Kazuchika Okada and Shinsuke Nakamura. Two of the best wrestlers in modern NJPW history. One has been described as the perfect modern wrestler while the other is a wacky wrestling/MMA/Michael Jackson hybrid that somehow made that combination work.
These two spent years tagging together but only faced each other one-on-one six times. And today we look back at what is widely considered their best match together.
Today we revisit the Okada/Nakamura singles match from the 2014 G1 Climax tournament.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
There was a singular theme surrounding this match: redemption. Eight months earlier at Wrestle Kingdom 8, Nakamura lost his IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi. A few months later, he won the 2014 New Japan Cup Tournament (a KOTR-style single-elimination tournament) to earn the right to challenge for any title he wanted. But instead of going after the heavyweight title, he wanted his IC title back. And so, at Invasion Attack in April, Nakamura beat Tanahashi to win that title back. Sadly, that reign was short-lived as he lost it to Bad Luck Fale a few months afterwards. Determined to bounce back and remind everyone why he was the leader of his CHAOS faction, Nakamura hoped to win the G1 and get another guaranteed title shot at the next year’s Wrestle Kingdom.
But for Okada, his need for redemption was far stronger. On the same night as Nakamura’s title loss mentioned above, Okada successfully defended his heavyweight title against Tetsuya Naito. But there was a caveat there: Okada vs. Naito was not the main-event; the Nakamura-Tanahashi IC title main-evented the Tokyo Dome. This was sacrilegious; how could this mid-card belt that was only three years old close the show?
As it turned out, it was because the fans weren’t particularly keen on Okada’s challenger, Naito. Fans weren’t warming up to him, so New Japan officials allowed fans to vote on which match would close the show. And since the fans loved Tanahashi (and therefore Nakamura) more than they did Naito, Okada lost his main-event status through no fault of his own.
But it doesn’t end there. Three months later, Okada lost the heavyweight title to AJ Styles in Styles’ debut match for New Japan. Styles had trash-talked about how Okada was still the same young boy that worked on TNA’s B-show Xplosion and did comedy shtick for Samoa Joe years earlier. So when Styles beat Okada, it gave credence to his claims. Desperate to redeem himself, Okada tried and tried but couldn’t recapture the heavyweight title. Styles did lose the title in the end, but it was to Tanahashi. That stung for Okada more than anything else. Once again, Tanahashi did what Okada couldn’t, further cementing the notion that the Ace was better than the Rainmaker.
Thus, Okada hoped to make history repeat itself. He won the G1 two years earlier and challenged Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom. If he did that again here, he would get another chance to face Tanahashi and right all the wrongs that he had suffered since the year started.
In the end, this match would come down to whose desire to achieve redemption (and also face Tanahashi) was stronger. Was it Nakamura, whose rivalry with Tanahashi spanned far longer and had a far greater impact on his career? Or was it Okada, with his steely determination to take Tanahashi’s coveted status as company ace for himself, no matter the cost?
This match originally took place on August 10th, 2014. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back now, let’s see how well it holds up.
Things start off tense as Nakamura teases hitting some kicks but Okada remains cautious. They lock up and engage in a technical armlock exchange. Nakamura uses the rope to flip out of Okada’s armlock and the next technical exchange leads to a stalemate. Okada gets a clean break on the ropes and pats Nakamura mockingly and poses, which Nakamura no-sells. Nakamura takes Okada to the mat and applies a front chancery but Okada gets to the ropes. Nakamura does his ‘head-in-opponent’s-gut’ mockery but Okada immediately locks him in a front chancery of his own and hits a DDT. It’s nice to see common sense in wrestling. Okada lands a snapmare/dropkick combo and sends Nakamura to the floor. He continues targeting Nakamura’s head and neck with a chinlock using the steel barricade and then tosses him back into the ring.
Okada lands a slam/senton combo and pins with a foot on Nakamura’s chest but the ref won’t count. Okada lands a neckbreaker and pins but only gets a one-count so he applies a cross-arm stretch while pushing his knee into Nakamura’s back. Nakamura gets a ropebreak but Okada tightens the stretch one more time before letting go. Okada sends Nakamura into a corner and chaeges but Nakamura sidesteps. The two start trading strikes and Nakamura wins the exchange with an enzuigiri. Nakamura begins his comeback with corner kneelifts and then his ‘vibrations’ corner stomp. He goes for another corner charge but Okada dodges and Nakamura knees the turnbuckle pad instead. Okada charges but runs into a boot and a dropkick from Nakamura. Nakamura pins but only gets two.
Nakamura puts Okada on the top rope and lands a kneelift so strong it sends Okada to the floor. He places Okada face-down on the apron and hits both a running kneelift to Okada’s face and a kneedrop to the back of Okada’s neck. Okada struggles back into the ring where Nakamura starts hitting him with mocking foot taps. Okada fights up to his feet but Nakamura downs him right away with a vicious kick to the chest. Nakamura follows with a snapmare/kneedrop combo for another two-count and goes back to the mockery. Suddenly Okada blocks a kick and boots Nakamura in the head. He goes for an Irish whip, Nakamura counters, and Okada ducks a windmill kick but eats Nakamura’s follow-up spinning heel kick. Nakamura charges to the corner but Okada puts him on the top turnbuckle and dropkicks him to the floor.
Okada continues his assault as he tosses Nakamura into the barricade and then boots him over it. he follows with a draping DDT and sends Nakamura back into the ring, where he lands a scoop slam/diving elbow drop combo. Rainmaker pose. Okada goes for the Rainmaker lariat. Nakamura ducks and hits a high-angle backstabber that hits the upper back and neck more than the lower. Another forearm exchange. Nakamura charges but runs into a flapjack. Okada goes for the Red Ink submission hold. Nakamura counters with a sleeper with bodyscissors. Okada tries to fight out. Nakamura transitions into a cross armbreaker attempt. Okada keeps his arms clasped to block the submission hold. Wait, no, Nakamura switches to a triangle hold. Okada fights to his feet and reaches out to the ropes. Nakamura uses his leg to push off and drag both of them towards the middle of the ring while also locking in the cross armbreaker. Amazing counter. Okada flops around trying to find the ropes until he reaches them with his feet. Nakamura’s forced to release the hold but he’s clearly frustrated, so he stomps away on Okada’s head. He lands a gourdbuster suplex and start hitting MMA-style knee strikes to Okada’s head and neck. He follows with a front chancery into his inverted Exploder suplex. Nakamura signals the end as he teases the Boma Ye. He charges…and Okada ducks. Okada connects with his reverse neckbreaker to the knee. Both men collapse.
Okada gets up first and hits a running dropkick that sends Nakamura vaulting across the ring. he gets some revenge with foot taps of his own, followed by his Heavy Rain AA neckbreaker slam that gets another two-count. Okada goes for a Tombstone but Nakamura blocks and hits a kneelift to Okada’s face. Nakamura goes for the same double kick combo as earlier but Okada has learned his lesson and blocks this time. Okada hits a dropkick to the back of Nakamura’s head. Tombstone Piledriver connects. Rainmaker lar – NO, Nakamura counters with a flying armbar. Okada keeps his hands clasped again as Nakamura tries his best to destroy his biggest weapon. Nakamura succeeds in breaking Okada’s grip but Okada still frees himself by stepping on Nakamura’s head and pulling his arm out. BOMA YE! Both wrestlers collapse again.
Both wrestlers get to their feet again and trade forearms once more. Nakamura gets the upper hand. Okada hits back with uppercuts. Nakamura fires back with stiff knees and goes for an Irish whip. Okada reverses it and lands his trademark standing dropkick. He decides to do one more and sends Nakamura into the ropes again but Nakamura doesn’t even make it that far. The referee checks on Okada to see if he can continue but Okada grabs him right away. This time Okada sends him into the ropes for the dropkick and Nakamura holds onto the ropes. He was baiting Okada and it worked. Okada jumps for the dropkick and falls down. Boma Ye #2. One, two, thr – no, Okada kicks out. Nakamura goes to the corner for the diving version. Boma Ye #3 connects. Nakamura isn’t done. He charges for another one…and runs into a dropkick.
Okada staggers over and tries another Rainmaker but Nakamura breaks the wrist control. Okada answers with a bridging German suplex but only gets two. Rainmaker, no, Nakamura hits another kneelift. He tries the Boma Ye again. Okada catches his leg. Nakamura fires back with punches and then goes for the Landslide. Okada blocks with elbows and switches to a backslide. One, two, kick-out. Okada traps Nakamura’s arm and hits a Rainmaker! Followed by a second one. And a third Rainmaker lariat for good measure. One, two, and three! There’s the match! Okada takes a key step towards his redemption!
Winner of the 2014 G1 Climax after23:18: Kazuchika Okada
This was another incredibly well-wrestled match from both Okada and Nakamura. They had great chemistry together and had a nice styles clash. Okada was the ‘performance wrestler’ that hit all his moves and high-spots while Nakamura was the more realistic fighter type with a wacky personality. They had a great match here, but that’s just it, great. Not amazing, spectacular, or mesmerizing; just great.
One of the reasons Okada has been praised so much over the past decade is his so-called ‘workrate’. In almost every match he does so much and demonstrates such high degrees of athleticism that he sets a new standard for what modern wrestlers are expected to do. That was on full display here. Okada did everything from incredible dropkicks to logical limb targeting, to picture-perfect dives, to incredible reversal and counter sequencing. He has done this hundreds if not thousands of times since 2012. As a result, what he does has now become almost the industry standard for modern professional wrestling. Nakamura, meanwhile, was simply another interchangeable guy with whom Okada was to tangle. But that’s not a bad thing; it showed that Okada could have a great match with anyone, including someone with such a different style like Nakamura.
The real story here came from whether Okada with his rigid yet successful match structure could mesh well with and overcome the superior striker and grappler that was Nakamura. And he did. Nakamura basically acted as the necessary counterbalance to Okada’s flashy ‘moves-focused’ style. Whereas Okada did everything he could to get his stuff in and built his match around weakening his opponent for the Rainmaker lariat, Nakamura did simpler things but got more out of them. For every DDT, neck crank and head spike Okada hit, Nakamura hit stiff forearms, knee drops, and kicks to do the same degree of damage. Then the real twist came when Nakamura – who dabbled in MMA and had very real experience in that sport – went for real armbars and tried to break Okada’s lariat arm. From that point on, it became a question of whose strategy would be more successful. Would Okada’s constant head-and-neck targeting from the beginning soften Nakamura enough to end the match? Or would Nakamura lock in a strong enough armbar and make Okada tap out? That question brought the match some much-needed tension, especially since the first ten minutes were more or less filler.
Ultimately, Okada survived Nakamura’s armbars, but not without serious consequences. Because his arm was weakened, Okada knew that one Rainmaker wasn’t enough. So once again, Okada did what he does best here: he built an exciting countering sequence that left viewers watching carefully for the next big hit. Nakamura hit last-second counters so many times that Okada had to try and surprise him with a Rainmaker out of nowhere. That’s where the brilliance of the finish was shown. Okada used a simple backslide to hit one Rainmaker, which took control away from Nakamura. The second one broke his guard. And the third one was the emphatic note that he needed to ensure that Nakamura wouldn’t get up. That logical progression made Nakamura look tougher by having him endure multiple high-impact finishers and it also made Okada look smart by hitting finisher after finisher to avoid having another last-moment kick-out.
Final Rating: ****1/2
Even though it had a great finish, there was something missing from this contest. A lot of the opening minutes had pointless filler that didn’t really lead to anything. Okada and Nakamura had great chemistry here, but at the same time it felt like something was missing from the match. they could’ve gone further with Nakamura’s close pinfalls and given him more of a chance to shine and come across as a credible threat. It was also a bit silly for Nakamura to have the smart strategy to attack Okada’s arm but for Okada to completely ignore Nakamura’s legs, especially considering just how critical they are to Nakamura’s offense.
And yet, this is still a very strong match. Many people have seen Okada matches due to how often his name has floated around the internet over the years. But some fans might not be aware of what pre-WWE Nakamura looked like. Luckily this match will show you how he wrestled and highlight how much of a missed opportunity he has become.