As we approach the sixteenth career meeting between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada at this weekend’s Battle In The Valley event in San Jose, CA, I have found that some fans don’t understand why this match-up is not just A main event when it appears on an NJPW card, it is still THE main event of this (and arguably any) era of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Below, we take a brief walk through the history of the greatest rivalry in professional wrestling history, Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Match One: January 31, 2010 – NJPW Circuit 2010 New Japan ISM, Differ Ariake, Tokyo
Watch (Youtube): https://youtu.be/pGRd0rtQQdk
Cagematch Rating: 6.05
How Did We Get Here?: By the time Kazuchika Okada earned his way into the ring with Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tanahashi had been crowned as “The Ace,” and he was already a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Tanahashi famously carried NJPW out of some of its darketst years in the late aughts, and in January of 2010, Tanahashi faced a young Kazuchika Okada, still in the black trunks indicative of his Young Lion status. In his last match before heading to the United States on his excursion, Okada radiated his now-famous charisma, even in a small building, in the only match of his career against Tanahashi that did not have championship or tournament stakes attached to it. This match was no squash, but the incumbent Ace was dominant in the end.
Match Two: February 12, 2012 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW The New Beginning 2012, Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00189_1_6
Cagematch Rating: 8.46
How Did We Get Here?: Kazuchika Okada returned from his excursion for a match against YOSHI-HASHI at Wrestle Kingdom 6. Okada was victorious in that bout, which gave him the confidence to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi after Tanahashi defeated Minoru Suzuki in a match that marked his then-record 11th IWGP Heavyweight Championship defense in his reign. This match is known as “The Rainmaker Shock” because nobody expected the young Rainmaker to walk out of Osaka victorious, and when he did, the crowd was absolutely shocked.
Bonus Watch (NJPWWorld): Okada confronts Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 6 (scroll to 35:00) https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00188_1_12
Match Three: June 6, 2012 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Dominion 6.16, Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00194_1_8
Cagematch Rating: 9.52
How Did We Get Here?: After defeating Tanahashi at The New Beginning, Kazuchika Okada went on to defend the title against Tetsuya Naito after Natio confronted Okada in the ring in Osaka. The Rainmaker would go on to defend against 2012’s New Japan Cup winner, Hirooki Goto. As New Japan headed back to the scene of The Rainmaker Shock, Bodymaker Colosseum in Osaka, Hiroshi Tanahashi decided it was time again to prove that he was still The Ace.
Match Four: January 4, 2013 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 7, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00203_1_11
Voices Of Wrestling Review (4.5 *): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2013/01/04/wrestle-kingdom-7-an-absolute-classic/
Cagematch Rating: 9.08
How Did We Get Here?: After losing the title to Tanahashi at Dominion 2012, Okada set his sights on a G1 Climax 22 victory to earn his next title shot at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in the Tokyo Dome. This would be the first of three Okada vs. Tanahashi Tokyo Dome main events.
Review Excerpt: This was great, a true big show main event caliber world title showdown. Okada kicked out of the High Fly Flow, which got a nice pop. He missed at least two Rainmaker attempts. They didn’t tease a ton of near falls, as the story here was each man fighting to hit his finish, with Tanahashi doing whatever it took to stay out of the way of the Rainmaker.
Match Five: April 7, 2013 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Invasion Attack, Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00206_1_7
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2013/04/08/new-japan-invasion-attack-continues-to-raise-the-bar/
Cagematch Rating: 9.73
How Did We Get Here?: Many thought the story was over after Hiroshi Tanahashi vanquished Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 7. Okada won one fluke victory, but Tanahashi proved his dominance twice in a row. Looking back, that was a great first act to their budding rivalry, but it was hardly the introduction. In March of 2013, Kazuchika Okada buzzed through the New Japan Cup by defeating Lance Archer, Karl Anderson, Toru Yano, and Hirooki Goto. This earned him another IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against Tanahashi at 2013’s Invasion Attack event. This would be the first of three straight matches between the two at Ryogoku Sumo Hall, which served as the stage for the second act of their rivalry throughout 2013.
Review Excerpt: Unlike the first Okada victory over Tanahashi, which was shocking and put him on the map, this win, followed by winning G1 and winning New Japan Cup, places the 24-year old Okada firmly in the ace seat.
Match Six: August 10, 2013 – G1 Climax 23 A Block Match – NJPW G1 Climax 23 – Night 8, Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00211_3_8
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2013/08/10/new-japan-g1-climax-2013-night-8-sumo-hall-tokyo-another-classic/
Cagematch Rating: 9.02
How Did We Get Here?: The G1 often gives us marquee matchups, and on the second-to-last night of G1 Climax 23 competition, Tanahashi and Okada met again in Ryogoku Sumo Hall. Tanahashi and Okada went the full 30 minutes in what would become a theme, ending this G1 classic in a time-limit draw.
Review Excerpt: Holy shit this was some match. Two count on a dragon suplex, Styles Clash, Okada gets the knees up on a High Fly Flow. Okada went for one last desperation Rainmaker, and collapsed on his knee. Time ran out. Draw. Another masterpiece. Five stars
Match Seven: October 14, 2013 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling 2013, Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00213_1_9
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2013/10/14/new-japan-king-of-pro-wrestling-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.71
How Did We Get Here?: As NJPW was headed back to Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Hiroshi Tanahashi saw another opportunity to challenge Kazuchika Okada at the scene where the title had changed hands earlier in the year. As has become tradition, if a wrestler is able to defeat or draw with a champion during any tournament match, they generally hold a title challenge in their pocket for future use, and Tanahashi tapped into his challenge here. This would serve as Okada’s last title defense before heading to Wrestle Kingdom 8 to defend against G1 Climax 23 winner Tetsuya Natio.
Review Excerpt: Tanahashi hit a Styles Clash, and went up for the HFF. Okada got the knees up. Tombstone. Crowd going bonkers. Me going bonkers. They reversed each other on FOUR Rainmaker attempts, with too much cool shit to describe, before Okada finally hit one and got the pin. Tanahashi can not challenge Okada ever again, and Okada wins the CMLL Universal title.
Match Eight: January 4, 2015 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00248_1_14
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2015/01/04/new-japan-pro-wrestling-wrestle-kingdom-9-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.62
How Did We Get Here?: This one is pretty simple; Kazuchika Okada won G1 Climax 24 to secure another Tokyo Dome Main Event against Hiroshi Tanahashi. In a legendary match on a legendary card, many assumed that this would be Kazuchika Okada’s coronation as the true ace of the company, but the incumbent Tanahashi had other ideas.
Review Excerpt: Okada was nearly as brilliant in the post match as he was in he match itself, being carried away by Gedo while sobbing into a towel. Talk about putting over the importance of the title and the meaning of the struggle…wow. Tanahashi, who wrestled with an edge in order to match Okada’s aggressiveness, grabbed the house mic and rubbed it in with this: “Okada! Okada! How do you feel now? I’ll tell you one thing. Ace is still very far away from you.” The two now stand at 3-3-1 since 2012. Tremendous psychology, worked at an insane pace, with incredible drama. This was the art of pro wrestling at the highest possible level, as Tanahashi solidifies his position as possibly the greatest big match performer ever, and this rivalry leaves everything else in the dust with the possible exception of Misawa/Kobashi.
Match Nine: January 4, 2016 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 10, Tokyo Dome, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00360_2_09
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2016/01/04/njpw-wrestle-kingdom-10-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.73
How Did We Get Here?: After his surprising win at Wrestle Kingdom 9, Tanahashi found himself challenged by newcomer AJ Styles and again, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship changed hands at The New Beginning In Osaka, this time with AJ Styles defeating Tanahashi. However, there would be no re-match for the title, as Styles defended once against Kota Ibushi before meeting Okada for a challenge at Dominion in July of 2016. Okada defeated Styles in that bout, sending himself into his third IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign. Tanahashi went on to win the G1 Climax tournament in 2015 and set his sights on another Tokyo Dome Main Event against The Rainmaker, this time as the challenger.
Review Excerpt: Who is the ace? “Okada! Okada! You are not ready to be ace!” -Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9
Okada is now the ace.
Additional Reading: Kazuchika Okada: Don’t Let Go (Andrew Rich)
Match Ten: August 12, 2016 – G1 Climax 26 A Block Match – NJPW G1 Climax 26 – Night Seventeen
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00396_18_09
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2016/08/12/njpw-g1-climax-26-night-17-results-review-okada-vs-tanahashi/
Cagematch Rating: 9.45
How Did We Get Here?: Win and go to the G1 Climax Final. By nature of their block match victories over Hirooki Goto, that’s all either of these men needed to do in their last block match of G1 Climax 26, but neither man would give. In one of the most famous Time Limit Draws in pro wrestling history, Tanahashi and Okada went the full 30 minutes again, which sent Hirooki Goto into the 2016 G1 Climax final against Kenny Omega.
Review Excerpt: The enormity of that moment can not be understated. You can survive the HFF variations. You can survive it to the back. You can survive the crossbody. Okada wasn’t going to lose to any of them. Not on this night. Not with the added motivation of his company disrespecting him, the IWGP champion, with “The Ace Is Back” marketing and the indignity of being announced second while the title rests on his waist. Okada wasn’t beaten. The clock did not run out on Tanahashi, the clock simply ran out. It was a symbolic, beautiful finish. Somehow, some way, in a match that is supposedly over done, they have left us wanting more.
Match Eleven: May 4, 2018 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – NJPW Wrestling Dontaku, Fukuoka Convention Center, Fukuoka
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00482_4_09
Voices Of Wrestling Review (4.5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2018/05/07/njpw-wrestling-dontaku-2018-night-2-results-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.36
How Did We Get Here?: Remember that record-breaking eleventh IWGP Heavyweight Championship defense celebration that Kazuchika Okada spoiled by challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship back on January 4, 2012? Well, between 2016 and 2018, Kazuchika Okada chipped away at that record, defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship eleven times over nearly two years, and instead of standing on the sidelines and allowing Okada to break his record, Tanahashi decided that he would be the challenger for defense number twelve.
Review Excerpt: With an emphatic kickout of a High Fly Flow (exactly at the 30:00 mark, to avenge last year’s draw in the G1) and one Rainmaker, Okada shut the door. He removed all doubt. He forced Tanahashi to accept the reality. And the reality is that Kazuchika Okada is the man, the ace, and now, the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time. The crowd wanted Tanahashi to do it again. And Tanahashi fought hard. He survived the Tombstone on the floor. He gave Okada everything he could handle. He even broke Okada’s wrist hold for the first time . But not even the Ace can’t fight Father Time.
Additional Reading: Within an Ace of Victory: The Delusions of Hiroshi Tanahashi (Super Joel Cast)
Match Twelve: August 10, 2018 – G1 Climax 28 A Block – NJPW G1 Climax 28 – Night Seventeen, Budokan Hall, Tokyo
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00490_35_10
Voices Of Wrestling Review (5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2018/08/10/njpw-g1-climax-28-night-17-august-10-results-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.46
How Did We Get Here?: Again, The G1 sometimes blesses us with gifts like Okada vs. Tanahashi on the last night of block competition. Okada had finally lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Dominion 2018, meaning he was left to carry balloons to the ring instead of his title. The 2018 G1 Climax was Hiroshi Tanahashi’s resurgence, but even so, in their third G1 Climax match, neither Okada nor Tanahashi could finish the other off in less than 30 minutes.
Review Excerpt: Tanahashi on this night regained his status atop NJPW. Tanahashi is once again in the mix. For Okada, the lost summer continues. And now, after being involved in each and every title match at Wrestle Kingdom since his return from excursion, Okada has no clear path to January 4.
Match Thirteen: September 23, 2018 – IWGP Heavyweight Championship #1 Contendership – NJPW Destruction in Kobe 2018, World Hall, Kobe
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00494_2_09
Voices Of Wrestling Review (4.5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2018/09/23/njpw-destruction-in-kobe-2018-results-review/
Cagematch Rating: 9.56
How Did We Get Here?: By nature of their time-limit draw in the G1 Climax, Hiroshi Tanahashi granted Okada a Wrestle Kingdom Right To Challenge Briefcase defense at Destruction in Kobe 2018. After Tanahashi logged his fifth (and most recent) victory over Okada, this match gets a little bit overshadowed by Jay White’s post-match attack, YOSHI-HASHI’s stumble on the way to try to save Okada, and Gedo turning on Okada and aligning with Jay White.
Review Excerpt: Okada looks as if he knows that he statistically has the advantage. It seems like he’s fighting back a smile as he stands in his corner, waiting for the match to begin. He may have drawn Tanahashi a few times in the past, but there is no way he is losing this match.
At the onset of the match, the crowd erupts with chants of “Go Ace!” When Okada backs Tanahashi up to the ropes he doesn’t even think about giving a clean break. He greets Tanahashi’s teeth with a forearm. The crowd doesn’t like this.
Match Fourteen: July 6, 2019 – G1 Climax 29 A Block Match – NJPW G1 Climax 29 – Night One, American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX, USA
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00523_2_09
Voices Of Wrestling Review (4.5*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2019/07/07/njpw-g1-climax-29-night-1-july-6-results-review/
Cagematch Rating: 8.65
How Did We Get here?: When NJPW announced that they’d be opening the 2019 G1 Climax tournament in the United States, the stateside NJPW fandom was abuzz with speculation about what would main event the momentous occasion, and the powers that be delivered in droves by booking Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi on the first night of G1 Climax action. This marks a turning point in the role of the Okada-Tanahashi G1 matches, as they are now early-tournament main events instead of final-night matchups that are sure to decide a block, but that didn’t affect the crowd in Dallas, Tx on this holiday weekend. This match features one of the most satisfying bell pops I’ve ever heard, and the two men that brought NJPW into the modern era played the hits for a crowd that would have been happy to watch them stare each other down for 30 minutes but who would do such a thing when there’s a fight at hand?
Review Excerpt: What else can be said about the Okada/Tanahashi rivalry that hasn’t been said already? It’s been the rivalry that’s defined New Japan Pro Wrestling in this decade and played a major role in the promotion’s incredible worldwide growth following the dark ages that were the 2000’s. Now, for the first time ever, they brought their legendary feud to the United States. Coming into this bout, the record between these two was 5-5-3, and it was important to note that all three of those draws happened in the G1 Climax (2013, 2016, and 2018). While everyone knew that the match would be great, the big question was whether we see an unprecedented fourth-time limit draw.
Additional Reading: Rivals Passing In The Night: The Newest Chapter for Okada vs. Tanahashi (August Baker)
Match Fifteen: September 19, 2021 – G1 Climax 31 B Block Match – NJPW G1 Climax 31 – Night Two, EDION Arena, Osaka
Watch (NJPWWorld): https://njpwworld.com/p/s_series_00593_4_0
Voices Of Wrestling Review (4.75*): https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2021/09/21/njpw-g1-climax-31-night-2-september-19-results-review/
Cagematch Rating: 8.88
How Did We Get Here?: As NJPW, the one true international wrestling company in the world, navigated the challenges of a global pandemic, they put one of their most notable matches on the first night of B Block competition in G1 Climax 31 (2021).
Review Excerpt: They have both put NJPW on their back and have more than shouldered the weight. I regret that there will be a day that these men won’t face off against each other another time.
But we enjoy what we have, and this match is amazing. Maybe not at the level of their absolute best, but still proof that when firing on all cylinders NJPW produces some of, if not the best wrestling in the world.