Ace’s HIGH #63: Away Game

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 #62: Cocky Cup Winner

Ace’s HIGH #64 Coming July 14!->

–Last time we talked about your 2008 New Japan Cup win, and the subsequent IWGP Heavyweight Championship match you had against Shinsuke Nakamura. You lost, but stayed motivated as you headed into the Champion Carnival for All Japan. 

Tanahashi: I was really excited for that Champion Carnival. At this point, yes it was ‘Keiji Muto’s All Japan’, but there was still the air of Giant Baba around the promotion, and it felt like I was a true outsider in there. 

–The Carnival consisted of two blocks of five wrestlers each, with you in A block. Before your group matches kicked off, April 5 saw you up against Suwama and Manabu Soya in a tag match. You brought a very young Tetsuya Naito with you. 

Tanahashi: That was a good experience for Naito, I think. He was young, had a ton of love and loyalty for New Japan, wanted to show his worth against another company. He was a good partner to have in that scenario.

–Naito went on to say that he was more conscious of you in that match than your opponents. 

Tanahashi: That’s the first I’ve heard of that! It was like a handicap match then!

–After you won, you got a lot of heat on yourself by declaring an ‘early victory party’ in the tournament ahead and delivering your ‘I love you!’ line. 

Tanahashi: Right. I talked before about reading the room, and this was that. I was the outsider, and that’s the appeal, the chemistry in a situation like that. The outsider guy in the flagship tournament. So I wanted as many boos as possible. 

–You had them in the palm of your hands. 

Tanahashi: Oh people hated me. Even a friend of mine, the entertainer Yurioka ChotoQ was there as a fan. He wasn’t booing, but caught himself saying ‘Tanahashi, you’ve got no chance…’ But yeah. This time I loved all that. The more heat the better. 

–You were in the same block as Taiyo Kea, Satoshi Kojima, Keiji Muto and Toshiaki Kawada. So all former Triple Crown Champions and all really representing the home team at the time. 

Tanahashi: All those matches were great fun.

–Your first match against Kea on April 6 ended with a High Fly Flow, but before that you hit a low blow. A very different style of match than in the Tokyo Dome a year before. 

Tanahashi: Just before that low blow, I took a really rough backdrop suplex. Hurt my neck a ton, but it did make me think ‘ok, things are different this time’ and it lit a fire in me. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, to be in that old school All Japan head drop environment. 

–Kea had been around in the Baba era, so he still revered that King’s Road style. 

Tanahashi: And the low blow was that attempt to destroy the pace that my opponent had dictated. That head drop really did a number on me for the rest of the tour, but I really had to sell that egotistical side of me, so I tried not to let it show. 

–The next night, you went to a 30 minute draw with Keiji Muto. Compared to your 2005 match with him where you were completely wiped out it was a very different scenario. 

Tanahashi: It really didn’t feel like 30, which is a testament to the match I think. The thing is about Muto, his greatest strengths are to everyone else’s weakness. No matter what, his matches are always ‘Muto matches’. That was definitely the case with the 2005 match. But I think the tag we had in March before the Carnival was where he really started to take me seriously, and it means I wasn’t thrown off mentally in this match. 

–You had that situation of the pose off with Muto in March. That put the two of you on level footing going into this match, you feel. 

Tanahashi: But he really brought the pace in the last three matches of that match, really dominated. The real take home was that if the match had gone one or two minutes longer, Muto would’ve had it. 

–The bell rang just as Muto was going for the Moonsault. 

Tanahashi: Saved by the bell, heh. So we were on a more level footing than those years before, but the message was clearly that Muto was the force to be reckoned with.

–Muto’s comment after the match was that ‘Tanahashi’s really made a lot of progress, not that I’m happy to say it’ 

Tanahashi: That’s praise from him. You know in the end, with such a strong personality and presence opposite you, if you come out the other end still with your own aura partially intact, that’s a win.