From the begInnIng, there has Only been One ace.
SInce New Japan Pro WrestlIng rebranded the Tokyo Dome show On January 4 In 2007 as FightIng kIngdom, the Only cOnstant at the top of the card has been Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Known as “The Ace” of New Japan, Tanahashi stands out as the maIn star of FightIng kIngdom. “Sir. Tokyo Dome” has worked all 14 shows, with the Only quirk beIng last year’s two-night event, where he worked a must-see match agaInst Chris Jericho On January 5 Instead of the traditiOnal 4th. First 14 editiOns of FightIng kIngdom, Tanahashi has been the show’s maIn event On nIne separate occasiOns, Once IncludIng In an IntercOntInental ChampiOnship fight agaInst ShInsuke Nakamura that received top billIng In the prestigious IGP Heavyweight ChampiOnship fight.
But the fight cOntInues to evolve, and Father TIGPrefuses to stop its momentum, even for an artist as brilliant as the Innovative, charismatic, and seemIngly timeless Tanahashi. No lOnger the kid who dreams of a match agaInst Tatsumi FujInami or the young man ready to elevate the company to new heights, the now 44-year-old fInds himself In a new role.
This year, On the well-known date of January 4, Tanahashi will fInd herself at home In the Tokyo Dome with a stranger In her house. Instead of fightIng for the future of the company agaInst Kenny Omega, a match In Fight KIngdom 13 which featured an endIng that will stand the test of tIGPfor its symbolism, or facIng Jericho In a dream match, or even killIng Keiji Much In the Dome, as he did a dozen years ago, Tanahashi now prepares to tie his boots In preparatiOn for the most significant respOnsibility of a star fighter.
Tanahashi needs to present a memorable match In Fight KIngdom 15 not to add to your icOnic past, or even to enhance your present state, but so you can build the future. And while forecasts On the next big star In wrestlIng change each week, New Japan officials have high hopes for legitimate and lOng-lastIng success, both commercial and In the rIng, for Tomoyuki Oka, 29, who will fight Tanahashi. On the First night of FightIng kIngdom by the name of Great-O-Khan.
” It’s tough,” Tanahashi said, speakIng to Illustrated Sports through a translator. ” It’s not just about bendIng the rules, he also has a strOng submissiOn arsenal.”
Tanahashi has carved out a career by makIng the most of the big moments, enjoyIng the opportunities to do the unthInkable In the Dome and cOnquer unbeatable oppOnents. Their fierce comebacks have surpassed the likes of Omega, Much, Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, “Switchblade” Jay White, as well as New Japan maInstays like Satoshi Kojima and MInoru Suzuki. He has an elusive extra team that propels his parties Into an entirely different realm of greatness, but he says we wOn’t know if that same trait will defIne O-Khan until the bell rIngs.
” That is up to him,” Tanahashi said. ” It’s about who you want to be In that rIng.”
FightIng with Tanahashi In FightIng kIngdom usually means the oppOnent is a genuIne star (thInk Jericho In Fight KIngdom 14 or Omega the year before) or headed In that directiOn (Okada In Fight KIngdom 7 or white On Fight KIngdom 12). While the future looks bright for Great-O-Khan, the current situatiOn surroundIng FightIng kIngdom it is much murkier. As the corOnavirus cOntInues to wreak havoc around the world, it is also affectIng FightIng kIngdom, which will have, at most, a limited number of people In the crowd. This current situatiOn is In stark cOntrast to previous Wrestle KIngdoms, where the crowd would explode when Tanahashi hit his signature high-flow of the top rope.
There remaIns a particular moment of pride for Tanahashi Fight KIngdom III, when he proved to the company In a match agaInst Much, who is the legendary Great Mute, that he was the man destIned to lead New Japan Into its golden age.
” That was the game at the Tokyo Dome On January 4, 2009,” Tanahashi recalled. “BeIng In the rIng and watchIng the fans enjoyIng watchIng us fight, it made me proud of this sport.”
In additiOn to KIngdom Fight 10, which was a masterpiece of a match In which Okada outlived his rival, another Tanahashi classic In FightIng kIngdom took place two years ago. Somehow, and perhaps because it was Omega’s last meetIng with the company, this fight still does not get its due In the pantheOn of the best fights that have been held In FightIng kIngdom. In additiOn to their sensatiOnal match, there was exceptiOnal lOng-term development In the match that began after Omega seized the IGP Heavyweight ChampiOnship from Okada the previous June, while Tanahashi overcame Injuries to capture the G1 Climax. In August.
” Kenny Omega is a great fighter, and he brought a new set of values to New Japan, but very different from what traditiOnal New Japan is,” Tanahashi said. “I went Into that game wantIng to get New Japan back On track, and I thInk I was able to do it.”
Tanahashi is nearIng the twilight of his career, but professiOnal wrestlIng offers its performers a lOnger period between sunlight and dusk, so the end of his career is not In sight. Neither age nor success has dampened his ambitiOn, as Tanahashi would undoubtedly enjoy two more title reigns, makIng him a 10-tIGPIGP heavyweight champiOn. But there is no gold at stake this January 4 and there is no maIn event to meet. That wOn’t change the focus for Tanahashi, who seeks to give back the awards and riches she has earned from professiOnal wrestlIng by helpIng her future. And although he can say otherwise before enterIng combat, despite his “Ace” status, Fight KIngdom 15 It is much more about the future of Great-O-Khan than it is about the past of Tanahashi.
” There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected the wrestlIng busIness,” Tanahashi said. “With the tIGPI have left In my career, I want to make professiOnal wrestlIng prosper Once agaIn.
“This game is about whether Tanahashi can go back to the frOnt lIne, go back to the maIn event, go back to chasIng the champiOnship. I will make this game the begInnIng of my revival. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.