Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!
–Let’s continue our look back at your 2010 G1 Climax campaign. You reached the final from A Block for the first time in three years, to take on Satoshi Kojima. Kojima was a free agent at the time, having left All Japan back in May.
Tanahashi: Guys leaving NJPW and then coming back always seem to run into me, huh. Here it was Kojima and two years later it would be Katsuyori Shibata as well.
Tanahashi: Those situations are complicated. I’m very stubborn, and want to establish that I was the one that was always here, and in part to build the match itself, I tend to be very antagonistic to those guys. But deep down I’ve tended to believe we’ll come to an understanding in the ring. With Kojima though, it was a little different (to Shibata); there were a lot of fond memories of him and Hiroyoshi Tenzan as a team, and the NJPW fans did like him. Even me myself; Kojima was always good to me at the start of my career.
–When Kojima was still in AJPW, he was in the 2006 and 2008 G1s, and part of the G1 Tag League with Tenzan in ’08. So even though he was an outsider, he was in the NJPW consciousness.
Tanahashi: That said though, when he would come in, it would put me on edge somewhat. Like he’d left and was stopping by, it felt like he was a bit high and mighty. And when we met in those two G1s, I lost both times.
–And in 2006, you were the IWGP Champion at the time.
Tanahashi: Right, so I lost the match I could afford to the least. Kojima was kind of my white whale when it came to the G1, and I lost again in this final.
–Kojima was dealing with an elbow injury coming into this G1, and had the attitude that if he didn’t win, he’d be left with no place to go.
Tanahashi: It was all or nothing for him, coming in from outside. So it really was the both of us feeling that we couldn’t afford to lose.
–You would try and target the right arm of Kojima to try and take away the lariat, but Kojima was too persistent, and got you with the lariat in the end.
Tanahashi: I went for the right arm with a Dragon Screw, and I tried to hit the Slingblade, but he counted with this big left swing, using the injured elbow on instinct.
–When you went for the Slingblade again, Kojima caught you flush with that lariat.
Tanahashi: I lost to Kojima again! Never having walked away, I don’t know what it’s like, but you really felt that he was putting so much at stake. And there I was, the pariah again (laughs).
–That said, Kojima was very complimentary of you. He was obviously very conscious of Shinsuke Nakamura, Togi Makabe, Hirooki Goto, but singles you out and said what an inredible wrestler you’d become. He had commented how surprised he was by your physique when you first came into the company as well.
Tanahashi: Ah, even now, he won’t shut up about that, heh. Back then, my legs were bigger, and I had a better balance physique wise than now, even. You never know when new guys might quit, so it’s always the old school policy not to get too close, but Kojima was always really nice with me from day one. Even had a pet name for me: Tana-cho (laughs).
You always think of Kojima’s muscles, the biggest arms in New Japan. I remember him, me, Honma and YOH taking photos once together, and his arms were just ridiculous next to ours. The power of that lariat, in more ways than one.
–It’s incredible that at 51 and 30 years into his career, he still has the biggest arms in NJPW.
Tanahashi: Absolutely. Even at that veteran level, never slowing down, never resting on his laurels. Seeing the fighting spirit he still has is definitely still an inspiration to me as well.