Wrestling fans around the world woke up to some known, but still startling information out of New Japan Pro. Kazuchika Okada is officially leaving the organization. The company and Okada himself reported the news, as his time is set to expire on January 31. This brings an end to an iconic run in the organization, and perhaps one of the most important tenures in a company across wrestling. The Kazuchika Okada sweepstakes has officially started.
Fans are already speculating where he should wrestle next. Eyes quickly turned to AEW, which is the easy bet. The company has close ties to NJPW, not only putting on an annual event in Forbidden Door but also seeing top performers like Jon Moxley and Bryan Danielson appear in Japan throughout the year. Okada could sign with that company and not have to face thoughts about uprooting his family to come to the United States.
WWE is expected to at least inquire into Okada’s next steps. While fan perception is one thing, there’s no arguing the fact that WWE is the biggest organization in the world. If he wants to stand on the largest stage in professional wrestling, WWE is that place – especially as the company heads into WrestleMania season. Media outlets are reporting that WWE is showing an openness to working with other promotions, especially those in Japan. Okada could be the individual that helps create a working relationship between the two companies.
TNA is not off the radar as well. Okada had a stint in that company long before he became “The Rainmaker.” It is well understood that he faced problematic booking during that run, but TNA is under new leadership and Okada is an entirely different superstar today.
But here’s an interesting question as media members rush to put together their “dream matches outside of NJPW” content. Are the rosters in both AEW and WWE too overcrowded for someone like Okada?
Think about the current landscapes within AEW and WWE. Both organizations are packed with top stars like Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns as champions. Chasing them are other superstars like Drew McIntyre, Swerve Strickland, Kevin Owens, Cody Rhodes, CM Punk, Miro, Ricky Starks, and more. Fans want to see their favorite performers, but when individuals like Will Ospreay, or Punk make a major move – someone is left the odd person out. Just look at the commotion that The Rock has caused with one promo months before WrestleMania 40. Okada joining either of these companies would immediately mean less time for someone else.
But this is what makes competition in organizations like this so important. Imagine if Okada signs with WWE and that causes McIntyre to make the jump to AEW. Or if he goes to AEW and that creates a situation where Starks decides he needs to leave for more of the spotlight. This is a situation that has occurred throughout professional sports for years. Top stars want to be in the place with the biggest opportunities and that has a roster-wide impact. Speaking of Impact, Okada could go to TNA and help uplift that entire roster that just signed Nic Nemeth and featured Alex Hammerstone.
This is an exciting time to be a fan of professional wrestling. The 2024 free agency sweepstakes is well underway and one of the biggest pieces in Kazuchika Okada is ready to make a move.