“All of which leads us to January 4th and Okada vs Naito. The golden boy vs the rebel. There’s only one way this should go and it’s with the rebel getting the win.”
The words of, well, me. In the build-up to Wrestle Kingdom, I was so sure that Naito would beat Okada that I’d have bet your life on it. It seemed like a foregone conclusion. The pretty pink bow on Naito’s long story. Honestly, I still think it should have been, but the evils have popped out of Pandora’s box, and they ain’t going back in. So, we’re left with Okada and time to ponder whether this was the right story to tell.
Kazuchika Okada has gone beyond being just IWGP Heavyweight Champion. That’s what he was over a year ago. Since then, he’s beaten them all. Marifuji, Omega (twice), Suzuki, Shibata, Fale, Cody, Evil and the cause of all this, Naito. That’s not to mention him finally vanquishing Tanahashi in his previous reign. He is now the unbeatable champion, and that’s fucking cool.
And much like Naito not being able to wrestle Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 12 again, Okada can’t lose again. Once this run is over, it’s over. Sure, he can win back the belt, but can you get him this hot? Can you guarantee he will have a year like he did in 2017? No, you can’t. That was a once in a lifetime thing and even if Okada is young, you can’t assume he’ll be able to keep it up. Naito might not be the only one who is the hottest he can be.
It’s possible that this is Okada’s run. That this is the iconic two year period that will define his career. Taking that away from him would be a mistake. He should only lose that belt when there is nothing else for him to do, and there is still something for him to do. He could easily spend another year Rainmakering every challenger that steps up to him. He is wrestling on a level that few (if any) have ever reached. Why would you choose to undercut him now? Surely you should be letting someone that good just do what they do?
However, we’re still left with Tetsuya Naito. Where does he go next? Hopefully, he goes back to the Dome, and next time he wins. In his post-match press conference, Naito talked about having got his main event and how much that meant to him. That moment proved we’d all got it wrong. We thought that the story was him winning the belt. It wasn’t. It was him getting the main event that was denied him. The victory? That’s still to come. Whether it’s next year or the year after I have every faith that New Japan will eventually have Naito stand across from the champion at the Dome and beat him. If it were me booking it, it would still be the unbeatable Okada at the other side of the ring.
The problem for NJPW is that none of that is easy. If Okada and Naito are going to do it all again at the Dome, then Okada has to stay hot for another year while beating everyone that faces him, just ask John Cena how that tends to go. On the other side, Naito has to stay hot while being, essentially, a loser. He’s got to the top several times now and has subsequently dropped the ball. At what point do the fans give up? However, if it does all work, if they do pull it off, damn, it will be incredible.
Having Naito win on January the 4th was the easy choice. It was the choice that I (and I imagine most of you reading) would have gone for. Apparently, it’s not the choice Gedo and Jado went for. They’ve picked the hard way out and there is more chance of it going wrong than there is it working. Whichever way it goes, I’m fascinated to watch it unfold.