–The G1 is over, but you went straight from the tournament to shooting your movie, so it’s been pretty hectic for you.
Tanahashi: Right, we’re in the middle of shooting now. The day after the G1 I had my hair cut and two days later we started with the movie, now all of a sudden, boom, summer’s over.
–You spent your summer vacation shooting the movie, and now the next tour’s starting.
Tanahashi: Yeah, the show never ends (laughs).
–On September 16 in Hiroshima you defend the Intercontinental Championship against Zack Sabre Junior. In the G1 itself, and in your tag match on the final day, he made you submit.
Tanahashi: It really hurts to lose that way. And to tap out twice in the same tour, that doesn’t happen often. So revenge is weighing pretty heavily in my mind, and I’m thinking about what to bring to Zack, and to the people in Hiroshima.
— This will be your second defense of the title since you took it from Naito at Dominion.
Tanahashi: Yes, I defended against Billy Gunn in LA in July. I won even if I had to show all of America my ass to do so. (laughs)
–A lot of America was pretty fired up to see your ass!
Tanahashi: Ha, well I think this match with Zack will be very different.
–The match you had on the opening night of the G1 was the first time you faced Zack Sabre Jr.; how was it locking up with him?
Tanahashi: I knew he was the kind of guy to get you on the ground and lock in submissions, but what surprised me was how strong his strikes are.
–He’s a powerful striker?
Tanahashi: It’s something you don’t expect given his slender frame, but his kicks and elbows are really impactful. He’s quite tall, which makes him look slim, but it’s dangerous to underestimate his power.
–Did you look at his matches with Shibata in March and Goto in April to try and form a defense against his submissions?
Tanahashi: Well, those matches were really about those guys, not me. It was more a case of winging it for me.
–You were a little careless perhaps?
Tanahashi: I think I was careless, yes. But that said, even if I had gone into the match more prepared, I’m still not sure I could have defended against Zack’s submissions.
–There’s always a culture of sparring in the NJPW Dojo, but is Zack’s submission wrestling a different beast?
Tanahashi: I think his is this combination of all sorts of wrestling cultures. But his ability to dissect an arm or a leg, it’s very classical in style. His octopus stretch is very old school.
But what doesn’t feel old fashioned in the least is his focus. If he wants to finish you off with a hold on your arm, he’ll spend the entire match working over your arm. He’s relentless. I think we can all learn from that for the future.
–Some might want to be more focused on their offense but get concerned about what the fans are thinking.
Tanahashi: You can get caught in a trap of thinking ‘I want to concentrate more on this arm but I should change it up’. Zack never gets caught up in that.
— He doesn’t care what the fans think, he just focuses on picking apart arms and legs.
Tanahashi: That’s the style he’s chosen and that he’s devoted to. He’s like an auteur, very devoted to his vision, his art. That’s what’s interesting about him and what’s scary about him.
— Do you like the kind of classical style that Zack uses?
Tanahashi: I do, but that’s not something I should talk about. It’s not about being picky, liking someone over another, it’s about defending as champion.
–Zack said in an interview he considers you a modern legend. He said his win over you got a lot of traction in his social media.
Tanahashi: Hm. I definitely feel like he used me as a stepping stone this G1.
Tanahashi: That opening match most people weren’t familiar with Zack and left having seen him beat me all of a sudden, and with such effective technique.
–So, you’re going to make Zack wrestle a Tanahashi style match next time?
Tanahashi: No! I’m going to wrestle his way.
–Even after that defeat you’re going to let him dictate the pace?
Tanahashi: Well I said during the G1 he was a difficult opponent for me, but there’s freedom in that.
–You say he’s difficult so that the next time you’re out there with him you look all the better.
Tanahashi: Haha. And I think there’s a lot to it being in Hiroshima as well. I know most people equate Hiroshima with Naito but I want to say ‘hang on’ and get them to remember my history there.
–Naito is a huge Hiroshima Carp fan, and that’s led to it being like a second hometown for him.
Tanahashi: But I have some deep ties to Hiroshima too!
–February 10, 2013 was the first time in a while a big show did well in Hiroshima, when you main evented against Karl Anderson. Do you have a certain pride in turning things around for New Japan in Hiroshima?
Tanahashi: I do!
–I thought so.
Tanahashi: I am proud of that. And the next year I wrestled Nakamura there.
–Two title matches in a row and two successful ones as well. So you feel people should equate Hiroshima with you instead of Naito.
Tanahashi: Hm. At any rate, I can’t look past this match with Zack. After the G1 ends there’s a tendency to look ahead to January 4, the matches over the main event contract, where the IWGP title will be.
–Kazuchika Okada versus EVIL has been signed for the IWGP title in October, and Naito versus Ishii for the Wrestle Kingdom main event contract.
Tanahashi: I have Zack next and I’m not looking past that. So after that match, what’s going to happen? What will I do next, where will I go? It’s all a blank slate right now, and to with that said, I absolutely have to beat Zack.
–Certainly if you fail to defend the title, it puts you in a difficult situation heading into the Tokyo Dome.
Tanahashi: I’m very aware of that danger, of being left out of the mix. And it’s all the more scary when Zack can catch you in an instant. You let your guard down for a second with him and it becomes a scary situation.
–With the creation of the US title, there are a lot of heavyweight champions, and a lot of title matches. Are you keeping an eye on those other matches?
Tanahashi: Maybe the IWGP Heavyweight title is something greater, but the other titles.. if you think about the Intercontinental title, in terms of name value, drawing power, Hiroshi Tanahashi is greater than the belt. You think about the NEVER title, Minoru Suzuki is greater than that.
–The wrestlers have a greater name value than their championships.
Tanahashi: Well, it all adds up. There are a lot of titles, but they don’t have a particularly deep history. For me, my mindset has shifted to “let’s do whatever I can given the worth of this title”. So compared to my time with the IWGP title, this reign is going to be a very different thing.
–And it’s a very fresh set of circumstances heading into Destruction in Hiroshima. You don’t have a single prelim tag with Zack heading into the match, it’s your first defence on Japanese soil, and it’s Zack’s first NJPW main event.
Tanahashi: That adds a lot to the match. I think if you look at Hiroshima as the venue, Zack as my opponent and that question of whether I’m ‘bigger’ than the Intercontinental title or not, those are three really interesting talking points heading into this one.
–And it’s been such a long time since you last went on the road as champion in the main event.
Tanahashi: Right, I want to be able to say “the champ is back in Hiroshima!”. I hope all my fans from all over the country check me out in Hiroshima!
A full lineup at the event on 16 Sep, “Destruction in Hiroshima”
The event will be live-streamed with English Commentary only on NJPW World!
Sign up Now http://njpwworld.com/