Hiroshi Tanahashi is the saviour of New Japan Pro Wrestling, there’s no two ways about that. During a time of uncertainty and poor decisions, Tanahashi was the shining light that saved the struggling promotion and carried it to the success that it sees today. And whilst he has slowed down considerably now, from 2006 to 2016 he was the lifeblood of New Japan. Whilst in America, names such as Hulk Hogan, The Rock and John Cena are household names to even non-wrestling fans, in Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi was the ultimate luminary. He inspired many wrestlers to push themselves to the next level as a generation of wrestlers worshiped Tanahashi. One of these wrestlers was Kota Ibushi.
During Tanahashi’s peak years, Kota Ibushi as for being the maniac with the fireworks. Despite his obvious athleticism and charisma, he never broke into the upper echelon of New Japan. He would win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship a handful of times, along with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships with Kenny Omega. However he wouldn’t reach the heights of his idol Tanahashi. Just as it looks like he’ll reach those heights against IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles, Kenny Omega costs him the match. After this Kota Ibushi would need to find himself.
After a string of losses, Kota would find himself taking a gap-year. Leaving New Japan behind, he would tour the independent scene as a freelancer, making appearances in IGF, DDT, Wrestle-1, K-Dojo, EVOLVE and, most notably, WWE. Yes, it seems unthinkable now, and many of you reading this may have forgotten, but Kota Ibushi competed in the Cruiserweight Classic. In fact, he was originally scheduled to win it, until Kota refused to sign with WWE. He was a free spirit, not bound to any one promotion, but eventually, he was destined to return to New Japan.
THE G1 CLIMAX
On 23rd June 2017, Kota Ibushi was announced as returning to New Japan and competing in the G1 Climax. Whilst he had competed in the G1 before, he was always viewed as a junior in a heavyweight tournament. But not this time. This time he was not only bigger, but just looked like a star. He was more confident, more brazen and much deadlier. And on 1st August, he would face IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI VS KOTA IBUSHI: G1 CLIMAX 28
As the match begins, it is clear that Ibushi is the crowd favourite. Throughout the tournament, he had proven that he was capable of putting on great matches, and this would be no exception. As the match began, Tanahashi looked to smother the high-flying Ibushi, whilst Ibushi looked to quicken the pace. It seemed like the two would have a clean match, with Ibushi breaking clean when Tanahashi was in the ropes. Remember, after all, Tana is Ibushi’s idol. However, the Ace has other ideas, refusing to break clean and viciously targeting the leg of Ibushi. Yet Ibushi, one of the hardest strikers in the world, fought back with his famous kicks.
Tana attempted to wear down Ibushi with a cloverleaf, but the Golden Star fought out of it and hit his signature moves. The apron German, the lawn dart and the Golden Star Powerbomb. But it wasn’t enough. Kota had to debut a new move to put away the Once in A Century talent, which wasn’t typical of his usual flashy-self. The Kamigoye was just a straight knee to the face, which knocked Tanahashi out for the count. This new Kota Ibushi was dangerous, and he had a title shot lined up in the future.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Ibushi would lose the rematch at Power Struggle, but Ibushi wouldn’t lose any love for his ‘God’, hugging him after the match. Tanahashi was the better man on the night, but Ibushi was determined to pass him.
Fast forward to August 2019. Kota Ibushi had reunited with his Golden Lover Kenny Omega and had advanced to the G1 Climax finals. His opponent, Hiroshi Tanahashi, who was in the midst of a career second wind. After slowing down for a couple of years and slowly slipping down the card, Tanahashi found himself taking advantage of a distracted Okada to win his G1 Block. With Kenny Omega in Ibushi’s corner, Tanahashi knew he needed someone. With Nakamura competing in WWE, he was accompanied by the other member of the new Three Musketeers, Katsuyori Shibata.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI VS KOTA IBUSHI: G1 CLIMAX 28 FINAL
The match started out as expected, with Ibushi attempting to quicken the pace against the aging Tanahashi. Yet, as the match progressed, the tactics of both men changed. Whilst Tanahashi was still technically proficient, he took more risks than Ibushi, hitting a High Fly Flow to the outside. Conversely, Ibushi found himself completely stripping his high flying moves in favour of wearing down The Ace with crippling strikes.
Ibushi had flipped the switch, and the Ibushi that we’d only seen twice before this point (against Nakamura at WK9 and against Kenny Omega the day before). However, there was no stopping Tanahashi’s comeback momentum, who hit Ibushi with three High Fly Flows for the win. This time after the match, Tana went in for the hug with Ibushi, proving that Ibushi had reaffirmed Tanahashi’s respect for him.
Currently, Tanahashi and Ibushi are on good terms. However, it’s clear that Ibushi hasn’t completely surpassed Tanahashi yet, and the pair are set for a collision course somewhere down the line.