Before he was the Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada was Ultimo Dragon’s star pupil.

While Okada eventually went through the New Japan Dojo, he started his training in Dragon’s Toryumon system. Just a few months before he graduated from Toryumon and debuted in New Japan, Okada joined his teacher and several of his classmates on a journey to Canada.

UWA Hardcore Wrestling welcomed the Japanese stars with open arms for a weekend of shows where the best from each promotion clashed. Okada, nineteen years old at the time, competed on both nights of action, teaming with his mentor on the first night and challenging for a championship on the second.

Jushin Thunder Liger and Puma vs. Ultimo Dragon and Kazuchika Okada
UWA Hardcore Versus Toryumon Japan Night One

Both sides of this match feature a legendary Japanese star and a young upstart. Sporting black trunks, knee pads, and boots, Okada is very obviously a young boy. As the entrances are being made, the commentator notes that originally Liger was going to be teaming with Hirooki Goto, but Goto had to be replaced after he broke his ankle while working in CMLL.

Puma, who most people will know under the mask as TJ Perkins, is a more than capable replacement. This isn’t Okada’s first trip to UWA so the fans give him a positive reaction during his ring introduction. Okada doesn’t really seem to know what to do with that so he waves to the fans like a dork. It’s adorable.

The match starts off with Okada and Puma doing a bit of lucha style grappling that Okada loves to bust out on occasion. It’s amazing to think that now these two men are the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the WWE Cruiserweight Champion. Both men tag out and the legends step in to face off. Liger and Dragon are very cautious in the feeling out process. After a number of stalemates, Liger takes control with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and locks in the surfboard. Once the hold is released, both of the legends tag out and things go back to Puma vs. Okada.

These two are both very fast in the ring. That’s not a surprise for Perkins, but Okada (who isn’t a slow wrestler by any means) is certainly working a faster style than he does currently. Speaking of fast, after a brief exchange the younger wrestlers tag the legends back in. Neither Liger nor Dragon are able to get the upper hand so we get another quick tag from Liger, putting Puma in the ring with Ultimo Dragon. Puma doesn’t fare anywhere near as well as his partner and soon finds himself on the receiving end of a double team from Dragon and Okada. Puma and the Toryumon young boy are left in the ring again and they exchange some pretty stiff looking strikes. Liger gets in the ring and chops the hell out of Okada while pointing at Ultimo Dragon. The dastardly Puma ties Okada in the ropes and, while the ref is distracted, hits a modified version of the Shattered Dreams. Liger tags in and takes Okada to the outside where he hits a brainbuster on the concrete floor. Okada is in trouble.

Liger gets Okada back into the ring and slams him to the mat with a powerbomb. Okada has a glazed over look in his eyes as the fans chant his name. He’s facing an unrelenting beating from Puma and Liger. Okada has his eyes fixated on his mentor, even as Liger nearly rips his nose off with two facewashes in the corner of the opposing team. Okada tries to mount some offense, hitting a dropkick on Puma (it isn’t nearly as pretty as his dropkicks are today), but Liger cuts him off before he can make a tag. Puma and Liger attempt some team offense, but they miss with a double clothesline and are taken down with one by Okada. The young boy struggles to make his way to his corner and finally tags in Ultimo Dragon.

Dragon comes in like a bat out of hell, taking out both men with a flurry of strikes. Dragon gets a nearfall on Puma before falling victim to the young wrestler’s strong ground game. Puma has Ultimo Dragon locked into a Boston Crab until Okada runs in to break up the hold. A young Bryce Remsburg scolds Okada and sends him back to his corner. Puma and Dragon have a great exchange that ends with a beautiful German suplex by Puma for a two count. Both men tag out and Okada tears into the ring, leveling Liger with a boot to the face. Okada follows up with a couple chops to the head, which have thankfully been removed from his current arsenal. Okada signals to the fans that he’s going to put away Liger with a German suplex, but gets a palm strike to the face for his troubles. Okada takes back control of Liger. As he goes for a pin, things break down and all four men are in the ring. Ultimo Dragon takes out Puma with a dropkick, knocking Puma to the outside where he is hit with a gorgeous Asai moonsault. Back in the ring, Okada schoolboys Liger for a two count. Okada goes to the top rope, but Liger chases him up there and nails him with a brainbuster off the top. Unbelievably, Okada kicks out at two. Liger signals for the end and plants him with a Liger Bomb for the three count.

In this match, Okada shows that he’s got the building blocks, but it’s amazing how far he’s come to be the Rainmaker he is today. The downside to this match is that it was incredibly easy to predict that things would end with Liger pinning the young boy. All four men looked good and made sure to give the fans all of the spots that they wanted to see out of the two legends. This wasn’t a match that is must see by any means, but for the live fans, I’m sure it was amazing. ***1/2

UWA Canadian Championship
John Prohibition vs. Kazuchika Okada
UWA Hardcore Versus Toryumon Japan Night Two

Okada comes into this title challenge with one loss from the weekend hanging over his head so he’ll be looking to redeem himself here.

This is just one night later, but Okada looks way more comfortable with himself in the ring. Prohibition comes to the ring and predictably gets a bunch of heat for being straightedge. He cuts a heel promo and calls Okada a “big Japanese dork,” thus confirming what I said in the opening paragraph of my review of the previous match. Prohibition starts to run down Ultimo Dragon until Okada grabs the mic and exclaims “F**k you, Josh! You asshole!” It’s no wonder why Gedo took such a liking to him. Okada boots the stunned champion in the gut to kickstart the match.

Josh Prohibition rolls to the outside to escape a flurry of chops before getting back in the ring and locking up with Okada. The young boy looks dominant in the early goings of the match, taking Prohibition down several times and crushing him with a senton. Prohibition turns things around with a TKO that slams Okada’s throat into the top rope. Prohibition takes control of the match and hits a butterfly suplex for a two count. Prohibition slows down the pace of the match with a chinlock. Okada escapes, but isn’t able to mount a comeback, being stopped by hard strikes from Prohibition. The tide turns when Okada leapfrogs Prohibition, whose momentum takes him out of the ring. Okada sees an opportunity and goes for a dive to the outside. This dive looked a little scary seeing as Prohibition didn’t really catch him. The crowd is going nuts as both men try to shake the cobwebs off.

Okada rolls Prohibition in the ring and goes for a pin, but he only gets a two count. Okada hits a series of cringe inducing chops to the head. Prohibition takes Okada to the mat and locks in an STF. Okada breaks the hold and Prohibition is clearly frustrated that he’s having so much trouble putting away the young boy. Okada nails the champion with a chop to the head, a crossbody off the top rope, and a big boot. He goes for the pin and gets a two count as one lone guy in the back of the crowd yells “BORING!” This isn’t the greatest match to ever grace the squared circle, but I’d hardly call it boring. Pound sand, guy.

Prohibition takes things over with a rake of the eyes and an inverted DDT. The champion works over Okada for a while, but he just can’t get the three count. Okada fires back with forearm strikes and tries to put away Prohibition with a German suplex, but only gets a count of two. Both men get back to their feet and Prohibition hits Okada with a blatant low blow. The referee doesn’t call for a DQ, he just looks super bummed out about it. I guess it’s called UWA Hardcore for a reason. Prohibition goes for his finishing move, which Okada manages to slip out of once. Try as he might, Okada can’t escape it again. Josh Prohibition plants Okada with the Drunken Driver, a double underhook piledriver, and scores the three count.

As I said earlier, this wasn’t an amazing match, but Okada looked better here than he did in the tag match. I would have to assume that part of it was nerves from working with Liger. Josh Prohibition did fine here in his role as the heel champion, beating down and continually cutting off the young upstart. The crowd was really behind Okada here, which had to be a big boost for him. He looked good, but man, those chops are horrible. I’m glad we don’t see him bust out the particular dive that he did here anymore because he could have gotten hurt from it pretty easily. The match was a fine title match, but with the Murder City Machine Guns vs. Jushin Liger and Ultimo Dragon up next, these two didn’t really have to blow away the crowd. It’s most notable for the moments where you can see the tiny bits of young Okada’s game that have stuck around today. ***1/4

Final Thoughts: 

Kazuchika Okada was nineteen years old and three years into his career when these matches happened and you can see that this guy is going to be a star someday. Watching matches like these is always a fascinating time. You never know who is going to make it when you’re watching the current crop of up-and-comers, but you can always see a certain spark in the few who eventually make it to the top of the business. Okada definitely had that spark and these lucky fans in Canada got to see him long before he became what he was destined to be.