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Hiroshi Tanahashi Remembers the Lesson He Learned From the Late Scott Hall

Two decades ago, the NWO stalwart shared the ring with a young Tanahashi in a match that he remembers to this day.

In September 2001, inside a New Japan Pro-Wrestling ring, Scott Hall forever changed the future of Hiroshi Tanahashi.

A wrestling legend and New Japan icon, Tanahashi is now one of the most decorated performers in the history of the industry. Yet that was far from the case 21 years ago, when Hall was one of wrestling’s most prominent stars and Tanahashi had yet to reach even a full two years in the business.

Their match in Chiba, Japan, didn’t even clock in at five minutes, but it included a finish with real significance. After getting beaten down and insulted by Hall, who reached a whole new level of stardom in the preceding years in the NWO, the match was suddenly won by Tanahashi when he showed a fierce fighting spirit and rolled up Hall for the shocking victory.

When Tanahashi learned the news of Hall’s death, he immediately wanted to pay his respects.

“I felt very lonely,” Tanahashi says through a translator. “I wanted to meet and talk again. The match with Mr. Hall had a great influence on my life as a wrestler and my way of thinking about professional wrestling.”

A day after Hall’s death, Tanahashi wrestled Tetsuya Naito in a match for the New Japan Cup. Tanahashi glided his way down the entrance ramp, mimicking the way Hall tossed a toothpick into the camera. More than 7,000 miles away from Hall’s hospital bed, Tanahashi was honored to pay one last tribute to his wrestling brethren.

“I think Mr. Hall taught me the answer to the question, ‘What is a true professional?’” he says. “It is an important memory that Mr. Hall invited me to go out for a meal together. I will hold on to and cherish that memory.”

Tanahashi will be back in action at Saturday’s Hyper Battle ’22, a celebration of spring for New Japan at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan. Headlined by a must-see affair between IWGP world heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada and the brilliant Zack Sabre Jr., the card also includes El Desperado defending his IWGP junior heavyweight title against Sho, as well as Evil against the incredibly talented Hiromu Takahashi for the NEVER Openweight championship. Tanahashi is set to open the card in an eight-man tag, teaming with Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and Jado against Bullet Club’s Bad Luck Fale, Gedo, Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi.

A key part of this encounter will be learning whether Tanahashi can team cohesively with former rivals who are no longer part of Bullet Club.

“I have not built a relationship of trust yet,” Tanahashi says. “However, Tama Tonga is a companion who practiced together [with me] at the dojo, so I am looking forward to his success. I think Tama Tonga has the qualities of a babyface. I look forward to a change in my feelings after the match.”

Tanahashi is also set to return to the U.S. next month for the Capital Collision show in Washington, D.C., on May 14. Currently without a championship, he does not feel right packing his luggage without some sort of gold. His immediate goal is regaining the IWGP U.S. title he lost in February to Sanada.

“Recapturing the U.S. heavyweight title before I return to the United States, that is what I need to do,” Tanahashi says. “I want to do that for my fans. The presence of fans is my number-one treasure. With them, the significance of being a professional wrestler is not the same. The desire to have them enjoy professional wrestling brings out the absolute best abilities of the wrestlers and pushes us beyond our limits.”

In addition to reclaiming the U.S. title, Tanahashi has a couple of future industry-shattering matches that would be instant main-events anywhere in the world. He wants to share the ring with CM Punk, as well as in a match against Bryan Danielson, and either of those matches that would add magnificent value to next January’s Wrestle Kingdom show in the Tokyo Dome.

“I wrestled against Bryan once in my youth, and now I want to fight him again as a superstar,” Tanahashi says. “CM Punk is famous all over the world, so I would like to wrestle him in a situation that will be big news across the world.”

Now 45, Tanahashi’s ambition and drive have not been deterred by age. After a record eight runs with the now-defunct IWGP heavyweight title, he now seeks his first run as IWGP world heavyweight champion.

“The world heavyweight belt is a symbol of the new era,” Tanahashi says. “Therefore, it is possible that there is no curtain for me. As long as you are an active player, it is natural to aim for No. 1. It will be a bridge that connects the times.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.