NJPW: The Redemption of ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada

NEW YORK. NY - APRIL 06: Kazuchika Okada and Jay White during the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden on April 6, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by New Japan Pro-Wrestling/Getty Images)
NEW YORK. NY - APRIL 06: Kazuchika Okada and Jay White during the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden on April 6, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by New Japan Pro-Wrestling/Getty Images) /

Saturday night, the NJPW and ROH G1 Supercard took on the sizeable task of putting on a cross-promotional show during WrestleMania weekend.

Not to mention, this was the first professional wrestling event to take place at Madison Square Garden that wasn’t tied to the McMahon family in about 60 years. With that said, Kazuchika Okada’s fifth title win was the perfect way to cap off such a momentous event for ROH and NJPW.

Okada is one of – if not THE – most dominant champions in modern wrestling. His record-breaking fourth IWGP Championship reign spanned 720 days and boasted 12 title defenses. During that run, his cocky heel persona and seemingly contrived push alongside Gedo made him a divisive figure among fans. In stark contrast, his victory over his ex-stablemate, Jay White, at the Garden was met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

Indeed, Okada has come a long way since he and Gedo joined Chaos in January of 2012, adopting the “Rainmaker” character. At the height of his prolonged pushed, it seemed unfathomable that he could turn face and become the unquestioned “Ace” of the promotion. Despite his impressive list of accolades, he didn’t have the fan support that Hiroshi Tanahashi has.

However, no other promotion does long-form storytelling better than New Japan. The former leader of the Bullet Club, Kenny Omega, defeated Okada in a two out of three falls match at Dominion last summer, ending his historic title reign. When he entered the 2018 G1 Climax, the Rainmaker wasn’t the performer we were familiar with. He dyed his hair red, ditched his usual ring-coats, and replaced his trademark Okada bucks with red balloons.

The former champion finished with the same record as he did in the following year, but he was clearly shaken. Both his detractors and fans were sure he would confidently advance to the finals and challenge Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Instead, he seemed indifferent and uncharacteristically meek, losing his first two matches.

Eventually, Okada pulled it together to win the next six matches and fought Tanahashi to a draw. But that wasn’t enough to advance to the finals. At the end of the tournament, he ended his professional relationship with his manager, Gedo.

Okada’s slump paralleled Jay White’s gradual ascension. At Destruction, White and Gedo betrayed their former leader, setting up their match at Wrestle Kingdom. The event marked a return to form for the Rainmaker, sporting his trunks and ring-coat again. Unlike Wrestle Kingdom 12, the fans rallied behind him.

Surprisingly, the Switchblade beat Okada and went on to become IWGP Champion in February. With Omega signed to AEW, White seemed to prime to be the gaijin champion who would lead the promotion’s expansion into the US.

Last month, the Rainmaker defeated SANADA to win his second New Japan Cup. Afterward, Katsuyori Shibata was the first to congratulate him. He notably won the tournament two years ago and suffered a career-ending injury in the proceeding title match against Okada at Sakura Genesis. Shibata’s approval, the New Japan Cup win, and the Bullet Club’s heat galvanized fans all over the world.

White and Okada managed to replicate the feel of a Tokyo Dome match at Madison Square Garden, a fitting stage for the end of his nearly year-long journey back to the top. A year ago, another Okada title win wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well. Conversely, his fifth title win felt special.

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The deconstruction, and eventual redemption, of the Rainmaker will go down as one of the best examples of New Japan’s masterful storytelling. Kazuchika Okada made an effective face turn. More importantly, he managed to win over an American crowd during WrestleMania weekend. He has arguably had bigger wins throughout his career, but for the first time, he feels like “the guy” he was groomed to become.