4 years ago, asking if Kazuchika Okada was the best wrestler in the world would be like asking is the sky blue? The answer being yes, most of the time. Having started his record-breaking title reign in mid-2016, the following 2 years for Okada allowed him to cement a place as one of the greatest of all time at such a young age with legendary matches against Omega, Shibata, Suzuki, Naito, ZSJ and more. This is without even taking into consideration the star-making rivalry against Tanahashi that began all the way back in 2012. Even when Okada lost the title to Omega at Dominion 2018, he still had a lot to fall back on such as the fresh feud with Jay White and then the rise back to main event prominence. Once he won the title back, he felt like a placeholder for Naito to work his way towards double champion status which sounds like an insult to Okada but he played the perfect foil to Naito, having beaten him at what seemed like Naito’s crowing moment at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Since the loss to Naito, people have been quick to jump at Okada for stagnating and drifting away from the MOTY machine that everyone grew to love him for. Some arguments against the Rainmaker are fair, some not so much…but is he still in contention for the best in the world status?
POST-WRESTLE KINGDOM BLUES
Following 2 epic matches against Ibushi and Naito at the Dome, Okada entered a rather uneventful feud with Taichi that lasted one match that Okada would win. Pretty soon after, NJPW were forced to stop shows due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Once shows began running again, they ran an altered New Japan Cup than was previously announced which saw Okada go from facing Jay White in the first round…to Gedo?
As of writing, that match is one of Okada’s lowest ranked matches on Cagematch; and for good reason. It was slow, uneventful, near-silent due to no crowd and had Gedo beating down Okada as if he was any other member of the NJPW roster. Thankfully, Okada won – but not with the Rainmaker.
Instead, we saw what the gates of hell looked like as Okada debuted his new cobra clutch finisher, later dubbed the ‘Money Clip’. He tried to get a similar style of cobra clutch over in 2018 with his Wrestle Kingdom match at 2018 but it never happened at the culmination or tense points of his matches. Now, he had totally ditched his best move and replaced it with an awful submission. How long did he use it for? The rest of the year.
The remainder of his New Japan Cup run was poor, a good match against Hiromu being the only high-point. The finals against EVIL had really soured everyone on the King of Darkness and in-turn, Okada. Following this, for some unknown reason, he faced Yujiro Takahashi at NJPW Sengoku Lord in a totally pointless match. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then got involved with the new KOPW title tournament with weird gimmick matches an awfully put together stories and…it was bad. AND THEN THE G1 CLIMAX ROLLED AROUND! Okada always delivers in the G1 right? Most people would say Okada was pretty poor in this G1 run but I found him a source of intrigue for multiple reasons…
G1 CLIMAX 30
Okada competed in, at first glance, the much stronger block in the G1, facing the likes of Shingo, Ishii, Jay, Suzuki and Kota Ibushi in a Wrestle Kingdom rematch. That was Okada’s first match of this G1 and it was not a flattering start. A significant step down from their January 4th outing, there was little story or reason for them to face off so each key moment lacked the raw emotion and passionate crowd that the Tokyo Dome match had. Ibushi ended up winning after a very sudden and deflating finish which didn’t fill fans with much hope for the Rainmaker for the rest of the tournament. His next few matches against Yujiro, Jay and Taichi were pretty uneventful but the match with Suzuki is were things started to get interesting. They had their classic, hard-hitting stle of match but Okada won with a pinning combination, one that would also get him a win in his next match against Jeff Cobb. At first glance, this seemed like a cheap attempt at taking hate away from the despised Money Clip. However, it added another string to his rather limited bow that he used in a 20+ minute epic against Shingo that was considered a MOTY contender. Where did the sudden change in match quality come from? Was it Shingo? Possibly. Was it the Osaka crowd? Sure. Had Okada finally found what worked? Yes. He followed this up with pretty great matches against Ishii and Ospreay to finish his G1 strong, not once using his patented Rainmaker finisher.
REMAINDER OF 2020 AND WRESTLE KINGDOM 15
Following the G1, Okada entered a feu with former stablemate Will Ospreay who turned on Okada, formed his own stable and was looking to embarrass the Rainmaker at the Tokyo Dome. The build to their match was, to say the least, not effective at hyping the match. It felt similar to the build to Okada vs Jay at Wrestle Kingdom 13 without the heart-breaking betrayal from Gedo and Jay joining Bullet Club. This time, Ospreay turned on Okada, formed a faction with lower-midcarder and returning Great O-Khan and Jeff Cobb who had beaten Ospreay in the G1, giving him little reason to join Ospreay. Okada’s match with Great O-Khan and the weird promo’s between the 2 felt very odd and mostly uneventful. The match, however, saw a return to form of the Okada we all know and love.
Despite relying on the Money Clip for most of the match, Okada will never fail to deliver a Wrestle Kingdom worthy match. This match portrayed a great story that didn’t rely on crowd-pleasing moments, instead taking a thoughtful approach at Okada’s return to ace status with a clear end goal in mind. Ospreay also toned down his typical counter-fest style of match which made for much easier watching. Watching this live, I had grown sick of the feud, wrestlers and story and didn’t enjoy this match at all. On second watch, I can appreciate the build-up to the finish and was entertained throughout the 35-minute runtime. Never have I popped so hard for a Rainmaker and from now on, whenever I see Okada grab the wrist and sling his opponent out for his final blow, I’ll appreciate it so much more. The best match of the first night of Wrestle Kingdom and a return to form for Okada.
What’s next for Okada remains to be seen. He seems to be entering a feud with EVIL that, while doesn’t fill me with excitement, is hopefully just a small bump on a road through 2021 that could see a main event level Okada in a company now headed by the Golden Star, Kota Ibushi. What’s next is very important in answering the original question – Is Kazuchika Okada still the best in the world? In my opinion, he’s still right up there with the best.