Ace’s HIGH #80: The Best Around

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 #79: SMASH Brothers

Ace’s HIGH #81 Coming  November 10!->

–Let’s talk about your 2010 G1. The twentieth G1 Climax, so a landmark tournament. 

Tanahashi: A landmark tournament for me to be the pariah that allowed an outsider to win for the first time. 

–Satoshi Kojima was a freelancer at the time of the tournament and was the only non contracted NJPW wrestler to date to win the G1. That said, this was your first time winning your block in three years, with wins over Strongman, Manabu Nakanishi and Toru Yano and Togi Makabe, and a draw over Tetsuya Naito. You lost to Prince Devitt and Karl Anderson, putting you at 4-2-1 and nine points. 

Tanahashi: This was Anderson emerging somewhat. I guess I was the litmus test for that, and Anderson passed with a win over me.

–He was part of a very successful IWGP Tag Team Championship team with Giant Bernard as Bad Intentions, but he hadn’t established himself as a singles wrestler to that point. 

Tanahashi: He was my type of wrestler. Very finessed in every little thing he did, a good rhythm to his matches. And at that point he wasn’t involved in any heel faction so I had more of a chance to interact with him outside of the ring and find out what a nice easy going guy he was. 

–Anderson was quite well travelled to this point in his career. He’d come through the US independents and the original LA Dojo before debuting in NJPW in 2008.

Tanahashi: When he first came into New Japan, he would be on the receiving end of these losses from me and the rest of hontai, but kept his head up and kept working. he truly became a wrestler’s wrestler. He was someone for the boys to aspire to. ‘I want to be a pro like Karl Anderson’ kinda thing.  

–What did you think about the Bad Intentions team?

Tanahashi: With a beast like Bernard, it would have been easy to see Anderson like a bit player. But they were both able to bring their own strengths to the table and construct matches that made sure they both shone equally. With their speed, power, combinations, they really were a perfect team together.

–Their V10 win streak with the IWGP tag Team Championships is still a record.

Tanahashi: They really defined an era in the tag team space. You can’t really argue with that. 

–This was Prince Devitt’s first G1. The spot was originally set to go to NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji, but he withdrew due to a pinched nerve in his neck. Devitt had won Best of the Super Jr. that year and went on to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, and took Marufuji’s place as a result.

Tanahashi: This was where you really saw the superstar potential in Devitt. He proved he could more than hang with the heavyweights in that G1.

–He got a roll-up win over you on the way to a 4-3 record and a joint second place finish. Much like Anderson, an LA Dojo product, who would obviously go on to form BULLET CLUB. He arrived in NJPW in March 2006, what were your thoughts on him at the time?

Tanahashi: First impressions? Man, what a good looking guy (laughs). He actually had a little puppy fat on him when he first came in, but that was soon gone. I think with him what struck me was just how hard he dedicated himself to being part of the Japanese culture, and part of the New Japan culture. He understood how things worked in NJPW, trained like a beast too. He had quite a few injuries starting out but quickly got past that to really impress. 

–Kuniaki Kobayashi was in charge of the Dojo dorms at the time and was very fond of Devitt. That was a rare status indeed.

Tanahashi: That shows the heart Devitt had. I think when you look at the non-Japanese talent that have come through the NJPW system, they definitely share that heart; Jay White might have fallen off the rails a bit since, but he was a really dedicated Young Lion. And every one of them had incredible fundamentals that meant they can and have succeeded anywhere they go.

–What made Devitt stand out compared to other wrestlers at the time or since?

Tanahashi: He was very athletic, but not a high flier per se, compared to a Kota Ibushi, or Ricochet, or Will Ospreay. He would do a tope con giro and that would be it, but it would be perfect, and in every aspect he had perfect, total balance. And more than that, an intuition and a sense for drawing the people in. He was cool as hell, but it was more than that, he could get empathy from people.

–And the Japanese fans loved him.

Tanahashi: It’s so, so difficult to get the kind of support that he had as a foreigner. He had absolutely every tool imaginable. Obviously he’s only grown since, and I’m proud I worked alongside him.