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Kazuchika Okada on the Cusp of Regaining Top Spot in New Japan Pro-Wrestling

Two years is a long time for a star of the Rainmaker’s caliber to go without holding the title, but he aims to capture the belt from Shingo Takagi at “Wrestle Kingdom 16”.

Jan. 5 marks two years since Kazuchika Okada has worn the top title in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

But by then, Okada plans to already have the title back around his waist.

Two years is a sizable chunk of time for a star of Okada’s magnitude to go without a world title reign. After winning this year’s G1 Climax tournament, he is challenging reigning champ Shingo Takagi in the main event of the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 16, which takes place at the Tokyo Dome on Tuesday and airs live on FITE TV.

Takagi defeated Okada last June to win the vacant IWGP world heavyweight championship. If Okada wins at Wrestle Kingdom, it will mark his first run with the belt. In the interim, he has been carrying a now-defunct version of the IWGP heavyweight title since October. This gives credence to the possibility that Okada will restore the belt back to its IWGP heavyweight champion lineage if he is victorious at Wrestle Kingdom.

“No one wants to have the last scene of the movie spoiled for them,” Okada says through a translator. “When I win, then everyone will know. So we have to wait until then.”

At only 34 years old, Okada has accomplished a plethora of wrestling’s greatest achievements in New Japan. He is a five-time IWGP heavyweight champion, and this G1 victory marked his third time winning the famed tournament. It was his first G1 win since 2014 when he defeated Shinsuke Nakamura in the final, and he believes this was also his most meaningful.

“In a lot of ways, I think I understood what the G1 itself really means this year,” Okada says. “Up to now, I have always been focused on the IWGP title first and foremost. But with my win this year, I have been able to think about the value of that tournament and what it means to win it. I think the timing was definitely right for me to win this year.”

A year ago, industry icon Shawn Michaels spoke very highly of Okada, stating, “I’m thankful that Okada, this unbelievably talented young man, gained one or two things from my [WrestleMania 19 vs. Chris Jericho] match.”

Michaels’s style and approach has greatly influenced Okada, who would have been honored to travel back in time to wrestle “The Heartbreak Kid.”

“It would definitely be a cool match,” Okada says. “Some fans might have picked up on this, but I take quite a bit of inspiration from Shawn Michaels, so it would absolutely be a dream match for me.”

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Asked if he could have avoided Michaels’s Sweet Chin Music, Okada has some fun answering.

“It would be a great match,” Okada says. “But it would end in a Rainmaker, not with Sweet Chin Music.”

While a match pitting Okada against Michaels is unlikely to ever occur, there are a couple of spectacular dream matches that could happen. With the “forbidden door” now open between AEW and New Japan, it is conceivable that Okada could face off against CM Punk and Bryan Danielson.

“Danielson and Punk would make for some incredible matches,” Okada says. “A lot of those dream match scenarios are about getting excited for the possibilities, and once the match is done, it’s done. So it is important to keep that excitement and anticipation, I think. Still, if we wait too long, they’ll both retire eventually, so I want to face them both while they’re still active.”

The Okada-AEW connection is building momentum. His faction, CHAOS, just added Orange Cassidy and reunited with The Best Friends.

“The Best Friends were part of CHAOS when they were in New Japan, and with the door to AEW being opened a bit, it added more possibilities,” Okada says. “[Tomohiro] Ishii was able to come into AEW from CHAOS, and if Orange Cassidy and the Best Friends were able to show up in New Japan, there is no doubt that would be a lot of fun. The sooner the whole pandemic settles down, the better as far as that’s concerned.”

But the current priority for Okada is regaining his spot atop New Japan. If he wins the IWGP title on Tuesday, he will defend it on the second night of Wrestle Kingdom on Wednesday against Will Ospreay. Then, on Jan. 8, which is the first-ever third night of Wrestle Kingdom, New Japan’s stars will face off against the best of Pro Wrestling NOAH. Okada will team up with the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi against wrestling great Keiji Muto and rising star Kaito Kiyomiya.

“It has been a long time since we have had this kind of inter-promotional battle,” Okada says. “If that gets the fans talking and makes them happy, then it is all good, and I absolutely want it to be a success. But even more than in my usual matches, there’s no way I am losing out to anyone from NOAH.”

Even with the opportunity to face off against NOAH’s best, Okada’s sole focus remains on New Japan. When asked if he would ever want a run with NOAH’s GHC heavyweight championship, Okada did not think long about his answer.

“Not at all,” said Okada. “The IWGP is everything to me.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.