Editorials NJPW

The Meteoric Rise of Kazuchika Okada

Kazuchika Okada is one of the most polarizing wrestlers of the last decade for a variety of reasons. On one hand, he has a massive following and many people believe he is a phenomenal wrestler, while you have another corner of the wrestling world that just don’t see it. So my question is, to you, who is Kazuchika Okada? Well, the goal of this piece is to introduce fans, both new and old, to Kazuchika Okada and exactly how he came to be what he is today. Plus, with his title match versus Hiroshi Tanahashi only a few days away, now is the perfect time to dive into his career.

Okada’s early career saw him in Toryumon Mexico being trained by Ultimo Dragon, and unfortunately a lot of that stuff is not widely available. He was already wrestling across North America before the age of 20 (which makes me wonder what am I doing with my life, RIGHT)?, so even early on in his career many people saw the potential he had. The biggest pre New Japan appearance he made was in CHIKARA, which is just whacky when you think about it. Future IWGP Champion and ace of New Japan working with the original Big Mike himself, what a time 2006 was for us all.

Okada entered the New Japan dojo in 2007, and had his first match against future Ingobernable, Tetsuya Naito. Unfortunately Okada suffered from an injury and was out for the next little while, not making his New Japan return until 2008. When he came back from injury, he was now billed as a heavyweight and it is what really made New Japan see that they had a future star on their hands. During the NJPW vs. Pro Wrestling NOAH series of matches, he wrestled the likes of future GHC Heavyweight champion Takashi Sugiura and future Triple Crown/GHC Champion Go Shiozaki. Should also note that if you think Okada’s offense is “boring” now, which is a bold claim in my opinion. he literally got over in New Japan because of having a nice dropkick, A NICE DROPKICK. Bit of an off topic note, but it is baffling to see the quality of Okada matches in 08/09 and what the young lions are churning out now, you can tell that New Japan changed the model after Okada was shown to be so successful.

Okada was allowed chances many young lions are not offered, as before he went on excursion he had multiple matches with New Japan main eventers such as Shinsuke Nakamura, and his farewell match was against future rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi. As we know now, the push that Okada received pre excursion is unheard of, but classic New Japan decision making put him in TNA for the better part of two years. Normally, excursions are necessary in New Japan’s eyes in order to make sure that every wrestler is not a carbon copy of each other, but TWO YEARS IN TNA WAS NOT THE WAY TO GO ABOUT IT! However, that is not the point of this but only to point out the stupidity of this, but New Japan in the early 2010s has this weird relationship with TNA so that is how we got Okada in Orlando, Florida. Luckily, if the relationship had not had died, Okada could have been in TNA for even longer which just sounds like a nightmare scenario.

Before we really dive into the TNA shit, in a weird scenario, Okada actually returned to Japan to wrestle at Wrestle Kingdom IV, which is just OK, and he also went on the New Japan tour of the northeast and he lost to MVP which is just hilarious looking back on it. Okada did pull off a German Suplex on Yoshihiro Takayama, who is a huge dude so I guess TNA taught him SOMETHING? This mainly showed that Okada did not need to be in TNA, but I digress.

Ok, Okada’s TNA career, where to start? First off, one of the reasons New Japan ended the relationship with TNA was because of the poor booking of Okada, let that sink in for a moment that NEW JAPAN had a problem with someone else’s booking, that’s how bad it was. Okada’s fame in TNA came when he was revealed to be a cameraman that stalked D’Angelo Dinero (Elijah Burke of WWECW fame) because he was hired by Samoa Joe to do so. I shit you not, someone at TNA thought it would be a good idea for Okada to dress like Kato from The Green Hornet (which had just released a movie that year) and go by the name Okato. Okada made his TNA Impact in-ring debut just a short 14 months after coming to TNA, which is just mind boggling, and then after said match he was then an after thought until he was pulled out of TNA at the end of 2011.

Okada made his return to New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom VI, defeating future stable mate YOSHI-HASHI. After the main event of WK IV (Tanahashi/Suzuki) he challenged for the belt, which is kind of crazy when you look back on it. Returning from two year excursion Okada challenging the ace of the company to end New Japan’s version of WrestleMania, it was either really stupid or really smart, but the match was made official and happened the next month. In one of the biggest upsets this decade, Okada defeated Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. I remember at the time being so pissed off that Okada won because LOL he was bad, and this was before the days of instant access to New Japan’s big events, but when this match finally showed up online I completely did a 180. The match felt fresh, Okada had this cocky attitude about him and he had a PURPLE streak in his hair so you knew he was a fresh face in New Japan. Joining CHAOS and adopting Gedo as his mouthpiece were the icing on top of the cake, and this is how New Japan straps a rocket to someone’s back.

Okada’s first reign was only four months long, and this leads in to him entering his first G1 Climax. Not only was it his first G1 Climax, he also became the youngest winner of the G1 Climax in history at 24 years old. However, Okada failed to recapture his title from Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom VII, which still to this day is a questionable call. Okada, after winning the 2013 New Japan Cup, defeats Tanahashi at Invasion Attack 2013 and held the title for over a year.

However, New Japan’s lack of making Kazuchika Okada THE ace of the company came to bite them on the ass, as due to a fan vote Tanahashi vs. Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship main evented Wrestler Kingdom 8 over Okada’s title match against Tetsuya Naito. This leads to rash decision of having the debuting AJ Styles to defeat Okada in May, in an attempt to redo the magic that made Okada the Rainmaker. So naturally, he wins the 2014 G1 Climax as well, and during this time Hiroshi Tanahashi has captured the IWGP Heavyweight title from AJ Styles, so we get another match between the two at Wrestle Kingdom 9, and it is the perfect time to make Okada the ace that you want, right?

WRONG, because New Japan messes up the most obvious finish in wrestling and has Tanahashi go over Okada AGAIN for some reason. This leads to the 2015 Okada Redemption story, as he lost several times to Bad Luck Fale before defeating him at Invasion Attack 2015. He then recaptures the title from AJ Styles in July of 2015, and the next month Hiroshi Tanahashi wins the G1 Climax, setting up yet ANOTHER Okada/Tanahashi for this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 10, as both of their years post G1 has been lackluster besides Okada retiring my favorite wrestler of all time in Genichiro Tenryu, but I can’t hold that against him.

So my question is, what is next for Kazuchika Okada? It is now or never with Kazuchika Okada, he *has* to beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom in order to secure that he is THE ace of New Japan. Tanahashi turns 40 next year and Okada will still be in his twenties, it has to happen. Tanahashi is frankly falling apart, including lingering back injuries he has and he has not slowed down at all, and he needs to in order to preserve his body and he for sure deserves it. 2016 has to be the year Okada becomes the ace of New Japan, and then with the current batch of young lions leaving on excursion soon, it gives New Japan the chance to practically do it again in a few years, granted Okada won’t be nearly as old as Tanahashi was. The next decade of New Japan is literally hanging on the balance in this match, because if Tanahashi goes over we can not think of Okada as anything more than a main eventer, because he will never be the ace.

In the end, you can love or hate Kazuchika Okada, but it can not be argued what has happened to New Japan since his return from his excursion in 2012. Not only has he changed the mold that is a young lion, he has also been one of the guys that has garnered New Japan more attention in the west than ever before, he IS the guy. Kazuchika Okada has made New Japan the promotion it is today, and if that is a good thing or a bad thing, I’ll leave that for you, the reader, to decide.

We’d like to thank @punkrockbgmouth for her artwork that ties into our Wrestle Kingdom 10 coverage. Give her a follow and check out the rest of her beautiful artwork!


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