It is not simply the heart-wrenching plea that Rose tells Jack while they are floating in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Nor is it merely the sixth track on Deep Purple’s 2005 album Rapture of the Deep. And it is certainly not just something that every rock climber thinks as they maneuver their way up the side of a mountain.
It has become the credo for “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada for the better part of the past sixteen months, the crux to his major victories. Okada stands tall at the top of New Japan Pro Wrestling as their current Ace and IWGP Heavyweight Champion, the man destined to lead the company into the future. And it’s all thanks to three simple words:
Don’t let go.
Ever since he came back from his foreign excursion and adopted the “Rainmaker” moniker, Okada has used the Rainmaker lariat as his finishing move.
— LARIATOOOO!!! (@MrLARIATO) April 29, 2017
Needless to say, the Rainmaker has been quite effective. It gave Okada his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign at the tender age of 24, as well as every subsequent title reign. Okada has also used the Rainmaker to win two G1 Climax tournaments (2012 and 2014, the former of which placed Okada in the record books as the youngest G1 Climax winner in history), the 2013 New Japan Cup, and victories over some of the best wrestlers in the world: AJ Styles, Prince Devitt, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and countless others. The Rainmaker lariat is the undeniable key to Okada’s success in the ring, earning him money, power, and glory.
But until January 4, 2016, there was one thing that the Rainmaker hadn’t given Okada: A win over longtime rival Hiroshi Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome.
For years, Tanahashi reigned as New Japan’s Ace. When Okada came on the scene in 2012 and exploded into the stratosphere, it seemed that Tanahashi found a rival to his throne; Okada even declared himself the “Ace of the New Era.” Yet no matter how many times Okada took Tanahashi’s head off with the Rainmaker in singles competition, he could never truly be considered the Ace. Why? Because he could never beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan’s biggest show of the year. Okada had tried at Wrestle Kingdom 7 and failed. He had tried again at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and failed.
Wrestle Kingdom 10 would be the final installment of this trilogy. Okada needed to beat him, not only to retain his IWGP Heavyweight Championship but to finally prove, once and for all, that he was the undisputed Ace of New Japan. If he couldn’t, then all of those past wins over Tanahashi would ultimately mean nothing in the long run.
Towards the end of their grueling match, Okada sets up Tanahashi for the Rainmaker. Tanahashi counters, slapping Okada straight across the face. An ordinary man would have let go of Tanahashi’s wrist, clutching their face due to the severity of the stinging slap. But on this night, Kazuchika Okada is no ordinary man. He doesn’t let go of the wrist. He holds on. The camera zooms in on this act of pure defiance, a moment of sheer will and pride and fire.
This moment is the perfect representation of Okada’s struggle: Tanahashi was the barrier between him and true Acehood. He had always managed to slip from Okada’s grasp at Wrestle Kingdoms past. After losing at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Okada walked to the back in tears while Tanahashi mocked him from the ring.
Never again would Okada allow himself to be humiliated on such a grand stage. If he let go of Tanahashi’s wrist, he was letting go of his dignity, his title, his claim to the throne. He had to hit the Rainmaker. So Okada holds on, screams to the heavens, and hits Tanahashi with the Rainmaker. He continues to hold on and then he hits another one. Then he picks up Tanahashi and hits one final Rainmaker to drive the nail into the coffin and win the match.
Okada did it. He finally did it.
He beat Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome, he retained the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and he cemented himself as the unequivocal Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling. All because he didn’t let go.
Since the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10, we have been living in the era of the Rainmaker. When it comes to who is New Japan’s biggest star, there is no longer an argument over Tanahashi vs. Okada; the answer is always going to be Okada. And because Okada is the Ace, because he has been the champion for so long (save for a few short months when Naito won the belt), because he is the one to carry the company into the future, he now has one thing on his mind:
DON’T. LET. GO.
Other wrestlers will come to take Okada’s top spot. Don’t let go. Other wrestlers will want to take Okada’s belt. Don’t let go. Other wrestlers will want to hurt Okada physically and mentally, humiliate him in front of all his fans. Don’t let go. It’s those three words that have been driving him ever since Wrestle Kingdom 10. And how do we know this? Because Okada continues to hold the wrist. Okada holding the wrist has become a staple of his big matches, often accentuated by the camera zooming in on it. He keeps returning over and over again to that one shining moment that allowed him to hit the Rainmaker on Tanahashi in the Dome, to finally ascend to his throne unperturbed. As long as Okada does not let go of the wrist, he can keep hitting the Rainmaker; he can stay on top.
It doesn’t matter if he’s getting revenge against an ungovernable villain (Vs. Tetsuya Naito, Dominion 6.19)
Or going the distance with a heated rival (Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, G1 Climax 26 Night 17)
Or defending his company’s top prize against an outsider (Vs. Naomichi Marufuji, King of Pro-Wrestling 2016)
Or defeating the next wrestling icon (Vs. Kenny Omega, Wrestle Kingdom 11)
Or surviving a psychopath (Vs. Minoru Suzuki, The New Beginning in Sapporo)
Or fighting a cartoon character come to life (Vs. Tiger Mask W, 45th Anniversary Show)
Or facing off against The Wrestler (Vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Sakura Genesis 2017)
Or overcoming a monster. (Vs. Bad Luck Fale, Wrestling Dontaku 2017)
None of these matches have been cakewalks. In all of those matches, Okada’s opponents have taken him to the limit. They have beaten him mercilessly. Time and time again, though, Okada has held on. He hasn’t let go. It’s a remarkable chicken-and-egg scenario that allows both Okada and his opponent to leave the match looking better because of it. The opponent come across as a legitimate threat because Okada needed to hold onto the wrist to ensure that he could the hit the Rainmaker and win the match. Meanwhile, Okada comes across as a total badass because he manages to out-tough his opponent, maintain control of the wrist, and hit the Rainmaker for the win.
So what happens when he can’t hold on? What happens when Okada finally lets go? What happens when Okada is unable to hit the Rainmaker? I’ll tell you what happens: Okada is going to lose. Why? Because the Rainmaker is all that he has. It’s not the only move in his arsenal; Okada is well-known to use the Tombstone Piledriver, the Reverse Neckbreaker, Red Ink, Deep in Debt. But none of those moves could be considered Okada’s finishing move. Okada didn’t beat Omega, Styles, Nakamura, Tanahashi, Shibata, Naito, and the rest with any of those moves. He beat all of them with the Rainmaker. It’s a gift and a curse; Okada has built up the Rainmaker so well that no other move can be considered effective enough to get the job done. He has nothing else. It’s his keystone. And what happens when you take away a keystone? Everything collapses.
One of these days, Okada’s luck is going to run out. He’s going to let go. He’s going to be unable to hit the Rainmaker. It only took one shot to start World War I and send Europe into chaos. It will only take one shot to end Kazuchika Okada’s reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion and send him crashing down.
Just. One. Shot.