— So, Tanahashi, the G1 season is upon us.
Tanahashi ‘That time of year again.’
— We have the same discussion every year, but first let’s look at both blocks and in general, who leaps out to you.
Tanahashi ‘Well, you have Juice and Zack debuting. Other than that, most of the names have been shuffled around, but there’s a lot of people there that I’ve had some experience with already.’
— Well, you’re in your 16th G1, and much like Yuji Nagata with 19 years in a row, it does start to feel that way.
Tanahashi ‘Right. No matter how many times I do this though, I get a special kind of nervous every year. Like for that Nagata match.’
— I think Nagata feels the same. And this year you’re in the same block.
Tanahashi ‘Well, the A block is the Ace block! This year my home town of Gifu has a B block show, so I thought maybe this year I’d be in the B block, but the Ace has to be in block A.’
–Tanahashi has to be in A block.
— Well, first of all in Sapporo on July 17, it’s your first singles match with Zack Sabre Junior.
Tanahashi ‘Yes. I watched his match with Goto back in April and really thought “here’s a heel”. When I was younger I loved King’s Road and I loved the classical wrestling style, so I really felt that Zack was a guy I could do something with. But I’m a little worried about him…’
— The Ace is worried?
Tanahashi ‘I’m looking forward to it, but if i had to be honest, I’m more worried than excited.’
— You have to keep up with him on a technical level.
Tanahashi ‘Well, on the other hand, it’s exciting to perhaps pull something new out. It’s a matter of just how well I can adapt to him. If I allow him to dictate the pace I won’t be able to escape.’
— But you do have to meet your opponent in the middle to an extent.
Tanahashi ‘Right. You have to feel a new opponent out and discover their strengths. I think whatever happens, it’ll be a good match.’
— In Korakuen July 21, it’s Bad Luck Fale.
Tanahashi ‘Ah, yes. I’ve wrestled him a lot in New Japan Cups.’
— He was ultimately unsuccessful, but Fale was able to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestling Dontaku.
Tanahashi ‘It’s always explosive when me and Fale meet. As far as that Okada match is concerned, I think he really showed a lot of will, a lot of spirit. He’s teaching that Japanese spirit to kids in his home country..’
–He set up a dojo in New Zealand to teach the Japanese way.
Tanahashi ‘But on the other hand, he is in the Bullet Club. So I can’t shake this question of “is he a big, scary bad guy, or a big, powerful good guy?”’
— If he can settle that question, he’d be a force to be reckoned with.
Tanahashi ‘if you think back to guys like Big Van Vader or Bam Bam Bigelow, there’s a lot of potential to have a Japanese made big foreign monster like that.’
— We mentioned Yuji Nagata earlier. You’re facing him on July 23rd in Machida. You obviously have a lot of history with him, and now he’s saying this is his last G1.
Tanahashi ‘Especially in 2006 and 2007, we faced each other a lot, two or three singles matches a year. I see him in the dojo a lot. I always think he trains hard, and out of anyone in the third generation, he’s clearly in the best shape.’
— That training pays off for him.
Tanahashi ‘It is his last time, so I do want to see him do well. But on the other hand, I’m not losing to a guy who’s bowing out.’
— After that, you face Goto in Sendai. It was in Sendai in 2013 that you broke Goto’s jaw.
Tanahashi ‘Yes, he had to withdraw from the rest of the tournament. I have a deep connection to Sendai, it means a lot to be in the main event there this year.’
— Goto won the NEVER championship in January of this year before losing to Minoru Suzuki in May. What are your thoughts on Hirooki Goto?
Tanahashi ‘I think Goto has a lot in common with YOSHI-HASHI. With both guys there’s this question of “what kind of wrestler do you really want to be?”. There’s just one missing element that they need to communicate to the fans.’
— Does that bother you?
Tanahashi ‘Yes. Goto’s been on this journey of finding himself for a few years now. He needs to think of this as a critical turning point for him. Last year he made it to the finals, but he didn’t really carry that fire with him afterward.’
— On July 27, you have YOSHI-HASHI. He recently challenged for Minoru Suzuki’s NEVER title unsuccessfully, so he wants to turn that around in the G1.
Tanahashi ‘YOSHI-HASHI… In his matches and his interviews, you really see his personality come across so I think it’s easy for the fans to connect with him. But he kind of relies on that connection a little too much I think.’
Tanahashi ‘He has his moves that he hits well, accurately, and the fans respond to them, but he needs more up his sleeve. With someone on a Suzuki level, he needs to be able to produce something his opponent hasn’t seen before. It’s a bit harsh to say, but I don’t think the YOSHI-HASHI we’ve seen lately can beat me.’
—continued in Part2. Check back soon