Back-to-back nights in Niigata are all wrapped up with the finals of the largest New Japan Cup in history plotting the course for IWGP Heavyweight Champion Jay White and challenger Kazuchika Okada on April 6 in New York City.
The Rebirth of the Rainmaker is poised to come full circle in just under two weeks as Kazuchika Okada will collide with former CHAOS partner and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Jay White at G1 Supercard. While the New Japan Cup ran throughout the month of March, Okada’s path back to the IWGP Heavyweight Title began on June 9, 2018.
2018 was a wild ride for Okada in NJPW. For much of the year, The Rainmaker traded in his shorts for long boys, his Okada-bucks for balloons, and his signature bleach blond hair for varying shades of red. Weird Okada was in full effect and he was as delightful as he was confusing.
Okada’s entire downturn was kickstarted with the loss of the IWGP Heavyweight Title. After dropping the championship to Kenny Omega at Dominion in Osaka, Okada struggled to cope with life without a title he held for over 700 days. After all, what was life without the one constant you’ve always been able to count on?
The transformation of Okada was more than just a change in wardrobe and entrance. There was something undeniably off about him in the months following his loss to Omega. A spark was missing from the eyes of the Rainmaker and he seemed to struggle to compete at the same level he competed at with the title in his grasp.
The annual G1 Climax tournament offered an opportunity for Okada to snap out of it and get his head straight. While he did come in second place in his block with 13 points to Tanahashi’s 15, he did suffer unexpected losses to both Bad Luck Fale and Jay White who, at the time, was still a card-carrying member of CHAOS. The signs for what was to come were right there in front of us the whole time.
After the G1 wrapped up with Tanahashi claiming the guaranteed title shot, the Ace felt compelled to face Okada with the contract on the line as the two had battled to a draw during their G1 block match. As we all know, Tanahashi came away with the victory but this wasn’t the end of Okada’s night. After the match, Jay White would finally make his intentions known by turning on Okada with Gedo by his side.
With no championship shot in sight, Okada’s goals became clear: vanquish Jay White and restore order to CHAOS. At Wrestle Kingdom, Okada returned to old form – his hair was blond once again, his theme music was back to normal, and to the delight of basically everybody on the planet, he was back to wearing shorts. I’ve never heard a crowd cheer for a wrestler’s wardrobe reveal the way the crowd in the Tokyo Dome did for Okada showing off his legs.
Unfortunately, Okada once again failed to prove that he was completely rejuvenated and fell to White in their Dome encounter. The Switchblade was able to solidify himself as the new top foreigner in the company while also proving that he didn’t need Okada or CHAOS to succeed. A week later, White would shock the world by defeating Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title.
While the challenger may be on a roll with impressive victories in classic bouts against SANADA, Tomohiro Ishii, and Will Ospreay a victory against White in MSG is not a lock. In their past two encounters, in the G1 Climax and at Wrestle Kingdom, White has come out on top against Okada.
Okada may have the momentum of the New Japan Cup on his side, but White has the momentum of nearly a year behind him. Not only that, but he marches into Madison Square Garden with the Bullet Club and Gedo there as backup.
The main event at G1 Supercard is one that neither man can afford to lose. White must prove that he is more than a flash-in-the-pan champion who can make it through his first title defense. For White to lose would signify that the Switchblade Hype is just that – hype without the longevity. As a young star in the company, though, White could bounce back over the next year or so.
For Okada to lose would be a much harsher condemnation of his spot at the top of the New Japan roster. The Rainmaker needs to not only prove that he is back to his winning ways in general, but he needs to be able to prove to the world, and himself, that Jay White doesn’t perpetually have his number.
If Okada can’t beat White, then everything White has claimed over the past several months will be confirmed: that this truly is his era in which artifacts of the past like Tanahashi and Okada don’t belong.