The main event match of Forbidden Door saw Jon Moxley take on one of the biggest stars in NJPW history. That man is Hiroshi Tanahashi, a multi-time IWGP World Champion and a man so beloved he has been dubbed “The Ace of the Universe”.
Fans will never boo their ace. Tanahashi is one of the most popular stars in the world, the ultimate babyface that the fans cannot help but get their support behind. Chants of “Go Ace” can be heard echoing around any building in Japan he wrestles in, and fans come from far and wide just to get a glimpse of the great man.
But why is Hiroshi Tanahashi so popular? What led the fans to accept him with such reverence and place him above so many other stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada and Katsuyori Shibata?
Why is Hirosho Tanahashi so popular?
Hiroshi Tanahashi is so popular with New Japan fans because he helped carry the company during a time of great financial difficulties. Whilst the company was in bad shape and there was a dearth of top stars in the company, the innate charisma and fantastic matches of Tanahashi made the fans loved him and helped keep New Japan Pro Wrestling in business.
He was immediately spotted as a future star by New Japan bosses when he started wrestling in high school. He was a top prospect in Japan, even beating the legendary Scott Hall in a match whilst still a young lion in the New Japan Dojo.
He also took part in a hugely successful tag team with Kenzo Suzuki, but it was a horrific incident in his life that drew him the fame that ultimately helped him become the Ace of New Japan.
In 2002, Tanahashi was stabbed in the back by a TV reporter he was dating. This made huge news in Japan, and Hirosho Tanahashi became a household name overnight. It kept him out of the ring for 4 months, with fans wildly anticipating the return of one of the biggest future stars in wrestling.
When he did return, fans were ecstatic , and he simply built from there. He won his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2006, and engaged in feuds with the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Yuji Nagata and Kazuchika Okada.
His matches were of such high quality, and he inspired the fans so much with his will to win and fighting spirit, that he became maybe the most beloved man in wrestling. Tanahashi became so popular due to the way he won his matches, by never giving up and being the Ace of the Universe that saved New Japan from potentially going under.
Hirosho Tanahashi has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship 8 times, more than any other wrestler in the history of New Japan. His most recent win was in 2019, 13 years after his maiden title reign. He defeated Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in front of a sold out Tokyo Dome, who couldn’t help but cheer their Ace on to victory after his win in the G1 Climax.
Why is Tanahashi called The Ace of the Universe?
Hiroshi Tanahashi coined the term “Ace of the Universe” after his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship defence against long-time rival Shinsuke Nakamura in 2006. The “Ace” in Japan is seen as the top face of the company, like Roman Reigns in WWE, with the ace of the universe indicating that he is even more than just being the Ace of New Japan.
Despite Kazuchika Okada now considered to be the Ace of New Japan, and Toru Yano humorously nicknamed “the True Ace of New Japan”, neither man have earned the moniker of Ace of the Universe. Tanahashi earned the title throughout his battling in New Japan in the mid 2000s and saving the company from ruin.