When New Japan Pro Wrestling made the announcement of their G1 Climax 26 lineup a few weeks ago, I knew it was going to be special. Here was a fantastic blend of established tournament veterans (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto, Yuji Nagata), fresh faces (EVIL, SANADA, YOSHI-HASHI, Kenny Omega), and outside entrants (Naomichi Marufuji, Katsuhiko Nakajima) that would ensure that this year’s G1 Climax had some of the highest potential for outstanding matches. Add to that the omission of some of New Japan’s less-than-stellar talents—Tanga Roa, Yujiro Takahashi, Yoshitatsu—and I was a happy camper.

But there was one aspect of the lineup that really stood out to me. It was an omission from this year’s tournament that, given the history of the G1 Climax, was quite glaring: Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Masahiro Chono may be “Mr. G1,” but his longtime associate Tenzan is right with him. Tenzan has won the G1 Climax three times: 2003, 2004, and 2006. This places him second on the list of most G1 victories (with Chono in first place at five wins). Tenzan holds the record for competing in the most G1 Climax tournaments, having wrestled in it every year since 1995 (the only exception being 2010, which Tenzan skipped due to injury). No doubt thanks to his multiple entries, Tenzan is also the winningest wrestler in G1 Climax history, having won the most matches cumulatively.

Despite his numerous accomplishments, Tenzan did not make this year’s G1 Climax lineup. What played a part in it? Match output, most likely. Tenzan’s advancing age and long list of hard hitting matches have taken their toll on the man. He just can’t go 100% throughout the whole tournament anymore. The last few years have proven it. Don’t get me wrong, when Tenzan is feeling good and has enough fire in his belly, he will bust out a couple of great matches. But when you’re in the same tournament as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, and Katsuyori Shibata, among a host of others, a couple of great matches is not enough. Tenzan physically cannot compete on the same level as those guys anymore. He just can’t.

So as I pondered over the G1 lineup, I couldn’t help but think about Tenzan. I guess this was it for him. He had his day in the sun; all those G1 victories, all those IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns, all that time as Chono’s best friend and tag partner. But now it’s Okada’s time. Now it’s Naito’s time. Now it’s Omega’s time. Tenzan will go off to “Nakanishi Land,” as Joe Lanza puts it. He’ll be in an endless series of multi-man tag matches to open shows, still trying to capture a glint of something that isn’t there anymore until he eventually hangs up the boots.

Tenzan’s response to his snub? Fuck you, I’m Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Yup, Tenzan was none too pleased with being left out of this year’s tournament. Did New Japan just forget? Did they forget about all those IWGP Heavyweight Title reigns? Did they forget about him being loyal to this company for over twenty years, through the good times and the bad? Did they forget about all those tournament wins, all those tournament appearances? God dammit, Hiroyoshi Tenzan does not compete in the G1 Climax. He IS the G1 Climax.

So Tenzan stepped up to the plate. On the same night as the lineup announcement (June 27), he wrestled in a six-man tag match. Tenzan got the pinfall victory with a moonsault. A moonsault. IN A SIX-MAN TAG ON A HOUSE SHOW. And then he grabbed a microphone.

And then he took to Twitter.

A few days later at Kizuna Road, Tenzan picked up another pinfall win in a tag match with the moonsault. These moonsaults were not ho-hum moonsaults. Remember, this man is 45. He was making a statement. Oh yeah, you’re gonna leave me out of the G1? Watch this.

Tenzan then gave another impassioned speech on the microphone.

Tenzan was mad. He was insulted. And one way or another, he would be in this year’s G1 Climax.

Enter Satoshi Kojima.

A long time ago, I wrote an article detailing my thoughts about Ten-Koji, the team of Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima, as being the most realistic tag team in wrestling. They’re the best of friends and very much loyal to one another. From time to time they’ll get into some scrapes with each other, but when that is done and dusted, they shake hands and go right back to being buddies. A true friendship.

Kojima was announced for this year’s G1 Climax. Despite being about six months older than Tenzan, he doesn’t show the same amount of wear-and-tear as his partner…. at least not yet. Kojima can go, and in an A Block that includes Tanahashi, Okada, Ishii, SANADA, and Goto, a lot of New Japan fans were licking their lips in anticipation for the matches that Kojima would have with his competitors.

At Kizuna Road, the same event where Tenzan promised to find a way into the G1, Kojima teamed with Matt Sydal and Ricochet to win the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship. But it was the speech Kojima gave after the match where things took a turn.

You read that right: Kojima forfeited his spot in the G1 Climax and gave it to his friend Tenzan. He willingly threw away a chance to earn an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 11 just so his friend could get one last shot at glory. One last chance to be the best.

And you can groan all you want about losing those Kojima matches in the G1, but you cannot deny that that is true friendship. And you cannot deny that this is the kick in the ass that Tenzan needed for this year’s tournament. Like Kojima said, Tenzan is not merely fighting for himself; it’s not just Tenzan’s reputation that is on the line. Tenzan is fighting for Kojima. He’s fighting for his best friend. He’s fighting to scream to the world that Ten-Koji can still run the world. Tenzan has to put on big matches. He has to win.

Many years ago, I first laid eyes on Tenzan thanks to a local cable access show here in Massachusetts called Toukon Retsuden; a pair of wrestling fans would provide English commentary over Japanese wrestling matches. The show was very much my gateway into Japanese wrestling and the incredible performers who inhabit it.

One particular series of episodes covered the entire 2004 G1 Climax. It was there I first saw Tanahashi. It was there I first saw Nakamura. And Nagata. And Chono and Tenryu and Shibata and Sasaki.

And Tenzan. Good god, the sight of Tenzan. This thick buffalo of a man with shiny red trunks, an awesome mask and, quite possibly, the most glorious mullet in all of wrestling: Jet black down the middle, blonde on the sides. Putting his opponents away with these moves I had never seen before: the Anaconda Vise and the TTD—Tenzan Tombstone Driver. I was enamored.

The finals came down to Tenzan and Tanahashi. Tenzan: The veteran, the star, the champion, the 2003 G1 Climax winner. Tanahashi: The rising talent, the young punk, the pretty boy, the man who would be king.

Tanahashi wanted to win. He wanted it badly. But it was not to be. Tenzan slammed him down hard to the mat with the Anaconda Vise and Tanahashi had no choice but to tap. It was not his time. It was still Tenzan’s time. It was still his G1 Climax. Try again next year, kid. I’ll be there, ready to slam you down again.

July 18: the 2016 G1 Climax begins. Tenzan will be there, ready to fight. And he will fight. He will fight and fight and fight and fight and fight. He’ll fight for himself, for Kojima, and for everyone who never had a chance to throw one last punch, to throw one last kick, to make one last statement to the world about who they are.

This is Hiroyoshi Tenzan’s last stand. And he’s gonna make it count.