcome, and I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it. It was what I was thinking while watching the match. What was the process like putting that match together because Charli mentioned in the Grappling Arts podcast, you had to go 30 minutes. There was no finishing it early?
“I don't know, we were just talking about it for so long, and we were trying to discuss how to start the match. Then we thought maybe we shouldn't start with the start, maybe we should start with the middle or the end and build from there. Then we decided to put a structure together, and then we decided to figure out where our first fall was going to be. So it was so back and forth on how we wanted to put this together, and it took so long because we couldn't figure out how we wanted it. Even though we had been thinking about it since we were told we were having an Iron Woman's match.”
How far out were you told?
“I think it was the show before, so it was like a month or over a month. But I don't think anything prepares you for it because when they first announced it, obviously we were really excited, but we didn't know this was going to be the main event. We didn't know this was what the show was going to be called because the whole show was called Iron Woman. So we didn't have that pressure on us at the start, and then when tickets were selling so quickly, and people were telling us that they're selling their New Japan and WWE ticket for us, so that's when pressure really started building.
I think by the time it came to show day, we were so nervous because we really wanted to put on a good show. We were panicking because we had to make it so good, but we work so well together anyway, and we click so well, so I think even if we didn't put that pressure on ourselves, we would have done such a great job anyway. I think it's just the added pressure. We had no idea where to start or what to do, we were just chucking out all these moments we could stick in there, and little combinations of moves we could put in there. Then we would think, “We'll put that in at the end. We'll put that in the start.” It was crazy. It was so tough.”
You also took inspiration from the Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels WrestleMania 21 match, where Shawn is in the ankle lock for a long time before tapping out. That was actually my favourite match for a long time.
“That was mine. That's one that sticks out for me because Mania 21 was the first-ever Mania I was allowed to watch live, so that's the Mania I will always remember. That match at Mania is one I'll always remember being fantastic, being on the edge of my seat throughout the whole match, and just shouting at the TV. So I really wanted to bring that notion in for the audience to feel that too, and so did Charli. She was so into it, and she really wanted it to happen. So we did make sure we left ourselves like 15/20 seconds for us to just hold that hold on right until the very end.”
You talk about the pressure as well for you guys, and that Kurt and Shawn match had sky-high expectations as well. So there's almost that link with your match with Charli as well.
“Yeah. They even had like a promo video they edited up, so it was built up incredibly well. So we had all that on us. Even before the match, we didn't know this, but just before we made our entrances, they played that video of us on a projector. So we had that as well. So we were waiting backstage behind the curtain, and we just heard this video go on, and it added even more pressure to us. I was so nervous (laughs).”
Of course, on the independent level, video packages aren't as common as they are for a company like WWE.
“I think that was probably the first one I've ever had, especially done at that level of professionalism as well. It looked amazing.”
Kind of going back to Bret vs. Shawn for a moment, having done 30 minutes, could you imagine going an hour?
“Well, they did ask us for an hour first.”
“They didn't ask me, they asked Charli, and Charli said no (laughs). Then they came to me and said, “We did ask Charli if she wanted to do an hour, but she said no.” But the reason she said no is she didn't think she'd be able to do it. Whether it was a cardio issue or she just didn't think she had the ability to hold a room full of fans for an hour in one match. I think she had a bit of self-doubt, which I don't think she should have at all. I think she's probably one of the greatest female wrestlers we've got to come out of the UK, well she's Australian. But I shouldn't even say female, I think she's one of the greatest wrestlers we've got, and I one hundred percent mean that. I think she's fantastic on every single level possible, so I don't think she should have had any doubt. But, yeah, they did initially ask us. I think after that match, I think we could have definitely gone the whole hour, easy.”
How did you feel after the 30 minutes, did you feel like you could have gone on?
“Yeah, one hundred percent. I mean, I was injured.”
Oh, yeah, of course (laughs).
“(Laughs) If I didn't get injured, then, yeah, one hundred percent I think we could have carried on. I think it's so easy to work with her because we know each other so well from a wrestler standpoint. We know how each other works, and we know each other's move sets. She's so amazing in putting a match together and making it flow so nicely and making the match structure mean something. She'll put a match together and have sections where – see, some wrestlers will say we're gonna slow it down here and have a breather, whereas she doesn't call it that. She'll say we're going to slow it down here because… and then she'll talk about the psychology of why she wants to slow it down in that particular moment. It's amazing how her brain works.”
There is an extra layer to it.
“Hundred percent. It's amazing.”
I think if the two of you do go an hour, it wouldn't be revolutionary per se, but we don't see that a lot today. So seeing what you guys did, the next level would be to go an hour.
“Yeah, that would be incredible.”
I'm hoping for that.
“Me too (laughs).”
We know what's taking place now in wrestling with the whole Speaking Out movement. Do you have any comments on this or perhaps any words of support to those that have spoken out?
“I think each of the girls that are coming out and speaking out are incredibly strong, and I tweeted to say that I believe that they are heroes. They've overcome this fear, whatever fear it was, they overcame this fear of speaking out simply to make the workspace for every other person in the industry they share, a safer place. I think to those girls who are speaking out, we should say nothing but thank you to them because their intentions are so good, and the fact that they've been holding these experiences in and being practically under the thumb of so many abusers that they've been forced to work with and forced to watch as possibly influencers. I think it's so, so compassionate with what their intentions are because they're in such a positive mind that they just want to help make this industry and the workspace a safer environment for everyone to make sure that it doesn't happen again. I think that's such a beautiful thing that they are doing. They are not just speaking out because they want others to think bad of a certain person, that's not what this is about at all. So I'm so proud of these girls, and I'm so thankful for them.”
— KanjiWrestles (@KanjiDuku) June 19, 2020
No, I agree, and I just hope it makes the industry better moving forward. But thank you for answering that because I understand it's not an easy subject to talk about.
“I think it's good that you brought it up because I think it's making people aware and knowing that people are aware that it's going on.”
My final question Kanji is when things open up, and you're all clear to wrestle, do you have an ideal way and place you'd like to return to wrestling?
“I don't think I'll be back until possibly next year. I don't think I'll wrestle this year. I'm not even sure if there will be any shows this year. Hopefully, there is for everybody else. But I think my training process is going to be slow because I don't want to rush into anything. So possibly next year, maybe sooner, but I don't want to put a time frame on it because I don't want to be rushing back. Experience wise, I would love to make my return with EVE and team with Jinny against the Medusa Complex. That would be my dream match to come back to.”
Hopefully, us putting this out there will make EVE plan that and make it became a reality.
“Yes. That would be so great (laughs).”