Kazuchika Okada is a Japanese professional wrestler, signed to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he is considered to be the "Ace" of the company. He was born on November 8th, 1987.
He first started training to be a professional wrestler under the legendary Último Dragón at Toryumon professional wrestling school.He would also train under Toryumon's school in Mexico and made appearances in the United States for promotions such as Chikara.
NJPW Dojo and debut
Okada joined the NJPW dojo in 2007. He debuted for the company on August 26th, 2007, losing his debut match to future rival Tetsuya Naito. He was injured fairly quickly and had to undergo surgery, keeping him out of action for eight months.
It was fairly evident from the start that the company was behind Okada as a future top star, as he was put up against huge opponents such as Shinsuke Nakamura and Hirooki Goto, among others. He was sent to TNA to help him develop further.
Despite being sent there to develop in 2010, his time with TNA didn't do any favours in the eyes of NJPW officials. He first wrestled under just his last name, Okada, losing in a series of dark matches before making his debut on Xplosion! and subsequently, Impact! He was mostly used as an enhancement talent and soon aligned with Samoa Joe as his sidekick.
From there, he started dressing like Kato from Green Hornet and was renamed to Okato. Unsurprisingly, this didn't do anything for his career. His alliance with Joe soon ended and after reverting back to "Okada", it wasn't long after in 2011 that his time in TNA had ended.
TNA and NJPW had a working relationship at the time, but Okada's treatment at TNA was one of the main reasons that NJPW cut their ties with the company. Impact Wrestling has since tried to restore their relationship.
Return to NJPW
In late 2010, Okada was announced for an NJPW return. At Wrestle Kingdom 5, he teamed up with Hirooki Goto in a losing effort to NOAH superstars Takashi Sugiura and Yoshihiro Takayama. He made only occasional appearances that year, travelling back and forth between the United States and Japan.
However, the following year at Wrestle Kingdom 6, he was announced for a match against Yoshi-Hashi, which he won. Following the main event where IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Minoru Suzuki, the inexperienced Okada came out and challenged Tanahashi, to a chorus of boos.
Despite this, a match was made official between Okada and Tanahashi for the heavyweight title the following month at The New Beginning. A day after Wrestle Kingdom 6, Okada announced that he had joined CHAOS(led by Shinsuke Nakamura) and got Gedo as his manager.
Shockingly, the inexperienced Okada would win the IWGP Heavyweight title from Tanahashi in a huge upset. He held on to it for 125 days before dropping it back to then-Ace Tanahashi. In his first G1 Climax tournament, Okada defeated Karl Anderson in the finals to win the tournament and subsequently become the youngest G1 Climax winner in history.
In 2013 at Wrestle Kingdom 7, Okada won the right to face then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event, as he successfully held on to the G1 Climax contract. However, the veteran Tanahashi prevailed and stood tall at "his" event, Wrestle Kingdom.
However, just three months later at Invasion Attack, Okada regained the IWGP Heavyweight title for the second time, beating Hiroshi Tanahashi for the title. In October that year, he once again faced Tanahashi, with the latter claiming that it would be his final challenge for the title if he lost. Okada had overcome his rival and was declared as the new "Ace" of NJPW. But this wasn't the real passing of the torch moment.
The slow road to becoming "Ace"
Standing tall at the end of 2013 as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, it was Tetsuya Naito who won the G1 Climax to earn the right to face Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 8. However, when the two confronted each other, the crowd reaction was next to nothing. This led to NJPW holding a fan vote to decide which match should main event Wrestle Kingdom 8: Okada vs Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship or Shinsuke Nakamura vs Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
The latter match was chosen by the fans, and in a first, it was the Intercontinental title match that would main event the show. Despite the setback, Okada retained at Wrestle Kingdom 8 and would hold the title until April, when he lost it to the debuting AJ Styles, the new leader of the Bullet Club./
Despite failing to regain the title, he would win the G1 Climax the same year, even defeating CHAOS stablemate Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals. His old foe Hiroshi Tanahashi had later challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and successfully defeated AJ Styles to regain the title. This set up another date with destiny for Kazuchika Okada: a chance to redeem his Wrestle Kingdom 7 loss and regain the IWGP Heavyweight title from Hiroshi Tanahashi.
"Downward spiral" and passing of the torch
Despite putting in everything he could, Okada was once again unsuccessful against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9. A distraught Okada would exit the ring and walk away in tears.
This defeat sent him into a downward spiral, where he lost several matches for the next three months. He finally regained a victory over Bad Luck Fale, who had defeated him, after which he set his sights on the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
A month after Wrestle Kingdom 9, AJ Styles had defeated Tanahashi to regain the IWGP Heavyweight title for the second time. In Dominion 7.5, Okada redeemed his loss to AJ Styles to become a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Though Okada was unsuccessful in the G1 Climax, he faced Japanese legend Genichiro Tenryu in his retirement match and defeated him. Hiroshi Tanahashi had won the G1 Climax the same year, and with a Wrestle Kingdom 10 date set up between the two rivals for January 4th, 2016, the coin was flipped. It was Okada defending this time around.
In a 36-minute classic, with arguably the greatest finishing sequence and storytelling in pro-wrestling history, Kazuchika Okada clutched on to the wrists of Tanahashi and landed a vicious rainmaker, finally overcoming his long-time rival and retaining the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, with the torch officially being passed and Okada unanimously being declared as the new Ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling
Leading NJPW into a new era and making history
Okada would lose the title a few months later to Tetsuya Naito, but would quickly regain it after just two months at Dominion. With him regaining the title, this would begin what has been called the greatest world title run in the past decade.
At Wrestle Kingdom 11, Okada had a new challenger in the form of the Canadian Kenny Omega, who not only became the first gaijin(foreigner) to win the G1 Climax, but he would become the first Gaijin to main event Wrestle Kingdom. In a critically acclaimed "Match Of The Year", Okada and Omega put on a classic that was rated SIX STARS by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Many fans and critics consider this match to be among the greatest of all time. Okada prevailed and retained his title.
Throughout 2017, Okada would take on all comers, such as Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata, Bad Luck Fale, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega(who he had a 60-minute time limit draw in their rematch six months later) and EVIL.
He was unsuccessful at the G1 Climax tournament when he was knocked out by Kenny Omega, who got one back on Okada. Omega would lose the finals to Tetsuya Naito, who would then become Okada's challenger for Wrestle Kingdom 12. It had all come full circle. Four years prior, the two were given no reaction. This time around, Naito and Okada were fan favourites.
Okada headed into Wrestle Kingdom 12 reigning as IWGP Heavyweight Champion for one and a half years. With this achievement, he broke significant records. He surpassed NJPW legend Shinya Hashimoto's record for longest individual reign at 489 days. A day before Wrestle Kingdom 12, he surpassed Hiroshi Tanahashi to become the longest combined reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, at 1358 days.
Many believed that with the record being broken, Okada would surely drop the title at Wrestle Kingdom 12. However, he retained over the clear fan favourite, Naito. As of March 25th 2018, his IWGP title reign stands at a staggering 644 days. With Okada poised to stand supreme for a long time to come, the question remains: Who will dethrone the Ace of NJPW?