A Drink at the Inn With: Tapla

Tapla is a woman of many talents. Already one of the more recognisable names in the wrestling art community, 2019 brought with it the revelation that Tapla didn’t just draw wrestlers, she was one! Wrestling under the moniker of Blue Lotus, she had trained and wrestled under the tutelage of the one and only Emi Sakura. Now wrestling for SETUP Thailand, Tapla continues to unleash her creativity all across the wrestling scene. Whether it’s designing costumes and merchandise for her fellow wrestlers like Karl Fredericks, bringing Percy the Pig to Will Ospreay and New Japan Pro Wrestling, or just doing what she does best in and out of the ring, Tapla’s involvement in the industry stretches wide. And I was lucky enough to talk to her about all her experiences.

Before we get into it, I’d like to thank her for being willing to do the interview in her second language.

Credit: Tapla

Every wrestling fan starts somewhere. How did you get into pro wrestling?
In Thailand we have WWE on cable TV but it was on a delay of 1-2 weeks. My Family had only one TV and my little brother loved to watch it on weekends so I must watch it with him. That was the first time I watched wrestling for 1-2 years. After Eddie’s death my brother and I didn’t watch WWE.

Until one day, I turn my TV on to find something to watch and I found Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels at No Mercy 2008 and watched it. That’s my second time watching it and became a hardcore wrestling fan til today.

You have developed some signature art styles (particularly the ‘doodles’ and ‘chibi’ wrestlers) that has made your work instantly recognisable among fans. What is your process like in developing new art?
I love drawing since my first memories. I love to watch cartoons on TV (like Cartoon Network) and read funny Thai cartoons. When I was in high school my friend bought manga (Japanese comic) to read together and I fall in love with their drawing style. I try to copy them, draft it, draw a lot and finally I can draw it like them by not looking at the original.

When I post my fanart on Thai Wrestling community websites (before I knew about SNS) I had one of my older friends comment about my art, he cannot draw but he can tell what I should do to make my art better. Tell about what’s different between western comic and eastern manga. My weaknesses that I should change. I take it and develop.

Sometime when you do something a lot you will find ‘your way’ to do it’, same like my drawing. I found that my drawing style is between comic and manga style, I love to draw cute things like ‘chibi’ and go for it. I’m always bored easy so when I do fan-art I’m always find something new like new styles, materials, techniques to put in my art so I can enjoy during drawing it.

It seems that a lot of wrestlers have seen your art. Do you have any particularly memorable reactions from someone seeing themselves drawn by you?
Ohhhhh it’s a lot! Since I start posting my art on Twitter I have a lot of wrestlers retweet my art. But one of the most surprising is THE SHIELD! Long story … when I was a fan of The Shield, I have an idea to draw ‘The Shield comic’ like one short story about their history. I announced it on my Twitter and drew the cover of comic and posted it. After that … Roman Reigns retweeted it and said ‘I will definitely read it!!’ Seth and Roman always retweet my art but that’s one of the most surprising things. And I can tell you that no matter what happens to Roman and Seth, I never hate them. Just because they retweet my art. Hahahaha

Credit: Tapla

How did your artwork progress into designing gear for wrestlers as well?
It’s all about coincidence. In that time I had already become a NJPW fan and really like Will Ospreay. I know that his nickname at that time was “The Aerial Assassin” and he likes Assassin’s Creed. One day I was like ‘what if I draw him with AC ring gear style?’ And I drew it, posted it on Twitter, he retweeted it and after that he immediately direct messaged me and asked ‘Hey this is a secret, can you design my ring gear for Wrestle Kingdom?’ and I was like … BOOM! Mind-blowing!! Everything started from that and we talked a lot to make it happen.

Speaking of Will Ospreay, I have to touch on Percy the Pig, who you were responsible for! You’ve talked about Percy’s origins on Twitter, but what was it like working with Bea to surprise Will with Percy, and then seeing him become so popular and appearing on New Japan shows?
The original idea of Percy was 2 years ago when I wanted to go to Japan for the G1 Climax event. I’m always bringing some gifts from Thailand to my friend. And this time I ask Will Ospreay to go to dinner together so I want to bring some gifts for him. I was walking in a shopping mall and looking at Miniso, a shop that I bought my favourite dolls. I see the pig doll that reminded me of Ospreay because he’s always calling himself ‘Sex pig’, so I ask Bea about this idea and she agreed and said he will love it. After I bought the doll I have an idea like if I can make Will’s costume so it will be special for him. Bea agreed with me and kept it a secret.

Then I went dinner with Ospreay and Bea. Everything is fine until it was time. I said ‘Hey Ospreay I have something special for you.’ Bea helped me to close his eyes and when he opened his eyes and saw it, he was speechless and had a big smile. So I ask him about the name he say “Percy” and said this is the best gift.

After that. Everything is normal until the Wrestle Kingdom Press conference day. I didn’t watch the show but some friends tagged me and said ‘Hey that’s your Percy right?’ I was confused at first like ‘What’s happened!?’ and after I see the picture of Ospreay, Hiromu and Percy I was like ‘WHAT!?! DID HE BRING PERCY WITH HIM!?!’ and a lot of people can remember that it’s my Percy! They come to say congrats to me and I’m very happy!

Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling

While doing wrestling artwork, you managed to keep your identity as a pro wrestler a secret. Were you nervous about how people might react when you announced that you were also Blue Lotus?
It’s very easy! … “I never post about my wrestling on Twitter” Because in Thailand we use Facebook more that Twitter. You can see that I never talk Thai in my twitter because all of my friends and Thai people are on Facebook. So I was like ‘No need to talk about my wrestling because no one is here’. I had it in my mind that Facebook is for talking with my real life friends, about wrestling in Thai. Twitter is for posting my fan-art and my favourite wrestling things. Instagram is for my fan-art and food.

I didn’t want to keep it as secret. I just didn’t talk about it on my Twitter. And then Gatoh move in Thailand closed. At the end of that day I was like ‘Ok we are over. I want to post about my wrestling to remember it’, so I post on Twitter and everybody was surprised. I never thought that it’s gonna be a big surprise till Chris Hero DM’d me and wrestlers like Kenny Omega and Trent retweeted about it!

What inspired you to become a wrestler?
I think every young wrestling fan wants to be a wrestler. Like wants to look strong and cool like them. I’m always telling everybody I want to become an artist or an architect but deep in my heart I want to be wrestler too if it’s possible. And the possible happened when Emi Sakura announced to open Gatoh Move in Thailand. I think this is my only chance and I don’t want to regret it.

Emi Sakura is one of the biggest names in Joshi and you trained under her. What was she like as a trainer?
You see in AEW or Gatoh Move that she is funny, That’s her character. She is a very serious person when she is a trainer. Very strict about the wrestling basics and Japanese wrestling culture but she is very kind and takes care of everything when we work together and she has a lot of ideas to make wrestling moves or create the match.

Who have you enjoyed wrestling with the most, and who would you most like to work with?
Actually I don’t have one now (hahaha) Because women wrestling in South East Asia still just has less people and I wrestle just in that area so I still have not found the one who I can enjoy wrestling with.

With Emi Sakura, it was like an ‘intense’ wrestling match for me because she is the best wrestler there and she is my teacher so I was like ‘No I cannot do anything wrong. I cannot fuck up here.’ So I’m always worried to fight or have a match with her.

“Who do I want to work with?” I can tell you ‘every Joshi-wrestler’ because I can tell that they’re very great! I want to fight them all. But the person I most want to have singles match with is Riho. I have never had a singles match with her before so I want to fight her.

Credit: Tapla

You versus Riho would be great! I have seen you wrestle with Riho in tag matches before, which is really cool. What is it like seeing all of these wrestlers that you have worked with (either as a wrestler or as an artist/creator) appear on shows all over the world? On AEW you can see Riho and Emi Sakura, Stardom has Kaori Yoneyama, and seeing your attire being worn by Will Ospreay at Wrestle Kingdom or Karl Fredericks in NJPW.
I never really feel it before until one day a Thai wrestling friend said to me ‘Hey did you know that you are very great to work with worldwide wrestlers?’ I was like … stunned for a minute and stepped back to look at everything in the big picture and was like ‘Oh shit … I did it! I’ve worked with world famous wrestlers! Everybody sees my art and knows my name!’ and my mind was like ‘Hey … what about one day you will be famous like them?’ so I have to work ahead with my wrestling and my drawing so one day I can be like them!

You now wrestle for SETUP Thailand Pro Wrestling, joining them in the middle of 2020. What are the main differences you’ve noticed working with SETUP compared to Gatoh Move?
I think it’s about the wrestling idea. Gatoh Move always kept to Japanese traditional like we don’t need to care about anything if we have a good wrestling match. But wrestling fans in Thailand get a lot of things from American styles (WWE) like interesting storylines, big wrestling moves, grand wrestling stages. If we don’t have anything like this they will not come to watch us.

So SETUP is about having two different wrestling styles. Western and Eastern, blending it together to make our unique wrestling style like we can have great wrestling matches that Thai and South East Asia can watch it.

It is always interesting seeing how Eastern and Western wrestling can blend together to create something new, and I can definitely see those influences when watching SETUP Thailand. It must have been difficult for that company to start and then have to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. What do you see in the future for both SETUP and your own wrestling?
I really want to see SETUP become the best wrestling company in South East Asia and work with a lots of famous wrestling companies around the world. So we can bring the best wrestlers to Thailand and we can go outside to work with a lot of foreign wrestlers to gain our ring skill and experience.

Outside of Blue Lotus, which wrestlers should we watch out for in SETUP?
SETUP has a lot of wrestlers that you can enjoy like Shivam, an Indian born in Thailand. He is our SETUP Openweight Champion who has charisma in and outside the ring. He always has the best jokes and keep people smiling in every way. Paksa is our trainer and has best wrestling skill in Thailand right now. He keeps having the best matches and always pushes all the rookies. The biggest rising star is Jonathan Johnson. Only 17 year old but can have great match and become our main eventer.

Recently, you’ve really taken an interest in Dragon Gate. What do you love about the promotion and which wrestlers have become your favourites?
This is funny one. I found Dragon Gate because I saw Ben-K handsome face GIF on my timeline so I ask my friend who is he? My friend told me everything about Dragon Gate and sent a lot of DG wrestler photos to me. So the next 2-3 days I signed up to the Dragon Gate Network and this is how I became a DG Fan.

I always have a lot of favourite wrestlers because I respect them. So my favourites are Masato Yoshino, Kzy, Eita, HYO, Kaito Ishida and SB KENTo but actually I love them all.

There is also one final question we ask in every interview. You have a table at Wrestle Inn. What meal are you eating, what drink are you drinking, and which two wrestlers are you bringing for company?
I love beef So I want Steak! I cannot drink alcohol so I go with Cola and I want to take Pumi and Shivam with me :3

Click here to follow Tapla on Twitter @D_TaPla

Click here to follow SETUP Thailand on Facebook

Click here to follow SETUP Thailand on Twitter @setupth