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Kazuchika Okada is All Elite. It was reported earlier this month that The Rainmaker had agreed to a deal with All Elite Wrestling following the conclusion of his commitments in the Far East for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Okada’s NJPW exit shocked many as he was largely expected to be a New Japan lifer, only working in western promotions for one-off matches. At 36 years old, Okada remains in the prime of his career, but having accomplished everything there is to do in NJPW, taking his talents to the United States and performing at a mainstream level gives the former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion a completely new slate of challenges.
Who is Kazuchika Okada?
Kazuchika Okada is one of the most decorated and critically-acclaimed professional wrestlers going today.
Debuting for New Japan in 2007, Okada wrestled a handful of lower card matches before being sent to TNA, New Japan’s partner at the time, to hone his craft. That TNA run would go down in infamy, as Okada took on a gimmick akin to The Green Hornet superhero franchise. NJPW was said to be so frustrated with how TNA handled Okada, a talent they believed could become a generational star, that it was a contributing factor towards its decision to severe the relationship between the two shortly after.
Upon his return to NJPW in the 2010s, Okada joined top heel faction Chaos and adopted “The Rainmaker” persona, a character he still portrays to this day. Okada describes “The Rainmaker” as a hybrid of the three wrestling styles he learned: in-ring action from Mexico, “fighting spirit” from Japan, and sports-entertainment from the United States.
From there, everything started going right for Okada. He won the G1 Climax in August 2012 at just 24 years old, becoming the youngest victor in the round robin tournament’s history. That G1 Climax win would be just the first of four wins in his New Japan career, a quantifiable accolade that sits just second to his seven total IWGP Heavyweight Championship victories.
Beyond the gold, Okada has headlined NJPW Wrestle Kingdom, professional wrestling’s largest non-WrestleMania annual event, on eight separate occasions.
How Will Okada Help AEW?
Kazuchika Okada’s signing fits nicely with AEW’s recent acquisitions.
In the past couple of months, AEW has added the likes of Will Ospreay, Deonna Purrazzo, and “The Bounty Hunter” Bryan Keith to its ranks. All of those aforementioned names’ biggest accomplishments came in New Japan, TNA, and the independent circuit, respectively. Unlike most of AEW’s high-profile additions, none of these recent signings can be written off as “ex-WWE guys.”
While there is no harm in bringing in talent formerly employed by the largest professional wrestling company in the world, there is something to be said about building AEW around talent unfamiliar to a mainstream televised audience. Bringing in Okada, arguably the biggest wrestler that has yet to compete on weekly television, to AEW Dynamite and AEW Collision allows AEW to use his unique star power while also being able to claim distribution ownership to his talents. The same cannot be said for former WWE wrestlers who, while they may genuinely be thriving in AEW, are not necessarily new to weekly wrestling television.
Beyond that, Okada’s presentation is a perfect hybrid of what AEW excels at as well as what AEW needs to develop: in-ring action and character work. Okada is second to none when it comes to his matches, as The Rainmaker holds a monopoly on most critics’ star ratings. That said, his matches are only so successful because of his storytelling ability. His Tokyo Dome clashes with Hiroshi Tanahashi tell the tale of generations colliding. His series of bouts opposite Kenny Omega crafted a multi-year arc about what it takes to sit atop New Japan’s mountain. His recent clashes with Bryan Danielson blend technical with strong style to create narratives about triumph through turmoil.
When Okada does arrive in AEW, he will have a library’s worth of stories waiting to be told. Renewed rivalries with Omega and Danielson? Check. Fresh fights with Hangman Page and Swerve Strickland? Ready and waiting. Comedic clashes with Orange Cassidy and Daniel Garcia? Open for business.
AEW’s Next Golden Era
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to deciphering AEW’s most successful period.
August 2021 up until roughly June 2022 saw AEW reach unprecedented levels of winning. The young company brought CM Punk out of retirement, landed Bryan Danielson just four months after he headlined WWE WrestleMania 37, and regularly performed in the seven figures for AEW Dynamite. AEW shows were even outselling WWE tickets in various markets. Things simmered after the infamous AEW All Out 2022 press conference, and while there have been occasional surges here and there, AEW has yet to return to the steady success it enjoyed during that ten-month time period.
That changes in 2024.
AEW President Tony Khan has already declared that “2024 AEW is the next 2021 AEW,” teasing that he has the pieces in play to bring AEW’s success levels back to where it was three years ago. Considering a big reason for AEW’s 2021 stride was the signings of Punk and Danielson, Khan likely sees confirmed acquisitions Will Ospreay and Deonna Purrazzo, as well as heavily-indicated additions like Okada and Mercedes Mon?, as being extra boosters to newfound prosperity.
AEW fans have heard that coin flip before, but this next one will send shockwaves through the industry.13 February 2024 at 5:15 PM #31277
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