Wrestle Kingdom 11 was the show that turned me into a New Japan fan. Before that, I’d watched the previous Wrestle Kingdom while it was hard not to be up to date on The Bullet Club. However, it was that show at the Tokyo Dome that hooked me and, to be specific, it was Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada.
Since then, too many words have been written about that match. From Dave Meltzer six-star rating to the sequels that some would argue outclassed it, it has become a touchstone in modern wrestling. For me, it was the moment that I fell in love with Kazuchika Okada.
And in the year and a half since that love has only solidified. In that time, he’s grimly held onto the IWGP Heavyweight Title, beating back all challengers with what at times looked like ease. The matches are nearly all incredible as he has become the living definition of a strong champion.
However, underneath all of that shine, Okada has been telling a story. The kind of story that you just don’t see in modern professional wrestling. It’s the story of a man who has reached the top and who believes that he belongs here. And yet, it’s also the story of a man who cannot bear the idea of ever losing that spot.
While Okada has been dishing out Rainmakers to all and sundry for the last year and a half, there has always been that underlying feeling that even in the midst his dominance there was a hint of desperation to the way he clung to that belt. That desperation started with the Kenny match. Omega rocked him, more than once and the resounding feeling post-match was that it would have taken just a single One-Winged Angel for the result to go the other way.
Okada knew it too, and it haunted him. It haunted him because he defined himself as the best and Omega was proof that it might not be true. It’s why – despite having already beaten him – he went back for round two and rather than easing his worries that only made them worse. For on the second go-around Okada couldn’t win. Instead, they wrestled for an hour and saw out a time limit draw. Then, to his horror, he would lose to Omega at the G1. Sure, it wasn’t for the belt, but it was no longer up for debate as to whether Omega was on his level. It had been proven.
Those doubts began to sneak into his other matches too. Shibata’s fighting spirit caught him off-guard while it was only Naito’s arrogance that prevented him taking the belt at Wrestle Kingdom. Then there was Tanahashi, his old foe. Despite Okada acting as if Tana’ was underneath him, look at the way he scrambles to make the cover post-Rainmaker. He knew that the Ace was a threat.
All of which brought us to Dominion and Okada’s final stand. The moment where the belief that he was the best was finally shattered. Sure, he’s probably at worst second best and in reality, sharing the pedestal with Kenny but the fact remains that the unbeatable champion was proven to be beatable.
So, where does he go next? Well, that’s almost as interesting as what came before. How does Kazuchika Okada pick himself up from having his world pulled down? Does he shrug it off and pretend it doesn’t mean anything? Or does he crumble? Will the loss of the title come to define the man that Okada is? I don’t know, but it’s the best story in wrestling right now.
Fans of Dr Who and James Bond will often talk about their Bond or their Doctor. Well, Kazuchika Okada is my IWGP Champion. He’s the man that brought me into New Japan and as happy as I am for Kenny, I am sad to see that reign come to an end. However, I can consul myself with the knowledge that there is still plenty to come from my man. Would you bet against it being incredible?