NJPW News: Kazuchika Okada voted Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Wrestler of the Year for 2017
What’s the story?
Kazuchika ‘Rainmaker’ Okada, the ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling and one of the greatest wrestlers alive today, can now add another accomplishment to his ever-growing list of accolades.
This is because Okada was voted the Wrestler of the Year for 2017 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in their annual year-end awards.
In case you didn’t know…
This award, also known as the Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award (due to both men having more wins than anyone else, thus being co-owners of its namesake) recognizes the wrestler that demonstrates excellence in all aspects of being a wrestler.
Things like working ability, character, charisma, drawing power, and overall match quality, are all taken into consideration in determining which wrestler deserves this prestigious award.
Although many people have criticized the WON for perceptions of bias in favour of Japanese wrestling, the Observer is indeed taken seriously by many people, both within the wrestling business and outside of it.
It takes the approach of ‘outsider looking in’ and thus analysis of wrestling matches and events are done with a more critical lens and thus aren’t as easily influenced by people within the wrestling business itself.
Aside from Thesz and Flair, many other legendary wrestlers have won this award. Previous winners include Harley Race, Big Van Vader, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Triple H, Keiji Mutoh, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles. It was Styles that won the award before Okada for his work in ROH, NJPW, and WWE.
The heart of the matter
The Wrestling Observer announced the top ten wrestlers voted for Wrestler of the Year, and Okada was at the top of that list. Two of his closest rivals, Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito, had the second-most and third-most votes, respectively.
AJ Styles was the only fulltime WWE wrestler voted for, reaching at number 4 on this list. The only other two WWE superstars to receive enough votes to break into the top 10 were Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho.
This also marks the first time that Kazuchika Okada has actually won this award, despite being NJPW’s ace for several years now. He came in close in previous years but lost to Styles in both 2015 and 2016 and to former CHAOS stablemate Shinsuke Nakamura in 2014.
Other wrestlers rounding up the top 10 list include AJPW's Kento Miyahara, CMLL's Rush, and Okada's co-workers Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tomohiro Ishii.
NJPW has many high-profile shows coming up over the next few months. The New Japan Cup is currently taking place, Strong Style Evolved takes place on 25 March, and Sakura Genesis takes place on 1 April.
With NJPW looking to further expand their product into international markets, one can expect to see more of the Rainmaker and his outstanding wrestling over the months and years to come.
Okada might very well be the best wrestler alive right now. He’s only 30 years old, has already had a spectacular 2017, and is comfortable in his spot as NJPW’s equivalent to John Cena in terms of star power and drawing power.
With Okada in that role, NJPW’s owners and bookers can rest assured that the money will continue to flow in without any major worries.
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