Kazuchika Okada – The Rainmaker Part I

Very few professional wrestlers can say that they defined a generation of wrestling. In some cases, these individuals are worldwide megastars like Hulk Hogan, while some are revered as Gods of the squared circle in their home countries, like Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba.

Somewhere on this varied spectrum of pro-wrestling’s greats, we find Kazuchika Okada, a young man from Anjō, Aichi in Japan, who became, in the eyes of many fans and pro-wrestlers alike, one of the best the world has ever seen inside the ropes.

Kazuchika Okada has reached heights that every professional wrestler dreams of but only a small number ever achieve in their lifetimes.

The Ace of the New Era’s time at the top of New Japan Pro Wrestling is a period of professional wrestling that fans will talk about for decades to come, but it hasn’t always been sunshine and rainmakers for Kazuchika Okada.

The early days of his career helped shape the man who clawed his way to the top of New Japan Pro Wrestling. In this part, we look back on both the good and the bad of the Rainmaker’s developmental phase.

[Photo: Reddit]

Kazuchika Okada –
The Boy & The Dragon

Kazuchika Okada started his professional wrestling journey at only sixteen years old when he became a graduate of Ultimo Dragon’s gym in 2004.

Ultimo Dragon himself debuted in the late eighties, and his global career continued for decades after Kazuchika Okada’s career began.

Ultimo Dragon is held in high regard as one of the best to blend the puroresu style of Japan with Mexico’s lucha libre style, making his teachings all the more valuable to anyone who has had the privilege to train under him.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Kazuchika Okada would say how his mentor Ultimo Dragon, taught him that.

“wrestling is a fight. He taught me the importance of the fighting spirit in the ring.”

A young Okada trained at Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon X gym in Japan, which was an offshoot of the much bigger Toryumon brand situated in Mexico.

The gym hardly had enough time to get started before it was closed, but Kazuchika Okada clearly made an impression in the short time that the gym was open as he soon made his debut for Toryumon in Mexico against then a nearly thirty-year veteran in Negro Navarro.

Many future stars in Japan are often sent on an excursion to Mexico to gain valuable experience and learn new styles.

Though Kazuchika Okada started his in-ring career in Mexico as opposed to being sent there by a large promotion as a Young Lion (rookie).

He has walked a similar path to that taken by Tetsuya Naito and Hiromu Takahashi, both influential players in New Japan Pro Wrestling in Okada’s era.

Between working for Toryumon Mexico, a number of Mexican independent promotions and even CMLL, Mexico’s most iconic promotion, Kazuchika Okada spent four years honing his craft in the birthplace of lucha libre.

Just a year into his life in Mexico, Kazuchika Okada won the Young Dragons Cup which, as the name implies, is meant to signify who the best young star in Toryumon Mexico is. He beat future Pro Wrestling NOAH star Hajime Ohara in the final.

Kazuchika Okada wouldn’t just face future stars like himself during this period, nor would he be confined exclusively to Mexico.

In Canada, he would team with his mentor, Ultimo Dragon, to face The Motor City Machine Guns, who had already become highlights of TNA’s X-Division.

The duo lost to the Guns and couldn’t claim the UWA Hardcore Wrestling ZERO1-MAX Lightweight Tag Team Titles, which were contested for UWA Hardcore Wrestling at the time, but Okada would appear for the promotion again in a losing effort to Sonjay Dutt.

Names like The Great Sasuke, Jushin Thunder Liger & Mil Mascaras all featured in matches with Kazuchika Okada around this time, some of which have no doubt passed their wisdom on to the likes of Okada, which shows in his performances.

Former World Champion Addresses Kazuchika Okada Hating TNA/IMPACT Wrestling - WrestleTalk
[Photo: WrestleTalk]

The Young Lion of New Japan

New Japan Pro Wrestling signed Kazuchika Okada in 2007 after his match at Ultimo Dragon’s 20th Anniversary show.

He would become part of New Japan’s prestigious New Japan Dojo to continue his training and work with both seasoned roster veterans and other rookies, with whom, if all went well, he would compete in the promotion for years to come.

His first match in New Japan Pro Wrestling was a losing effort against fellow rookie Tetsuya Naito late in the year at Korakuen Hall.

However, this would be the last anyone saw of Kazuchika Okada in a New Japan ring for over seven months, as he picked up an injury that kept him out until April 2008.

During his time on the sidelines, Kazuchika Okada made the effort to increase his size, making him eligible to compete as a heavyweight as opposed to the junior heavyweight he had been since starting in Toryumon.

Saitama would be where Kazuchika Okada made his return from injury against Taichi, who had marginally more experience than Okada from his time in New Japan’s rival promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling.

Kazuchika Okada lost again, a common occurrence for Young Lions. Losses accrued in the early stages of a Young Lion’s career do not impact their legacies in the slightest.

They only serve as learning experiences against established talent in front of larger crowds and to gauge the audience’s response to them as a competitor and performer.

Six-man tag team matches feature heavily in a Young Lion’s schedule, and this was no different for Kazuchika Okada.

Prominent factions like Legend and Great Bash Heel would always need individuals to face on the build-up shows to bigger events and matches.

Being an unaligned rookie in need of more matches to showcase his skills and selling, Kazuchika Okada fitted the bill to be on the opposing teams more often than not.

Perhaps with injury to blame, we would have to wait a full year since his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut for Kazuchika Okada to pick up his first win, which came in Gunma against the man we now know as YOSHI-HASHI.

In fact, every singles win Kazuchika Okada picked up in 2008 and 2009 was against YOSHI-HASHI.

He did, however, pick up wins in multi-man matches, sometimes with YOSHI-HASHI nowhere in sight; these matches often featured the likes of Tiger Mask, Super Strong Machine & Ryusuke Taguchi.

As Kazuchika Okada started winning, he would become more involved in a storyline that pitted New Japan Pro Wrestling against Pro Wrestling NOAH.

As a promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH were only nine years old, having been the result of a split between NOAH’s founder Mitsuharu Misawa and All Japan Pro Wrestling.

Not only did Pro Wrestling NOAH take the majority of All Japan Pro Wrestling’s top stars but also attracted some of the best stars available in those nine years.

This meant that Kazuchika Okada would find himself standing opposite the likes of Kenta Kobashi, Takashi Sugiura, and Go Shiozaki—even if he was once again on the losing side.

The first singles match that made Kazuchika Okada stand out from the rest of the rookies was against Shinsuke Nakamura in Wakayama.

At the time, Shinsuke Nakamura had just established his brand new faction in New Japan Pro Wrestling, having turned on his former leader in Great Bash Heel, Togi Makabe.

This new group was named CHAOS and would feature a number of members from Makabe’s old faction. With such momentum on his side, Shinsuke Nakamura was never going to lose to the young Kazuchika Okada and defeated him in under ten minutes.

However, for much of the match, Kazuchika Okada looked like he could hold his own with the leader of CHAOS, and it quickly became obvious to fans that Kazuchika Okada was a serious player for the future.

Following his duel with Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada was entered into New Japan Pro Wrestling’s famed round-robin tag tournament, then known as the G1 Tag League.

Former winners of the tournament include Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan, and Andre, The Giant, so there was no doubting the prestige of the competition and the caliber of opponents that Okada would be expected to face at each event.

In the 2009 edition, Kazuchika Okada would team with Hirooki Goto, though they would be the worst-performing pair in the tournament as they finished with a grand total of zero points to their names.

With his signature move at the time being a simple German suplex, Kazuchika Okada hadn’t developed too much of an identity despite being on the brink of becoming a fan favorite.

In order to develop this new character, Kazuchika Okada would need to do so away from the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling in the United States where big characters reigned supreme and were a key part of most products.

This led Naoki Sugabayashi, who was President of New Japan Pro Wrestling at the time, to send Kazuchika Okada on an excursion to Total Nonstop Action in the States.

Sugabayashi believed it would take a number of years in TNA for Kazuchika Okada to unlock his full potential and didn’t expect him back in Japan until around 2013.

With the decision made, Kazuchika Okada had his then-final match in New Japan Pro Wrestling in January 2010 and delivered a standout performance against former four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Kazuchika Okada vs. Alex Shelley (FULL MATCH) | Xplosion Jun. 21, 2011 - YouTube
[Photo: YouTube]

Excursion Xplosion

If there is one period in professional wrestling where Kazuchika Okada looked the furthest away from being the world’s greatest then this was it.

The idea to send Kazuchika Okada on an excursion to TNA made sense for all its worth. TNA was the second biggest promotion in the USA at the time, behind WWE, and had some of the best performers you could find in the West at the time.

Kazuchika Okada could, and maybe did, have all the talent in the world in this period, yet even that could not save him from some of the most diabolical booking and creative decisions that TNA management could magic up.

When Kazuchika Okada joined up with TNA in early 2010, he was understandably placed in a few dark matches so that those in charge could see what the young prodigy was capable of and to properly prepare Kazuchika Okada for his TV debut.

These dark matches were short matches against Jay Lethal and Christopher Daniels, both of which ended in losses for the new arrival.

But no harm was done, and the fans in attendance got to see Okada showcase his mix of styles against some of TNA’s top talent. He even worked a number of house shows before his debut in May.

Unfortunately, Kazuchika Okada’s TV debut with TNA was hardly a big one. He debuted on an episode of TNA Xplosion, a show that consisted of exclusive matches that were to be posted on the TNA Website and YouTube instead of on TV.

In his first sub-five-minute outing on the web show, Kazuchika Okada, or just Okada as he was known on Xplosion, teamed up with Homicide against Generation Me, more commonly known as the Young Bucks.

Okada was pinned after a 450 splash and moonsault combination from Generation Me. Okada would again team with Homicide on Xplosion for his second TNA match against Ink Inc. (Jesse Neal & Shannon Moore). This time, Homicide would be pinned instead of Okada in an equally short but far less entertaining match.

Next up, Okada would get his first televised singles to match with TNA in a non-title match against then-X-Division Champion Doug Williams.

Once again, the match was on Xplosion, and once again, Okada was defeated after showcasing some fast-paced offense against the more technical Williams. After this, there was a five-month gap until Okada’s next TNA match.

There was no reason given for why this was, but little changed upon his return as he was back on the losing end to Ink Inc.

We could go through each and every one of Okada’s matches on Xplosion but they all share some common themes. They’re all short, Okada showcases that he’s an exceptional worker and then Okada loses.

However, for those interested on which other pro-wrestlers hold clean victories over Okada then here you are… Ink. Inc picked up two more victories against Okada, who this time partnered with Kiyoshi.

Doug Williams picked up two more victories in singles matches against Okada, along with Rob Terry and Stevie Richards.

Going into this excursion, not many would’ve backed Kazuchika Okada to have a match at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, before he debuted on TNA IMPACT.

But Kazuchika Okada did just that at Wrestle Kingdom V in the Tokyo Dome, on a card that featured then-TNA stars Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy, both of whom picked up victories over New Japan Talent.

Kazuchika Okada would team with his old G1 Tag League partner Hirooki Goto in a losing but stellar effort against Takashi Sugiura & Yoshihiro Takayama.

At long last, the time had come. Surely, with such a showing on the grandest stage in Japan, Kazuchika Okada would get some time to shine regularly on TNA Impact? Well, that wasn’t quite the case.

Kazuchika Okada would make his TNA IMPACT debut in early 2011 as part of a feud between Samoa Joe and D’Angelo Dinero, formerly known as Elijah Burke in WWE.

Okada would be revealed as the person to expose D’Angelo Dinero as the heel he truly was, but Okada was rather different from the Okada seen in Xplosion or anywhere else for that matter.

How WWE and TNA's Trash Became New Japan's Treasure | Ring the Damn Bell
[Photo: Ring the Damn Bell]
Okada entered the IMPACT Zone dressed in all black, donning a mask that covered the top half of his face and a hat. Kazuchika Okada was no longer Okada. He was instead… Okato…

This character was based off of the character Kato from the Green Hornet franchise and Okato looked every bit like him.

As dreadful as it sounds, Kazuchika Okada found himself involved in a feud situated in the upper card of most TNA IMPACT shows around that time period. At the time, fans may have assumed that Okada, or Okato, would be a regular feature from then on.

This was not the case. Okato made his in-ring TNA Impact debut in March against D’Angelo Dinero who wanted payback on the masked man for exposing him. The match itself ended with Okato picking up a win, though it was not a win to be proud of.

D’Angelo Dinero got himself disqualified a few minutes into the match when he hit Okato with his boot. Dinero then beat down Okato until Samoa Joe made the save. This would be the last we ever saw of Okato.

It is heavily implied that Kazuchika Okada did have another match on TNA IMPACT after this, playing the fan-favorite character of Suicide in a six-man tag team match with Brian Kendrick & Chris Sabin against Robbie E & Generation Me.

This was with whom Kazuchika Okada had developed a strong friendship with during this time.

The Suicide character had previously been played by the likes of Frankie Kazarian, TJP and Christopher Daniels, but perhaps Okada truly did play the character for this one-off match.

If that is true, then we can add a 2011 TNA IMPACT victory to Kazuchika Okada’s resume as Suicide’s team picked up the win.

That would be a wrap for Kazuchika Okada in TNA, with his excursion being cut short by New Japan Pro Wrestling so that he could return to the promotion in time for Wrestle Kingdom VI.

It was there where he would face someone he was all too familiar with from his time as a Young Lion. Incidentally, this would also be a wrap for the working relationship between TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling for over seven years.

Even though his venture in TNA didn’t go to plan, Kazuchika Okada has noted that the time spent there was valuable, along with his developmental phases in both Japan and Mexico.

He told Sports Illustrated that,

“I learned the Mexican style, the Japanese style and the American style. My dropkick is from Mexico, but my fighting spirit is from Japan.

The TV and the entertainment is from the U.S., so everything was combined.”

He went on to say that;

“TNA didn’t use me, but I got hungrier to wrestle. The struggle made me better. I was always a good wrestler.

I feel like I can wrestle anybody. Of course, I wanted to main event wrestling matches in TNA, but in their eyes, no, that would not happen.”

TNA founder Jeff Jarrett had a similar view to many on how Okada was used in TNA. On his “My World” podcast, Jeff Jarrett referred to the booking of Okada as “one of the biggest misses in TNA history.”

Jarrett himself had no say in TNA’s creative outlook during the period when Okada arrived on excursion but was present in the company at the time. Jarrett blames those in charge of TNA Creative for this misstep that could and should have been easily avoided:

“Did I say I knew Okada was gonna be Okada? No, I didn’t know that.

But he’s young and the relationship (with New Japan Pro Wrestling) is great, and if they say he’s good, he’s good,” Jarrett said.

“It’s unbelievable the lack of – I don’t even wanna say vision, just the lack of awareness that, hey guys, let’s do something because of the value of the relationship.

They had no interest in it. They were all of a part of it and aware of it. Multiple times it was discussed.”

Kazuchika Okada
[Photo: NJPW]

Soon To Be A Star

Kazuchika Okada’s developmental period was certainly an interesting one. From being the golden boy of Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon set up to the dregs of TNA’s internet show, Kazuchika Okada gained both experience in the ring and a lesson that not all pro-wrestling promotions value the same traits in a pro-wrestler.

If we judge Kazuchika Okada’s career solely on this most humble of beginnings, it would be difficult to imagine him turning into much more than a mid-carder with an albeit gifted set of skills.

Luckily for the world of professional wrestling, Kazuchika Okada’s career was soon to turn in a different, and much better, direction that would see him transform into the Rainmaker that everyone knows and rates so highly.