NJPW’s Hiroshi Tanahashi Voted Most Popular Wrestler In Japan, Topping WWE, AEW Stars


After Hiroshi Tanahashi lost his first match after returning from surgery, he cut a promo backstage in which he worried he would lose the support of the New Japan Pro Wrestling audience. “I know the people’s faith in me won’t last forever,” said the 42-year-old Ace, who won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the eighth time at Wrestle Kingdom this year only to lose it in his first defense. “Perhaps the support I had in Ryogoku tonight was the last of it.”

But it turns out Tanahashi really didn’t need to worry about losing the people’s support because he just won a huge annual fan poll to determine the most popular active wrestler to have competed in a Japanese ring. Over 55,000 votes were cast in Sports Graphic Number magazine’s Pro Wrestling General Election and The Ace ended up beating fellow NJPW wrestler Tetsuya Naito for first place by only 610 points. In both the 2017 and 2018 polls, Naito finished first, while Tanahashi came in second.

Twitter user @abraingenius translated the full final top 100 list, and here are the top twenty:

20. Taichi – NJPW
19. Minoru Suzuki – Pancrase Mission
18. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW
17. Jushin Thunder Liger – NJPW
16. Mayu Iwatani – Stardom
15. Kenny Omega – All Elite Wrestling
14. Tam Nakano – Stardom
13. Riho – Gatoh Move
12. Shingo Takagi – freelance
11. Shinsuke Nakamura – WWE
10. Kento Miyahara – All Japan Pro Wrestling
9. Kairi Sane – WWE
8. Naomichi Marufuji – Pro Wrestling NOAH
7. Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshiro – freelance
6. Hiromu Takahashi – NJPW
5. Kota Ibushi – NJPW
4. Sanada – NJPW
3. Kazuchika Okada – NJPW
2. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW
1. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW

There are some interesting takeaways from this list. Though these wrestlers are based in a variety of promotions, it is a little more New Japan-heavy than it looks at first glance. Suzuki and Takagi are freelancers, but though Suzuki technically represents Pancrase, the MMA promotion he co-founded, he works the majority of his matches in NJPW these days. Takagi has only wrestled for New Japan since he arrived in the company in October 2018.

Though Kenny Omega’s popularity with poll voters has fallen (a move from number five to fifteen) since he left New Japan, he’s still very popular with Japanese wrestling fans. More impressively, Hiromu Takahashi is even more popular despite having not wrestled nor appeared on a wrestling show since he suffered a serious neck injury in July 2018. His L.I.J. stablemate Sanada is more popular than a lot of NJPW fans outside of Japan might think, coming in fourth. But considering Tanahashi’s years of goodwill built up with fans in Japan and the engaging story of his “complete comeback” last year, it’s not shocking to see the Once In A Century Talent gain the number one spot.