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No Gods or Kings. Only Kazuchika Okada.

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On March 6, 2024, Kazuchika Okada made his official debut as a member of the All Elite Wrestling roster by joining The Elite and taking out Eddie Kingston.

Too many people forget the post excursion debut of Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom VI in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Okada just finished spending two uneventful years in TNA Wrestling. He wasn’t used very well and he struggled to move up the ranks. It wasn’t a complete waste, as he made friends with wrestlers like Alex Shelley, Brian Kendrick, and the Young Bucks. Okada has also said that his time in TNA allowed him to develop the Rainmaker character and understand pro wrestling beyond the ring.

Photo courtesy NJPW

When Okada faced Yoshi-Hashi at Wrestle Kingdom VI, the match did nothing for people to feel like Okada was ready to be a star in the company. New Japan had just got out of a hole themselves off the impressive back of Hiroshi Tanahashi, who was defending the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event. Okada came out after the main event to challenge Tanahashi for the Championship. He was unconvincing trying to play the role, and looked completely out of element next to the polished and in prime Ace Tanahashi.

Okada would beat Tanahashi at New Beginning, in a match criticized by many including Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. This was forcing a, “green, out of his league” Okada on the audiences against the man everyone knew was the true star of the promotion. “It’s not the time to replace him,” added Meltzer.

What Dave didn’t realize was this was all intentional. Okada didn’t look like he was ready because he technically wasn’t, but he was also hiding his true potential. In the months that followed, Okada proved himself as not only a capable wrestler, but a top star. New Japan Pro Wrestling now had two aces up their sleeve. By the time Tanahashi beat Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in June, Okada had established himself as a young superstar in the company.

Since 2012, Okada has been one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling. 12 years of being one of the best wrestlers and best characters in the world. I’ve talked about it in other places but Okada crying after losing to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9 is the moment that kept me a professional wrestling fan. I had never really seen a pro wrestler react like that to a loss without it being treated like a joke or emasculating. By 2014 I had felt like there was nothing left for me in pro wrestling, and Okada losing to Tanahashi and reacting by crying (plus Lucha Underground) kept me around.

So you can either thank Okada or hate the ground he walks on for that.

No Gods

Kazuchika Okada’s departure from New Japan Pro Wrestling was a major shock in the pro wrestling world. He felt like someone who was never going to leave the company. Even though he left at the same age Shinsuke Nakamura did years prior, Nakamura leaving felt like a guy in his mid 30s seeing Okada and Naito and Tanahashi and Ibushi and feeling like he had no place in the company anymore. Okada was moving into the role Tanahashi had for the past decade as the veteran stalwart of the promotion, the reliable top star you could always go back to and build your new stars by facing. Tanahashi is still wrestling but is also the President of the company now. It’s now Tetsuya Naito’s job to do that before his knees can’t handle the weight.

People wondered if he was going to WWE or AEW, and some hack pretend magazine Monthly Puroresu claimed Okada was going to NXT of all places back in January. Nobody really knew where Okada was going. It didn’t start becoming clear until a few weeks ago with talk he was heading to All Elite Wrestling.

Remember how I said Okada made friends in TNA Wrestling? He repaid one of those friends in Alex Shelley at the beginning of 2024 by returning to AEW at the TNA Impact after Hard To Kill, tag teaming with Shelley and Sabin to face The System in a trios match. He kissed the mat, closing that chapter of his career.

Two other friends were Matthew and Nicholas Jackson, who were just unsuccessful in regaining the AEW Men’s World Tag Team Championship against Darby Allin and the retiring Sting at AEW Revolution 2024. With Eddie Kingston getting beat up by the Young Bucks on March 6, 2024, Kazuchika Okada’s music hit and it looked like he was going to make the save and square up against the Bucks. Instead? He joined them.

Prior to Okada coming out, Matthew Jackson suspended Hangman Page for attacking two officials “From the Elite.” Matthew then announced that Kenny Omega was fired from The Elite for missing television. This basically cleared out The Elite for someone new to step in, and that man was Kazuchika Okada.

Okada joining The Young Bucks makes all the sense in the world. Once Hangman and Kenny return, they got Okada right in their crosshairs. It starts Okada with a clean break from New Japan Pro Wrestling. He’s no longer a CHAOS guy hanging out with the Best Friends. Being a heel adds a top heel to the AEW roster, something they sorely need. Okada and the Bucks being friends is well known, especially with Okada constantly wearing Nicholas Jackson’s gear.

No Kings

On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, Okada will face Eddie Kingston for the AEW Contiental Crown Championship. I’ve heard some complain why he isn’t going for the Triple Crown, but it’s pretty obvious to me. It’s the only belt that would interest him. He left New Japan so the New Japan Strong Championship has zero appeal. The Ring of Honor World Championship could interest him, but clearly it doesn’t. He could have won it any time he wanted to for the past decade.

The AEW Continental Crown? That’s perfect for Okada. It’s a new championship, there’s no interference when it is Continental Crown rules (that might mean the Bucks can’t help him, but why would he need them? He’s Okada) and at the end of the year the Continental Crown Champion defends the belt in the Continental Classic. Okada is a four time G-1 Climax winner. Only Antonio Inoki and Masahiro Chono won more. Nothing can legitimize the Continental Classic quite like Okada winning it to stay Continental Crown Champion.

It also keeps Okada out of the AEW Men’s World Championship picture for a year, which allows guys like Swerve Strickland, Hangman Page, Will Ospreay, and Samoa Joe to continue fighting for the title without having to be run over by Okada. Okada could have that belt any time he wants it. Snap of the fingers. But if he’s content with the Continental Crown Championship for a while, it allows AEW to tell the stories they want to tell.

Okada as the Continental Crown Champion will probably start feeling like AEW has two World Champions as the matches people have with him will feel just as special and just as important as who fights for the World Championship. This will probably feel like Schadenfreude for Okada, who had to deal with Nakamura and Tanahashi at different times making the IWGP Intercontinental Championship the same or similar level of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship when he held it. Now he can elevate a title in AEW the same way.

Only Kazuchika Okada.

It’s important to understand that this is not the Kazuchika Okada of New Japan Pro Wrestling, just like the Kazuchika Okada of New Japan Pro Wrestling wasn’t the Okato of TNA Wrestling. This is the Kazuchika Okada of All Elite Wrestling.

Okada is now 36-years-old and isn’t the hot upstart rookie turned greatest wrestler anymore. He’s now a veteran but still one of the best wrestlers alive. He is likely looking forward to not having to work as hard as he had to for the last few years. That doesn’t mean he won’t give us great pro wrestling performances. Just don’t expect them at the G1-Climax production rate.

It’s also an opportunity for Okada to be more of a character. TNA was his chance to understand character before New Japan Pro Wrestling. AEW is now going to be his chance to be a great character in between the great wrestling performances. His work on Collision in a trios match where he just destroyed three enhancement talents was impeccable. Making Alex Marvez sing Happy Birthday to Matthew Jackson is exactly the kind of stuff that excites me about this run for Okada.

I’ve seen Okada be the greatest wrestler alive many times in my life and I’m sure I will see more of it during his AEW run. I’m absolutely thrilled we will get to see Okada be a character in America, and basically act superior to everyone around him. His facial expressions have already been incredible, with looks of, “Are you serious?” and, “This is beneath me” during matches. When he told Marvez to, “Sing it” and gave a theatrical head nod? That’s the sweet stuff.

I’m not expecting Okada to be some major business shifter for AEW. Maybe in Japan at some point? But I don’t think he’s moving the proverbial needle for ratings or selling tickets. At least not in the way that certain pundits are constantly expecting people to do and then rant when they don’t. What Okada brings is more of what AEW fans want. Great wrestlers doing great work. And I could see Okada doing some of the best work of his career as a character while still staying one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Okada also raises the bar in AEW where guys can’t just get by on a catchphrase or a foam finger or just being around for a long time. If you want to be at the top of the company? You have to be able to hang on Okada’s level. Not just in ring performances but outside the ring as well. Okada helps establish The New Standard in All Elite Wrestling. I have no doubt in my mind after his Continental Crown run that if Tony Khan decides he wants Okada to be his main star? He will make him the main star. In a way? It feels inevitable.

Photos by All Elite Wrestling

AWAW Aaron Wrotkowski 2024