Hello everyone. My name is Morten and I’m new here at Wrestling With Words. The crew had asked me if I wanted to review content for the site. Despite having no experience of writing whatsoever, and also being foreign meaning that English isn’t my native language, I still accepted. I love a challenge, and am looking forward to starting this review series!
NJPW Encyclopedia is a show, that airs once a month on SamuraiTV in Japan. This show features a wrestler or subject each month, and then shows a few forgotten matches from that wrestlers career. I only started following NJPW in 2011, so this will be a fun and interesting look back in time for me, and hopefully for you as well. I’ve probably only seen 20% of the matches on these shows before.
(As for star ratings. I’ll give those out when I feel like I’ve got enough of a feel for the match to judge it. So I won’t give stars to every match. The stars doesn’t represent my expert knowledge of wrestling. They represent my enjoyment of the match. I am just a fan after all).
If you want to follow along on the ride, you can find this episode posted in the Puroresu section of the Wrestling With Words forums. It’s a great resource for all kinds of wrestling!
The debut episode of NJPW Encyclopedia takes a look back at 5 great, but forgotten matches, featuring Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Let’s get to it!
Toukon Series 2004 Tour - 10/24/04
Kobe World Hall
The first match is against Bryan Danielson, from October 24th, 2004. This match took place at Kobe World Hall, in front of 6000 people, during the Toukon Series 2004 tour.
This match was contested for the IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship. A title that only existed for two years, and were only held twice by Tanahashi and once by Nakamura. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make this an opening match or a midcard match. Tanahashi had held the title for 1½ years at this point, and main evented multiple events with this title on the line. At this time, Tanahashi was already star, and was coming off a losing effort in the G1 final two months earlier! Not only that, but after defeating Danielson here, he went on to MAIN EVENT THE TOKYO DOME on January 4th, 2005 against Nakamura, with this U-30 belt on the line.
American Dragon comes out to Stone Cold Crazy, which is an automatic pop from me. Tanahashi comes out to a sweet theme song, that I don’t know the name of, but I found on Youtube.
Bryan and Tanahashi shows great chemistry from the get go, and it’s really amazing how great Danielson was 12 years ago. We join the match mid-match, as Bryan is about to go for his signature suicide dive through the ropes. In classic Danielson fashion, he crashes and burns hard on the steel guardrail, and hurts his ribs in the process. Danielson takes a crazy suplex from inside the ring to the outside, and hits his head very hard on the steel guardrail. It’s no wonders he got so many concussions. The finish comes when Tanahashi goes for a dragon suplex, his finisher at the time, but Bryan counters it into a cradle. Tanahashi kicks out, hits a shining wizard and hits the dragon suplex for the win.
New Japan Cup 2005 Day 1 - 4/19/05
Hiroshima Sun Plaza****1/4
The second match is against Yuji Nagata, from April 19th, 2005. This match took place at Hiroshima Sun Plaza, in front of 3000 people, during the first round of the New Japan Cup. (Branded the New Japan Openweight Tournament).
Going into this first round match, Nagata had just aligned himself with Manabu Nakanishi, Kendo Kashin & Kazuyuki Fujita, to form Team JAPAN. A group of grumpy veterans who were tired of the young rookies making a name for themselves (Tanahashi, Nakamura etc.)
We join the match halfway through. Nagata has just hit Tanahashi with his own finisher, the dragon suplex, but Tanahashi kicks out to a pop from the crowd. Nakamura is at ringside supporting his young teammate. Nagata goes for yet another dragon suplex, but Tanahashi counters it and hits a shining wizard. Nagata stuns Tanahashi with a brutal looking knee to the face, and then hits the exploder suplex from the top rope followed by a PK. Young Tanahashi fights through it once more, but this time Nagata locks in the Nagata lock. To the joy of the audience Tanahashi reaches the rope. Growing extremely frustrated over this young guy surviving his entire arsenal of moves, Nagata shoves the ref and then attacks Nakamura. Tanahashi shoves some fighting spirit and goes for various pin attempts to no avail, as Nagata once again gets him in the Nagata Lock. Tanahashi reaches the rope again, and Nagata grows even more frustrated. Nagata shoves the ref, and Tanahashi gets Nagata in a roll-up for a 5 count, but the ref is down. Tanahashi’s arm is bust at this point, and only rope breaks keeps him from tapping. Nagata keeps the third Nagata Lock on Tanahashi before the ref has to break it up. Nagata destroys the referee, who have no choice but to call for a DQ, while Nagata completely loses his mind and destroys young Tanahashi. The entire locker room comes out to stop Nagata from killing Tanahashi post match.
This match told a fantastic story of how Tanahashi just wouldn’t quit, despite Nagata giving it his all and more. Heel Nagata was a thing of beauty here.
G1 Climax 2006 Day 4 - 8/10/06
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium****
The third match is against Satoshi Kojima, from August 10th, 2006. This match took place at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, in front of 8000 people, during the 4th day of the G1 Climax.
Hiroshi Tanahashi had just won the very first time, and went into the G1 with a target on his shoulders. Satoshi Kojima was in the run of his life, and he got invited to the G1 as a AJPW representative. He had held both the Triple Crown and IWGP championship simultaneous the year before. He went into the tournament, having just lost the Triple Crown. So this was the IWGP champions vs. The previous Triple Crown champion.
Kojima in his prime (he’s still a great worker!) vs. Tanahashi (always incredible). We join mid match, as Tanahashi is building to hitting his dragon suplex, but Kojima continues to counter it. Kojima looks fresh, while Tanahashi looks tired. Kojima hits his signature elbow drop for a two count, but Tanahashi uses his fighting spirit and gets Kojima in a dragon sleeper. A long period of time starts here, where Kojima is in control, and slowly breaks down Tanahashi. Tanahashi reverses the strong arm lariat, and hits Kojima with three German suplexes. Feeding off the crowd energy, Tanahashi musters energy to get to his feet. He hits Kojima with two straight slingblades, goes for a third, but Kojima hits the strong arm lariat! Kojima however is too injured after the slingblades to make the cover. The match picks up a ton of stream, as Kojima hits a frankensteiner, but Tanahashi uses fighting spirit and immediately goes up and gets Kojima in a cradle for a two count. Tanahashi is spent, but uses his last powers to get up and go for a shining wizard, that Kojima blocks with his hands, before Kojima steals the move and hits it on Tanahashi. The pace of the match at this point is off the charts! Kojima goes for another strong arm lariat, and Tanahashi finally hits the dragon suplex, but Kojima kicks out! The crowd is really into this match and that adds a lot! Tanahashi goes for high fly flow, but Kojima hits the strong arm on Tanahashi in mid air! He hits another strong arm for good measure for the win… but Tanahashi kicks out again!! No one can believe it! Kojima hits a 4th strong arm lariat for the win.
The 2nd half of this match was so fast paced, and the crowd ate up both guys fighting spirit. This came off as two unbeatable forces colliding. Kojima got the pin on the IWGP champion, but there were no shame in that, as Kojima went on to defeat Tenzan in the G1 final, and win the tournament as an AJPW representative. Kojima never got a shot at Tanahashi’s gold, as he wasn’t a NJPW talent but just a guest in the G1.
G1 Climax 2009 Day 4 - 8/10/09
Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium
The fourth match is against Togi Makabe, from August 10th, 2009. This match took place at Yokohama Bunka Gymnasium, in front of 3800 people, during the 4th day of the G1 Climax.
During the last couple of years, Tanahashi had really entered his position as the ace of NJPW. He had just won the IWGP Championship for the 4th time, defeating Manabu Nakanishi a month earlier. Togi Makabe came into this match with a story of being alone, after his GBH brothers had turned on him to form CHAOS. Makabe was set up for a major babyface push. He had been in New Japan for over a decade, but was still to hold the IWGP Championship. This was his chance to defeat the champion a prove a point.
These two tests each other to start the match, as it’s made clear that this is a face vs.. face match-up. Honma is in Makabe’s corner, as Makabe’s only friend left in the world. Tanahashi works over Makabe’s leg trough the match, hitting multiple dragon screws in the process. I’m sure you’ve all seen this part of Tanahashi matches a million times by now. As the match progresses, Tanahashi turns into heel Tanahashi, which I personally think is incredible when he does. He tries a pin attempt with just a foot on Makabes chest, to a chorus of boos. We jump skip forward to a later point, where Tanahashi misses a high fly flow. This lead Makabe to land a nasty looking German to Tanahashis neck, followed by a hard powerbomb. Makabe hits a cool looking spider german from the top rope, which I really wish he still used today! Tanahashi goes for another high fly flow, but this time Makabe gets his knees up. Tanahashi spams dragon screws and Makabe gets fed up by it, and hits Tanahashi with 5 screws of his own. This is where the crowd gets really hot. These two trades roll up attempts for a long time, as the announcer announces that there’s 20 seconds left. None of them manages to pin the other, and the match ends in a 30 minute draw.
This was probably much better, because it was cut down from 30 minutes to 15-something minutes. The 15 minutes I saw were really good. The way Tanahashi can turn heel in the blink of an eye is a incredible. They wanted to build Makabe as a babyface, and they managed to do that perfectly. Tanahashi sold like a million bucks for Makabe who looked like a world champion in the making. Makabe would later end up winning this G1 tournament, and earn a title shot against Tanahashi. So it was very smart to save that win for later, with a draw here. Unfortunately Tanahashi got injured during the tournament, and was forced to vacate the title. Makabe won the vacant championship later in the year, kickstarting his only run with the title.
NJPW Anniversary Show - 3/03/13
The fifth and final match of the show is against Prince Devitt, from March 3rd, 2013. This match took place at Korakuen Hall, in front of 2015 people, during the NJPW Anniversary Show.
Tanahashi clearly positioned as the ace of New Japan, came right off of defeating Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome. A month prior to this match, Tanahashi had taken a fall to the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight champion Devitt, and that gave us this special Champion vs. Champion match. Devitt had become the 2nd longest reigning junior champion, and was slowly moving up into the heavyweight ranks. This was right before forming Bullet Club, where he began to tease a heel turn.
The crowd starts up with the entire Korakuen Hall being behind underdog Devitt, which is very typical for Jr. Champion vs. Hwt. Champion matches. They start off with some impressive mat based technical wrestling, which they’re both excellent at. Devitt teases a suicide dive, but Tanahashi cuts him off to a chorus of boos. Tanahashi plays the air guitar and plays the crowd. This guy is so good at being a babyface, and suddenly turn heel! Devitt starts throwing chair shots on Tanahashi, to the approval of the crowd, who wants to see Tanahashi beat at any cost. Devitt puts Tanahashi in an abdominal stretch, and plays a little air guitar on his stomach, which made me chuckle a bit. Jumping to later in the match, Tanahashi and Devitt has a great and fun exchange of counters, before Devitt hits bloody Sunday on Tanahashi. He kicks out, and suddenly it’s Tanahashi going for high fly flow. Devitt gets his knees up, and hits a top rope double footstomp as we know it from NXT. Tanahashi kicks out. This match is worked at such a fast pace, I can’t keep up with writing and watching at the same time! They exchange lots of fun counters again, before Tanahashi gets Devitt in a straight jacket suplex. They continue to change lots of cool pin counters, before Tanahashi gets Devitt in the sling blade. Tanahashi hits one high fly flow and then another, and finishes off Devitt for good.
This match was incredible, and the technical abilities of both these men were A+ in this match. The high paced intensity of this match is exactly what I love the most about pro wrestling, and I really enjoyed this match! Once again Tanahashi’s ability to switch to heel helps this match a ton. The crowd wanted to be behind Devitt, so it really makes you more invested, when Tanahashi actively does something to give you a reason to support Devitt. Tanahashi would go on to lose the IWGP championship a month later to Okada, while Devitt would move up into the heavyweight ranks after this impressive performance, and participate in that years G1 Climax tournament. Maybe Devitt would’ve beaten Tanahashi one day, if he had stayed in NJPW?
This was a great hour of pro wrestling! If you know me, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, but Tanahashi is my favorite wrestler in Japan, and has been so since my first exposure. The guy is one of the greatest workers of all time. This episode had some super fun wrestling, and the hour just flew by for me.