Ace’s HIGH #71: The G in Goto stands for Golden Week

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!

<–Ace’s HIGH #70: A whole new Angle 

Ace’s HIGH #72 Coming September 8!->

–Last time we talked about your match with Kurt Angle in April 2009. You followed that by facing New Japan Cup winner Hirooki Goto at Dontaku.

Tanahashi: That was the first Wrestling Dontaku in a long time, right?

–Correct, the first in eight years since 2001. And it was the first time for NJPW in the Fukuoka International Center in three years. Now, 2020’s cancellation notwithstanding, it’s a real fixture on the calendar.

Tanahashi: Us going back to that building, it was a real sign that the hot crowds and the momentum we were picking up in Tokyo had made it farther afield; then Dontaku became a real brand. 

–You were on the last Dontaku in the Fukuoka Dome in 2001, teaming with Wataru Inour against Togi (then Shinya) Makabe and Katsuyori Shibata.

Tanahashi: Nobody at the time picked up that I had gone from the first match on the last Dontaku card to the main event when we returned, but let’s put that point over today (laughs).

–What impression do you have of Dontaku at large as an event?

Tanahashi: It takes its name from a big festival, and that’s exactly what it is. All the way back to 1993, with Muta and Hogan… that card was just as I was getting into wrestling. Then that night in 2001 was my one and only time wrestling in the Fukuoka Dome. 

–20 years ago now.

Tanahashi: I’d love for us to go back there. After all, between Jingu Stadium in 1999 and then Summer Struggle in Jingu last year, we returned after 21 years. So it isn’t impossible.

–What are your thoughts on that match with Goto? In the end, you won in 29:39 with the High Fly Flow. This was the first time you used the Reverse Slingblade.

Tanahashi: Back then I would often change up my signature moves in big matches. Especially here, Goto is a real innovator when it comes to his offense, so.

–Goto was often using a modified armbar at this point in time, but he had and still has a lot of painful moves. 

Tanahashi: Top rope Ushigoroshis are no fun. At. All. I didn’t take one in this match, but he tends to dig that out especially for me, heh. Last year in the G1 I took one that knocked the stuffing out of me.

–He really came for your neck.

Tanahashi: I mean, no matter what he comes for, you’re  hurting. The GTR, the Shoten Kai. Goto was a scary figure ever since he came back from excursion. But that said, I had the momentum I had through Muto, Nakamura, Angle. So it was a case of ‘New Japan Cup winner or not, you’re aren’t beating me’.

–After you beat Goto, you got in the microphone and claimed you couldn’t be stopped, naming your next challenger as Manabu Nakanishi just three nights later in Korakuen Hall. This was originally a non title singles match. 

Tanahashi: The big attraction for Korakuen was supposed to be Mistico making his Japanese debut. But he couldn’t get into the country, and so I felt it was the duty of the champion to present a major attraction anyway I could. 

–Bird flu was a big issue at the time, and stopped Mistico, OKUMURA and Misterioso from coming to Japan from Mexico. You took responsibility as champion.

Tanahashi: The logic internally was to get Korakuen Hall sold out every time, and build from there. So there were more title matches in Korakuen around then. 

–Of all your eight reigns as IWGP Champion, this was the tightest defence schedule you ever had.

Tanahashi: Right, two title matches in four days. And the day before that match with Nakanishi, Kota Ibushi and I had our first meeting.

–After Mistico was pulled from the May 5 card, you teamed with Koji Kanemoto to face Takeshi Morishima from NOAH and Ibushi, who was representing DDT at the time. What were your first impressions of him?

Tanahashi: Honestly on the day when I saw him at the building, he seemed like a lost elementary school student (laughs). But he had a lot of energy in the ring, and even as a junior at the time, had a great physique. All in all that was quite a significant Golden Week.