Ace’s HIGH #105: Lucha stripes with Liger

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 #104: Rock ‘n’ Rolla

Ace’s HIGH #105 Coming soon! 

–Last time we covered the birth of BULLET CLUB in May 2013. June 22 saw you face Prince Devitt again at Dominion, while July 5 had you and Jyushin Thunder Liger face the CMLL World Tag Champions at the time, Tama Tonga and Terrible, capturing the gold.

Tanahashi: That was a pretty random set of circumstances. Teaming with a junior heavyweight to win CMLL titles in Japan, I’ve never had anything like that before or since.

–It was quite the sight, you and Liger together.

Tnahashi: I had red and white tights at the time, so we had a good look together. But Liger always has been that intimidating senpai figure to me, so I was on edge during that match, heh.

–It’s not often the Ace has to walk on eggshells.

Tanahashi: Well, I guess it just sticks in the memory. I know it was my fault, but when I was young in my career, Liger got really hot at my after my match. I just whiffed a dropkick huge, and Liger yelled at me saying that I should think before I use moves. I should have apologised, and that would have been that, but instead I said ‘I thought (my opponent) would get up and close the distance,’. Then, oh boy…

–That was the lightning rod.

Tanahashi: Like, people had to step in to stop him killing me (laughs). Liger has that short fuse, but it blows over real fast. If anything, if you apologise to him the next day, he gets hot again ‘why are you bringing that up again!’, heh. 

–You always have to be careful around Liger. But he was active in three eras of Japanese history, you can’t argue with his advice. 

Tanahashi: Right. You know, he was taught by Antonio Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara directly; having his experience and advice to hand is key. And then as a wrestler himself, of course, an absolute global legend. In a way, being chewed out by Liger was like a rite of passage for me in this business. 

–All the same, the post match comments after this CMLL Tag match had Liger saying that you ‘carried (him) through the entire thing, it was like a handicap match’.

Tanahashi: That’s a real rite of passage as well. I think our generation are all ‘Liger Kids’, pulled in by the traction that the NJPW juniors had in the 90s. To win a championship with him was truly special.

–You both had a little moment with Terrible afterward as you raised his hand. He would later join Los Ingobernables, and was in the 2019 World Tag League with Shingo Takagi. What are your thoughts on him as a wrestler?

Tanahashi: Terrible is a great wrestler. With Fantasticamania we’ve had a ton of Mexican luchadores in NJPW, but I think he always adapts to the NJPW style most smoothly. He’s big for a lucha guy, and he’s great as a rudo at bringing the fight his way while making his opponent look great. I know for a fact that he can fly, but he’s a great striker, and he builds his matches around those.

–Those fast palm strikes are a favourite of his. 

Tanahashi: I think if they give any of the Japanese guys going on excursion to Terrible then they’d be in excellent hands. He still had that scary aura as he offered that handshake after this match, but it was clear he’s a good guy and that came across to everyone. In a way it’s that contrast that makes him an effective heel; in a country full of professionals, he’s a real pro’s pro. 

–Of course, Tama Tonga has come a long way since that night over the last 11 years. What were your thoughts on him back then?

Tanahashi: Tama always had the look, and always had the natural ability, but for a long time he didn’t quite have the confidence in the little things. I think the fans picked up on that as well, and it gave him a bit of a ceiling back then. He had all the right ingredients, but it took a while for that cake to rise. If Prince Devitt was a hare, he was the tortoise, but right now he’s right where he always needed to be.

–What were your thoughts on him when he came into NJPW?

Tanahashi: I think there were a lot of pressures on him being in a foreign country; I don’t remember seeing him smile much at all, but I guess it was natural that he would take time to open up. But really, BULLET CLUB was a huge turning point for him.

–Have you ever had any dealings with his father King Haku?

Tanahashi: Only the once when he came in as part of BULLET CLUB one time. I remember him being even bigger than Tanga Loa, and just how sturdy, how hard boned the guy was. Definitely nobody you wanted to be on the bad side of, heh.