Kazuchika Okada: What’s next for The Rainmaker?
Arguably the greatest title reign in history is over, so the only question now is what is next for the Rainmaker Kazuchika Okada.
The main event of Saturday’s Dominion show was just the latest piece of evidence that Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega are two of the greatest wrestlers to ever step into a squared circle. Their fourth match had an official time of 64 minutes and 50 seconds and was their best yet. But while Omega’s path forward as the new IWGP heavyweight champion is clear, the future of Okada is more obscure.
The greatest title reign ever?
The longest title reign in the modern era of WWE is Brock Lesnar’s current Universal Championship reign that sits, at the time of writing, at 435 days. It has been one of the least impressive reigns though, with just a handful of defenses and very few memorable matches. Fans have decried their absent champion and have been forced to take solace in Seth Rollins’ Intercontinental championship run.
For fans of New Japan though, Okada’s reign was something completely different. In 720 days and 14 matches (12 defenses, winning the title in 2016, and losing it on Saturday) Okada raised the bar for excellence. He faced off against hard-hitting strikers like Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata, against athletes like Sanada and Omega, and a technical genius in Zack Sabre Jr. Each match was different, each match was amazing. His 12 successful defenses set a new record and averaged 4.9 stars from Dave Meltzer.
His excellence was so regular that it became expected for each match to surpass the last, and if they ever fell just short of transcendent brilliance, like his Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event with Tetsuya Naito, it was somehow a horrible failure even if it was still one of the best matches of the year.
However, all things must come to an end, and even as he broke every record Hiroshi Tanahashi or anyone else previously held, he couldn’t hold the strap forever.
Okada isn’t likely to get a shot at Kenny Omega unless he earns it with a tournament win of the G1 Climax or the New Japan Cup. While the G1 is coming up it seems a little soon to be putting him straight back into the Wrestle Kingdom main event, especially when there is plenty of story to be told between Kenny Omega and both Kota Ibushi and Cody.
Okada’s loss of the IWGP heavyweight crown also opens the door for other Chaos members to challenge. Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto have had strong runs over the last 18 months and are deserving of a main event title match.
So if a return to the top of the heap is not on the cards for Okada, then what will he be up to? Well I fully expect him to go far in the G1, probably making the final, but ultimately I wouldn’t be surprised if New Japan use this time to develop his character a little more and set up a monumental clash with new IWGP Intercontinental champion Chris Jericho.
Since coming into New Japan Jericho has been a vicious killer. His match with Naito on Saturday left the leader of Los Ingobernables bloody and battered. It looks like Y2J will be taking on all comers for the belt, and an arc of returning it home may well be a suitable story for the next phase of Okada’s career. A title match at Wrestle Kingdom 13 between Okada and Jericho could be the kind of magical in-ring moment that WWE try and fail to create.
Where do you think Kazuchika Okada is headed next? Let us know in the comments below!