Ace’s HIGH #61: Styles Make Fights

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 #60: All that Glitters…

Ace’s HIGH #62 Coming June 30!->

–Let’s continue our look back at your 2008. Last time we talked about your loss to Shinsuke Nakamura at the Tokyo Dome on January 4. One month in Ryogoku, you faced AJ Styles; you had met one year earlier in TNA with Styles picking up the win. 

Tanahashi: I got my rematch on my home turf. Thing was, although at the time, AJ was a hot name in the US, that wasn’t the case in Japan. It was on me to get him across as well. I think with all things considered, the match did what it was supposed to. 

–It was a great match that saw you winning with the High Fly Flow. Afterward you had high praise for AJ and said you wanted to do it again sometime. 

Tanahashi: No pun intended, ‘Phenomenal’ was the right nickname. At this point in time, he didn’t have that polish of an IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He still had that short hair, and no beard; he looked like a college student! But the way he moved… it was only natural that he would go on to do what he did in NJPW and in WWE. 

–Obviously you would meet again a good while later. 

Tanahashi: I was still getting all these boos at the time, but when I got on the mic, called him a genius and said ‘let’s do it again’ there was a great reaction from the crowd. They had the same opinion. Props to him for getting that reaction for me (laughs). 

–After your match you said backstage that ‘space is the theme for the year. Everyone is obsessed with the global standard, but I have my sights set higher’.

Tanahashi: All the way to the outer reaches of the galaxy (laughs). It’s interesting to pick apart some of the things I said back then. Now I put a lot of thought into what I say and how it might be received, but back then I was just a natural loud mouth. It was a bit of grass roots promotion, really, and it slowly started to get some momentum behind it. That encouraged me to just say more and more ridiculous things and it snowballed, heh.

–You talk a lot about input and output in your career in terms of reading that fan reaction. 

Tanahashi: Yeah, I’d say this was the beginnings of that. I’d be reading a lot or watching movies on the bus and thinking about what we can do to move the business forward. 

–So after that ‘universal standard’ talk, you went onto call out Keiji Muto, leading to the two of you actually tagging for the first time on March 1  for All Japan. The two of you piced up a win over Taiyo Kea and Toshiaki Kawada. 

Tanahashi: I remember that. It was a significant day. We won the match but then it became a bit of a dispute, whether to close out with the ‘I love you’ or Muto’s ‘wrestling love’ pose. In the end, we both did our poses; it was a real moment after having been wiped out by Muto when we had a singles match in AJPW. So I’d now earned that status of being alongside him. 

–February 16, 2005 in Yoyogi. You’d really come far in the intervening three years. 

Tanahashi: I think All Japan has been the point a few times in my career where the progress I’d made really felt real. I remember as well, Muto in the press conference saying he was jealous of my body, heheh.

–After the match, apparently Muto said to you ‘I just thought it was just the heel schtick, but those guys really hate you’!

Tanahashi: Haha, yes! I think in this case there was the away game aspect as well, but I’d finally figured out the boos by now so I was welcoming them. 

 –You’ve talked about being influenced by Rick Martel around this time. 

Tanahashi: I really did my homework looking at the most smug, conceited heels I could find. Martel in WWF, Shawn Michaels just after the Rockers split, those kind of really self absorbed types. 

–At the end of that Ryogoku card for AJPW, there were a series of guys making their cases for the Champion Carnival that year. Muto invited you in and you said that the ‘tournament needed a proper, cool champion if it was going to draw. You all know, if I’m in it, I’ll win it’. 

Tanahashi: Precocious one, wasn’t I? (laughs)

–That made you the first wrestler to ever be a part of AJPW’s Champion Carnival while under contract to NJPW. 

Tanahashi: Oh, wow, that’s a neat little history note I hadn’t thought of. Muto brought those two worlds together. I think in hindsight, it was around here that things really started to accelerate for my career.