Of all the intakes that have come through Fale Dojo / NJPW New Zealand Dojo, the June 2018 intake holds the distinction of the entire class being selected to advance to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Dojo in Tokyo for further training. This group consisted of four members, two of which included the more recognised Michael Richards from New Zealand, and Andrew Villalobos; the first Australian young lion to train at the NJPW Dojo. Their fame grew after accepting the invitation to Japan.
Following their return Down Under in early 2019, Villalobos spent much of his time at Fale Dojo helping to develop the next intake of lions. Later that year, Villalobos made his New Japan debut alongside Richards at the Southern Showdown tour of Australia. At the end of the year Villalobos competed in a singles match in front of his hometown crowd in Sydney at the Liger Down Under event in honour of the retiring NJPW legend, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger.
“After the Liger Down Under show, I stayed back in Sydney making my plans to come back to New Zealand to resume my training at Fale Dojo,” said Villalobos. “My long-term goal having debuted was to work my way back to Japan to become a full-time member of the New Japan roster.”
“I was working and training at my local gym while saving up for my return, up until COVID-19 happened,” he shared. “During the pandemic, I trained from home, and I eventually got a manager’s position at the gym once Sydney had opened back up.”
Villalobos eventually returned to New Zealand in April this year as a Senior Lion. Unlike his previous stays, Villalobos’ move to NZ became permanent in a bold move to sustain his world class training and etch closer to his ultimate goal.
“I’m pretty used to NZ life,” said Villalobos the Senior Lion. “This would mark my fourth time here. Since my initial intake in 2018, I made two other intakes, roughly 8 to 10 weeks combined, now I’m here again in 2021 for good.”
He continued: “This time around I’ve had to make more permanent choices such as getting a car, opening a new bank account, and securing a job. So it’s a lot more serious this time lifestyle-wise.”
Villalobos has seen a lot of changes at Fale Dojo since arriving back in New Zealand.
“It’s an exciting time to be a part of Fale Dojo,” Villalobos explained. “When I first came in 2018, the Dojo was considered the equivalent of the best high school education to prepare us for University studies at the New Japan Dojo.”
“Now Fale Dojo’s been elevated to University standard by becoming the NZ Dojo,” he added. “The level has always been high, however, as an official part of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, this comes with a lot more responsibilities.”
“The three-month professional wrestling training has evolved a lot,” Villalobos noted. “This not just benefits first-time trainees, it can also help develop past graduates who are looking to upskill. I hope that the upcoming NZ Dojo try-outs gives the Dojo more of a spotlight. More eyes on us mean more opportunities.”
In addition to being a Senior Lion, Villalobos contributes his skill set to the Fale Dojo General Community Classes. Villalobos is a remedial massage therapist, as well as being a certified personal trainer and WrestleFit (formerly titled Limitless) trainer for the 1 pm Wednesday sessions.
“My WrestleFit classes are circuit training based,” he explained. “They’re all programmed in that manner with multiple stations but with timed rounds, so no matter what fitness level everyone gets a max level workout.”
“I incorporate full-body movements, with my own little spin,” he added. “I also tend to finish the sessions with either a surprise finisher, group stretch, or team-based workout to give it its own uniqueness from the other classes.”
Villalobos also shared his expertise during the Dojo Community’s weight loss programme, the 4 Week Ninja Cut Challenge. He officiated the fitness tests which took place at the beginning and in the last week of the contest. The results were remarkable as Villalobos elaborated.
“The Ninja Cut is designed to challenge people to improve their health and fitness whilst providing a fitness test at the beginning and end so people can see how far they’ve progressed,” Villalobos stated. “Although my role was small in the grand scheme of things, the whole point of a challenge and fitness tests were to give people the tools and data to help improve themselves.”
“Seeing you can do more push-ups than last time or losing 5% body fat in a month is motivating but ultimately it doesn’t matter,” he expressed so profoundly. “What does matter is what we learn along the way – discipline! Motivation lights the fire but it’s the discipline that keeps it alight.”
“I’ve been in the fitness industry for a while now, and I’ve seen a lot of people succeed, fail, progress and regress but it’s always a lifelong struggle when it comes to health and fitness goals,” said Villalobos the Personal Trainer.
“So When I heard how much weight the members from the Ninja Cut Challenge had lost, I don’t think they realise how much of a big deal that was.”
He continued: “There are people who would do anything to lose that much weight in a year let alone 4 weeks. I just wanted to put in perspective that what they accomplished is something really special.”
Being the first NJPW young lion from Australia was a great achievement for Andrew Villalobos; his debut there spurring him to push his aspiration even further. The Sydney-born lion may have adapted to his life in New Zealand in order to reach his ultimate goal, but doing so has come with a price. Yet still, Villalobos remains unphased.
“To be the first Australian young lion to train at the New Japan Dojo is a special accomplishment to me,” Villalobos stated. “But at the same time, the feeling is temporary. It was a great experience to have a taste of NJPW, at the end of the day I won’t be satisfied until I accomplish my goal of wrestling full-time in Japan.”
“Sacrifice is just a normal part of wrestling, a normal part of life,” he revealed in closing. “So I try not to shed too much light on it because we all go through it. I’ve left my home, my country, a serious relationship, family, and friends: It hurts at times, but I know my discipline will help guide me to a career with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.”