Rookie No More: An Interview with Yuki Arai

Credit: TJPW

Yuki Arai’s progression apparently isn’t going to require a lot of patience.

It’s only been just over a year since her first singles match for Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling. It’s only been since the spring of 2021 that Arai of the pop group SKE48 started training as a wrestler with company ace Miyu Yamashita.

Yet here we are in 2022, Arai looking like a big deal, rapidly learning the mat game, and reigning as champion.

She and Saki Akai knocked off Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki for the Princess Tag Team Championship at the Summer Sun Princess event in July. That ended a historic title reign and perhaps began another that will be a showcase for Arai, a means to prove her marquee status.

Arai still has learning to do between the ropes. Her move set is rather limited much the way a rookie quarterback only uses a portion of the team playbook at first. But she has the most difficult parts of wrestling down pat – charisma, storytelling, facial expressions.  

That’s a big part of why Arai won the 2021 Tokyo Sports Newcomer Award.

TJPW clearly believes in her given how much spotlight it has given her so far. She already has singles bouts against TJPW’s elite: Miyu Yamashita, Yuka Sakazaki, Shoko Nakajima.  

And a major showdown with Maki Itoh looms.

Itoh has grown to be her biggest rival in a hurry. Their conflict began before Arai was officially a wrestler. Itoh defeated her for the DDT Ironman Heavyweight Championship, the 24-7 Championship-like title. Then when Arai arrived on the TJPW stage, Itoh was there to greet her with a defeat in her debut. The two met again for the International Princess Championship at the Grand Princess show in March. Arai lost each time.

Her revenge could be coming shortly judging by the pace Arai’s career has been on.

I recently had the chance to throw a number of questions Arai’s way. Thanks to some translation help from TJPW officials, we get to hear her thoughts on her growth thus far, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and some invaluable advice she got from a top star in the company.

Q: What has been the most difficult part of training as a pro wrestler?
Arai: At first, I was so scared to take a back bump, so it was challenging for me. My natural instincts made me want to land hand-first but it took a while to get my muscle memory in. Also, I’m doing my best to catch up with the seniors! Two hours from Nagoya to Tokyo for training was tiring at first, but now I’m so used to it I could go there with my eyes closed!

Q: What has been the best advice the veteran TJPW wrestlers have given you?
Arai: The most important advice I got was from Yuka Sakazaki. She taught me that rest is as important as training. I am the type of person who’d go for training when I can, as much as I can, even if it means giving up on some sleep but I’ve changed. You’ll get hurt more easily when you’re tired, so I’ve been doing my best to take care of myself!

Q: How would you rate yourself as a wrestler so far?
Arai: 2/10. Wrestling is really difficult, so I think I’m still a ways away when I look at everyone else. I still have 8 points for improvement so I hope you can keep your eyes on my growth as a wrestler.

Q: You won the Tokyo Sports Rookie of the Year award. You won the Princess Tag Team Championship a little over a year after your debut. Has your success surprised you? Is this where you expected to be?
Arai: I never thought I’d win the Rookie of the Year award. I really love it so much as I feel the expectations of so many people inside this award. And I’m doing my best every day to respond to such expectations! And the proof of it is the Tag belts. I’m very glad to show some of my improvement in this manner. This was nothing like I imagined my wrestling career would turn out like, I wish I could tell my past self how much I would enjoy TJPW. I bet she’d be surprised. That’s how much charm that TJPW has.

Q: How is Saki Akai different as a tag team partner than other teammates you’ve had?
Arai: Everyone has their uniqueness but I feel a sense of relief when I’m next to her. Our careers and age are quite wide apart, but we are both similar in our paths (into wrestling) and we have a sort of mental link to be able to understand each other without speaking. Her past is similar to my present and she does so much to help me through this journey. I hope to do my best to be just like her! I hope we can keep showing our charms to as many people as we can.

Q: You have been linked with Maki Itoh even before you joined TJPW. How would you describe your rivalry with her and where do you think it goes next?
Arai: I had beef with her even before I joined TJPW. She was the one who took my Ironman Heavymetalweight title after all. She was also my debut opponent too. My first title match was against her too. I’ve never been able to beat her. It’s frustrating but one day I’ll get a win over her. My desire to beat her is what keeps me going. And at the same time, she’s also a senior I respect and has taught me many things as well. She the #1 person I’d like to beat now. I always have it in mind I’ll beat her one day!

Q: What’s your favorite memory of TJPW so far?
Arai: The moment we [Arai and Saki Akai] won the tag belts. Perhaps its due to my surroundings but throughout all the hurdles and challenges, something finally came my way. To be able to hold this belt with Akai is the best memory so far!