#NewJapanWeek Ace Under Pressure: Hiroshi Tanahashi

0
Photo: NJPW

2017 has been quite possibly the best year in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling in terms of growth and in match quality. The man that helped NJPW out of it’s funk and low ticket sales ten years ago, “The Ace”, has still been a key player and even a top champion despite many thinking Hiroshi Tanahashi would slip down the card. After seven reigns as IWGP Heavyweight champion, Tanahashi holds his second IWGP Intercontinental championship heading into Wrestle Kingdom 12 against “SwitchbladeJay White. Another co-main-event will feature Tanahashi but it hasn’t been an easy road in the least.

Photo: NJPW

After a new shorter haircut for a role in the new Kamen Rider film in Japan and another epic G1 Climax tournament, there is no slowing down even with a history of injuries. It was unclear if Tanahashi would even be in G1 Climax after suffering an injury to his bicep at ROH Global Wars in May, yet he made it to the Semi-Finals against Tetsuya Naito. Speaking of Naito, the second most spectacular rivalry of the year besides Okada Vs. Omega was Naito Vs. Tanahashi in a trilogy that presented something new every match and a different outcome each time. It appeared as though Naito had one-upped Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 11 when he pinned him for the IWGP Intercontinental championship and fist bumped his heart after the match. However six months later at Dominion in June, Naito would be tapping out to Tanahashi’s Clover Leaf submission and relinquishing the title back.

Photo: NJPW

Since debuting in 1999 and a career of 18 years it only makes sense there is lots of wear and tear to go along with all the glory and “The Ace” is going through right knee problems currently and had to be pulled from the World Tag League tournament where he was in multiple-man tag action. One would think there isn’t much left to prove considering the 41 year age but we are witnessing a complete package with main event matches and a charismatic charm that the whole world recognizes. Hiroshi Tanahashi uses that good-guy image to his advantage if you notice, Naito was thrown off his game in their G1 Climax showdown when Tanahashi hugged him early in the match and wasn’t taking it seriously to take his game off. This is a smarter Tanahashi than ever before with superior technique and the experience to beat anyone on their best night.

Photo: NJPW

This year Tomohiro Ishii, Zack Sabre Jr and Kota Ibushi all had five-star matches with Tanahashi so his career is in the place he always wanted it to be. The flag bearer of New Japan Pro Wrestling who always over-performs and can match up well with anyone. An interview with Sports Illustrated two years ago summed up the intentions for the future perfectly: “ WWE has never reached out to me. I watch WWE sometimes. They are good-they don’t move too fast. There has been no contact. I’m happy in New Japan. I have loyalty. And I love New Japan” Tanahashi knows his company is the best wrestling in the world and he is proud to headline for years to come.

Photo: NJPW

When Kota Ibushi lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi at NJPW Power Struggle in November it was an instant classic but “Switchblade” Jay White had been waiting his entire career for that moment after the match. White returned after a year and a half in Ring Of Honor Wrestling and an excursion in the UK and challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom on January 4 for the IWGP Intercontinental championship. The Blade Runner finisher took out Tanahashi and now the question is: will the veteran surprise everyone again or will the torch be passed to the future? Many have wanted to break through to the main event and it looks as though it’s Jay White’s time but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if this rivalry stretches on into 2018. Kazuchika Okada became the new “Ace” and top star in NJPW two years ago when he defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event. Does something similar happen this year or does Tanahashi have gallons left in the tank? The much larger worldwide audience on New Japan World for Wrestle Kingdom 12 will be dying to find out the answer.

Photo: NJPW

Miss a day of #NewJapanWeek? You can catch up below!

LEAVE A REPLY