Hiroshi Tanahashi on Tetsuya Naito: “He kicks the belt, he throws the belt. I will beat him and take that title from him.”
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New Japan Pro Wrestling has employed many legends over the course of its 45-year history, yet there has been only one man to win the IWGP heavyweight championship on seven different occasions.
That man, of course, is Hiroshi Tanahashi. The 40-year-old “Ace” of New Japan is set to battle Los Ingobernables de Japon leader Tetsuya Naito this Sunday for the IWGP Intercontinental championship at Dominion. Tanahashi will enter the match after having ruptured his right distal bicep tendon during a Ring of Honor television taping in Philadelphia on May 14.
“I’m fine,” explained Tanahashi, who answered no further questions about his health while emphasizing that his focus remains on defeating Naito, which he was unable to do this past January in their match at Wrestle Kingdom 11.
“I hate his actions,” said Tanahashi, referring to the way Naito has physically destroyed the IWGP Intercontinental title belt. “He kicks the belt, he throws the belt. I will beat him and take that title from him.”
Tanahashi is also keeping a close eye on the Okada-Omega rematch for the IWGP heavyweight championship.
“Okada is very strong,” said Tanahashi. “Kenny has power, but a little bit as a lightweight. Maybe they will do a long match, but Okada has more experience, so it’s a good situation for him.”
A great deal of prestige is associated with the IWGP heavyweight championship, and the company is particularly selective about its world champion. Tanahashi noted that he hopes for one more run atop New Japan.
“IWGP title is very traditional,” said Tanahashi. “I hope to come back one more time.”
New Japan’s tour of the United States begins in Long Beach, California with a live airing on AXS TV this July 1. Health permitting, Tanahashi will be wrestling. He explained that the Japanese psychology of wrestling differs from the current version in the United States.
“Japanese style is slower than the United States,” explained Tanahashi. “Most important thing in our business is psychology. When it is just moves? That’s what I hate.”
The trend in North American wrestling shifting toward valuing moves over psychology has been particularly noticeable over the past decade. Tanahashi shared that his favorite wrestler of all time, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, was brilliant in both his skill set and psychology.
“I love Shawn Michaels,” said Tanahashi. “He loves our business, he loves wrestling. He’s retired now, which makes me sad, but he is my dream opponent and idol.”