My views on Pro Wrestling from the East and West

Monday, August 09, 2004

A look at Hiroshi Tanahashi & the U-30 Title

After I did my “Who Will Beat Kobashi?” article awhile back, my buddy TenzanTeam2K brought it to my attention when I mentioned Kobashi was looking to break Nagata’s V10 defense record that Hiroshi Tanahashi had already made V10 defenses of “his” U-30 Open-weight title and was one defense away from breaking Nagata’s record.

Off the top, I think it’s not fair to compare the U-30 title with the IWGP and GHC heavyweight titles. Those are WORLD titles. Those are top prizes of the promotion and what the company is built around. Tanahashi claimed that the U-30 title was a mid-card title to help build up the younger guys, a stepping stone if you will, on their path up the puroresu ladder. In My view, the U-30 title is strictly costume jewelry for Tanahashi. His own little ego trip, and since HE created the title, he doesn’t have to lose it if he doesn’t want to (even Taz lost his self-made FTW title to Sabu back in ECW in what I believe was his only actual defense of it). Let’s look at those ten successive defenses Tanahashi made:

V1 Katsuyori Shibata
- Over-rated “shooter”. Even today there are many who wonder why Shibata is getting so much hype.
V2 Makai #2
- Angle to unmask him as K-Dojo’s Ryota Chikuzen, which didn’t really lead anywhere.
- Big fun brawl. Was never seen again after this.
V4 Blue Wolf
- Won the no.1 contendership from Yoshie, waited 4 months to get the match. Shows how important the title is?
V5 Naomichi Marufuji
- I wanna see this one cause it’s the only one that has any real drawing power for me. Marufuji here would be like Rey Mysterio. And we all know Mysterio can make almost ANY match look good.
V6 Yutaka Yoshie
- Lost to Blue Wolf the first time, lost to Montanha Silva the month before, but got a shot anyway. Tanahashi didn’t do much to make his then tag-partner look anywhere near as as good as Yoshie did for him.
V7 Masayuki Naruse
- Under-rated junior heavyweight.
V8 Kazunari Murakami (Cage Death Match)
- The only credible challenger thus far, but the title was really secondary to the feud here. Murakami can also be considered the credible psycho-heel guy NJPW calls when they need to put a babyface over i.e. Enson Inoue etc.
V9 Ryusuke Taguchi
- Who in their right mind thought this rookie had a chance from the get go? Seriously?
V10 Toru Yano
- Maybe this should be V10½ since he won twice in one night?

All sarcasm aside, I’ll admit I have only seen two of those ten defenses for myself. The one thing they all had in common from the reports I read was how all the challengers showed a lot of “fighting spirit”. But the difference from Tanahashi’s challengers and the ones that faced Nagata and Kobashi were that their opponents were built-up to be believable threats to the champion’s reign (Yes, even Tadao Yasuda & Yoshinari Ogawa).

But from what I can tell, most of Tanahashi’s challengers never really gave the U-30 title any thought until they found out they were in the running. From the list above, the only guy that was actually gunning for Tanahashi was Murakami. Even then, the U-30 title was just an after thought to the grudge. The other nine challengers were all more or less hand-picked by the champion himself too.

And here’s one observation I’ve made of Tanahashi. I’ve even mentioned this before actually about NJPW in general, and even President Kusama noted recently when he did a house show evaluation: Everyone looks different, but mostly work the same moves. By that, I mean Tanahashi hasn’t really done anything extraordinary. He’s got some smug charisma and he’s caught a lucky break. Maybe not as lucky as Nakamura, but luck none the less. If your talking about his ring work, he really hasn’t done anything that everyone else on the roster isn’t doing to stand out. He’s just been put in a situation where those limited abilities are demonstrated to the best it can.

When President Kusama said there were only THREE styles with many different looks, this is probably what he saw:

1. The all rounders – What Keiji Mutoh was. Guys like Tenzan and Tanahashi who have limited offense, but are versatile with what they have (Yes. I believe Tenzan has a limited arsenal).

2. The (mock) shooter – What Shinya Hashimoto was. The guys with the big strikes and submissions like what Kazuyuki Fujita, Nakamura, Shibata and the rest of the guys living Inoki’s ideals are like.

3. The brawlers – What Masahiro Chono mostly does. As emulated today by guys like Yoshie, Blue Wolf, and Toru Yano. These guys get boring easily if they aren’t in control of the match or they need to be carried by guys who will bump for them.

Back to the point, I’ll just sum-up my thoughts on Hiroshi Tanahashi like this, He’s a good looking guy with some charisma who caught a lucky break and is making waves in the business. But to date, I still can’t put my finger on what the big deal about this guy is. Maybe it’s just me, since I’m one of those modern day wrestling fans that likes to see a little something ‘extra’ from wrestlers who are supposedly leading the pack? But I stand by my view that you can’t compare a mid-card title like the U-30 title to the world titles.



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