When Kazuchika Okada gave every ounce of his energy, yet lost his beloved IWGP Heavyweight Championship on June 9 last year, it quickly became apparent that he had a journey in front of him. One does not lose the ultimate rubber match against one of his largest adversaries without subsequently seeing a hill to climb forming in front of him.
Before that fateful night in Osaka-jo Hall, however, Okada was riding high as arguably the most dominant champion in all of modern pro wrestling. He usurped one of his most deeply entrenched rivals, Hiroshi Tanahashi, as the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
He defeated a red hot Kenny Omega, after a large portion of wrestling fans expected, and were yearning for an Omega victory. He survived Minoru Suzuki, overcame Katsuyori Shibata, denied Omega with a draw, and then came face to face with Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It was like deja vu. It made sense for Naito to win. It felt like his time. The people wanted it.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) January 4, 2018
Once again, Okada did not care about “whose time it was” or “what felt right”. The young, arrogant leader of CHAOS cared about one thing: hoisting up his title as his opponent lay in a crumpled heap at his feet.
He would dispose of SANADA before putting the presumed final nail in the coffin of his most storied dance partner, Tanahashi. It was almost undeniable that Okada was head and shoulders above every single member on the New Japan roster. Almost undeniable. He may have bested Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12, but after 60 minutes at Dominion a mere six months later, Okada couldn’t recreate that same success. The time limit draw stuck in Okada’s mind like a tick, poking his ego, and creating a cloud of doubt over his head.
Maybe he was riding a high after besting, with relative ease, The Ace, but challenging Omega to a 2-out-of-3 falls match would prove to be Okada’s undoing. For an exegesis on the beauty and gravity of that match, you should absolutely read Andrew Rich’s article from last year. Okada succumbed to the One Winged Angel and saw himself, for the first time in 720 days, without a belt around his waist.
Take a moment and think about your most prized possession. When someone utters your name, what is conjured up in addition to your face? For Okada, the black leather and big, gold plates of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship were intimately sewn into his entire identity. He was the Rainmaker. He stepped into a room, and Okada bucks fell from the sky. His name was synonymous with success. He drew the biggest crowds. He had the best matches. He was the greatest champion.
Every present tense must eventually fade into past tense, though, and Okada learned this the hard way. The gold, the main events, the big matches, were all gone when Omega finally conquered him. Okada’s first singles match back without a belt fastened around him? Minoru Suzuki. The result? A 30-minute time limit draw. Okada hadn’t been able to beat Suzuki since February in 2017 (they had a time limit draw in the 2017 G1). Next? He lost to Zack Sabre Jr in less than 20 minutes.
Gone was the hubristic smirk perpetually adorned to his face. Gone were the kip ups and ironclad wrist control. No Okada bucks were in the forecast. What could Okada do, except for try to change with the times? In came the red hair, remixed theme, red balloons and shouts of “Scooby-Doo” as he incorporated a flying cross body into his arsenal. For better or worse, he was hell-bent on reinventing himself.
This new/broken Okada had varying degrees of success. He was in a slump, but he was still Kazuchika Okada. The 28th Grade One Climax arrived, and despite losing to NJPW’s newest resident shithead, Jay White, on night one, Okada began to see some light atop his hill to climb. He would finish the tournament with six wins, one loss (White), and one draw (Tanahashi).
Make no mistake, Okada was slowly trudging through the mire as he sought to reclaim his throne. He had another draw against that persistent, pesky Hiroshi Tanahashi, and he would soon after find himself losing to him when he challenged for his G1 briefcase at Destruction in Kobe. He had an impressive G1 under his belt, but as far as NJPW power rankings were concerned, he was out of title contention.
Then he saw him. As the sun peaked over the hilltop, marking Okada’s destination atop the company, a shadow eclipsed a figure directly in the Rainmaker’s path. It was the guy who loved to win by averting the rules and enraging the audience, the guy who promised to sow discord amongst CHAOS, the guy who handed Okada his first loss in the G1: Switchblade Jay White.
When White walked down the ramp at Wrestle Kingdom 12 and failed to defeat Okada’s nemesis Tanahashi, the leader of CHAOS probably didn’t think twice about him. When he joined the faction days later, Okada didn’t seem to bat an eye. Even after he lost the title, this was his group. White was merely an insubordinate pest who couldn’t be bothered to win without relying on chairs and low blows.
Little did Okada know that Switchblade was so much more than a mild nuisance. He had a plan, and Okada’s closest stabstablematedo, was in on it. As Okada lay motionless, defeated, on the mat at Destruction in Kobe, White ran in and ambushed Tanahashi, and then officially severed his ties with CHAOS. He began a relentless beating on his former faction leader. A glimmer of hope arose when Gedo ran in for the expected save, but with the swift, awkward swing of a chair, Gedo cemented himself alongside White. He called for White to hit the Blade Runner, and turned his back on the broken shell of a Rainmaker.
For the first time since he was unseated as the champion, Okada had his sights set on something other than gold. The red from his hair and gear had taken over his vision. He was ready for his ascent back to the number one spot in the company, but this young prick and his former manager stood in his way. Gedo spoke of a new era as White donned a smug expression that a young Okada might have once displayed.
What incensed him even more was the fact that an Okada-led CHAOS team could not defeat a now Jay White-led Bullet Club team. From the time of the betrayal to present day, Okada is 2-21 in tag matches against Switchblade. Even more demoralizing, one win was via DQ, and the other was a quick roll-up by Beretta onto Bad Luck Fale.
It is unsurprising, then, that when Okada was gifted Gedo in a singles match, he had no reservations when it came to planting him with the very move that his former second used to incessantly clamor for. Undeterred by White’s presence during and after the match, Okada was ready for January 4 to arrive. He was ready to bring the Rainmaker home.
As an ivory-clad Switchblade stood in the center of the ring, patiently awaiting his opponent to appear, Okada’s coin flip sounded. There was no record scratch, no remix. A storm of dollar bills emblazoned with Okada’s face began drifting through the Tokyo Dome. A palpable energy began spreading throughout the venue. The record-breaking, golden-garbed Okada stepped into view, radiating with confidence. He sauntered into the ring, allowing the nearly 40,000 people in attendance to swell with excitement. Could it be that the Rainmaker had resurfaced, just in time to quell the momentum of the dastardly, egotistical Jay White?
Then the shorts were revealed.
In a move that everyone craved in the deepest recesses of their fantasies, Okada discarded the long pants that many associated with his decline (though Chris Taylor wrote an amazing piece arguing for the long boys) , and welcomed back his classic Rainmaker shorts. All who were watching, be it at the Tokyo Dome or behind a screen, lost their collective mind.
— Los Ingobernables de Canadienses Asiáticos (@timder) January 4, 2019
I will admit, as his entrance was unfolding, I exclaimed, “There’s no way he’s losing. Give him that belt back!”
The self-assured, level-headed air that surrounded Okada sucked me in. For the first time the entire show, I wasn’t trying to assess booking and anticipate the sort of match structure I was in for. I didn’t think, I felt. Okada was in total control. Even when White was getting constructing offense, it was a guttural feeling that Okada was en route to victory.
Okada let loose dropkicks, forearms, and his patented cross body over the railing. Clouds grew heavy with the forthcoming precipitation as Okada called for a Rainmaker. White would counter, but Okada never let up. Okada hit the spinning lariat, and I could feel the glee blossoming in my heart.
Switchblade ?️ Jay White Blade Runner pic.twitter.com/imfs4jg8cG
— Raizen Hannya (@synth_hunter) January 4, 2019
In the blink of an eye, just as he had defeated Kenny Omega for the IWGP US Championship, White claimed victory. Stunned silence fell over the crowd. A plug was pulled and the excited electricity was replaced by open mouths and muffled murmurs. Much like Okada had done in 2016 with Omega and 2017 with Naito, White deprived the masses of the result that they longed for.
Since Wrestle Kingdom VI, Okada had proudly presented himself as a supremely confident young gun, complete with gaudy robe and smug expression. Standing over top of Okada on January 4, 2019, is a young, supremely confident Jay White, flaunting his crooked smile.
As is often the case in New Japan, and to a more philosophical extent life, we don’t get what we want when we want it. Events progress on a different timeline than the one in our head. For Okada, Wrestle Kingdom 13 was not his time. Hey may have found his way back to the Rainmaker character of old, but life demands more of us than clinging to the past and hoping for the best. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the main events, the power of being the number one name in the company, had all slipped through Okada’s grasp.
As White advances up the hierarchy, Okada must regroup. This time, he shouldn’t devolve into a twisted, confused, derived Rainmaker character. He should look inward at his losses and successes, and then look forward. Look towards the new Rainmaker who learns from his shortcomings, and turns his failures into opportunities. Then, when he can say that he doesn’t have to rely on who he used to be, or who people expect him to be, he can look up and await the rain.