“Right now, many people’s perception of DDT is ‘the promotion Takeshita’s from’ or ‘the promotion Kenny and Ibushi are from’. I want to be just like that.”
DDT Pro Wrestling has been making international waves lately. Not only has their homegrown talent and long-time ace, Konosuke Takeshita, become one of the most popular competitors in AEW, but the promotion returned to the USA to host their own event to great success.
“DDT Goes Hollywood!” and “DDT vs GCW” featured many wacky and exceptional characters, from the infamous wrestling doll Yoshihiko to the controversial and uncontrollable Pheromones. Still, one performer connected with the American audiences more than anyone else. With his outstandingly acrobatic moves, deadpan humor and spot-on pop culture references, young wrestler and punk musician MAO quickly made a name for himself in the States.
The 26 year old DDT star and current KO-D Tag Team Champion stood out from the start, wrestling Yoshihiko in an intense 17 minute tag match that baffled some, impressed others and spread across social media like wildfire.
Subsequent matches saw MAO reunited with his Moonlight Express tag team partner Speedball Mike Bailey. The two held the KO-D Tag Team Championships together several times before the pandemic had separated them and were still very much on the same wavelength, both in the ring and in their sense of humor. For GCW’s Emo Fight, they entered the ring to My Chemical Romance, sporting eyeliner and hairstyles that wouldn’t have looked out of place on moody teenagers.
In many ways, MAO embodies the core selling point of DDT: a combination of bizarre comedy and excellent wrestling. He can give birth to rubber ducks, he’s determined to run over the president of DDT with a car and he is one of the best young high fliers in the business, not despite of but because of his comedic exploits. The same wild, reckless creativity that underlines his comedy also fuels his wrestling and the two blend together seamlessly.
These are the qualities that current AEW star Kenny Omega has praised in DDT wrestlers and MAO did indeed get the chance to show them to an AEW audience before leaving America in a trios match on Dark Elevation. Many viewers walked away impressed, asking to see more of MAO and the other DDT wrestlers in the future.
Despite his impressive achievements in America, however, MAO had not lost focus on his goals in Japan when he returned. As a member of DDT’s most popular faction, The 37Kamiina (read “Sauna Kameena”), he is intent on pushing his home promotion forward, both in Japan and abroad. With T37K’s strongest member in Takeshita absent for much of the year, MAO feels the responsibility to fill that gap himself, not just as a tag team wrestler, but also in the singles division.
This ambition lay at the root of his recent Universal Championship match against Tetsuya Endo. Not just in the sense of MAO wanting to expand his achievements, but also on a personal level.
While their feud started with simple bickering about which one of them was the bigger country bumpkin, MAO has since revealed that his frustrations with the current champion go much deeper. Endo was the one who had defeated Takeshita, the final boss of DDT, before he went to America. Endo was the one who was meant to carry the promotion from then on. But he had gotten injured shortly into his reign and, in MAO’s eyes, had lost the drive needed to actually improve both himself and DDT.
As one of the people who stepped up to the plate instead, MAO hoped to prove the difference between them by taking the title for himself. He would bring his own international appeal to the championship where Endo, in his opinion, fell flat.
At Mega Max Bump 2023 the two clashed, each determined to succeed on his respective way to the top of DDT. Neither was willing to give an inch, trying to outdo each other not only as fighters, but also in impressing the audience with some of the most frighteningly athletic moves in the sport. But ultimately, Endo’s redemption story prevailed. MAO’s time had not come just yet.
Still, at this point, it is only a matter of time until it does.
In this turbulent part of his journey, Wrestle Inn spoke with MAO to get his thoughts on his excursion to America, the larger wrestling landscape, T37K and much more.
Q: Your recent excursion to America drew a lot of attention from Western fans. What was the experience like for you?
MAO: I got to show everyone in America the very same MAO you’d see in Japan, so It was a great experience. I enjoyed going to many shows on my own, which will hopefully lead to something in the future.
Q: You’ve mentioned that you put a lot of effort into building your profile overseas. What goals are you working towards in that regard, are there any things you particularly want to do in wrestling internationally?
MAO: First of all, my main goal is to become famous. When I do, everyone in DDT will be known by the fans as well. Right now, many people’s perception of DDT is ‘the promotion Takeshita’s from’ or ‘the promotion that Ibushi and Kenny are from.’ I want to be just like that.
Q: Your match with Yoshihiko at DDT Goes Hollywood garnered a lot of attention and you have since mentioned wanting to do a world tour with Yoshihiko. How would you describe Yoshihiko as a wrestler and what do they have to offer the wider wrestling world?
MAO: Yoshihiko is one of DDT’s greatest hits. It’s like Green Day playing Basket Case, it’s something that crowd will go wild for. You’ll understand how amazing Yoshihiko’s ring work is when you see it for yourself instead of watching videos, so I feel that Yoshihiko needs to wrestling in more locations all over.
Q: Matches with unusual and creative stipulations are a staple of DDT. Is there a particular match type you would like to introduce to an international audience?
MAO: I want to have a street wrestling match in America! I’m sure it’ll make headlines there.
Q: You recently made your debut on AEW programming. Are there any particular opponents from AEW, or other international talent, you would be eager to compete against in the future?
MAO: I absolutely want to face Orange Cassidy in the ring! Also, I think now is the best time to face Mike Bailey in a singles match.
Q: Your fellow T37K member Konosuke Takeshita has achieved much popularity in the US, being a large part of AEW. What do you think about his activities and development in AEW?
MAO: I really admire Takeshita’s challenge [in wrestling overseas]. Even as a top star in an AEW ring he’s very proud of DDT. There are not many Japanese wrestlers who are able to able to achieve this feat.
Q: Who the leader of T37K is – or whether the faction even has a leader – has been a matter of much debate. What would you say on the matter?
MAO: You could say Shunma is the leader. In a sense. Everyone would think Takeshita is the leader, right? (laughs)
Q: Alongside Shunma Katsumata, you currently hold the KO-D Tag Team Championships. What would you say are your unique strengths as a tag team?
MAO: Whatever type of match we’re in the two of us always have the most fun. I usually call ShunMAO “4th Grade”, but that’s because ShunMAO is akin to kids who are amazing at wrestling. The naivete of it.
Q: During your time in America you were finally reunited with Speedball Mike Bailey. What is special about your relationship with Bailey and do you hope to continue competing as Moonlight Express in the future?
MAO: I won three Tag Championships with Bailey as my partner. To MAO, MLX is my youth. If it wasn’t for COVID, 2020 was going to be MLX’s world tour. We’re both busy with DDT and IMPACT, so when the time is right, we’ll do it for sure.
Q: Who would you want to challenge you for the tag team championships if you could choose freely and what kinds of stipulations would you want for that match?
MAO: MAO & Mike Bailey vs MAO & Veny and Shunma Katsumata & MAO in a 3 way tag match.
Q: Who would you say were the most important people in your development as a wrestler, both inside and outside of DDT?
MAO: The 90’s Michinoku Pro Wrestling style is my wrestling bible.
Q: You’ve explained in the past that you learned your kicks in the mosh pit when you were 17. Which bands were your favourite at the time and which concerts had the wildest mosh pits?
MAO: I loved listening to “Terror”. The first hardcore band I heard was Terror and I enjoy listening to them even now. I love European Beatdown Hardcore as well. The moshes at the Livehouses in Sendai were so intense, I think I might die every time I’m there. (laughs) So many kids of the same age as I were going wild in the pit in such a small place.
Q: You’ve been referencing My Chemical Romance since participating in GCW’s recent “Emo Fight” event. What is your favourite My Chemical Romance song?
MAO: It’s probably “Welcome to the Black Parade.” When I was a high schooler, there were days I didn’t want to go to school. I’d listen to it once in the morning and think “Well, I’ve died once” and then head to school. I love “Dead!” too. The opening solo guitar always changes in a live performance, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Q: May 3 will see you challenge Tetsuya Endo for the Universal Championship, in your first one-on-one confrontation in 5 years. What is your mindset going into the match, how will you finally claim your first singles victory over him? [Note: Interview took place prior to the match]
MAO: I can’t wait for the match to be over. I’m already tired of Endo before the title match. It’s like listening to an album where every song is basically the same. Plans? What plan? MAO is an Empty Head after all.