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Hiroshi Tanahashi: The Rise & Rise of an NJPW Legend

He is a nineteen-year veteran of the ring and a former student of the Great Keiji Mutoh, also known as the Great Muta. At 41 years of age, Hiroshi Tanahashi has achieved so many things in New Japan Pro Wrestling that it is impossible to isolate just one thing from his resume to highlight over anything else.

Tanahashi’s Wrestling Legacy

However, if there is one moniker that should be attached to Tanahashi, it is 'franchise'. That name has been used to describe different men in different promotions around the world, and it would be hard to argue against Tanahashi deserving that recognition. To be a franchise suggests that regardless of change, the person given the name remains the most consistent and productive performer over many years of service with a company.

Tanahashi x NJPW "Burn My All Energy" T-Shirt - BIG TALL JAPAN

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In the case of Tanahashi, he has been with New Japan Pro Wrestling his entire career, and though he has also performed outside the company he remains loyal and is valued for his nearly two decades with them.

Tanahashi was scouted early on in his development, was successful in an NJPW tryout, and was welcomed into the fold as a trainee. He first began to compete for the company in the Fall of 1999, and his growth over the first few years ultimately led to him becoming a huge phenomenon a few years after the turn of the century.

Tanahashi x NJPW "Feel the Best" Big & Tall T-Shirt - BIG TALL JAPAN

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His rise to the top of New Japan Pro Wrestling was a steady incline, beginning with capturing the IWGP Under 30-Openweight championship around the middle of 2003. The following year, Tanahashi reached the finals of the G1 Climax and followed that up in 2005 by headlining the Tokyo Dome against Shinsuke Nakamura, losing his Under-30 Openweight championship.

He was then successful in the New Japan Cup tournament, earning an opportunity to face then IWGP Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. However, since the title was vacated soon after, he took part in a tournament to determine the new champion.

A Rise to Success

He first captured the IWGP Heavyweight championship when he beat Giant Bernard (real name Matt Bloom, also known as Albert and Tensai) in July 2006. He defended the title for 270 days, and even after losing it to Yuji Nagata he recaptured the championship later that year.

Tanahashi faced some of the best the promotion had to offer and was committed to defending his championship against tremendous talent all over the world, including current WWE champion AJ Styles. His success isn't just measured in wins and losses.

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He was also willing to go beyond simply being the student, and challenged his teacher. On January 4th, 2009 he defeated his teacher and mentor Mutoh to become the fiftieth IWGP Heavyweight champion.

Another milestone in his career, and one that established him as the face of New Japan Pro Wrestling and his generation's premier star, was when he defeated the man whose career had to that point run parallel with his, Shinsuke Nakamura.

Tanahashi x NJPW "Go Ace" T-Shirt - BIG TALL JAPAN

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This victory represented the first defense of his third championship reign. After that, his claim to be the 'Ace of the universe' resulted in his facing a new challenger, former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle. Again, Tanahashi was victorious.

Tanahashi vs. Okada

Tanahashi is a seven-time IWGP Heavyweight champion, and one of his reigns lasted 404 days before he lost to his greatest rival, the current champion Kazuchika Okada. He and Okada exchanged the title during the rivalry that lasted years.

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Since his last title reign ended at the hands of Styles on February 11, 2015, Tanahashi has remained a key part of the promotion, capturing championship after championship.

Tanahashi’s Achievements

His achievements read like those of a man deserving of being in a hall of fame. On top of being IWGP Heayweight and tag team champion (with, ironically, his long-time rival Nakamura), he has also been or received:

  • IWGP Intercontinental Champion, an IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship
  • Part of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions
  • G1 Climax tournament winner
  • G2 U-30 Climax tournament winner
  • New Japan Cup winner
  • IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship League winner
  • Won the U-30 One Night Tag Tournament with Taiji Ishimori
  • Heavyweight Tag MVP Award (2005) winner with Nakamura
  • Fighting Spirit Award (2003)
  • New Wave Award (2002)
  • Outstanding Performance Award (2003, 2004)
  • Singles Best Bout (2004) award (for his matches with Hiroyoshi Tenzan)
  • Young Lion Award (2001)

The Future of Tanahashi

He has gained critical acclaim for his performances in the ring, regardless of whom he was in with. After listing all those career accomplishments, it is easy to see why he is still considered one of the best in-ring performers in the world today. With each of Tanahashi's title reigns the championship he held became more credible, and any time he didn't hold a championship it was only a matter of time before he did.

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His versatility has been shown by virtue of the fact he is just as able to compete with someone who has a strong submission background as he is with someone that is an effective striker.

Whether it is while facing some of the premier young talents today such as Zack Sabre Jr and Jay White, or facing grizzled veterans such as Minoru Suzuki, Tanahashi continues to show himself to be the premier talent in New Japan.

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However, as stated earlier his success goes beyond championships or wins and losses; he is a champion with or without a title and someone that can be seen as the company's franchise performer.

Consider yourself a fan? Show off original Hiroshi Tanashi sayings, moves such as “High Fly Flow”, and designs with our collection of big and tall NJPW merchandise! 

About Author

Marc MadisonAs a wrestling enthusiast for over 30 years, my fondness for professional wrestling explores the irrational in a rational way. I will explore the details inside and outside the ring and hopefully have a laugh with you in the process. I've had the fortune to interview wrestlers from Lucha Underground, TNA, Ring of Honor, GFW, and former WWE talent as well. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and feel free to visit my website Pro Wrestling Post.

 


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