NJPW News: Okada set to match historic record at Wrestle Kingdom XII
What's the story?
Kazuchika Okada, the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, is set to reach another major career milestone on January 4th, 2018.
When Okada steps into the ring on that night, he will have almost matched Hiroshi Tanahashi for the longest number of combined days as IWGP Heavyweight Champion to the day.
In case you didn't know...
Kazuchika Okada has been the new ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) for the better part of the last five years. Ever since his re-christening as “The Rainmaker”, Okada has been an unstoppable force in NJPW and has also been the centrepiece of their heavyweight division.
He has also had a plethora of spectacular matches, with many people suggesting that Okada has become the greatest wrestler active today.
Okada is currently in his fourth run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, which is also the longest single reign in that title’s history. Okada recently surpassed the previous record of 489 days that was set by Shinya Hashimoto in 1996-1997.
The heart of the matter
As of this writing, there are 50 days until Wrestle Kingdom XII, which takes place on January 4th, 2018. If Okada doesn’t lose the world title between now and then, Okada would then tie the current record for longest combined number of days as IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
That record is currently held by current IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, who held the world title for a total of 1,358 days across 7 separate reigns.
Okada, meanwhile, has held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for 1,307 days spread across four reigns since 2012. If he defends the title successfully at Wrestle Kingdom XII, and then holds onto it for one more day afterwards, Okada would then become the longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time, holding it longer than anyone else in the belt’s history.
But if Okada loses, his number of combined reigns will be at 1,357, one short of Tanahashi’s record.
Okada doesn’t have any other PPV appearances or world title defences scheduled between now and January 4th. On that night, Okada, will defend his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against 2017 G1 Climax Winner Tetsuya Naito.
Interestingly, this will essentially be a rematch from Wrestle Kingdom VIII, which was won by Okada, and was before Naito went ‘tranquilo’ and became the leader of Los Ignobernables de Japon.
It’s exceptionally rare for any wrestler to hold a title for such a lengthy period in this day and age. And it’s even more astounding when a wrestler holds a world title for over 1,300 days while still being 30 years old.
Okada is without a doubt one of the best wrestlers active today, and is always a joy to watch in the ring. This entire situation surrounding the length of a title reign and the importance of title defences is a major reason why NJPW makes for a great alternative to WWE: wins and losses matter, title defences are rare, and how long you can keep a title around your waist is a testament to your abilities as a performer.
The fact that Okada has the potential to bypass the record set by Hiroshi Tanahashi – who was a major force in NJPW rebuilding itself and becoming the top promotion in Japan and the #2 wrestling company in the world – speaks volumes of how good Okada has become. Tanahashi was long considered the best wrestler in NJPW (possibly on earth), and was something of a measuring stick for other wrestlers.
If Okada beats Naito at WK12, he will become the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion ever, and will have the raw statistics to prove it. That is, of course, IF he can beat Naito in the main event, which isn’t going to be easy, given how well Naito has been performing of late.
One thing’s for sure, you do not want to miss Wrestle Kingdom XII for any reason.