Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!
–We’ll turn the page into 2013 here, and you facing Kazuchika Okada in the main event on January 4. Okada introduced the concept of the right to challenge contract after winning his debut G1. What did you think of the idea?
Tanahashi: I was really impressed with the idea. The thing is, G1 Climax is always thought of as the biggest tour of the year for us. But before, the winner would end up challenging for the title right afterward, and if they lost it devalued the idea of the tournament itself.
–A fair point.
Tanahashi: With the briefcase introduced you then had all the questions of how we get on this road to Wrestle Kingdom, it tied the rest of the year together nicely. It was a great idea.
–And it elevated the G1.
Tanahashi: It did. That G1 achievement in itself is a huge one, but then you had added pressure of being the briefcase holder. In the years up to now when we’ve had it, it only changed hands once.
–November 2020, when Jay White defeated Kota Ibushi.
Tanahashi: I liked the phrase itself, ‘right to challenge holder’. It sounded very official. I would always worry about flubbing it when I tried to say it though (laughs)
–There was a bit of a generational clash feel to this match, especially with Okada shooting to the Dome main event just one year after his return from excursion.
Tanahashi: This was first of the three Dome main events we’d have together, and it was the first time I’d wrestled him in a singles match in Tokyo; the other times had been in Osaka before now. So there was a lot of hype, high expectations.
–We saw offense you wouldn’t normally be able to do elsewhere, like the Slingblade on the entrance ramp.
Tanahashi: I’d developed a few variations to the Slingblade by now, but I needed to refine things even further with Okada. Definitely that generational factor was a thing for me. I’m a decade older and I couldn’t be shown up.
–You used the High Fly Flow to record your sixth defence before asking fans to stay with you as the ‘Tanahashi age’ continued.
Tanahashi: I was really pushed hard, and I could feel the fans thinking Okada was going to win. There was really this special sense of expectation around him. This match, and the ones we had in ’15 and ’16 are really special to me.
–You would chalk your win up to having more experience in the Tokyo Dome.
Tanahashi: I’d been in that spot several times, but it was Okada’s first. There was definitely a difference in big match experience. But then, he never seemed nervous. He was probably more in control emotionally than me. That’s what’s made him who he is today.
–In the semi main event that night, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazushi Sakuraba certainly turned a lot of heads. What did you think of their match?
Tanahashi: I definitely had an eye on it. It was a really fresh match, maybe even a bigger draw than myself and Okada was. Around this time, a Tanahashi main event with a Nakamura semi-main was quite a common thing, so there was this sense we were still competing indirectly.
–You had a big act to follow.
Tanahashi: I’d be standing by backstage and listening to the reactions to the semi, cursing Nakamura (laughs). But we had a lot of depth at this point in time, you didn’t need it to be Tanahashi vs Nakamura one on one. Even so, whether we were opposite one another or not in the ring, we were competing outside of it, definitely.