NJPW: The History of Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi


With another showdown looming between two of NJPW’s greatest superstars of all-time, let’s take a look back at the legendary rivalry between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

As of this writing, NJPW’s Kazuchika Okada has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for a staggering 662 days. In what is now his fourth reign as champion, “The Rainmaker” has surpassed the record for this title’s single longest run once held by Shinya Hashimoto which was 489 days. And to add to that, 100 days ago, he also surpassed old foe Hiroshi Tanahashi in most combined days as champion. And as each day passes and Okada’s resume grows, the idea that he’ll ever lose this belt seems to get slimmer and slimmer.

This particular reign from Okada has not only been impressive in length, but also the level of competition he’s defeated to keep it running. After winning the belt from Tetsuya Naito at Dominion 6.19 in June of 2016, Okada went on to retain the belt against the who’s who of the world title picture in names like Naomichi Marufuji, Kenny Omega (twice), Minori Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata, Naito again, and SANADA. Most recently, at Sakura Genesis, Okada defended and retained the strap against surging Brit Zack Sabre Jr. in a tremendous one on one battle. However, after the match Tanahashi came to ringside and challenged the champion to a match at Wrestling Dontaku on May 4th which Okada accepted.

So with the title match set, the old rivalry is back on. The duo has not met up in a singles match since 2016 at the G1 Climax. But overall Okada and Tanahashi have been in a NJPW ring together in some shape or form over 200 times. And with 10 singles matches between them and the current standings at 4 wins for Okada, 4 wins for Tanahashi, and 2 draws, this will be the ultimate rubber match between two of the NJPW’s very best wrestlers of all time.

Their first match took place back in January of 2010. It was a quick and somewhat underwhelming 13 minute bout that saw Tanahashi take the win. But at that point in time, both men’s status in NJPW could not have been much different. Going into this match, Tanahashi was already a four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and a legit main event player. Where as Okada, just 22 years old, hadn’t accomplished much of anything and was honing his craft while on loan to TNA wrestling.

Two years later the two would come face to face, with Tanahashi, in his fifth reign as champ, defending the title against a now rising star in Okada at The New Beginning 2012. In a solid match, Okada used his patented Rainmaker finisher to shock the crowd in Osaka and win his first IWGP Championship. It would be a bit short-lived, at least for Okada standards, as just four months later Tanahashi took the belt back at Dominion 6.16 in what was their best bout to date.

The following January the two would main event Wrestle Kingdom 7 and in what was becoming a theme, put on another great battle, with Tanahashi once again gaining the win. But in April of that year Okada, after winning the New Japan Cup a month earlier, got another shot at gold, this time at Invasion Attack 2013. In what would be the first of four utter classics between the two, Okada grabbed his second world title.

That summer the two both entered the vaunted G1 Climax. And although both lost out to eventual winner Tetsuya Naito, their 30 minute draw against each other on day 8 was one of the highlights of the tournament and also kept Tanahashi ahead in the overall career standings against each other at 3-2. However, Okada would tie up the series just two months later when he’d pick up the next win in the rivalry, a title defense at King of Pro Wrestling. This was the second of four masterpieces.

Believe it or not, the duo would not meet up again for 14 months when they would once again main event a Wrestle Kingdom – this time Wrestle Kingdom 9 – and Tanahashi walked in as champ. Okada, on the strength of his second G1 Climax win was looking for his third world title and revenge for his Wrestle Kingdom loss two years earlier. Unfortunately for him, he would not get that revenge as Tanahashi, in their third all-time classic, pulled out the win yet again.

One year later in the Tokyo Dome, the site of Wrestle Kingdom 10, they would go at it for a ninth time. And after eight stirring battles and back and forth, belt-swapping drama, the two finally produced their biggest masterpiece to date. And after 36 minutes , Okada as champion again after losing and regaining the belt from AJ Styles emerged victorious in what many consider the greatest match in NJPW history.

Eight months later they would once again link up in a G1 Climax. And going in with their rivalry deadlocked at 4-4-1, most believed the match would provide some closure. It didn’t, as once again the they wrestled to a 30-minute draw.

So here it is. The 11th match in what is potentially the greatest rivalry in pro wrestling history. Okada, undoubtedly the biggest star in the company will not only attempt to close the book on this saga but in doing so would break another record. A win at Wrestling Dontaku would make 12 title defenses in this run for “The Rainmaker”, one more than Tanahashi’s 11 from 2011 and 2012. Beating Tanahashi for that record would certainly be fitting.

But what does Tanahashi have left? At 40 years old, the 7-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion’s best days do seem to be behind him. But if he’s going to have one final run with the title, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for him to have to take out the one man that can stake the claim that they are the more successful superstar?

Next: Should The North American Championship Be An Intergender Title?

10 epic matches down and the wrestling the world is clamoring for an11th. Talk about a rivalry that transcends the business. If these two men have proven anything, the biggest thing might just be that anytime they step in the ring together it is a massive occasion. Wrestling fans, don’t miss this one.