Interview with New Japan Pro Wrestling star Toa Henare

Aaron Henare, known to the wrestling world as Toa Henare, wrestles for the New Japan Pro Wrestling organisation, where he has competed since 2016. @HenareNZ is also the star pupil of @FaleDojo and is referred to as the “Prized Lion”. Born in Auckland, New Zealand and raised as Cook Island Maori, Henare knew early in his life that he wanted to be a professional wrestler. He embarked on a journey which actually led him to other grappling sports until he attended a pro wrestling seminar that was taught by Bad Luck Fale. From his meeting with Fale, Henare trained towards his goal of becoming a pro wrestler.

As a young wrestling fan growing up, Henare’s first memories of pro wrestling involved watching WCW on the weekends with his cousins. It was from these early instances where he knew that he wanted to become a pro wrestler. “My favourite wrestlers were Goldberg and Sting,” he explained to Ite Lemalu Writings. “Those memories of WCW sparked something in me. I knew that I wanted to become a pro wrestler.”

In his quest to become a pro wrestler, Henare searched for training schools in Auckland and found there to be none at the time. With no pro wrestling training facilities available, he looked into amateur wrestling as an alternative sport. “I loved pro wrestling as a kid, but there were no wrestling schools, so I decided to do amateur wrestling.”

Henare pursued amateur wrestling with the intention that he would eventually find his way to pro wrestling. He trained as an amateur wrestler at Dilworth School while receiving his secondary school education at Pakuranga College. “Not many people will make the connection, but pro wrestling is to Pakuranga College, what rugby is to De La Salle College. Including myself; Dakota Kai (WWE NXT Women’s wrestler), Michael Richards (pro wrestler), and Jordan Wright (Fale Dojo coach) came out of Pakuranga College.”

Henare thrived as a member of Dilworth’s esteemed Amateur Wrestling Club, excelling at a national level, winning championships in Freestyle, Greco-Roman, and Submission styles. “I got my start in sports at Dilworth,” expressing his gratitude to the institution. “I also played rugby, because they knew that I could wrestle and apply those skills to the game.”

In addition to his achievements in the amateur ring, Henare also competed and won several mixed martial arts tournaments. Many of the MMA fighters who he competed with have since gone onto compete in the UFC.

While wrestling both amateur and pro (with Impact Pro Wrestling), Henare was selected to be part of the New Zealand olympic wrestling team. The successful athlete had to make a decision to either join the olympic wrestling team or continue with his quest in becoming a pro wrestler. Ultimately, he chose to continue pursuing pro wrestling. “My goal all along was to be a pro wrestler,” he shared. “Even though it would’ve been awesome to be part of the olympic wrestling team, I didn’t want to give up my goal when I knew that I was close to reaching it.”

“Huge weekend last week! Topped off by a training seminar with Toks Fale! Shot for the wisdom of this man!!! Get in contact for the next #FaleDojo seminar coming up!” Henare, 2015.

In 2013, Henare met Bad Luck Fale while attending a pro wrestling seminar that Fale had hosted. It was at that point where his wrestling hopes would begin to drawing closer. “Fale taught wrestling seminars before the Fale Dojo was set up. I started training with Fale and became part of his seminars.”

Noticing Henare’s determination to reach his goal, Fale provided him with the necessary guidance from his training and experience. “Fale helped me a lot,” as the prized lion reflected. “He got me my trial in Japan and prepared me for it.”

Since Fale Dojo opened in 2016, Henare has seen the opportunities that the Dojo has made available to aspiring wrestlers throughout New Zealand. “It’s great, now that Fale Dojo is a full-time wrestling school, the Dojo can benefit more people who share the same dream in becoming pro wrestlers.”

Henare, wrestling in one of his first NJPW matches, 2016.

While training at the NJPW Dojo in 2016, Henare experienced the demand of the training regime. Henare gave insight into the similarities and between NJPW Dojo and Fale Dojo.  “The NJPW Dojo is full on, you’re doing similar warm-ups to Fale Dojo’s; 1000 squats, 200 push-ups and 200 sit-ups.”

Henare also highlighted the differences, “With the NJPW Dojo, your daily training begins as soon as you wake up. When it comes to the martial arts, NJPW Dojo teaches styles that are relevant to the Japanese culture like Sumo and Ju-Jitsu. At Fale Dojo, you get to do kickboxing, shoot wrestling and boxing. At our recent training at Fale Dojo, we also got to do submission wrestling and looked at it from all sorts of different angles.”

Yuji Nagata

During his time in New Japan, Henare has been mentored by some reputable veterans in pro wrestling, one of his mentors is Yuji Nagata. “I remember watching Yuji in WCW,” recalling as a young fan. “He wasn’t one of my favourite wrestlers then, but he’s become one of my heroes, and I study him a lot.”

 

Henare’s enjoyment of being part of New Japan Pro Wrestling is due to his growing insight into the wrestling profession. “Since I started understanding wrestling more, I realised that New Japan was a better product,” he explained. “It’s not just about the money, New Japan lets me be who’s inside me: Toa Henare.”

An additional value to working with New Japan is that the wrestlers have the opportunity to return home to rejuvenate and spend time with their families. This may be seen as a luxury, however, for Aaron and Fale, this is a necessity, as it aligns with family obligations which is a big part of the Pacific culture. “New Japan is amazing because they let you come home regularly. Our Pacific culture is similar to their Japanese culture, so they understand our concept of family, and they acknowledge that it’s important to us,” he explained. “It’s a perfect balance; we come back home, set everything up, then go back on tour.”

Henare told one of his favourite matches from the New Japan-Ring of Honor working relationship. His opponent, ROH’s Beer City Bruiser is an agile super heavyweight. He recounted how much he enjoyed working with the Bruiser. “It was fun wrestling Beer City Bruiser, he frog splashed me from the top rope. He’s very agile for his size.”

Henare also supports the relationship between NJPW and ROH, stating that the promotions contribute styles that are mutually beneficial to both parties. “The ROH guys bring a specific high flying style.”

In regards to the All In event that ROH has a hand in, Henare believes that the event would benefit the wrestling industry on a global level. “Anything that gets people’s eyes on pro wrestling is good for the whole market. That includes New Zealand wrestling.”

Toa Henare vs. Iishi Tomohiro

Henare’s next goal is to become NJPW NEVER Openweight Champion. This championship is known for its physical matches, and it’s most notable champions are wrestlers that specialise in this hard-hitting style. Iishi Tomohiro, a former NEVER Openweight champion has wrestled Henare on many occasions and is someone who Henare is grateful towards. “Iishi Tomohiro brought me to a new level, that I never knew it was in me,” he said with great fondness. “He slapped me around and beat me up. Now everyone thinks I’m tough.”

Minoru Suzuki and Hirooki Goto are among other hard-hitters that Henare has wrestled. Henare regards his matches with these particular opponents as opportunities that will prepare him towards the NEVER Openweight Championship. “These guys aren’t built to flip and fly around,” he assured. “They’re straight up strikers, and I need to be in the ring with these guys. I think I have a shot at the title.”

Fale Dojo

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