The New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) Wrestle Kingdom 15 series will investigate every aspect of the upcoming two-night Wrestle Kingdom 15 event hosted by NJPW. Over the past 15 years, the event has become known as one of the biggest wrestling events in the world. The third piece will look at Hiroshi Tanahashi and the notion that he is no longer important to the company.
NJPW presents Wrestle Kingdom 15 live from the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on January 4th and January 5th. Due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus, 2019) pandemic, both nights will have attendance capped at a maximum of 20,000 fans to adhere to company social distancing and safety guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hiroshi Tanahashi is synonymous with the international growth of NJPW due to his presence in the marquee scene since 2007 when first won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in a tournament match to decide a new champion against Giant Bernard on July 17, 2006.
Since that point, Tanahashi has helped make former five-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, reigning IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental ‘Double Champion’ Tetsuya Naito, former IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental, and IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion “Switchblade” Jay White, former IWGP Intercontinental Champion Bad Luck Fale, and former four-time Revolution Pro Wrestling (RevPro) Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion Zack Sabre Jr from that point moving forward.
While over the past several years, Tanahashi is no longer within the protected ranks of Heavyweight competitors, he remains a popular figure among NJPW fans, especially those in Japan. After NJPW announced a collaboration with workout gear UnderArmour, Tanahashi was chosen as the figurehead for the marketing campaign.
The former eight-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, two-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion goes into Wrestle Kingdom 15 against Empire member Great-O-Khan who recently returned from an excursion from RevPro in England. A position that is similar to when Tanahashi successfully defended the IWGP Intercontinental Championship against “Switchblade” Jay White at Wrestle Kingdom 12 after he returned from an excursion from Ring of Honor (ROH) in the United States.
The narrative around Tanahashi throughout 2020 has focused on if he has finally passed the point where he can compete and defeat the best within NJPW. The storyline is similar to the 2018 narrative that saw him lose the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to former IWGP Intercontinental Champion, two-time NEVER Openweight Champion, and Suzuki-Gun leader Minoru Suzuki on January 27th of that year at The New Beginning In Sapporo 2018.
After that match, Tanahashi was stretchered out of the Hokkaido Prefectural Sports Center due to a leg injury, beginning a narrative that ended with him defeating “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega during the marquee of Wrestle Kingdom 13 to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the eighth time.
While he may not be in the top drawing positions currently, he remains an important part of the NJPW roster, highlighted by his hyped match against “The Painmaker” Chris Jericho during Wrestle Kingdom 14 Night Two, who was the All Elite Wrestling (AEW) World Champion at the time.
Whether he falls in defeat or is victorious against Great-O-Khan during the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 15, Tanahashi will remain a vital figure within the promotion.