Hiroshi Tanahashi’s life story can now be told in this series of autobiographical interviews, available for the first time in English!
–So last time we started talking about your month long excursion to Mexico in 2005, and I thought we could dig a little deeper into that here today. Your first match over there was on September 2 2005, where you, Nakamura and Averno formed a trio against Negro Casas, Doctor Wagner Jr. and Dos Caras Jr. Ryusuke Taguchi was actually on excursion at the time, and interfered in the final fall along with OKUMURA. There was a lot of heat in the building.
Tanahashi: I’d never experienced anything like that; being a rudo and eliciting that hate from the crowd. They were like a soccer crowd, so noisy, and that really spurred me on. I remember the thing about that match was when me and Nakamura made our entrance, coming up the ring steps, that was literally when our opponents arrived at the building. They were doing a double header, I guess. They drove up, got out of the car in their ring gear and hit the ring.
–You wouldn’t imagine that happening in Japan…
Tanahashi: To see Casas in front of his home crowd, man, that was something else. Of the people that come over for Fantasticamania every year, I was able to work with Ultimo Guerrero, Atlantis… The one guy I was a bit star struck by was Mister Aguila. I remember seeing a CMLL show in KBS Hall when I was a student and bought one of his masks because I thought they looked cool, and then here was the real deal. I think one thing that was a real culture shock was just how different the lucha routine is out of the ring.
–Before the matches?
Tanahashi: Right. In Japan, you arrive at the venue, and you warm up. Then when the doors open, you go to the back and get changed, and wait in your ring gear until your match is up. But over there, guys show up maybe two, three matches before they’re up, wrestle and then they leave right after their match is done. Sometimes they’re there for an hour or less, total. It made my head spin.
–In, job done, out.
Tanahashi: They don’t even warm up. And yet they’re able to launch themselves off the top to floors with no padding at all, it’s incredible.
–And did you get drawn into that lucha culture when you were there? Did you fly a lot more?
Tanahashi: I thought I should. I thought I would. I put all I had into my run up for the suicide dive. I clipped my feet on the ropes and went splat. And it was on live TV, and they replayed it in slow motion.
–That’s insult on injury (laughs)!
Tanahashi: Everything is so different in Mexico, from fundamentals up. If you’re in Japan or Europe or whatever, day one it would be locking up, taking an arm, taking the head. There you start at such a different place. Then there’s the tag matches, with no tags.
–Were you a little lost at first?
Tanahashi I was a lot lost the whole time. I never knew when to get in. We’d do a six man and the two legal guys would go outside, then me and Nakamura would look at each other like, should you? Should I? (laughs)
–I get the impression Nakamura joined his time abroad.
Tanahashi: He did, for sure. You know, he was in the LA Dojo a good bit longer than I was, he had matches in Brazil, even North Korea. He was used to travel. For me, this trip and us being together was all about me finally trying to become friends with him.
–The great Shinsuke and Tanahashi firendship project (laughs).
Tanahashi: Mission not accomplished (laughs). I tried, I really did, but there was always this distance between the two of us. We’d be on a seven hour bus ride together from Mexico City to Guadalajara, and I still couldn’t get him to open up. I think it was that three year difference in our experience, and I was the senpai. He just wouldn’t let down his guard away from work. In the end though, with the rivalry that we had, it was probably for the best we never became good friends. He got on better with Taguchi while we were over there.
–I hear that when you were in Mexico you met a university student by the name of KUSHIDA.
Tanahashi: I remember meeting him at a lucha class, yeah. Me and Shinsuke couldn’t keep up with the highest level lucha class and we were put with the guys starting out. Ultimo Gladiador was heading up the class, constantly with sandwiches stuffing his face. And yeah, Kushi was there. We just said hello, about that level. It was Shinsuke who said to him ‘if you really want to wrestle, why not come to NJPW?’
–He actually started in Japan in HUSTLE in 2006, and then he was in SMASH until March 2011. You actually went to his last SMASH match.
Tanahashi: It’s strange how fate works. Speaking of, Kazuchika Okada was around at that time as well.
–Ahh, just starting with Toryumon.
Tanahashi: Yeah. Then a few years later there he was in NJPW.
–Did you see something in him back then?
Tanahashi: Nothing much beyond ‘oh, he’s tall’, to be honest. He was only 17 then. Very innocent, heh. He was probably still growing at that point, come to think of it. Me, Taguchi and Nakamura would train at the Toryumon Gym quite a bit. I liked it there; they had Japanese rice for one thing (laughs).
–What did you think of the food in Mexico?
Tanahashi: I’m not a fussy eater, really, so I was fine with anything. There’s this food stand outside Arena Mexico that does tacos, fried food, everything. It’s a real lucha libre haunt, so it was nice to eat there and feel engrained in the lucha culture, heh.
–So did the fans know all the wrestlers were there? Was it not crowded?
Tanahashi: The thing is, when everybody took their masks off, you’d be surprised at how the fans couldn’t figure out who was who. Sometimes, like you see a Euforia at Fantasticamania, they’re such big dudes that they stand out, but back then most people were pretty small. I stood out because of my size; they all said my lucha name should be Anabolica because they thought I was on the gas (laughs). It’s all natural though!
–Any other Mexico stories?
Tanahashi: Well, CMLL’s home ground is Arena Mexico, and Arena Coliseo, but sometimes we’d be out in the sticks as well. And in those venues, the heat I was getting was unreal. Most of it racial. Not just booing either, fans throwing the bones from their chicken wings, everything. Nakamura handled that way better than I did. He’d encourage it, even.
–You had a unique match on September 30, defending the IWGP tag Team Championships in Arena Mexico against Rey Bucanero and Olimpico.
Tanahashi: It was originally going to be Ultimo Guerrero in there, but there was a last minute substitution. That Los Guerreros Hermanos stable was super over, and it was the real culmination of our trip, so me and Nakamura worked really well, did more double teams. The other thing I really remember from that time was Hector Garza.
–Garza would come to Japan in 2011 for the Tokyo Dome, but then passed away in 2013.
Tanahashi: He had a great look, was so handsome, great fit, the whole package. And even though I can’t speak Spanish, he really went out of his way to communicate with me. So soft spoken, such a kind heart. Anyone would fall in love with him, wherever you are on any spectrum (laughs). Anyway, at the end of the day, I was glad of the experience, especially since I never go the usual Young Lion excursion treatment, but when I got home, it was really ‘oh yeah, nothing beats Japanese wrestling (laughs)