Kazuchika Okada – Rainmaker Rises

One of the greatest professional wrestlers to have ever stepped foot inside the ring, Kazuchika Okada has kept fans around the world on the edge of their seats in countless matches over his career with New Japan Pro Wrestling.

After returning from his excursion, bringing an end to his developmental period, a new era dawned upon the world of professional wrestling as Kazuchika Okada and New Japan Pro Wrestling worked to change the soon-to-be Rainmaker’s fortunes following that disappointing spell in the United States with TNA.

In this part, we look back at the era in which Kazuchika Okada became the Rainmaker and the rebirth of his popularity in Japan –  a time that would lay the foundations for Kazuchika Okada to later enter the conversation for world’s best.

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Kazuchika Okada –
The Return of the King

Being recalled from TNA would not be the end of Kazuchika Okada’s time in the United States. Yes, he was once again a New Japan Pro Wrestling talent but, much like Okada, the promotion was not confined to operating exclusively in Japan.

In May 2011, New Japan Pro Wrestling started their Invasion tour “Attack on the East Coast.” New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania would play host to the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling and that included the returning Kazuchika Okada.

The tour itself would create a piece of New Japan Pro Wrestling history with the introduction of a new championship, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.

A tournament would be held on the tour to crown the first IWGP Intercontinental Champion, one that Kazuchika Okada would take part in on his return match for the promotion.

MVP would be his opponent in New Jersey, though Kazuchika Okada would submit to the eventual winner of the tournament and therefore inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion.

In New York, Kazuchika Okada would face a number of TNA stars in a six-man tag team match, while in Philadelphia, he would face CHAOS in another multi-man match.

This would conclude his time in the US with another three losses, yet the final match of the three may have been the most crucial for Kazuchika Okada as it set in motion the chain of events that would elevate his position within New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Kazuchika Okada’s first match back in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling would come in January 2012 at Wrestle Kingdom VI, where he would once again stand across from YOSHI-HASHI, the only man he had defeated in the promotion in singles competition.

He would do so again, defeating YOSHI-HASHI in a quick bout. However, Okada looked far from up to his usual speed and very much like a rookie with some catching up to do.

Meanwhile, in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom VI, Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Minoru Suzuki to successfully defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

Though the real surprise came after the match had finished when Kazuchika Okada challenged Tanahashi for his IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

The crowd were underwhelmed to say the least, the winner of a haphazard match to say the least challenging the face of the promotion was hardly one they could get excited for.

Naturally, Hiroshi Tanahashi accepted Kazuchika Okada’s challenge with the expectation that the new contender wouldn’t be much difficulty at all.

A day later, a press conference was held, and we learned that Kazuchika Okada would be joining CHAOS as their newest member.

At the time, the faction was led by Shinsuke Nakamura, while Gedo acted as the glue that held the group together.

The group also contained original members Tomohiro Ishii, Jado, Toru Yano, and Takashi Iizuka, as well as a number of newer members such as Ricky Romero, Davey Richards, and Kazuchika Okada’s then rival YOSHI-HASHI who joined a week earlier.

CHAOS were also all heels, making this the perfect time for Kazuchika Okada to don a brand new character that would give him some vigor heading into his feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Thus, the Rainmaker was born.

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The Upset of the Century

As with most feuds in touring promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling, the majority of the matches would be contested in tag team or other multi-man matches, and the feud between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi would be no different.

The feud started off in a curious manner nonetheless, owing to the annual Fantasticamania tour where the stars of Mexico’s oldest promotion, CMLL, hosted joint shows with New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Before Kazuchika Okada could make his CHAOS bow, he would team with CMLL’s Volador Jr. against Tanahashi and CMLL’s La Sombra, coming out victorious.

Victory would become a theme for Kazuchika Okada throughout the NJPW 40th Anniversary tour; he and his CHAOS teammates picked up seven straight wins against teams that included Hiroshi Tanahashi, with Kazuchika Okada even pinning the IWGP Heavyweight champion in one of the matches.

Despite this, Hiroshi Tanahashi’s team would get the better of CHAOS in the two tag preview matches prior to his title defence at The New Beginning in Osaka.

The IWGP Heavyweight Championship match headlined an exceptional card, with Tetsuya Naito and Shinsuke Nakamura more than warming the fans in attendance up for the main event.

Once the main event began, it became clear that the fans were in for something far beyond a routine title defense against a rookie.

Tanahashi came off as overconfident in the early stages after a number of failed attempts at offence from Okada, but soon the two would fire on all cylinders with sequences in which it would be otherwise difficult to tell who the reigning champion was.

There were plenty of other talking points in this match prior to the finish, one being when Okada hit Tanahashi with a tombstone piledriver and then a second outside the ring when Tanahashi missed a senton.

Yet, one of the most memorable moments in New Japan Pro Wrestling history came when Kazuchika Okada hit Hiroshi Tanahashi with his finishing move, the Rainmaker, a ripcord lariat, and referee Red Shoes Unno counted the three.

Kazuchika Okada went from a talented rookie to a top star in a little over a month. While fans could scarcely believe what had unfolded in Osaka, Kazuchika Okada & his manager Gedo weren’t interested in allowing Okada’s victory over Tanahashi to be written off as a fluke.

In the coming months, Kazuchika Okada would successfully defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Korakuen Hall against Tetsuya Naito, who had defeated CHAOS leader Shinsuke Nakamura the same night that Okada beat Tanahashi.

He would also knock off the 2012 New Japan Cup winner Hirooki Goto before Gedo called for anyone who felt themselves worthy to challenge the reigning IWGP Heavyweight champion.

The man who answered the call was none other than Hiroshi Tanahashi, whom Kazuchika Okada did not deem worthy but nevertheless decided to accept the challenge to cement himself as champion even further.

The match would take place at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, the same arena in which Okada and Tanahashi had their first encounter. In front of a sold out crowd, the tables had turned and Tanahashi had everything to prove.

He needed to ensure that he was still worthy of being called the Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling and that the Age of Okada would not become the norm.

Their rematch did not disappoint. It was counter after counter, with Tanahashi hitting Okada with a tombstone of his own this time, and he then finished off the reigning IWGP Heavyweight champion with a High Fly Flow at the third time of asking.

The reign of Kazuchika Okada came full circle and it was over 125 days after it had begun.

Fight Forever

Dominion, where Kazuchika Okada lost his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, came just a month before New Japan Pro Wrestling would hold that year’s G1 Climax.

The G1 Climax pits the best heavyweights, and occasionally junior heavyweights, against each other in a huge round-robin tournament. The respective winners of each block advance to the next stage or the final, depending on the number of blocks.

Both Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi would compete in the tournament. Tanahashi would be in the A block and Okada would be in the B block, with both blocks consisting of nine competitors each.

In Okada’s block was CHAOS leader Shinsuke Nakamura, who had a point to prove that he was still the true leader of CHAOS after Okada’s success.

He did just that when he defeated Okada, though Nakamura finished second bottom of the group after falling to the likes of Togi Makabe and Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Tanahashi and Okada finished on the exact same number of points in their respective blocks, with each picking up a total of ten points (or five victories).

However, the success of foreigner Karl Anderson in Tanahashi’s block meant that he would advance to the finals instead of Tanahashi, as he beat him in their match with each other.

The final was set. It would be Karl Anderson, the first foreigner to reach the final of the G1 Climax since Rick Rude in 1992, versus Kazuchika Okada, the man who would break Masahiro Chono’s record as the youngest to ever win the tournament with a victory.

Gedo further raised the stakes of the final, declaring that the winner of the G1 Climax should main event Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most prestigious annual event, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

This would bring the feud between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi full circle; it would end where it began at Wrestle Kingdom with both competitors having changed drastically since that first encounter.

Fans had long debate which of their past two matches was the better one, but their Wrestle Kingdom rubber match blew the conversation open even wider.

This time, Tanahashi would counter Okada’s rainmaker into a sling blade and pick up the win with another High Fly Flow to retain his championship.

Things would get worse for Kazuchika Okada when he fell to Minoru Suzuki in Sendai just before his entry into the 2013 New Japan Cup.

The New Japan Cup’s knockout tournament format, as opposed to the G1 Climax’s round-robin format, meant that there was no room for error for anyone who hoped to win the tournament and challenge the champion.

Unlike the G1 Climax, the current IWGP Heavyweight champion had to sit it out as per the tournament’s rules.

The road to the final was full of challenges for Kazuchika Okada. First was Suzuki-Gun’s Lance Archer, whom Okada submitted.

Then things were turned up a notch when Okada had to face his G1 Climax final opponent, Karl Anderson.

He was able to defeat him and then fellow CHAOS member Toru Yano before advancing to the final, where he would face last year’s New Japan Cup winner Hirooki Goto, who had challenged Kazuchika Okada when he was the IWGP Heavyweight champion.

After over twenty minutes of battling, Kazuchika Okada defeated Hirooki Goto, meaning that Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi IV was an inevitability.

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Love vs. Money

With a fourth encounter between the Rainmaker and the Ace, a war of words reignited their feud this time around.

Okada claimed that Tanahashi made a miracle happen at Wrestle Kingdom, a miracle that would not be repeated. Tanahashi cited his love for the fans, the fans’ love for him and that when love faces money, love always wins.

That wouldn’t be the case though, as when the two went to war again the Rainmaker came out the victor and a two-time IWGP Heavyweight champion.

Even with Kazuchika Okada victorious, this feud was never going to end at two apiece. However, before a fifth encounter, Kazuchika Okada had to avenge his loss to Minoru Suzuki, and he did so prior to his successful IWGP Heavyweight Championship defense against Tohi Makabe at Dominion.

Every singles match between the Rainmaker and the Ace had thus far been contested for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but their fifth encounter broke that rule as the two found themselves in the same block for the 2013 G1 Climax.

Their match would be the penultimate match in the final round of matches of that year’s G1 Climax before the finals, with the top end of both blocks in a deadlock.

Kazuchika Okada had a torrid time in the group stage, but despite losses to Prince Devitt, Hirooki Goto, and Togi Makabe, he stayed in contention to advance to the finals.

As the final weekend approached, Okada and Tanahashi could still top the group, but so could Togi Makabe, Katsuyori Shibata, and Davey Boy Smith Jr.

Unfortunately for Kazuchika Okada, it was the format of the G1 Climax that cost him victory against Hiroshi Tanahashi in their fifth match.

With a Rainmaker connecting, an exhausted Okada could not cover Tanahashi in time before the thirty-minute time limit expired, and the bout was called at a draw.

This worked well enough for Tanahashi though, who only needed a draw and a win from his last two matches to top the group and face B block winner Tetsuya Naito in the final. Okada, on the other hand, was dumped out on the final night by Satoshi Kojima.

All the losses Kazuchika Okada accrued in the G1 Climax evidently didn’t hit as hard as drawing to Hiroshi Tanahashi.

The Ace fell to Tetsuya Naito in the G1 Climax final, but Kazuchika Okada wanted another match with Hiroshi Tanahashi before he would have to face Tetsuya Naito at next year’s Wrestle Kingdom.

The Sumo Hall would play host to their sixth encounter, with sixty minutes on the clock this time.

Throughout everything, Kazuchika Okada had played the villain and yet on this encounter, the fans had made it clear that they supported the Rainmaker; something that Tanahashi would play up to throughout the match.

In the end, the Rainmaker stood victorious and defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against his bitter rival, bringing an end, for now, to one of the greatest feuds in New Japan Pro Wrestling history.

Kazuchika Okada
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A Long Way

Just over a year removed from a dreadful TNA excursion, Kazuchika Okada had won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the G1 Climax and the New Japan Cup.

Some of the best names to ever grace a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring never came close to accomplishing such a feat, yet Kazuchika Okada had done everything possible at the top end of the promotion in a fraction of the time it took the many of the greats to claim even one of these achievements.

His feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi will go down as the defining feud in his New Japan Pro Wrestling career, and perhaps in the Ace’s too.

Nevertheless, as reigning IWGP Heavyweight champion, new challenges awaited Kazuchika Okada in an ever-changing landscape within the promotion.

There were many one-on-one match-ups that fans still clamored to see, and this list wasn’t getting any shorter come 2014.

Luckily for the fans, Okada was still young and had plenty more years to offer New Japan Pro Wrestling at the top level.