The current and now five-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada is a talent beyond compare. He captures what New Japan Pro Wrestling is all about, and as such, represents it as their main champion. As he has been champion so often, he’s obviously had several defenses of the belt, but not all of them successful. With the Royal Quest show in London this coming weekend, I thought it best to delve into the archives and find five of his best defenses, and I will only count his successful ones, so no 2-out-of-3 falls matches versus Kenny Omega, but will Kenny feature? Read on to find out.
5. Prince Devitt – Kizuna Road 2013
First up is one of the most prominent members and first leader of the Bullet Club – Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor). As leader of a group that defined itself as the cheating gaijin (foreign wrestlers), it definitely helped him here. For me, this is Devitt at his best, showing tonnes of blunt brutality. His chops echoed through the arena and the brutality didn’t stop there. There was also a coup de grace to the back of Okada’s head, there was a drop kick to the back of the head, and a chair assisted coup de grace. Additionally, there was a wicked John Woo on the outside of the ring.
Despite the odds being against him here, Okada battled valiantly. He took all of that offence and showed amazing levels of resilience to not be defeated. Eventually Kazuchan pulled out the win, hitting a piledriver and rainmaker, even though Devitt had hit him with a piledriver of his own. This was a great match and one of his key defences, early in his second reign. It showed his levels of resilience and adaptability as Prince Devitt and Bullet Club threw everything they could at him to prize the title away from the leader of CHAOS.
4. Karl Anderson – Power Struggle 2013
Next on my list is from the interestingly named pay-per-view Power Struggle. This is from the 2013 edition of the PPV, where Kazuchika took on one of the top gaijin and former G1 Climax finalist, Karl Anderson. It was in that final where Anderson lost to Okada and therefore didn’t get the Wrestle Kingdom match or the grandeur that would come with it, and although he would challenge for the opportunity to take Okada’s space at Wrestle Kingdom, he was unsuccessful.
From Karl’s perspective, this was a huge chance to take the Okada’s championship and settle the score somewhat. This match had a lot of booking included, and there were run-ins from Bullet Club again (it’s almost as if they’re born to cheat and love to interfere in matches). In fact, this match was so overbooked, that the TLC II match in WWE looks fairly tame in comparison. The match is amazing and both men are technically sound as wrestlers. Okada’s drop-kick is a thing of beauty, and once again he finishes it off with a piledriver followed by a rainmaker. Say what you want about New Japan, they certainly know how to protect a finisher and ensure that it does indeed finish a match.
3. AJ Styles – King of Pro Wrestling 2015
On to the King of Pro Wrestling show, where Okada is now onto his third reign, having won the title off of a man named AJ Styles. This is the hotly contested rematch. I’m pretty sure that it would be illegal for these two to have a bad match against one another. AJ, having worked in TNA and on the independent scene for many years, even back then, has a tonne of experience. He’s so professional that he can even turn a mistake or botch into a storyline (“those damn Lucha ropes”). He truly brings the best out of every challenger he faces.
Okada is also a hugely proficient wrestler and back in 2015 was in the midst of a very long peak of his career, which is still going to this day and is now only scheduled to end when/if he retires. Both competitors looked awesome and they really push each other to the brink and back to show how much they want the title. That they are both willing to give it all, including trying Phenomenal Forearms outside the ring, just to gain some semblance of an upperhand shows how revered this particular title is. The match was hard-hitting and definitely the very definition of Japanese Strong Style.
2. Kenny Omega – Wrestle Kingdom 11
I teased it in the intro but I have granted a spot on this list for Wrestle Kingdom 11’s main event. Kenny Omega took on Kazuchika Okada in a match that broke Dave Meltzer’s rating system, as he granted it six stars out of five. This match was a huge spectacle and a real test in endurance of both competitors and fans alike. I’m not saying that in a negative way that it tested fan endurance, but some fans aren’t used to hour-long matches and would struggle to focus on such an instant classic. This pitted the leader of the Bullet Club (them again) against leader of CHAOS.
V-Trigger and One-Winged-Angel against Piledriver and Rainmaker. The match was truly a study in pacing and should be used as an instructional video, for the wrestlers of tomorrow to learn how to structure a match. Full disclosure: I’m not sure why Dave Meltzer is so revered and why his subjective scale is more valid than anyone else’s. If I like a match and he’s rated it low, I will still enjoy the match just as much. In the case of this match from Wrestle Kingdom, I’d say that he’s correct, the match is truly tremendous and worthy of being vaunted.
1. Zack Sabre Jr. – Sakura Genesis 2018
Surprise! It’s not Kazuchika versus a member of the Bullet Club. How extraordinary. But to combat that, I’ve made sure it’s typically me by including my favourite Suzuki-Gun member, and favourite in general, Zack Sabre Jr. To be honest, is it really an article about New Japan if I don’t mention him at least 40 billion times? Both men are incredible athletes, and they worked together well here in unsurprising news.
The way they contorted their bodies in several submission holds would make the reported love-making practices of Sting (the singer) look almost banal in comparison. Watching the match I was convinced several times that ZSJ would win. Kazuchan would be locked in a submission hold and I would be certain that this time he would have to tap. Alas, he would not. He would show his patented resilience and fight back, even matching Zack hold for hold at times. Both combatants were spent by the end, which made the match feel even better, that they couldn’t have given more if they tried. It took a spinning piledriver and rainmaker to finally end the contest in the favour of Okada. No matter the victor there, the real winner was wrestling.
An honourable mention must go Minoru Suzuki, he always gets title shots but never he’s never won the big one. It’d be a fitting tribute to him, if he was to get his hands on the gold and he’s got another go this summer at Royal Quest – can he finally reach the summit in NJPW?
You can find me on Twitter @PBWrites92. Thanks for reading.