2017 has really been the best of times and the worst of times for New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re barreling headlong toward their first-ever sold-out events in the United States, and have been racking up nothing but acclaim for their in-ring product (notably from IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega). But in the past couple months, two terrifying and very serious injuries have struck two of their most beloved stars.
Veteran wrestler Tomoaki Honma suffered a severe spinal injury during a match in Okinawa, and although he is walking again and rehabbing, he is far from ready to return. Even more devastating was Katsuyori Shibata’s subdural hematoma, caused by a legitimate headbutt during a match with Okada. That injury required emergency surgery, then another brain surgery, and Shibata is still experiencing paralysis and vision problems. The current belief is that he will never wrestle again.
The latest reported injury is to New Japan’s biggest and most marketable star of all, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The seven-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion was the driving force behind NJPW’s current popularity both in Japan and worldwide, and is pretty much a perfect 1:1 comparison for John Cena’s importance to WWE.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reports that Tanahashi was injured during Sunday night’s Ring of Honor television tapings, where ROH and New Japan were presenting their regular “War of the Worlds” co-promotion. Tanahashi was part of a six-man main event for what will be ROH television episode 300.
After the event, Meltzer reports that he was having his biceps looked at. At this point, the “hope and feeling” is that this is only a partial biceps tear, which Tanahashi would work through. If it turns out to be a full biceps tear, that would be a major injury requiring surgery, and would keep Tanahashi out for some time. Needless to say, that would potentially be a serious blow to a company just a couple months away from trying to make a huge splash in the United States.