Kazuchika Okada – Raining In Success

There are not many professional wrestlers comparable to Kazuchika Okada in terms of his ability in the ring, his journey to the very top, and the way the fans respond to his presence.

The sound of a coin drop signals to the fans that they are about to witness something special.

No matter which version of Kazuchika Okada walks down the ramp, fans need only look at his catalog of matches to see why the tales of his success have reached all corners of the Earth.

The story of the Rainmaker and New Japan Pro Wrestling continued long after the feud between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

The Rainmaker faced arguably his toughest test from the second he established himself as a major player in the promotion, but his road to legendary status was plagued by plenty more obstacles.

In this part, we look at the post-Tanahashi era of Kazuchika Okada all the way up until his final days as a member of the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster – a period that defined the man the world knows the name of today.

Tanahashi and Okada IV History of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship Part 5 Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada
Photo / Lista / NJPW

Kazuchika Okada –

For once in his time as a full member of the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster, Kazuchika Okada could put his issues with Hiroshi Tanahashi firmly behind him.

He could fully embrace his role as the reigning IWGP Heavyweight champion and the new ‘Ace’ of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Okada had already made five successful defenses of the championship by the time he overcame Tanahashi in October of 2013, and the next successful defense followed a month later at Power Struggle in a rematch of the 2012 G1 Climax final with Karl Anderson.

This was more than a suitable warm up for Kazuchika Okada’s next big challenger, the 2013 G1 Climax winner, Tetsuya Naito, whom Okada and YOSHI-HASHI picked up a tag team victory over during their largely unsuccessful World Tag League run.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 8 wasn’t looked at by fans as one of the more interesting matches on the card.

The first confrontation between the two garnered little reaction from the fans and then, in a vote to decide what would be the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8.

The match came second to the IWGP Intercontinental Championship clash between Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Even with a less than ideal level of fan interest, the match was at the level one would expect of two of New Japan’s top talents and Kazuchika Okada’s reign continued after the match was over.

Defence number eight came against Hirooki Goto at Invasion Attack in April, the month that marked a year since Okada won the title. Following the successful defence, Okada found himself a brand new challenger that became his next big rival.

AJ Styles, a long-time star of TNA, debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling and challenged Kazuchika Okada for his IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

Styles claimed that Okada hadn’t changed all that much since his excursion to TNA and that Okada was still the same rookie that he knew back then.

Styles lent into his heel persona ahead of his match with Okada as he was the new leader of heel faction Bullet Club.

Originally, Bullet Club were formed when Prince Devitt turned on his tag team partner Ryusuke Taguchi in favour of fellow foreigners Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson.

Doc Gallows and The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson) were added to the group before Devitt departed for WWE and was replaced as leader by new arrival AJ Styles.

Wrestling Dontaku in Fukuoka saw AJ Styles defeat the Rainmaker for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in just under twenty-five minutes after CHAOS’ Yujiro Takahashi turned on him and joined Bullet Club.

A devastated Okada tried to reclaim the championship from Styles during New Japan’s US Tour when he entered a triple threat match for the title against Styles and Michael Elgin but Elgin was pinned by Styles.

Having not fell to Styles directly for a second time, the Rainmaker was granted a singles rematch for the championship at Back To Yokohama Arena but Styles once again defeated him.

After thirteen months as IWGP Heavyweight champion, the title was now completely out of Kazuchika Okada’s reach. However, an opportunity for the Rainmaker to earn another chance redemption was on the horizon in the form of the next G1 Climax.

The 2014 G1 Climax pitted Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles against each other once again in B block and the Rainmaker stood victorious over his rival for the first time.

Styles wouldn’t be the only one that Okada defeated in the tournament as he ended the block with a grand total of sixteen points, with his only losses being to Karl Anderson and Tetsuya Naito.

That left a match in the final against the winner of A block who had also accrued sixteen point and just so happened to be the leader of CHAOS – Shinsuke Nakamura.

The success against his CHAOS stablemate meant that Kazuchika Okada would get another shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 9 the following year but plenty would happen between the G1 final and then.

Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles
Photo / Puroresu Spirit

Desperate Times

Despite being the number one contender to AJ Styles’ IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Kazuchika Okada had some time on his hands and a few debts to settle before the date in January, 2015.

Though he was not a champion when he was defeated by Karl Anderson and Tetsuya Naito during the G1 Climax, the Rainmaker put his number one contendership on the line against the pair on separate occasions to cement himself as the rightful and unchallenged number one contender.

With his two losses avenged and the 2014 World Tag League just around the corner, the Rainmaker once again teamed up with YOSHI-HASHI and failed to progress past the group stage just as the duo hadn’t the year before.

While Kazuchika Okada was busy, AJ Styles also had a task at hand to defeat the Rainmaker’s old rival Hiroshi Tanahashi.

But, rather unexpectedly, Styles fell to Tanahashi in Ryogoku at New Japan’s King of Pro Wrestling event in October, losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the process.

With no time left for Styles to recapture the title from Tanahashi before Wrestle Kingdom 9, the bout for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship was contested between former, bitter rivals Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Things did not go as planned for Okada and he was defeated by Tanahashi in just over thirty minutes.

The loss to Tanahashi changed the Rainmaker and not for the better. He was visibly a broken man who could not comprehend being defeated by a man he thought he was finished with.

This took a toll on Okada inside the ring and Bullet Club’s Bad Luck Fale made sure to capitalise on the Rainmaker’s weakness.

Members of Bullet Club faced off against members of CHAOS on the road to New Beginning and for the most part any matches that involved Fale and Okada ended with the former pinning the latter.

Their clash in the New Japan Cup had an identical result as Bad Luck Fale dumped Kazuchika Okada out in the first round.

Eventually at Invasion Attack, the Rainmaker defeated Bad Luck Fale and challenged AJ Styles, who had since regained the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi, to the rematch that they never got the chance to have.

At Dominion 7.5 In Osaka-Jo Hall, Kazuchika Okada finally defeated AJ Styles to claim the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the third time in his career.

Successful defences against Styles, G1 Climax winner Tanahashi and Hirooki Goto followed, as well as a match against the legendary Genichiro Tenryu who had chosen Okada to be his last ever opponent.

If it wasn’t already clear, win, lose or draw, Kazuchika Okada was now the face of New Japan Pro Wrestling and the promotion wanted to reflect that in a big way.

New Japan did so by giving the Rainmaker a five year contract worth ¥200 million, which was also partially due to the departure of both Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles in early 2016.

The Rainmaker’s next big defence was at 2016’s Invasion Attack, where he had defeated Bad Luck Fale a year earlier.

However, the Rainmaker would not be as successful this year as he lost his championship to the New Japan Cup winner Tetsuya Naito due to interference by Naito’s Los Ingobernables de Japón (specifically BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA).

The Rainmaker wasn’t without his championship for long as he brushed the young SANADA aside at Wrestling Dontaku and regained the title from Tetsuya Naito at Dominion in June to begin his fourth reign as IWGP Heavyweight champion.

Okada, Omega, and the Global Age Pt 1
[Photo: f4wonline]

Kazuchika Okada –
The Longest Reign

So began the fourth reign of the Rainmaker where, after a less than successful G1 Climax, he made his first successful defence against Naomichi Marufuji which secured his place in Wrestle Kingdom 11’s main event,

This was against the winner of the G1 Climax and the latest leader of Bullet Club – Kenny Omega.

The match against Kenny Omega is considered by a large group of fans to be one of, if not the, greatest professional wrestling matches to have ever been televised.

Even WWE Hall of Famer ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin said on his podcast that the match might be one of the best matches he had ever seen.

The match itself came to an end after forty-six minutes and forty-five seconds when Okada hit Omega with a jumping tombstone piledriver and followed it up with a rainmaker to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

It made it the longest match in Wrestle Kingdom history at the time. A day later, Kazuchika Okada and the rest of CHAOS fell victim to an attack by Minoru Suzuki and his Suzuki-Gun faction.

Though he ultimately defeated Suzuki in his third successful title defence at The New Beginning in Sapporo.

Then came Sakura Genesis where the Rainmaker had to face off against New Japan Cup winner Katsuyori Shibata.

Sadly the match against Shibata led to Shibata suffering a subdural hematoma due to the sheer force at which he headbutted the Rainmaker during the match.

It was assumed that the incident would lead to Katsuyori Shibata’s retirement from professional wrestling until his return in 2021.

Wrestling Dontaku saw Kazuchika Okada’s fifth successful defence, this time against old rival Bad Luck Fale, and was followed up by the Rainmaker declaring that he wanted to face Kenny Omega one more time at Dominion.

The rematch between the two went even longer and ended in a draw after the sixty minute time limit expired. The seventh defence came in the US against Cody (Rhodes) who was himself vying to move up in the pecking order of both Bullet Club and New Japan.

The G1 Climax came around again but the Rainmaker failed to make the finals and had to defend his championship at King of Pro Wrestling against EVIL, who had defeated him during the G1.

Victory against EVIL ensured that Kazuchika Okada would break Shinya Hashimoto’s record of 489 days as IWGP Heavyweight champion.

A victory over G1 Climax winner Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 12 followed while defences ten and eleven came against Sanada and Zack Sabre Jr. respectively.

A twelfth successful defence would break another New Japan record for most defences of a title in a single reign and of course the match would be against Hiroshi Tanahashi.

As no Kazuchika Okada championship reign would be complete without a defence against Tanahashi.

Wrestling Dontaku 2018 played host to the match and Kazuchika Okada defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi once more to retain his title.

The record breaker had earned the right to name his next challenger and the name he decided upon was Kenny Omega. The man he could only draw with in their last encounter over the title and the man that defeated him in the G1 Climax.

Yet his thirteenth defence proved to be unlucky as Kenny Omega defeated Kazuchika Okada at Dominion in a two-out-of-three falls match with no time limit. The 720 day reign of the Rainmaker had finally reached its end and the leader of Bullet Club stood tall.

Kazuchika Okada
[Photo: WrestleTalk]

The Rainmaker In Red

Much like the last time he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Kazuchika Okada took a blow to his psyche. The Rainmaker debuted a new look, all red with his hair dyed the same crimson.

An unsuccessful G1 Climax where he lost to CHAOS Stablemate Jay White and ended his reliance on his manager Gedo provided a clean break between the unstoppable Okada and this newer version.

Shortly after, he was chosen by G1 Climax winner Hiroshi Tanahashi to face him for his number one contendership but couldn’t defeat him. To make matters worse, Gedo, Jado and Jay White all turned on him to join Bullet Club.

In an even bigger surprise, Tanahashi and CHAOS would join forces to defend New Japan from Bullet Club, who had increased in size significantly following their latest additions.

Tanahashi managed to defeat Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship but lost it to Jay White shortly after Wrestle Kingdom 13.

Meanwhile Kazuchika Okada got revenge on Gedo and won the 2019 New Japan Cup, which gave him the right to challenge champion Jay White at the G1 Supercard in Madison Square Garden.

Jay White’s reign was short lived as he came up short in his first defence against the Rainmaker who became the IWGP Heavyweight champion for the fifth time.

Then came a rematch of the New Japan Cup final against SANADA, though the match was secondary to what happened after Okada’s victory as long-time WWE star Chris Jericho challenged Okada to a match at Dominion for the title.

The Rainmaker retained against Jericho but Jericho couldn’t accept the loss and attacked the champion, only for Tanahashi to make the save for Okada.

Minoru Suzuki fell to Okada in the UK, SANADA challenged again but the result was the same; then it was the turn of G1 Climax winner Kota Ibushi who also couldn’t get the job done against the Rainmaker on night one of a two night Wrestle Kingdom 14.

It was the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14 that brought about the end of Kazuchika Okada’s fifth reign as he went up against IWGP Intercontinental champion Tetsuya Naito with both belts on the line in a “Double Gold Dash.”

Kazuchika Okada
[Photo: NJPW]

The Final Years

A return to the main event scene would’ve been on the cards had the Rainmaker defeated EVIL in the 2020 New Japan Cup final, but Bullet Club guaranteed that that wouldn’t happen.

This led to Okada being instrumental in the creation of a brand new championship, the King of Pro Wrestling (KOPW) Championship, in which fans would vote on the stipulation for each match the title would be contested in.

Perhaps unexpectedly for Okada, Toru Yano became the inaugural champion instead of him when he won a four way match that featured Okada for the championship.

Kazuchika Okada didn’t have much success in the G1 Climax either as Will Ospreay, Great O-Khan and Bea Priestley aligned to cease Okada’s advancement in the tournament on the final day.

Okada leapt over Great O-Khan at Power Struggle and looked for revenge against Ospreay at Wrestle Kingdom 15, which he managed to find after picking up a much needed victory.

With Ospreay thought to be out of the way, Okada turned his attention to EVIL but even success against him couldn’t propel Okada back into the main event scene as he fell to Shingo Takagi in the first round of the 2020 New Japan Cup.

It turned out that Okada’s revenge on Will Ospreay had only spurred Ospreay to prove himself even further and he did so by winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (created when the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships were unified) from Kota Ibushi.

Ospreay wanted revenge of his own against Okada so chose him as his first challenger, yet Shingo Takagi would beat Okada to the punch and the rematch would not happen.

This was due to an injury sustained by Ospreay during his match with Takagi. Okada then lost a match against Takagi for the vacant title.

Eventually, Kazuchika Okada got his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship after his victory in the 2021 G1 Climax led to a match against Takagi at Wrestle Kingdom 16 the following year.

Jay White would return to haunt Okada and take his title but history repeated itself the year after when the Rainmaker won the G1 Climax for a second consecutive year and challenged Jay White for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 17.

Just as he had the year prior, Kazuchika Okada claimed victory and won the title for a second time.

Takagi, Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya and of course Hiroshi Tanahashi, all challenged and fell to Kazuchika Okada before the 2023 New Japan Cup winner SANADA defeated the Rainmaker at Sakura Genesis.

Kazuchika Okada had a busy rest of the year, winning the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestling Dontaku.

After defending their titles at Dominion, Bryan Danielson challenged Okada to a match, which Okada accepted, leading to a loss at All Elite Wrestling’s Forbidden Door.

Okada rebounded by reaching the G1 Climax finals but lost to Tetsuya Naito. He continued defending the 6-Man titles successfully and, after a challenge from Danielson, avenged his Forbidden Door loss at Wrestle Kingdom 18, where both wrestlers showed mutual respect.

Kazuchika Okada
[Photo: njpw1972]

A New Beginning

On January 19, the unthinkable happened as New Japan Pro Wrestling announced that Kazuchika Okada would not be renewing his contract.

Thus he would be ending his time as a member of the New Japan roster after fulfilling his commitments at The New Beginning series.

Naturally, as the pro-wrestling world was in shock, speculation arose of a bidding war between WWE and AEW for the Rainmaker, as they were the only major promotions capable of securing Okada’s talents given the size of his last contract.

After a successful defence of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship against TMDK on January 24th, Okada vacated the titles, which brought a sombre end their 266-day reign.

This set the scene for Kazuchika Okada to have one last match with his greatest rival Hiroshi Tanahashi at the New Beginning in Osaka.

The match went just over sixteen minutes and Kazuchika Okada picked up one last victory over the new President of the promotion that the two had spent so much time with.

Then came the end in Sapporo where the Rainmaker, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Yoshi-Hashi, and Toru Yano triumphed over the team of Matt Riddle, Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan, Francesco Akira, and Callum Newman.

The era of Okada had come to a close, even if the fans still couldn’t believe that such a thing was possible.

As abrupt as his departure felt at the time, it did not tarnish the career of one of the greatest professional wrestlers to ever set foot in a New Japan Pro Wrestling, or any other, ring.

Kazuchika Okada’s career with New Japan Pro Wrestling was the epitome of perseverance, talent, and triumph.

He rose from humble beginnings, overcame early setbacks and his journey from an uncertain start to becoming one of the most revered champions in the sport serves as encouragement for all young wrestlers around the world.

The Rainmaker’s legacy is not just in the titles he has won or the records he has broken. His legacy lies within the stories that he and his opponents have told throughout seemingly countless battles so that they could etch their names into professional wrestling history where they will remain forever.

Without a doubt, Kazuchika Okada is a once-in-a-lifetime competitor whose own story will inspire countless others to chase their dreams with the same fighting spirit.