Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 Best Matches

Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Fans who haven’t followed New Japan Pro Wrestling probably have no idea of the significance that Hiroshi Tanahashi has. He not only was responsible for saving the company but practically the entire Japanese Wrestling scene. In the early 2000s, Antonio Inoki had gone into a radical mindset change and decided to present wrestling similar to MMA (owing to the success of PRIDE FC). The product presentation and pushing stars with MMA backgrounds (and subsequently making their pro wrestlers compete in MMA) saw the company take major damage.

The first big hope came in the form of a youngster you may be familiar of. He goes by the name of Shinsuke Nakamura. Labelled as a “Super Rookie”, he got the fastest push in the history of the company, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his debut year. However, the reality was that Nakamura wasn’t ready for that top position.

The company then turned to Hiroshi Tanahashi, who became the Ace of the promotion and took them from the dark times to new heights. It’s hard to make a list of Tanahashi’s best matches, especially when he’s produced so many all-time classics. He’s without a doubt one of the greatest wrestlers of this generation and his impact can’t be understated.

Here’s a look at the best matches of the former Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

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#5.) vs Minoru Suzuki – King of Pro Wrestling 2012

This is the kind of match that any wrestling fan should go out of their way to see. Minoru Suzuki had faced Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom the same year, unsuccessfully challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.  Since that time, the newest kid in town Kazuchika Okada had won the title from Tanahashi (in his first attempt, no less) and had lost it back to The Ace.

2012 turned out to be a very trying year for Tanahashi, as the tides of change had begun. His match with Suzuki at King Of Pro Wrestling far exceeded their Wrestle Kingdom match in what was a psychological masterpiece. There weren’t any nearfalls and they didn’t need it either. Tanahashi had to desperately cling on to retain the IWGP Heavyweight title again.

Next Page: Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 best matches

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 Best Matches

Credit: NJPW/TV Asahi

#4.) vs Tetsuya Naito – G1 Climax 27 

It was the match to determine who would win Block A. Tanahashi and Naito had already faced each other twice that year, exchanging wins. They did a brilliant job to play off their prior matches and the crowd was behind Naito while Tanahashi seemingly acted like a heel for the match.

The story of the match was Tanahashi suffering from an injured bicep while Naito suffered from an injured shoulder. They masterfully managed the pace of the match and the dramatic build-up to the finish had the crowd on the edge of their seats. Ultimately, Naito overcame a lot and he seemed to want it more, as he beat his rival Tanahashi to advance to the finals.

Next Page: Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 best matches

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 Best Matches

Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images

#3.) vs Shinsuke Nakamura – G1 Climax 25 Finals

Tanahashi and Nakamura were no strangers to each other. They crossed paths multiple times in their careers, with the main bout being in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8. No one knew how they’d manage to top their previous encounters, but they did and in a way that no one really expected.

The match saw masterful storytelling between the two legends and they started slow and were careful not to make mistakes, being quite familiar with each other. It turned out to be an all-out war and it could have gone either way at any point. Again, it was just about who wanted him more, and on that night it was Tanahashi who wanted it more, beating Nakamura to win the G1 Climax.

Next Page: Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 best matches

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 Best Matches

Photo Credit: AXS TV

#2.) vs Kazuchika Okada – Wrestling Dontaku 2018

This entire list could comprise just Tanahashi vs Okada matches and it would be hard to dispute. After successfully defending the IWGP Heavyweight title at Sakura Genesis and equalling Hiroshi Tanahashi’s record for most title defences, Okada was challenged by his biggest rival, who didn’t want his record broken.

Each match of theirs told a unique story and they continued an incredible story. The torch had already been passed to Okada, but he would need to go through hell and back to defeat Tanahashi. And that’s exactly what he did.

Next Page: Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 best matches

Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 5 Best Matches

Photo Credit: AXS TV

#1.) vs Kazuchika Okada- Wrestle Kingdom 10

Hiroshi Tanahashi had already beaten Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 7 and 9 in the main event. The latter match saw Okada unsuccesfully challenge for the title and he left the Tokyo Dome in tears. What followed in the remaining year was a story of redemption for Okada and in the 10th anniversary of Wrestle Kingdom, he walked in the champion while Tanahashi walked in the challenger.

If you’ve never seen this match before, we highly recommend it. It’s without a doubt one of the greatest matches of all time and it was the story of the changing of the guard. The close-up shot of Okada clenching onto Tanahashi’s wrist to hit a rainmaker was storytelling at its absolute finest. Okada defeated Tanahashi, ending his Wrestle Kingdom streak. It was the moment that Okada became the ace of NJPW.

Where will his match at Wrestle Kingdom 13 end up ranking? Let us know in the comments section!