The now sadly deceased Scott Hall, fairly or unfairly, had a bit of a reputation backstage. After a certain point in his career, he was seen as lazy, unmotivated, and … a few other epithets. Whether or not that rep was justified is not the point of this story. What’s undeniable, however, was that if Hall liked you, he would make you look like a superstar.
The most well-known of these shows of appreciation is, of course, the shock win on the May 17, 1993 edition of WWF Monday Night Raw by “The Kid,” a very young, and much smaller, Sean Waltman, over Hall in his Razor Ramon persona, that set the future Syxx & X-Pac on a path to stardom during the nWo and Attitude Eras in two different companies.
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Similarly, in the notorious match from WCW Superbrawl 1999 that saw Rey Mysterio Jr. lose his mask, Hall, and partner Kevin Nash, bumped like mad for both Rey and his partner Konnan, despite the nWo members winning the match, in spite of the widely accepted idea that both Hall & Nash were trying to do as little actual work as humanly possible by that point.
And so it was that September 9, 2001, at the Togane Arena in Chiba, Night 3 of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 World 2001 tour, proved to be a fateful one for a particular rookie Young Lion wrestler that night.
Lone Wolf in Japan
Hall’s resume in Japan wasn’t exactly prolific. After impressing New Japan’s Masa Saito during Hall’s time in the old AWA, Saito had recommended Hall for the 1987 IWGP League tournament, the G1 Climax of its day. Hall would work sporadically in New Japan between 1987 – 1990, the highlight of which being a challenge on 3/19/1990 for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team titles held by Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto that Hall would lose; his partner that night was Punisher Dice Morgan, another early gimmick for Mark Callaway, the man who would be the Undertaker.
Indeed, Hall’s participation in tours between March 2001 and September 2001 was his most sustained period in New Japan, after wrestling a mere nine matches in 2000, getting dismissed from WCW in February of that year, and working a weekend’s worth of ECW house shows in New York State in November. During the month of September, Hall, once more aligned with Masahiro Chono in his post-nWo TEAM2000 stable, was set for a challenge against former rival and ally Keiji Muto, in the midst of his stellar run in 2001, for the All Japan Pro Wrestling Triple Crown heavyweight titles on 9/23/2001.
Two weeks prior to that, however, Hall was booked to face one of Muto’s direct trainees from the NJPW Dojo: a young man from Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture named Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Ace in the Making
Tanahashi was less than two years into his career in NJPW when the match took place. He debuted on October 10, 1999, losing to a fellow Young Lion, Shinya Makabe (now known as Togi Makabe). As is the lot of the overwhelming majority of Young Lion rookies (there have been exceptions to the rule, notably Shinsuke Nakamura), Tanahashi’s record up to that point had mostly been losses, in singles and tag matches. If he was on the victorious side in a tag match, usually it was a senior wrestler who got the win. If on the losing side, Tanahashi would typically take the pin or submission loss.
Tanahashi did have some singles wins sprinkled here and there, but they were against other fellow rookies: the likes of Katsuyori Shibata, Wataru Inoue, and Dolgorsuren Serjbudee. However, this is typical for a rookie or trainee wrestler learning their craft in Japan. It’s been said that Kenta Kobashi lost 86 consecutive matches before getting his first win; he would become one of the Four Pillars in 90s All Japan, and have one of the greatest title runs ever in Pro Wrestling NOAH. In contrast, Tanahashi’s first win came in his third match, against Wataru Inoue, on 10/19/1999, nine days after his debut.
Still, Tanahashi never had a win above his ranking in the nearly two years he had been a professional wrestler. All that was to change via The Bad Guy.
Ready or Not
Hall came out as he usually did in his non-WCW-TV appearances, strutting his way to ringside accompanied by “Ready or Not” by the Fugees. Tanahashi ran to the ring all fired up, as his Young Lion training taught him to be.
Hall mockingly offered a handshake to Tanahashi as the bell rings, which Tana refused. The Bad Guy then tossed his toothpick at Tana, and what looked to be a complete squash of the rookie began. Hall chopped, stretched, fallaway-slammed, and stretched some more … Tanahashi was even subjected to a Scott Hall variant of his stablemate Masahiro Chono’s signature STF. Tanahashi got in absolutely no offense during the match, falling victim at last to a superplex, before Hall signaled for his Razor’s Edge (or Outsider’s Edge, if you wish) finisher. Hall hoisted Tanahashi over his shoulders for his signature crucifix powerbomb, leaving the Young Lion dead to rights.
But then, Hall did not pin Tanahashi. Instead, he called for a house mic.
Instead of finishing the rookie off, Hall decided to call out the man he would challenge for AJPW’s titles on September 23, 2001. “Hey! Muto Keiji! If you… ever step in the ring with Scott Hall? This… is gonna be you!”
As Hall wrapped up his trash talk, Tanahashi regained his wits, and crawled under Hall. Tanahashi then rolled up Hall, getting the three count for the first truly big win of his career. Tanahashi then got the Hell out of Dodge as Hall raged in disbelief that this rookie got the better of him.
Backstage, of course, it was a different story. According to NJPW’s own tribute to Hall on his passing, The Bad Guy was telling everybody who would listen:
“That kid’s money!”
I am sure, for the most part, I don’t need to explain what became of Hiroshi Tanahashi in the intervening years, between 2001 and now, and how the trajectory of his career went. It has been well documented, and he is known as The Ace for a reason. He is, in fact, one of the most popular, beloved, decorated and successful wrestlers of his generation, putting NJPW as a whole on his shoulders in the late-2000s when the company faced extinction.
All that said, Hiroshi Tanahashi did not become an overnight sensation after his shock win over Scott Hall. Then again, neither did The 1-2-3 Kid. In fact, Sean Waltman’s next move immediately following his famous win over Razor Ramon was to compete in NJPW’s Top of The Super Juniors IV (now known as Best of The Super Juniors), where he finished third from bottom in a field of 11, only above Shinjiro Otani and Masao Orihara. The most immediate effect of Hall giving Waltman the rub, was a gradual face turn for Razor Ramon, and a feud with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
But as a wise man once said, you can’t start a fire without a spark. Hiroshi Tanahashi getting the pin on one of the most pivotal figures in the hottest period the wrestling business had ever seen was but the beginning of the journey for the future Ace.
It’s clear Tanahashi was appreciative of the deed. The day after Hall’s far-too-soon passing, on March 15, 2022, during his entrance for his New Japan Cup match against Tetsuya Naito, The Ace went into Scott Hall’s signature strut to the ring, even throwing a make-believe toothpick at the camera. In his backstage comments post-match, Tanahashi would go on to say, “A long time ago, a foreign wrestler told me, ‘You are the future.’ I had just debuted. Yet he already saw me as the future. You have no idea how much those words have motivated me. I want him to see that I’ve become somebody.”
Hiroshi Tanahashi certainly became Somebody. It goes to show that a little appreciation from The Bad Guy certainly went a long way in the end. Scott Hall’s influence reached corners of wrestling some wouldn’t think of, and his loss to the business, all told, is a palpable one.