Wrestling’s best tournament of the year starts this Saturday in Tokyo. The G1 Climax 28 will feature 20 of the very best heavyweight wrestlers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, and New Zealand. This global war of attrition will be made up of two blocks of 10 wrestlers, with the winner of each block facing off in what is traditionally one of the best matchest of the year anywhere on the planet.
The winner will have the opportunity to compete for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on January 4 in the Tokyo Dome, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year. With so many big names and impressive athletes taking part in the G1 Climax this year who should be the one to come away with the trophy and the Championship match? Why, Hiroshi Tanahashi of course.
Hiroshi Tanahashi is the most beloved personality in New Japan Pro Wrestling. While he hasn’t held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship since February 2015, his seven reigns are the most in history, and he was central to the popularisation and growth of New Japan over the last 12 years.
For that fact alone he would be a worthy winner of the G1, a tournament he has already won twice. He may be 41, but Tanahashi is still very capable of putting on strong matches, and any time he is in the ring the crowd come alive. Tanahashi has been in eight of the 12 Wrestle Kingdom title matches, and a further main event in his Intercontinental Championship match against Shinsuke Nakamura. He is as much a part of Wrestle Kingdom lore as Hulk Hogan is WrestleMania lore, if not more so. He is the beloved Ace, and a third Wrestle Kingdom in a row without Tanahashi in the main event seems a very odd concept.
New Japan have a long-established tradition of the big stage getting the better of young, newly crowned, wrestlers. It took Kazuchika Okada three attempts to finally beat Tanahashi in a Wrestle Kingdom main event, despite having beaten him for the Championship elsewhere. The Ace hasn’t been back to the main event since that defeat in January 2016, and with age and injuries catching up to him this is realistically the last shot Tanahashi has to make a run at the Championship and the match that he has dominated for the majority of his career.
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega have only met once before in a NJPW singles match, that was in February 2016 for the vacant IWGP Intercontinental Championship. The match received 4.75 stars from Dave Meltzer, but a lot has changed since then, and Omega has become very clearly one of the best performers in wrestling history. He has just started his first reign as IWGP Heavyweight champion and needs a big Tokyo Dome win to cement himself as a true champion. Taking on Tanahashi, a man who has been there and done it before, would present a serious and new challenge for The Cleaner rather than just another match against Kazuchika Okada, as amazing as that may be.