Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Top of The World

One year ago, on 1 April 2018, Kazuchika Okada was on top of the wrestling world. He had just successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Zack Sabre Jr in a classic at Sakura Genesis. He had already broken the records for the longest reign as champion when he blew past Shinya Hashimoto’s 489 days the previous October and the longest combined reigns when he passed Hiroshi Tanahashi’s 1358 days. This latest victory meant he was now tied with Tanahashi for the most successful title defences in a single reign with 11.

Tanahashi was well aware of the occasion, and after the match came out to challenge Okada for his next defence. The following month, at Wrestling Dontaku, Okada and Tanahashi had another epic clash in their long-running feud. Okada once more emerged victorious and so claimed an historic 12th successful defence. What was left for The Rainmaker? He had broken all of the records and beat the best NJPW had to offer. However, one thing still ate at him, after three stellar matches with Kenny Omega, they were tied.

The Fall

Okada had beat Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11, they then fought to a time limit draw Dominion 2017 and Omega had finally got a win over Okada during the G1 Climax tournament that August. They were 1-1-1. That wasn’t acceptable to Okada, so he challenged Omega to one more match to determine who was the better man. It would be 2 out of 3 falls with no time limit, someone had to win.

The match started well for Okada, and he took the first fall with a roll-up, but then Omega won the second with a One-Winged Angel. Finally, an exhausted Okada was ready to hit the Rainmaker clothesline to prove his supremacy once and for all, but, somehow, Omega reversed into another One-Winged Angel. There was still hope, Okada was under the ropes, maybe Omega couldn’t capitalise on the move? No, Omega followed up with a brutal V-Trigger to Okada and a third One-Winged Angel brought Okada crashing down. The referee made the count and, in those 3 seconds, Okada’s reign was over. Omega had proven himself to be the “Best Bout Machine” and Okada was yesterday’s man.

Following the loss, it was clear something had broken inside Okada. He dyed his hair red and started coming to the ring with balloons (occasionally hitting people with them) and a remixed theme. He was lost without the Championship. He had held it for so long that it had become a part of who he was. Now he was a man who looked like he was trying too hard to be “carefree”.

Things didn’t improve for Okada as he began the 2018 G1 Climax tournament with a loss to Jay White, his Chaos stablemate. Well, that might be too strong a term, Jay White had joined Chaos several months earlier in order to use them as backup against Kenny Omega’s Bullet Club. At the time, he had made no secret of his intention to someday take Okada’s Championship and the leadership of Chaos. At the G1, White won the match after knocking out the referee and hitting Okada with a low blow.

Okada had another losing effort against Bad Luck Fale before racking up six victories. For him, the tournament was still to end in failure after he wrestled long-time rival Tanahashi to a time limit draw, so losing the chance to get to the final. Tanahashi himself would go on to win the tournament. After his victory in the final, he nominated Okada to be the first person to challenge him for the G1 briefcase and so his spot in the Wrestle Kingdom main event.

Following the G1, Okada decided to part ways with Gedo, his manager for the past 6 years. While Gedo would remain in Chaos, he would no longer accompany Okada to the ring.

At Destruction in Kobe, Okada’s only glimmer of hope for reaching the Wrestle Kingdom main event, the spot he had held for 5 of the past 6 years, evaporated as Tanahashi won the day. After the match, Jay White came to the ring and attacked Tanahashi, taking him out with a Blade Runner. He wasn’t done, following up by attacking Rocky Romero (who was on commentary for the event) and grabbing his chair. YOSHI-HASHI tried to make the save but was laid out by White too. He set his sights on Okada, but Gedo ran down to make the save. Except… that’s not why he was there, he slammed Okada with a chairshot to the back, turning on Okada and aligning himself with White. White finished Okada off with a Blade Runner and Gedo announced the coming of a new era.

Following the Destruction tour, Jay white went on to pin Tanahashi during a tag match at Fighting Spirit Unleashed and claim a shot at the G1 briefcase. At King of Pro-Wrestling, he was unsuccessful in his match against Tanahashi, but he Gedo and Jado completed their defection from Chaos by joining the Bullet Club OG’s side of the ongoing Bullet Club civil war.

Okada himself was on the losing side of tag matches at both events, against Golden Lovers and Los Ingobernables de Japon respectively.

The Enemy of my Enemy

At a Road to Power Struggle event soon after King of Pro-Wrestling, White led Bullet Club in an assault on Okada. Unexpectedly, Tanahashi made the save! Bullet Club was now under the leadership of White and had gone back to it’s roots, going full heel with interference, weapon attacks and vicious beatdowns. Tanahashi had recognised the threat it posed and reached out to Okada and Chaos to form an alliance. At World Tag League, we saw several multi-man tag matches featuring Bullet Club on one side and members of both Chaos and Taguchi Japan on the other. While the sight of Tanahashi and Okada standing on the same side was a huge event, their alliance was beaten by Bullet Club at every turn during the tournament shows.

At Power Struggle in November, Okada teamed with Beretta to take on White and Bad Luck Fale. Okada went straight at White and they brawled on the outside for most of the match. In the ring, Beretta scored the pinfall with a roll-up to get some measure of revenge for Chaos against Bullet Club. After the match ended, Okada and White continued beating each other in the crowd, with Okada even attacking Young Lions trying to separate them. White challenged Okada to a one on one match anytime, anywhere. Okada wanted him there and then but White refused. The match was later set for Wrestle Kingdom 13.

In the run-up to Wrestle Kingdom, Okada set his sights on his former manager and friend, Gedo, and the two were scheduled for a match. Gedo tried to get out of it by claiming he had been in a car crash but Okada was having none of it and demanded the match anyway. Gedo attacked him with pepper spray and brass knuckles but it wasn’t enough to keep Okada down. Jado interfered, distracting Okada and taking out the ref, then trying to attack Okada with a kendo stick but Okada took Jado out. While the ref was out, White ran in to attack Okada but Rocky Romero made the save, taking a Blade Runner in the process. White tried to hit the Blade Runner on Okada, but Okada took him out with a pair of dropkicks and then tombstoned Gedo before putting him away with the Rainmaker clothesline. After the match, White and Okada fought some more with White hitting a half-nelson suplex and standing tall at the end.

Return of The Rainmaker

Going into Wrestle Kingdom, Okada had begun to regain his confidence, maybe it was teaming with Tanahashi or just getting some revenge on White and Gedo, but he was on the up again. Then, at Wrestle Kingdom, he made his entrance and something was different, his original music was back, then when he appeared, he was once again wearing the Rainmaker robes, his hair was back to blonde. He entered the ring and removed the robe to reveal he was even back to wearing trunks. He was back, The Rainmaker had returned to take care of Jay White once and for all!

However, it was not to be. After an epic encounter between the two, White reversed a final Rainmaker attempt into the Blade Runner for the win. There was no interference, no dirty tricks, White had taken Okada’s best and outdid him for a clean victory, stunning the Tokyo Dome.

White’s night wasn’t finished there, after Tanahashi recaptured the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, White interrupted his post match press conference to challenge him for the title. The next night at New Year’s Dash, White, Bad Luck Fale and Gedo beat the team of Okada, Tanahashi and YOSHI-HASHI. After the match, White goaded Tanahashi into returning to the ring where the three Bullet Club members beat him down. Okada tried to make the save but was laid out with with the Grenade by Fale. The night ended with White holding the title over Tanahashi.

At New Beginning in Osaka, Okada fought and defeated Bad Luck Fale, getting retribution for both the beatdown at News Years Dash and his defeat at the previous year’s G1 Climax tournament.

In a shocking turn of events, Jay White defeated Tanahashi in only Tanahashi’s first defence of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and announced that NJPW had entered the Switchblade era.

New Japan Cup 2019

It was announced that this year’s New Japan Cup would be slightly different from previous years. Instead of the winner choosing the Champion he wanted to face, he would face Jay White at the G1 Supercard being held in Madison Square Garden on the 6th of April.

Okada stormed through the tournament, first defeating Michael Elgin and then defeating his Chaos stablemates in turn. First newcomer Mikey Nicholls, Will Ospreay, and finally Tomohiro Ishii. He showed respect after each victory, finally repairing his relationships with the Chaos members after his downturn the previous year, and firmly establishing himself as leader once again. Now though, it feels like he wants to lead and not just be the Champion who happens to be leader by default as he seemed after Shinsuke Nakamura left several years earlier.

In the final, Okada faced Los Ingobernables de Japon member SANADA. SANADA took Okada to the limit, but he couldn’t overcome the now fully restored Rainmaker and Okada took the victory and the Championship opportunity.

G1 Supercard

Okada is back at full strength and he now has the momentum of his New Japan Cup victories behind him. However, there’s still one piece missing. His next encounter with Jay White is for his prized IWGP Heavyweight Championship, will he be able to once again fulfil his destiny and get back to the top of the wrestling world?

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I've been a wrestling fan for 20 years, mainly watching WWE. I only discovered the wonders of New Japan Pro-Wrestling a few years ago and got hooked after Wrestle Kingdom 11. Check out the rest of my reviews and articles!

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