New Japan Pro Wrestling has announced that the Ace of the universe has suffered an injury to his left elbow, which will sideline him at least until Wrestling Dontaku, next month. Now that Tanahashi has managed to reach the top of New Japan once more, at 42 years old with a broken body, what is left for him ?
Surely the Ace won’t be doing nothing for the rest of the year once his body heals up, so let’s try to sort things out !
This past January in the Tokyo Dome, Hiroshi Tanahashi completed his road to reclaim the IWGP Heavyweight championship, from the hands of Kenny Omega. From suffering crushing defeats against Minoru Suzuki for the Intercontinental championship, and against Zack Sabre Jr in the New Japan Cup finals, to, in the most pleasant of surprises in the eyes of some fans, winning the G1 Climax for the third time in his career. The fairy tale did not last long however, as soon as the New Beginning in Osaka event came around in February, the Ace would fall and lose the Heavyweight championship to Jay White.
After Zack Sabre Jr definitely closed this arc of Tanahashi’s career at G1 Supercard, avenging his loss to Tana in the New Japan Cup, we can now take a bit of time to discuss what’s to come. Right before doing that however, let’s discuss the Ace’s physical state real quick. The last few years, Tanahashi has suffered a good amount of injuries, to various muscles as well as his knees. Yet, he has never really been taking all the necessary time off to fully heal. While I think we’re a lot to know that Tanahashi is not the kind to take long breaks because he is so passionate, I will ask the following question : Wouldn’t the best thing be for Tanahashi to stay out of action until the G1 Climax ?
That would mean nearly three months without the Ace in a New Japan ring, and while at the moment we do not know for how long Tana will remain sidelined, the G1 is the next big occurrence coming this year, after Dominion in June. Therefore, I think we can expect that Tanahashi will look to be ready to enter, as the defending winner, just like New Japan wants its biggest tournament to hold as many great names as possible.
With this idea in mind, let’s look at the perspectives for what I think should be quite the different year compared the previous Tanahashi had to go through in his career. While Tanahashi has always managed to claim championships the last few years and remain a highly prominent figure in New Japan (which he will, ultimately, forever be), the one aspect we can note is that Tanahashi has been going against wrestlers who needed to establish themselves in some way. Wrestlers which could benefit from going against and possibly claim a victory over the Ace. Since 2016, Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr, SANADA, and the Young Lion Shota Umino all faced Tanahashi, looking to make for themselves or gaining momentum at the Ace’s expense, resulting in the previously named wrestlers always gaining something from their encounter(s) with Tana.
For this year, the possibilities are large, and using the idea of Tanahashi only coming back for the G1, what better way to keep going on that trend than by using the tournament ? Whether it is by lighting the fire back against foes he already has some history with, or by serving as a huge test for any possible first time entrant in New Japan’s biggest tournament, there is at least a few purposes the Ace can serve in the tournament, and we can’t forget about possibly facing champions for their respective titles after the G1, but as the rest of these ideas, we will see more about that in a few months.
The main thing to keep in mind, is that this year may be the continuity of Tanahashi’s transition into a different role in New Japan, since Okada took over as the man leading the company. As said earlier, this role isn’t really new, but following the immense comeback story of last year where Tana accomplished the goals he had set up for himself, I believe the next step for him is to fully embrace that role.
Lastly, I suggest we think about Wrestle Kingdom next year. The illustrous event held in the Tokyo Dome, where Tanahashi isn’t really known to lose often. This next edition already shapes up to be one where the Ace might fall behind the likes of Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Jay White or Kota Ibushi. As we start wondering about what the future holds for Tanahashi, we might as well wonder about what Tanahashi will do, one year after claiming the IWGP Heavyweight championship for the 8th time.
Does the Ace keeps on facing the future of New Japan to test them, or maybe New Japan blesses us with an iconic match in the Tokyo Dome ? After all, Jushin Thunder Liger will step away from Wrestling after Wrestle Kingdom in 2020, which would make for a great and symbolic way to go, as two of the most recognizable Ace figures in New Japan’s history share the same ring, one last time.