wrestling / Columns

411 Wrestling Fact or Fiction: Is Kazuchika Okada One of the Best Wrestlers Ever?

January 14, 2022 | Posted by Jake Chambers
Kazuchika Okada G1 Supercard

Welcome back to the 411mania Wrestling Fact or Fiction. I’m your host Jake Chambers.

With New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s annual Wrestle Kingdom Tokyo Dome shows now in the books (all THREE nights of them), I thought it would be a good time to decompress on the year that was NJPW and look ahead to 2022.

So I’ve called upon 411’s two marquee NJPW reviewers to help me with this task: the indomitable Kevin Pantoja and the prolific Ian Hamilton!

Let’s max the max!

Statement #1: In 20+ years, we will look back at this period in Kazuchika Okada’s career as one of the greatest runs in pro-wrestling history.

Kevin Pantoja: FACT – Look, I’ve made it clear over and over that I am no Kazuchika Okada fan but I’m also not an idiot. My gripe with him is that I find him bland and that his matches are repetitive but he’s certainly great. The guy has put on countless classic matches, including many that are considered among the greatest ever by a lot of fans. Even if he wasn’t great in the ring though, his success is basically unmatched. Ever since 2012, he has basically been the man for the company. An iconic rivalry with Hiroshi Tanahashi, more IWGP Heavyweight Title reigns than anyone, the record for longest reign and most defenses, three G1 Climax victories, and that’s just stuff he has done off the top of my head. Throw in the fact that he was the top star during the company’s biggest time of growth and how much of a box office success he’s been and it’s obvious that this is an all-time run.

Ian Hamilton: FACT – Yes, for the simple fact that Okada was the man whose reign reignited western interest in the promotion. If you boil it down to matches, Okada’s had a legitimate hall of fame run to get us to this point – and while some of his career (to-date) rivals are either no longer in New Japan (Omega) or have stepped down the card (Tanahashi), Okada still has the ability to keep that up. You could suggest that the rivalry with Will Ospreay never got completed, if you assume the end point was Ospreay beating Okada for the title – but now Okada’s back on top, there’s plenty of chances for new career rivalries to be generated. 

Statement #2: There are other Japanese wrestling promotions you are currently more interested in than NJPW.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – Although this is fiction, it comes with a caveat. I simply don’t have the time to care about any other promotions than what I currently do. Honestly, it’s basically just AEW and WWE at this point as I follow NJPW but at nowhere near the level I used to. The company hasn’t been interesting since Jay White dropped the top title and things have only gotten worse. Shingo, Hiromu, and a few other guys hold my interest but that’s it. Otherwise, the company is incredibly dry and dull. From the little that I’ve read, Dragon Gate, NOAH, and a few other places have a couple of interesting things going on but it’s just not enough to make me commit time to them, so NJPW kind of wins by default.

Ian Hamilton: FACT – Stepping back from covering New Japan as-live (at least for the road-to shows) means that I’m able to start paying more attention to promotions that I’ve perhaps only been skimming. NOAH and DDT both being on the same platform makes that a no-brainer, while STARDOM’s appearance at the Tokyo Dome grabbed my attention. For those who’ve only been following New Japan because they were the first promotion to “Westernise” with English commentary, there’s multiple other promotions in Japan that offers shows with English commentary with some regularity – including STARDOM, NOAH and DDT. 

Statement #3: You believe the next G1 Climax will feature multiple surprise international entrants and be the best tournament in years.

Kevin Pantoja: FACT – As long as travel allows for it, this should be the answer. As noted, NJPW is in a dire place of boredom and they desperately need something to spark it. The return of Jay White and the inclusion of at least two wrestlers from AEW like Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson would do wonders for them. I don’t think we’ll get more than two surprises (if that many) but I mostly went with fact for the second half of the statement. I think it can be the best tournament in years simply because the last few haven’t really been special. The G1 24, 26, and 27 were all fantastic but the last few have had issues. Either it’s a case of one block being totally boring, a lack of intrigue, or just a case of matches not really being up to the standard the tournament is used to. It won’t be all that difficult to top the last two or three years, even without many surprises.

Ian Hamilton: FICTION – Literally as I was about to type this, I read a news story about how Japan isn’t allowing international arrivals until the end of February – not knowing how they work with visas, I have a feeling that Japan won’t be granting any new visas until things have calmed down in terms of restrictions changing. As such, I don’t foresee any new international additions being added to this year’s G1 – but we might be able to see some new additions by the end of 2022.

¡SWITCH!

Statement #4: Shingo Takagi will regain the IWGP World Championship in 2022.

Ian Hamilton: FICTION – New Japan tend to go for long title reigns, and given that Shingo lost to Okada, he’s closer to the back of the line for a shot, particularly since Tetsuya Naito’s getting the next shot. Barring injury, I’d expect Shingo’s next viable shot to come from either the New Japan Cup or winning the G1. Shingo’s not going to be massively out of the title picture, but I don’t see him regaining the IWGP title this year unless there’s a horrific run of injuries.

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – One of the few bright spots in the company over the past year was Shingo Takagi as champion. While he didn’t get to have all that many hyped rivalries, he consistently delivered in the ring and had great matches almost every time out there. He feltl ike a breath of fresh air and that’s exactly why I don’t see him as the IWGP World Champion again. Gedo is basically TERRIFIED of booking anything that feels remotely fresh unless he has to. He gave Tetsuya Naito the title in 2016 at a great time and ripped it back from him after two months, then waiting an absurd FOUR years to give it back to him. Jay White was totally different from what we were used to and he dropped the title back to Okada in just about two months. He probably didn’t like Shingo as champion either but went with it because he basically had nothing else to do. I can see him going with Will Ospreay at some point this year and Okada will get a lengthy reign, so I think Shingo’s time at the top is over.

Statement #5: Hiroshi Tanahashi should retire this year.

Ian Hamilton: FICTION – The Ace may not be what he used to be, but he’ll always be the Ace. Tanahashi’s match with KENTA showed that he’s still got “it” to some degree – even if showing “it” meant “stepping well outside his comfort zone and doing a plunder match.”. Tanahashi’s still got time left in him – it’s not like we’re anywhere near the stage where there’s fans actively dreading seeing him appear, or even “feel sorry” when they see him. I’m not going to name names, but no – Tanahashi shouldn’t retire, not unless he’s been doing a stand up job of hiding crippling injuries…

Kevin Pantoja: FICTION – Absolutely not. We will not speak ill of our Ace. Hiroshi Tanahashi just turned 45 years old and he has a lot of wear and tear on him. However, he seems to be in pretty phenomenal shape and he has also continued to deliver in spades in the ring. When Tanahashi is put in a big match situation, he proves that he’s still better than guys 15-20 years his junior, so I want to see him wrestle for a long time. Other former top stars in Japan wrestle into their 50s and like Minoru Suzuki, he’s still great. However, I don’t see Tanahashi doing a lengthy New Japan Dads run along the lines of Yuji Nagata or TenKoji. I think he pulls a Liger and goes until around 50. I don’t think Tanahashi wants to struggle out there like a Nakanishi did so he’ll go out while he’s still great but it won’t be this year. Please don’t be this year.

Big ups to our great New Japan experts for their great discussion this week. Let’s hope Ian Hamilton comes back to reviewing every live NJPW show, and I think everyone should go follow him on Twitter and pester him until he does: https://twitter.com/IanWrestling

And of course you should also follow Kevin Pantoja – https://twitter.com/the_kevstaaa – and don’t forget his fun-filled Patreon for all your wrestling and pop culture content, including the always fun Weekly Fav Five at the gold and silver tiers, sign up now: https://www.patreon.com/the_kevstaaa

And I’ll be back next time to announce the winner of the Larry Csonka Memorial FoF Tournament – don’t miss it!