Well, grab me by the wrist and lariat me into next Tuesday – what a development for Kazuchika Okada.
For over a decade, The Rainmaker has made history time and time again. Not by executive decision or jumping ship, but through sheer effort and performance. Sure, we can talk about his rocky start in TNA or his return back to the company in 2012, but that little footnote does not matter in the grander scheme of things.
He’s more than evolved past that. The epic rivalry with Hiroshi Tanahashi that spanned years that cemented both men’s places as top-tier performers to the quartet of matches with Kenny Omega that are feats of ability. The recent matches with Bryan Danielson. That gnarly and physical display of violence with Katsuyori Shibata.
All of that, leading to the sudden and shocking announcement that he was leaving New Japan Professional Wrestling left the industry and fanbase talking. It’s not hard to see why when you see a talent like Okada.
Okada is in a league of his own. It’s a belief I’ve long held since I firmly sat myself down to watch a match of his back in 2018 – thank you AXSTV. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m preaching to the choir here – the only people who don’t either don’t connect with him (and that’s fine) and those who are simply acting out of bad faith.
But man, when you invest time into an Okada match, you will find it is more than worth the wait. Serving a hot tag in a traditional 2-on-2? Hell yeah. A small sprint in an 8-man tag? Godly. But when gears shift and change in a singles match, that’s where glory settles in. Elements from previous matches, wrestlers integral to the stories, and even small details introduced in the match itself exemplifies the sheer storytelling know-how and is executed in a way that only professional wrestling can do.
Seeing this evolution in this Superman-esque presentation, it’s not hard to see why his free agency in 2024 is a highly sought-after item. Without worrying too much about promos, Okada lets combat do the talking. From a cocky youth to a hungry competitor to a majestic yet grumpy senior, the Anjō native has main evented the Tokyo Dome multiple times over. He’s even been one of the longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champions, at an overwhelming 720 days.
Moreover, he carries himself like a star. When he sets up for that iconic Rainmaker signature, any wrestling fan can recognize this is the moment where it’s do or die. As soon as he extends his arms outwards like Christ on the cross and the camera whooshes back, the moment is nigh. When he grabs for his opponent’s wrist, it’s the payoff fans are clamoring for. You can feel the rush, the excitement in the crowd and if you let it, it’ll entrance you. Your heart pumps, your eyes are glued, and your hair stands on end. Time, existence, and the universe itself halts for but a fleeting moment before the rain falls and the thunder rumbles and echoes throughout wrestling’s eternity.
To think that it was a move that was built up over time, the moment he finally clutched at Hiroshi Tanahashi during Wrestle Kingdom 10 and hit the move to put an end to one of the best matches of all time to now being a move where fans can sometimes safely assume the match is won.
This elevates things. Every step matters. Why else was it a big deal when Kenny Omega escapes the pin that is normally sealed from it, only to hit his own One Winged Angel at Dominion 6.9 in Osaka Jo-Hall in 2018? Why else did Bryan Danielson spend so much time targeting it at AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door 2023 and Wrestle Kingdom 18?
Because he’s put in the effort and the booking and presentation support it. This doesn’t come easy, but it’s a team effort that has long since been fortuitous.
Kazuchika Okada is emblematic of what puroresu and professional wrestling stands for, the art of it. Now, the free agency of 2024 is what the world is talking about because of it.
There’s a lot of places he could go and undoubtedly succeed at. I won’t speculate where. That’s a job for people far better equipped than I.
But I will state this: He better get a damn good showing as soon as his pen hits the paper. Whether he wants a silly goofy match or a bell-to-bell thriller, capitalize on that and on everything that represents who and what he is. Let the world know who he is and let him do the work.
Every deliverable has to be made, every story beat must matter. Even if you have to work around what he brings, you make that accommodation. Like Gunther and Ilja Dragunov in WWE or Swerve Strickland and Jon Moxley in AEW, this special attraction must be tailored to. That’s what makes pro wrestling exciting. Differing styles, the clash of them, and how we get from Point A to Point B is how you capitalize on a talent like Kazuchika Okada.
Though he leaves the lion-crest and cerulean mat behind, every motion and aura comes with him where he goes.
Don’t let that cloud dissipate. Allow the rain to pour down so the cosmos can weep until the day he leaves his boots in the ring.