Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!
–Last time we spoke about your Wrestle Kingdom 7 match with Kazuchika Okada. You moved to V6 with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at this point, and Karl Anderson moved to challenge you.
Tanahashi: I lost to him in the G1, which put him in the finals. That G1 match really established him as a singles guy.
–And he was still successful tagging as well, winning World Tag League in 2012 with Hirooki Goto. Your title match was set for Hiroshima, and would be the first IWGP Heavyweight Championship match in the area since Yuji Nagata defended against Tadao Yasuda ten years earlier.
Tanahashi: What I really remember about that match is just how big a draw the IWGP title was here. I was definitely concerned about whether Tanahashi and Anderson could draw as a headline match outside of Osaka or Tokyo.
–But Hiroshima Sun Plaza Hall was sold out on the night, 4,780.
Tanahashi: Even standing room was sold out. That was really something. It said a lot about the company, taking that assertive step and having a big title match in a different market.
–It was a back and forth match, and one you won after overcoming Anderson’s Gunstun to hit your own, and eventually the High Fly Flow.
Tanahashi: It was a great match. Anderson definitely deserved the spot, and he nearly had the title on a few occasions. Anderson was still a babyface at this point in time, so it was more a match about him showing what he can do. I learned a lot wrestling him, he was really good at building the match and getting the people involved.
–You’ve said he wasn’t dissimilar to a Tetsuya Naito.
Tanahashi : Right, that one legged dropkick of his is a real similarity. I think that you see a lot of the NJPW influence on Anderson all the way through his career.
–He and Giant Bernard, Bad Intentions were so dominant that the impression of Anderson as a tag specialist was very strong. Did you think that he would be as successful as he was in this singles spell?
Tanahashi: I really didn’t. He could easily be typecast, but Anderson was waiting, and getting in great shape to capitalise on the opportunities he was given. He got a lot of fans behind him very quickly. I have a lot of fond memories of my matches with him. Especially in Hiroshima here. There was that great hype video with ‘Try Again Stories’ by GILLE as well.
–There were a series of documentary style music videos to go with the song, and you were the focus of one of them.
Tanahashi: There’s training footage in there, and they focused on kids watching my matches. It’s on YouTube, so have a search for the song and my name.
–From here, the New Japan Cup saw Okada victorious on his first attempt, earning a title shot on April 7 in Ryogoku, and emerging with the title.
Tanahashi: This was the first time we’d had a spring Ryogoku event since 2009, where I defended the IWGP against Kurt Angle in the main event. So there was this real sense of redemption, that NJPW had returned to this point.
–At any rate, it was a Rainmaker to end this one after Okada blocked the High Fly Flow.
Tanahashi: Okada showed his toughness through all this. Loss aside, I think this was actually a better match than the one we had in the Tokyo Dome. With every match we had, there was more depth to what we could do, and the better the matches got.
–This wouldn’t be your last match together, of course.
Tanahashi: He didn’t stop coming, and he didn’t stop progressing. he was definitely obsessed with owning the era in his own right.
–You would talk back then about being excited for the new life Okada had breathed into NJPW.
Tanahashi: Right. I think I likened it to trying to seed this barren land. I was growing a seed one at a time with my sweat and tears, and then along came the ‘rain’, and, whoosh, off we went. That was a welcome rain of course, but at the same time, I had to hold my spot as well.
–The two of you were really responsible in turning NJPW into the boom that started in 2012.
Tanahashi: It meant we were in a lot of matches, and there was always a way we could make a theme out of us meeting, whether it was a generational thing, or love vs money. This time money won, though.