Wrestling’s “forbidden door” was spoken into existence by Hiroshi Tanahashi.
When Tanahashi wrestled then AEW champion Chris Jericho at New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 in January 2020, it was not a title match but rather focused on two legendary performers each seeking to prove they were the best. In the lead-up to the match, Tanahashi told Tokyo Sports that if he defeated Jericho, he would then open the “forbidden door” and ask for a shot at the AEW title.
A year and a half later, with the forbidden door slightly ajar, Tanahashi now intends to kick it wide open.
“I think, now more than ever, it’s important for all of pro wrestling to come together and get past all the troubles COVID has presented,” Tanahashi says through a translator. “I think the best way we can do that is to bring the fans the best possible matches, and those dream-match scenarios. I think being able to wrestle in all these organizations can only be a good thing.”
Tanahashi headlines New Japan’s Resurgence show this Saturday in Los Angeles at The Torch in the LA Coliseum. This marks his first match in America since the start of the pandemic, and he will be challenging former New Japan wrestler and current AEW star Lance Archer for the IWGP United States title. Tanahashi wants it to be a triumphant moment, especially considering that this belt is one of the rare titles in New Japan that the icon has yet to hold.
“I predict that once COVID is behind us, you’re going to see even more movement and exchanges between Japan and America,” Tanahashi says. “The U.S. heavyweight title is the key to those doors being unlocked, and that’s what makes it extra important.”
In terms of dream matches, a specific opponent comes to mind for Tanahashi: AEW and New Japan star Jon Moxley.
“I’d love to wrestle Moxley someday,” says Tanahashi, who was particularly impressed last May when he watched Moxley wrestle Yuji Nagata on AEW’s Dynamite. “Nagata can really do it all. He can get rough with you or he can rely on his perfect technique. Moxley was able to overcome that and win, and that shows how great he is.”
In order to get to Moxley, Tanahashi will first have to defeat Archer. One of wrestling’s most dynamic big men, Tanahashi long admired Archer’s work in New Japan. And in an industry where contrasting styles help create dynamic moments, Archer offers a size and style that is a perfect contrast to Tanahashi.
“However many times we wrestle, I always think he’s great,” Tanahashi says. “This time it’s in the states, on his home turf, so I have to be careful of him having the home field advantage. I’m excited to find out what will be different this time.”
One of Tanahashi’s biggest matches in the United States took place two years ago at Madison Square Garden, where he dazzled a sold-out crowd in a loss against Zack Sabre Jr. Now Tanahashi is ready to craft his most memorable moment in America by winning the IWGP US title, showing the world that there is no better champion than New Japan’s “Ace.”
“I have nothing but gratitude for all the fans over the world,” Tanahashi says. “Experiencing those empty arena settings last year only reinforced that feeling. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been in front of a vocal crowd, so I’m looking forward to that sensation. As long as you guys are there to support me, I’ll be able to push myself to new limits.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.