NJPW News: Kazuchika Okada eclipses old record as IWGP Heavyweight Champion
Okada has done the seemingly impossible.
What’s the story?
For those of you that haven’t heard about it or seen the show, Kazuchika Okada successfully defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12.
By defeating his opponent Tetsuya Naito, Okada has now officially broken the record for longest number of combined days as IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
In case you didn’t know…
Kazuchika Okada was once a forgettable mid-carder in NJPW, but became ‘The Rainmaker’ after NJPW ended their working relationship with TNA in 2011. Upon his rechristening, Okada experienced an incredible renaissance as a wrestler, having one spectacular match after another against a wide variety of opponents.
This surge in both skill and popularity led to Okada becoming the centrepiece of NJPW’s heavyweight title scene, which has been his home for almost six full years now.
The heart of the matter
Okada’s current run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion began on June 19th, 2016, at NJPW’s Dominion 6.19 show in Osaka-jo Hall. He has since held the belt without interruption, and as of this writing, has held it for 564 days, which is the longest-ever single reign as champion.
This is also Okada’s fourth reign overall, as he has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship three times before since February 2012. His first reign lasted 125 days, his second lasted 391 days, and his third one was 280 days in length.
By defeating Naito at WK12, Okada’s total combined number of days as IWGP Heavyweight Champion has reached 1,360 days. Hiroshi Tanahashi, the man Okada defeated to become the new ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, held the record until Okada’s victory at WK12.
NJPW’s next major shows are New Year’s Dash and three events under the ‘New Beginning’ banner. Though a major title change is unlikely to take place so quickly after Wrestle Kingdom, there is always the possibility that one could happen at one of the New Beginning shows.
After all, Okada’s first IWGP Heavyweight Championship victory happened at The New Beginning in 2012, one month after then-champion Tanahashi defended the title successfully against Minoru Suzuki in an awesome main event match,
Okada is becoming the John Cena of NJPW: he is the man that’s most associated with the main event scene. But unlike Cena, who was – and still is, to some degree – a polarizing figure, Okada is one of the most universally-praised and respected wrestlers in the world right now.
Okada’s ability to have stunning matches and weave spectacular stories into his matches make him deserving of being world champion for such a long time.
That said, it’s likely that Okada reached his peak in performance last year with a series of outstanding matches. His matches against Kenny Omega, Katsuyori Shibata, Minoru Suzuki, Tiger Mask W (Kota Ibushi), Cody, and SANADA were all fantastic matches that made him a truly incredible champion.
Going forward, it would be interesting to see someone else holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, especially since a lot of stories with Okada as champion have already been told. Perhaps ‘The New Beginning’ will indeed be the start of something new and even more exciting for New Japan Pro-Wrestling.