Utter shock is the best way to describe how I felt early Sunday morning as I watched Hiroshi Tanahashi retain his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against 27-year-old Kazuchika Okada at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 pay-per-view. I just couldn’t believe it, it made no sense to me. I had been running around all week, telling everyone there was no doubt Okada was going to win. It just made too much sense given the story of his summer and winter. He won the G1 Climax for the sole purpose of redeeming himself in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. He was finally going to avenge Yujiro and A.J. Styles stealing his title at Wrestling Dontaku. It was so simple, pro wrestling booking 101… how could I be so wrong?
Look at the last paragraph in my preview of this match:
“Okada has to win here, he just has to. Any other result is complete lunacy on Gedo & Jado’s part, Tanahashi doesn’t need another long reign and a draw is just icky and weird for this stage. Okada has to win and win emphatically to put a bow on the great story of Okada’s climb back to the top.”
For those who don’t know or are new to New Japan Pro Wrestling, Gedo & Jado are the two-man booking team for New Japan Pro Wrestling and I proactively proclaimed them complete lunatics for having Tanahashi defeat Okada. What could these idiots be thinking? How could they screw up this easy story?
Here’s what I wrote about Okada’s 2015 prospects in our recently published New Japan Pro Wrestling 2014 Year in Review eBook:
“Will 2015 be the year of Okada? By all foreshadowing it should be, but 2014 looked to be that way, too. Will New Japan go back to the security blanket of Hiroshi Tanahashi or allow the 27-year-old Okada to finally cement his spot atop the New Japan and pro wrestling landscape? Let’s hope for the latter.”
For those who watched Wrestle Kingdom 9, you’ll know one of the most poignant moments of the entire show was Okada and manager/mouthpiece Gedo walking to the back after their defeat. You couldn’t miss it, the camera was fixated on it because it would be so important to this story. Okada, the cocky prick heel who has all the money, all the girls and everything he ever wanted at age 27, was weeping — openly crying. He could barely make it back because he was so weak. He had nothing left mentally and physically.
Okada, the rich prick, the man who set up this re-match (the 7th in their legendary feud) by tombstoning Tanahashi on a rampway in front of children fans, couldn’t do it. He couldn’t beat Tanahashi the same way he did three times prior, that’s the key. The way he was beat, how he was beat. Once I disconnected from the fact that Okada lost, the story and the direction became obvious.
Okada burst onto the New Japan Pro Wrestling scene in February of 2012 shocking the wrestling world by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at 2012’s aptly-named “The New Beginning.” The key to Okada’s success: his deathblow of a move, The Rainmaker. A short-armed clothesline capable of being hit at any point during the match, The Rainmaker became one of the top moves in professional wrestling, winning Best Wrestling Maneuver in back-to-back Wrestling Observer Award seasons (2012 and 2013). It was a simple move, but it told a complex story, nobody could kick out of it. Nobody. When Kazuchika Okada hit you with The Rainmaker, you were done. Whether you were Minoru Suzuki, Togi Makabe, Satoshi Kojima, Karl Anderson, it didn’t matter — you were dead.
That is until this Sunday when Okada hit the Rainmaker on Tanahashi. I leapt off my couch, it was finally going to happen, the path of redemption was finally over…1….2….what?
More than that single kickout was a series of Rainmaker attempts throughout the match, each one cleverly reversed by Tanahashi — we saw a Dragon Screw, a kick to the knee, ducks, the Slingblade…
…a straight jacket suplex, everything you could imagine.
No matter what Okada tried to do, he couldn’t hit this fucker with the Rainmaker. Then, he finally did and it still wasn’t enough.
Hey, no biggie, Okada has the Tombstone Piledriver too. Think again, Okada attempted the Tombstone twice only to be reversed and eat a Tombstone of his own. What about Okada’s Deep in Debt submission move? Nope, still not enough.
The story of the match was Okada, for all of his talents, all of his accolades, all he has accomplished at a young age, couldn’t adjust. Tanahashi was smarter than him on this day, he knew how to duck the Rainmaker, he knew how to reverse the Tombstone — the veteran was too smart of the youngster on this night.
This all ties back to an interview Okada did with Weekly Playboy in December 2014 (translation by enuhito):
“As I posted at last article, Kazuchika Okada’s interview is on Weekly Playboy this week. Okada revealed that he made new finisher replacing Rainmaker. He has been using Rainmaker since he came back to Japan from excursion in TNA. Okada has been beating his opponent by Rainmaker every match. No kick out. He has another finisher “RedInk” but he has new finisher replacing Rainmaker. He said it is suplex. Wow. I really want to know! But he said “I will use it when I can not use Rainmaker. So it will be around 2025.” What? In 16 years! You remember! This is how he likes Rainmaker.”
There is a bit of a translation gap here, but the basic idea is there. Okada hinted at a new finisher, a suplex to “replace” The Rainmaker. Pay special attention to that last quote: “I will use it when I can not use Rainmaker.”
Well, here we are. In the aftermath of Wrestle Kingdom 9, Okada, the man who has relied on The Rainmaker, is now a shell of his former self. The man so bruised and beaten he took a pinfall from Bad Luck Fale at NJPW’s New Year Dash.
He built everything in his life for one moment, the moment was supposed to happen this Sunday. He was supposed to be the one holding the IWGP Heavyweight Title high, capping off a monumental night at the Tokyo Dome but he couldn’t use the Rainmaker anymore. By Tanahashi finding a way to slither out of each attempt, pooh-poohing both the Red Ink and Tombstone, Okada is left with no other choice, it’s 2025, guys, and Okada is coming back better than ever.
When will we see this new finisher? Who knows? Unlike modern American wrestling, guys don’t simply hop back on their feet and get an automatic rematch the next night or at the next major event. Okada, instead, has to look himself in the mirror and work his way back to the top, just as he did last year after Wrestling Dontaku. However, it comes with a new wrinkle. Okada can’t simply return to the top like he always has before, he needs to re-invent himself. Just like he burst onto the NJPW scene after a tumultuous tenure in TNA, re-inventing himself as “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Tanahashi has forced another evolution of Okada.
I may not have agreed with the decision on Sunday morning but here, on Tuesday afternoon, I’m perfectly content. Okada will be back, better than ever.