Certain wrestlers are just forever connected with a certain company.
If you think of WWE, John Cena comes to mind.
If you think of ECW, Rob Van Dam comes to mind.
If you think of WCW, Sting comes to mind.
New Japan Pro Wrestling is the same. When somebody thinks of NJPW and the lion logo, “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada is the first person that pops into your head.
Nobody expects the face of a promotion to leave that company so I was shocked when it was announced on January 18th that Okada will be leaving NJPW. His contract expires at the end of January, but he will finish his last few dates in February before leaving.
I would have bet money that Okada would be an NJPW lifer. It’s a good thing I didn’t.
Okada has been the face of NJPW for as long as I have been watching the promotion. He has consistently had some of the company’s best matches, stories and booking. The amount of things Okada has achieved while in NJPW is unmatched. He is a two-time IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, five-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, four-time G1 Climax winner, two-time New Japan Cup winner and a one-time NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion.
He won his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2012 by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at the New Beginning in Osaka. From 2012 until the belt was unified in 2021, Okada held the title five times, defended the title 30 times (the most times in history) and held the title for a combined 1790 days, more than anybody else in NJPW’s history.
So from his first time winning the title until the title was unified there is a total of 3308 days, which means in nine years Okada was world champion 54% of the time.
Absurd GOAT-level numbers.
When it comes to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, that has only been active for 3 years. Okada is the only two-time champion ever, he defended the title six times which is also the most times and he has the second-most combined days as champion with 253. In first place sits SANADA, who held the title for 271 days.
Not only does he have the championships, but his match quality has also been off the charts. Dave Meltzer has awarded Okada 27 5+ star matches in his career. When thinking about his best matches you instantly think of his four-match series against Kenny Omega, the feud that I think put both of them on the map globally to all wrestling fans.
Their first match came at Wrestle Kingdom 11, Okada defeated Omega in the main event to retain his title and this match was rated 6 stars. They had a rematch at Dominion 2017 that went to a 60-minute time-limit draw and was rated 6.25 stars by Meltzer. The third installment of this feud came in the semi-finals of G1 Climax 27, Omega was finally able to defeat Okada and they got 6 stars.
Then came their final meeting, on June 9, 2018, at Dominion in Osaka-jo Hall. Omega was finally able to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This match was so outstanding that Meltzer awarded it 7 stars, the highest-rated match in history.
Okada has done all this while being the frontman of NJPW. The place that has been his home for as long as I can remember.
Sure, he has made appearances in other promotions like TNA and AEW but to think of him permanently somewhere other than NJPW just doesn’t sit right with me.
Never hearing the Japanese commentary team screaming “RAINMAKAAAA” again doesn’t sit right with me.
The fact that Okada is leaving the promotion without being on top doesn’t sit right with me.
It’s been over a year since Okada has been in the main event scene and besides his feud with Bryan Danielson. He hasn’t done much of significance recently. That’s what upsets me about his departure. If the face of the company’s contract is running out you do everything you can to re-sign him. However, NJPW instead put Okada in the 6-man tag division and really gave him no reason to stick around.
He has been teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii since early 2023, they won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles back on May 3, 2023. Their final successful defence came against TMDK on January 24, 2024, but following the match Okada vacated the titles on behalf of his team.
At the age of 36, Okada is still easily a top 10 wrestler in the world and NJPW just fumbled him away. Some fans may be happy that NJPW can finally refresh their main event scene, however, we’ve seen them attempt this over the last few years. Jay White was pushed. Shingo Takagi was pushed. Most recently SANADA was pushed.
When those new people were leading the promotion, all the fans did was complain that they weren’t doing a good enough job. SANADA was critiqued more than anyone during his reign and dropped the title to 41-year-old Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 18. With Naito holding the title, it doesn’t really feel like a new generation of NJPW.
Wrestlers like Shota Umino, Yuya Uemura and Yota Tsuji are now going to be forced into the main event scene and I’m not sure they’re ready for that. And it’s not like someone like Will Ospreay (who is the best wrestler in the world right now) can be moved into Okada’s position because he has already announced he is leaving the company as well and signed with AEW.
I believe every company needs a person who can always be relied on to step up when necessary.
WWE has people like Cena and Randy Orton.
TNA has the Motor City Machine Guns.
AEW has Chris Jericho.
NJPW always had Okada…but not anymore.
I’m not sure who will be the next face of NJPW and I’m not sure there’s currently anyone ready to step into that role. People may say Naito, but in my opinion, Naito is past his prime, he may be champion right now but none of us know how much longer his body can hold up.
NJPW may very well be in their worst position in a long time. First losing Ospreay and now the face that ran the place for so long, Okada.
When it comes to what’s next for Okada right now nobody knows. I believe it’s safe to assume he will decide between TNA, AEW and WWE.
TNA is where he did his excursion and it was a disaster. He never got the chance to succeed. So, it could make sense for him to go back and get a second chance. He could show everyone in TNA how good he is and what they missed out on all those years ago.
AEW has had Okada make a few appearances in the last few years. He fought at both Forbidden Door shows. Once in a four-way for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and then against Bryan Danielson. He also made an appearance on Dynamite teaming with Orange Cassidy against Danielson and Claudio Castagnoli. The connections are there for him in AEW and it could be his best choice if he wants to showcase his in-ring ability. It could also lead to Okada versus Omega on North American soil for the first time ever.
The place Okada has the least connection to is WWE but I think it would be his best choice. Okada has all the skills in the world and deserves to be on the biggest stage possible, which is WWE. He could easily become one of the biggest main-event players in WWE and stand tall in the main event of WrestleMania.
People may say look at what WWE has done to other Japanese stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and Akira Tozawa but there is nobody like Okada.
If WWE signs Okada I am fairly confident he will get the booking he deserves and be booked like one of the biggest stars in the world.
Who knows, Okada might even show up in this year’s Royal Rumble.
There are so many options for what Okada can do next but one thing for sure is he will continue to be a top star in wrestling. No matter where he goes, “The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada will be a world champion again.
Okada’s three final dates with NJPW:
- Feb. 11, 2024, The New Beginning in Osaka: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Feb. 23, 2024, The New Beginning in Sapporo: Match to be announced
- Feb. 24, 2024, The New Beginning in Sapporo: Match to be announced
TOP PHOTO: Kazuicha Okada at AEW Dynamite, at the Liacouras Center, in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. Photo by George Tahinos, https://georgetahinos.smugmug.com