David Finlay discusses the New Japan Cup-USA tournament, his father’s influence on his wrestling career and more.
David Finlay is looking to take advantage of wrestling during the pandemic.
A fourth-generation member of the wrestling industry, Finlay is the son of legendary wrestling tough guy Fit Finlay. He first joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2015, but he has significantly altered his look and presentation over the past two years as he pursues a higher position in the promotion.
The 27-year-old Finlay is part of New Japan’s NJPW Strong show streaming every Friday on New Japan World. Following back-to-back victories, he has advanced to the finals of the New Japan Cup-USA Tournament. The winner receives a future title shot at the IWGP United States Championship, a title held by Jon Moxley, who is also AEW’s world champion.
Finlay spoke with Sports Illustrated about his journey in wrestling, his father’s influence on his career, and what he has to prove in the tourney finals against KENTA.
Justin Barrasso: The win against Tama Tonga advances you to the finals of the New Japan Cup-USA tournament. You and Tama share some legitimate chemistry in the ring, and the finishes to your past couple of matches together were really solid. You hit Sliced Bread on Tama to finish the tag title match at Wrestle Kingdom this past January to win the IWGP Tag Titles, then won this week’s tourney match by with a series that started by blocking his Gun Stun, hitting a suplex neckbreaker, a stunner, and a Prima Nocta jumping stunner for the victory.
What about Tama is so special in the ring? Why do you think you two work so well together?
David Finlay: Although we would consider ourselves rivals, there is a mutual respect between us. We both are multi-generational wrestlers, our fathers wrestled together, and we both came up through the New Japan Dojo. I just think there are a lot of similarities, and we always want to prove we’re better than the other in the ring.
JB: You missed the majority of 2019 after suffering a torn labrum during a match against the Briscoes in February that kept you sidelined until October. You were finally getting comfortable again in the ring, then the pandemic hit and New Japan did not run shows in March, April or May. At you at a point where you feel like yourself again in the ring?
DF: I do. Pre-pandemic, after I came back from my injury, I felt like I was really getting the ball rolling. Then the pandemic happened, and it felt like hitting a giant brick wall. I actually feel pretty comfortable in the ring again.
A big mental hurdle for me was during the Tag League [last fall] constantly thinking about my shoulder. I was terrified of being in a sling again. But I don’t worry about my shoulder too much anymore, and I’m able to wrestle without thinking about it.
JB: What is the atmosphere like at the NJPW Strong tapings in California?
DF: There is no atmosphere, there are no fans. It felt reminiscent of amateur wrestling in high school or college. It’s one on one, so you need to go figure out who’s better.
JB: This experience must have enhanced your appreciation for the fans.
DF: Definitely. It’s nowhere even close to the same energy compared to when we have fans there. It’s way more fun, way more exciting, and you have more adrenaline so things hurt less. I miss the fans, 100 percent.
JB: Were you comfortable with the COVID testing and policies put in place by New Japan Pro Wrestling?
DF: Oh yeah. We get tested before we leave and when we arrive, they’re on the ball with everything. I feel super safe.
JB: You are a fourth-generation family member to the wrestling profession, and wrestling always came so naturally to you. You made the decision to hone your craft at the New Japan Dojo, but over time, you saw peers and dojo mates surpass you in terms of matches and success.
Over the past two years, you have worked incredibly hard to show the world your worth, including a significant change to your body due with advanced training. What has your journey been like in Japan?
DF: You can sum it up with start-and-stop. I started in Japan when I was 21 years old in 2015. At the beginning, I think it was due to immaturity. I didn’t intend to have a sense of entitlement because of my last name, but I think I did. I didn’t put in the work that I should have. I was coasting off my last name.
When I got hurt, that was a wakeup call. I wasn’t happy with my career. If that was a career-ending injury, I would not have been happy with what I accomplished. So I decided to do something to change that.
JB: What steps have you taken to change the direction of your career?
DF: I’ve been hitting the gym real hard and living way cleaner. It’s all the things I’m supposed to do. I’ve changed my mindset, too. I used to hate training, but now I enjoy it. It’s become a fun challenge for me–how good can I get?
JB: Obviously you are very proud of your father, but do you have to work extra hard to prove that your success is not solely a byproduct of your last name?
DF: I think so, and I don’t think I’ll ever escape that. I get in my foot in the door easier because of my name, but I am striving to break out from underneath that shadow and be my own person when it comes to career comparisons. I’m super proud of where I come from, my dad is my hero, but I want to be my own person, as well.
JB: Your father will forget more about wrestling than most of us will ever learn. How influential has he been on your career?
DF: My dad is a genius. He’s been wrestling professionally since he was 14 years old. He knows so much about it. My dad means everything to me. He’s been a father, a coach, a mentor. He watches all my matches, critiques them. He’s the man.
JB: Your best friend in the business is Juice Robinson, who you won the IWGP tag titles with this past January at Wrestle Kingdom. What does Juice mean to you?
DF: I’ve been all over the world with him for the past five years. I’m around him more than anybody else, so it’s good to have someone you get along with and like being around. We’re fortunate that we clicked right off the bat.
JB: The winner of this tournament gets a shot for the IWGP United States title, which is currently held by AEW champ Jon Moxley. That match would give you an incredible spotlight. Is it possible that match could happen in the United States? And what impresses you most about Moxley?
DF: It would be cool if that match could happen in the U.S. It would be weird if we couldn’t defend the United States Championship in the United States. But that’s for New Japan and AEW to figure out.
A match with Jon Moxley would be awesome. He’s a huge name, and we would have a lot of eyes on us. I’m just impressed with how unorthodox he is. He’s unorthodox, but extremely effective.
JB: Your next match in the tournament is a date in the finals with KENTA. He’s had a fantastic career in Pro Wrestling Noah, as well as a run in NXT. What about his career stands out to you?
DF: There’s not a whole lot he hasn’t done. I remember before I even started wrestling, watching KENTA. Now I’m in the finals of a tournament with someone I was watching years ago, which is kind of surreal.
JB: Beyond a win, what do you have to prove in a match against such an established talent?
DF: My goal is to prove I can go toe-to-toe with anyone. I want to prove to myself I am as good as the top guys, even that I’m better than them. That’s the goal, that’s the challenge. This has the chance to be awesome for my career.