‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series. It is dedicated to specific events, matches, and occurrences in wrestling history. We revisit those key moments and look back at how they went down and what they meant to the wrestling industry. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada part VI is that match.
Tanahashi and Okada have the most iconic and storied rivalry of the 21st century. Their feud has produced shocking twists, great character arcs, emotional victories, and crushing defeats. And above all else, they’ve put on some of the best wrestling matches of all time together.
Today we revisit one of their iconic matches from King of Pro-Wrestling 2013.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
This was the sixth singles match between Tanahashi and Okada. At the time, they were even in terms of match results. Tanahashi had two wins, Okada had two wins, and they had one 30-minute draw. That draw took place in their most recent encounter, which was in the 2013 G1 Climax tournament only a few months prior to this match. Okada was also champion going into the match, and New Japan was still getting behind him but weren’t fully there. He had already improved tremendously from his return eighteen months prior. But there was still some reluctance from some fans. They saw him as too Americanized and not in step with the new direction NJPW was going in. So Okada hoped to prove that he was as good as the Ace, if not better.
An Uncharacteristic Start
Things start of intensely with both men charging at each other as soon as the bell rings. Tanahashi goes for his trademark Texas cloverleaf, and Okada tries his signature amazing dropkick, but neither leads to anything. Things slow down, and they go about their usual high-standard technical excellence.
But then something out of the ordinary occurs. Tanahashi jumps off the turnbuckle to avoid an attack from Okada. But in doing so, he appears to injure his knee. And very badly at that. His pain looks real and legitimate. He can’t even stay standing for the next move that’s ‘supposed’ to happen, which lends a sense of legitimacy to the injury. Then, out of nowhere, Tanahashi goes for a roll-up, but it only leads to a two-count. He follows this with a perfect performance, showing he was never hurt in the first place.
This flies in the face of Tanahashi’s usual personality. Normally he’s the righteous good guy that never cuts corners or shows and underhandedness. But by this point, Tanahashi’s so done with Okada that he can’t continue the façade of business as usual with the Rainmaker.
Destroying The Weapon
Sensing an opportunity, Tanahashi goes down the scientific wrestling path and starts attacking Okada’s right arm. This is his Rainmaker arm, the one that had beaten him and many others since Okada returned. And since Okada doesn’t really have a major backup weapon, he soon finds himself in big trouble. He can’t even land more than a single elbow smash without needing to rest. Tanahashi’s relentless assault on his arm renders virtually all of Okada’s offensive moves useless. He can’t even apply his submission hold – the Red Ink – in fully because he can’t stretch his right arm out enough to clasp both hands together.
But Okada is nothing if not resilient. He may be a one-trick pony with the Rainmaker, but it’s still a great trick nonetheless. So Okada keeps fighting back with any move he can. A forearm smash here, a diving elbow drop there. And when he isn’t showing off his fighting spirit, Okada looks for different ways to weaken Tanahashi’s neck for his eventual finisher. This includes some high-angle DDTs, driving Tanahashi’s neck into his knee, and a big Tombstone Piledriver on the ringside mats. And yet, Tanahashi’s just as resilient as Okada, refusing to lay down and die no matter how much brutal punishment Okada dishes out.
Overcoming The Odds
By the time the finishing stretch began, it became a pure endurance contest. It was all about who would run out of gas first. Would Okada be unable to land any match-ending move because his arm was weakened? Or would Tanahashi’s neck succumb to so much damage? Both men tried to land the deciding to move to the point that they kept countering each other. One move after another was ducked, dodged, countered, reversed, or absorbed.
Both wrestlers wanted to show they were both tough and clever. And it looked like Tanahashi would win in both those fields. He seemed to be the healthier of the two after the thirty-minute mark passed. Tanahashi thought he had things won once he started flying. He landed one High Fly Flow from the top turnbuckle to the floor. Then he landed a second one but Okada was on his stomach. All he needed was a third one to pin Okada on his shoulders. But Okada got his knees up at the last possible second.
With flying no longer an option, Tanahashi resorted to more countering. He hoped he could land another dragon suplex, which was a move that had ended many of his matches in the past. But it wasn’t meant to be. For Okada managed to pull off that one trick at the opportune moment. Sensing an attempt at an easy pin, Okada twisted Tanahashi, grabbed his wrist, and drilled him with a vicious Rainmaker. And despite all the damage done, it was enough for him to secure a pinfall.
And with that, the series between Tanahashi and Okada went from 2-2-1 to 2-3-1.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
This rivalry represents a perfect example of long-term storytelling in action. This is a feud that’s meant to be drawn out without feeling boring and sluggish. Changes in match structure and evolution in the story being told are done subtly and with nuance. Most of their matches have more or less the same structure, but small-yet significant changes happen throughout.
In this one, Tanahashi resorted to somewhat underhanded tactics to lure Okada into a trap. He knew his fans wouldn’t like it, but he needed to go in this direction because of how tired he was of Okada in general. He didn’t think that he could beat Okada without destroying his Rainmaker arm. And since Okada had learned from their Invasion Attack match (in which Tanahashi first destroyed the arm), he knew that Okada would be ready for such an overt attack on his main weapon. So Tanahashi took Okada off guard by betraying his trademark righteousness and pulling an Eddy Guerrero-style fake-out.
With this, the detractors that might still have disliked Okada were given a reason to invest in him. Puroresu, at its core, is about toughness and overcoming the odds. By resorting to this nefarious tactic, Okada had to fight from underneath and once again survive a wrestler known for his scientific wrestling knowledge. And since Tanahashi was displaying an uncharacteristic underhandedness, the purists that didn’t like this had even more reason to cheer Okada.
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
King of Pro Wrestling 2013
One of the Greatest Matches of the 2010s
This match was one of the greatest wrestling matches of the 2010s and helped cement the Tanahashi-Okada rivalry as something special. It wasn’t common for Tanahashi to pull such dirty antics in a big match. Nor was it common for Okada to be anything but confident. So both wrestlers showed some character development that made things feel fresh and, therefore, more exciting between them.
And the best part of the whole thing is that this match, while awesome in its own right, isn’t even the best one in their rivalry. That alone speaks volumes to the incredible chemistry these two had and their almost supernatural ability to have great wrestling matches together.