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The Historic Reign of Kazuchika Okada

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How will you remember the record-breaking 720 day reign of Kazuchika Okada? This reign represents more than what can be summed up in a single thought. In order to have a better understanding you must think back to 2014, during his second reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion.

Okada was fourteen days away from surpassing Hiroshi Tanahahashi’s personal best 404 day reign before he was betrayed by fellow Chaos member, Yujiro Takahashi, who helped AJ Styles win the championship from Okada, leaving Chaos and joining Bullet Club in the process. Struggling over the next year and losing his following two challenges for the title, Okada was finally able to overcome Styles and regain his championship. This third reign marked a shift for Okada, who after coming up short against Tanahashi twice at Wrestle Kingdom, had a monumental win over the Ace and cemented himself as the company’s top guy.

The excitement didn’t last long, as soon history would repeat itself in the form of Tetsuya Naito. For the second time, Okada’s reign would be cut short due in large part to interference. Naito, who himself has had his share of struggles in defeating Okada, resorted to winning via interference of a masked man, later revealed to be SANADA.

Once again, it was up to Okada to find a way to overcome all obstacles thrown in his way. Thanks to his history with Styles, this wasn’t uncharted waters for Okada and managed to regroup quicker than before, regaining the title in just two months. Fighting through the adversity had made Okada a stronger wrestler but no one could have expected he’d become this strong.

On his first defense of the fourth, and record-breaking reign, Okada sent the invading Naomichi Marufuji back to NOAH with his tail between his legs. He has been through too much to lose to an outsider. Next was Kenny Omega, the successor of AJ Styles. While it was a hard-fought match, Okada was driven to prove that Wrestle Kingdom is his domain. Returning from NOAH, Minoru Suzuki was next to lay claim and it was up to Okada whether or not to give into the pain or continue to fight.

His next challenger was no walk in the park as Shibata put his life on the line to attempt dethroning Okada. The weight of being a champion began taking its toll on Okada who was unable to defeat Omega a second time, settling for a draw instead. This resulted in a match against Cody which went longer than it should have thanks to the wear and tear on the champion’s body. He then received a three month break from title matches for the G1 Climax. Unfortunately for Okada, even though his title wasn’t on the line, the G1 Climax meant he must wrestle nine singles matches in a three week period.

The champion looked unbeatable early on in the tournament, winning six straight matches until a surprising loss to EVIL derailed his streak. Okada failed to win his remaining tournament matches, going to a draw with Suzuki and a clean loss to Omega but luckily had two months of recovery time before his next championship match. With time to regain his focus, Okada avenged the defeat at the hands of EVIL and went on to his third straight Wrestle Kingdom as the champion. Everyone counted Okada out against Naito, feeling that he had taken too much punishment throughout the reign and that he couldn’t keep delivering but Wrestle Kingdom is Okada’s domain. He made sure all his doubters took notice to this now record-breaking 490 day reign. Now, no one could question that Okada is a modern-day legend.

Okada having vanquished all obvious challengers, SANADA felt like he was the next in line and stepped up. With a perfect 3-0 record against SANADA, Okada didn’t take his challenge as a threat nor should he have and once again came out on top. The pickings for next challenger were looking slim but England’s Zack Sabre Jr. made a splash by defeating Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA and Tanahashi in the New Japan Cup and earning the right to be the next challenger. He gave Okada a run for his money but wound up not having the strength needed in order to score the victory.

Now, there was another record Okada was inching towards breaking and this time it was held by an active wrestler, his rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi. This rivalry realistically ended in 2016 when Okada defeated Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom and this match was further proof of that being the case. Tanahashi wasn’t enough for Okada and now his defense record has been taken over. There wasn’t much else for Okada to prove as the champion but one thing still bothered him.

The sixty minute draw that Okada and Omega went to at Dominion didn’t sit right with the champion. Okada felt that the draw was a blemish on his record and challenged Omega himself, this time requesting there be no time limit. Omega accepted the terms and added a two out of three falls stipulation. This was the downfall of Okada. If he had only said no to Omega’s request, he’d still be the champion. Okada scored the first fall and would have retained the title under normal circumstances. That wasn’t the case thanks to his overconfidence. After such a long reign, Okada began believing that he was unstoppable and that just wasn’t the case.

If the match had been to one fall, who knows how much longer Okada would have been champion but that’s one for the dreamers to ponder. The reality is, Okada broke new ground in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He held the title for a record 720 days and successfully defended it a record twelve times. Another reign like this happening in our lifetime is implausible as best. Okada overcame so many obstacles as champion and has earned the respect of the entire wrestling world in the process. His consistent match quality against challengers ranging from Bad Luck Fale to Zack Sabre Jr. will likely go unparalleled.

When you think of Okada’s reign the first thought in your mind may be ‘greatness’ but it was more than greatness, the man had something to prove. He wanted to step out of Tanahashi’s shadow and take wrestling to a level it had never reached. Anyone doubting his abilities to come back from this loss stronger than before has obviously not been following his career. Okada’s drive to be the best inspiring. Thank you, Okada.

Kazuchika Okada’s 720 Day Reign
– 6.19.16 Defeats Tetsuya Naito to become champion
– 10.10.16 Defends against Naomichi Marufuji
– 1.4.17 Defends against Kenny Omega*
– 2.5.17 Defends against Minoru Suzuki
– 4.9.17 Defends against Katsuyori Shibata*
– 5.3.17 Defends against Bad Luck Fale*
– 6.11.17 Defends against Kenny Omega (Draw)
– 7.1.17 Defends against Cody*
– 10.9.17 Defends against EVIL*
– 1.4.18 Defends against Tetsuya Naito
– 2.10.18 Defends against SANADA*
– 4.1.18 Defends against Zack Sabre Jr.*
– 5.4.18. Defends against Hiroshi Tanahashi
– 6.9.18 Defeated by Kenny Omega

* – First time IWGP Heavyweight Championship challenger

Robert McCauley hasn't missed an NJPW show since the launch of NJPW World. Always be on the look out for his reviews where he shares results and gives his honest opinions on the goings-on of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

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