Hiroshi Tanahashi is the new IWGP United States champion. The industry icon plans to represent New Japan Pro-Wrestling on a consistent basis in the U.S., defending the belt in high-profile matches across the country.
“I think the IWGP U.S. heavyweight championship is truly meaningful when it is defended in the U.S.,” says Tanahashi, whose answers were translated from Japanese. “I have a desire to go to the U.S. once a month. Sometimes, I’d even like it to be once a week.”
He won the belt last week at New Japan’s Resurgence show in Los Angeles, defeating Lance Archer in the main event. In addition to offering a chance to watch Tanahashi work in the U.S., the match served as a reminder of the brilliance of Archer, who dictated the pace and controlled the crowd with a masterful performance.
“I’ve wrestled Lance Archer many times,” says Tanahashi. “Every time I wrestled him, I felt him evolving. He is a great wrestler. His power and speed are amazing, and the best thing about him is that he is smart. He’s always been a heel wrestler since he joined New Japan. But he is a handsome guy, and I want to see him wrestling as a babyface.”
Tanahashi defeated Archer after connecting on a second High Fly Flow. Following the match, Archer extended an offer for a rematch in AEW, and Tanahashi then gave him a fist bump. Jon Moxley sat ringside during the Tanahashi-Archer bout, adding further intrigue to the future of the title. There was optimism that Tanahashi would be part of AEW’s upcoming All Out pay-per-view in a match against Moxley on Sept. 5. That now looks extremely unlikely, since New Japan announced Tanahashi will make his first title defense of his newly won U.S. title against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Grand Slam, which takes place at the MetLife Dome in Saitama, Japan, on Sept. 4.
But Tanahashi will be back to defend the title in the U.S. NJPW’s STRONG, which is filmed in Long Beach, Calif. He continues to build momentum, and Tanahashi expressed his excitement over the crowd reaction at the Resurgence show in LA.
“This was the first time in a year and a half that I was able to wrestle in front of a vocal crowd,” says Tanahashi, who also wrestled in a match that will air at a later date on STRONG. “It was a really exhilarating feeling, and it gave me a ton of extra strength. I was incredibly fired up. It was a fantastic environment to wrestle in.”
Now back in a position quite familiar as one of New Japan’s top champions, this title reign is unique, as it is Tanahashi’s first with the U.S. belt. Only the seventh U.S. champion in company history, “The Ace” of New Japan plans to make this the most memorable run yet with the belt, especially as the “forbidden door” to AEW continues to open.
Tanahashi already stated his desire to wrestle Moxley, and there are limitless possibilities in AEW, which now include CM Punk. Wrestling in an AEW ring will also be an opportunity to showcase the spectacular matches consistently on display in New Japan.
“I don’t feel a desire to ‘show the world’ or prove myself, but there are a few wrestlers in AEW that I have faced before,” says Tanahashi. “And I definitely don’t want to lose to them.”
A run as IWGP U.S. champ is an opportunity for Tanahashi to share the New Japan product in a country known across the industry for its love of pro wrestling.
“The language barrier was always the biggest problem when it came to overseas expansion,” says Tanahashi. “But I think people overseas are now enjoying our wrestling even more since New Japan World added the English commentary. We have some amazing wrestlers who have not wrestled overseas yet, so I strongly believe that New Japan will expand even further moving forward.”
Tanahashi also shared kind words for IWGP world heavyweight champion Shingo Takagi. The two met last month in a highly anticipated match at the Tokyo Dome, where Takagi successfully defended his title against Tanahashi, a record eight-time IWGP heavyweight champion.
New Japan recently announced Takagi tested positive for COVID-19, though he is on the road to recovery.
“I’ve been motivated by him,” says Tanahashi. “He’s always in peak shape, always performing reliably at 100%, and that’s something we can all learn from, myself included.”