‘On This Day’ is a commemorative article series 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. Kazuchika Okada vs AJ Styles is that match.
How it started
Six years ago, AJ Styles walked into New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He proved he could be a wrestling star anywhere in the world. In his first actual wrestling match, Styles not only defeated the man being groomed to carry the company into the future but also took from that same person the company’s top prize, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
This was a major accomplishment for Styles. This is why we’re taking a closer look at it now.
Styles’ 2014 appearance for NJPW wasn’t his first. He had appeared for the Japanese company six years prior. He wrestled mostly in multi-man, inter-promotional tag matches against future top stars like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Prince Devitt. That third name was particularly important. It was Devitt whom Styles would replace upon his grandiose return to NJPW in 2014.
On April 6th, 2014, Styles shocked the world by arriving in New Japan at Invasion Attack.
In that appearance, Styles attacked then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. In doing so, Styles aligned himself with the villainous Bullet Club stable. A stable which was taking the company by storm at the time.
Styles’ arrival in NJPW was a critical test for the company. It occurred at a time when NJPW was flirting with the American style of wrestling more and more. They wanted to see if those ‘foreign’ elements. This included overt gimmicks, team interference, and other entertainment-oriented concepts – could work in a company that had long established itself as the ‘King of Sports’.
Styles was immediately thrust into a championship match with Okada. This was practically unheard of, given New Japan’s strict traditions. But Okada wanted revenge for Styles’ post-match attack, and he also wanted to show the world that he could beat one of if not the best wrestler in the United States at the time.
Kazuchika Okada against AJ Styles: The fight begins
The match started as a typical back-and-forth contest between two equally-matched wrestlers. For the longest time, the action ended in one stalemate after another as neither man gave an inch in this high-profile confrontation.
But there was one thing that Okada couldn’t withstand: the numbers game.
As a member of the Bullet Club, Styles was accompanied by a large group of friends: Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale, and the Young Bucks all accompanied him to the ring. They stayed around the ring area as Styles fought Okada inside the ring. And on more than one occasion, one of those allies distracted the referee while others would attack Okada. This earned a chorus of boos by the audience which was rare. They kept at it throughout the match until the referee ordered them sent to the back, which made the crowd come alive.
As for Okada, he kept it basic here, doing what he was comfortable doing like his picture-perfect dropkick and targeted Styles’ neck. He did his best to weaken that body part for his Rainmaker lariat and almost won with that strategy as well. But on this night, treachery was afoot.
Okada had Styles ready for the Rainmaker after delivering the Tombstone. At that moment someone dressed in a camo hoodie attacked Okada. That ‘someone’ revealed himself to be Yujiro Takahashi, Okada’s now-former CHAOS stablemate and the newest member of the Bullet Club. Takahashi dropped Okada with his finisher, which allowed Styles to deliver two more big moves of his own. Not even the mighty Kazuchika Okada would get up from so much offense.
Kazuchika Okada against AJ Styles: The impact
While the match itself wasn’t the best from either Styles or Okada, it was historically significant nonetheless. Styles won his first singles match for NJPW and won their most prestigious championship in the process. The only wrestler to boast such a feat was Brock Lesnar. And in achieving this, Styles became only the sixth ever non-Japanese wrestler to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
But more importantly, this victory gave the Bullet Club tremendous credibility. Credibility they had lacked beforehand. Although they were popular under Devitt’s leadership, the Bullet Club was considered a bad comedy act at worst. And unrealistic big match contenders at best. Few of the Japanese fans bought any Bullet Club members as heavyweight champion material. They were taken seriously in the tag team division. In the junior division, but not in the land where the company ace fought. And yet here was Styles, carrying the Bullet Club logo in one hand and NJPW’s biggest prize in the other. It was a remarkable feat.
This started a major shift for both Bullet Club and NJPW, for instance. The former’s reputation would grow significantly, especially because they penetrated other markets. Through NJPW’s partnership with other brands, Bullet Club was able to grow and gather more members. AJ Styles and Bullet Club became the biggest villains in New Japan. They set the standard for subsequent members to follow.
I will do it anytime if I make a contract…The IWGP belt, which had been raining money and shone golden, was dyed black overnight. – Okada on the result of the match.
You can watch the match in its entirety here.