Hiroshi Tanahashi, the “Ace” of New Japan Pro Wrestling, sat down in a candid interview to reflect on his career. The interview focused specifically on Wrestle Kingdom 7, which took place on January 4, 2013. On that night, Tanahashi defended his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship against the winner of that year’s G1 Climax, Kazuchika Okada.
The Ace of NJPW opened up about his match that night against Okada, including fan expectations surrounding The Rainmaker. He also spoke about his “indirect” rivalry with Shinsuke Nakamura. You can read highlights of his interview below:
His thoughts on the G1 winner earning a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom: “I was really impressed with the idea. The thing is, G1 Climax is always thought of as the biggest tour of the year for us. But before, the winner would end up challenging for the title right afterward, and if they lost it devalued the idea of the tournament itself. With the briefcase introduced, you then had all the questions of how we get on this road to Wrestle Kingdom, it tied the rest of the year together nicely. It was a great idea.”
The buzz surrounding his title match with Okada: “This was first of the three Dome main events we’d have together, and it was the first time I’d wrestled him in a singles match in Tokyo; the other times had been in Osaka before now. So there was a lot of hype, high expectations.”
How he felt going in to the show: “Definitely that generational factor was a thing for me. I’m a decade older, and I couldn’t be shown up. I was really pushed hard, and I could feel the fans thinking Okada was going to win. There was really this special sense of expectation around him. This match, and the ones we had in ’15 and ’16 are really special to me.”
His indirect rivalry with Shinsuke Nakamura: [note: Nakamura wrestled Kazushi Sakuraba in the semi-main event for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship] “I definitely had an eye on it [the semi-main event]. It was a really fresh match, maybe even a bigger draw than myself and Okada was. Around this time, a Tanahashi main event with a Nakamura semi-main was quite a common thing, so there was this sense we were still competing indirectly. I’d be standing by backstage and listening to the reactions to the semi, cursing Nakamura. But we had a lot of depth at this point in time, you didn’t need it to be Tanahashi vs Nakamura one on one. Even so, whether we were opposite one another or not in the ring, we were competing outside of it, definitely.”