5-Star Match Reviews: Kazuchika Okada vs. SANADA – NJPW G1 Climax 2019

kazuchika okada sanada g1 2019

There are many fans out there that think that Kazuchika Okada is the best wrestler active today. There have been comparisons made between Okada and Shawn Michaels in that both men were able to pull out career-best performances out of many different opponents.

In Okada’s case, he’s been the one to wrestle the following people in their career-best matches: Bad Luck Fale, EVIL, Kenny Omega, Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and many others. And now we look at one of those others to see if Okada did in fact make a star out of him with this match.

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.

The story

Seiya SANADA is perhaps the best example of “why won’t they pull the trigger on this guy already?” in recent memory. He came from a pretty distinguished pedigree in Japan by virtue of being the final and most important student of Keiji freaking MUTO, a.k.a. The Great Muta. He spent years as a background character in Tetsuya Naito’s LIJ stable and mostly wrestled in midcard matches. But over time he started standing out more, both in terms of looks and with his wrestling. Eventually, SANADA was going to reach the top of the mountain…but first he had to scale a seemingly hopeless vertical wall named Okada.

SANADA was 0-6 in singles matches against Okada going into this match. Worse for him, Okada had a perfect winning streak in G1 matches over two years. In 2018, he went 6-0-1, and that one draw is what stopped him from winning the tournament. This time, he’s already 6-0 and doesn’t have many more opponents left. If he wins here, he’s all but guaranteed a spot in the finals.

But if SANADA wins, three things would happen. First, Okada would lose his precious winning streak. Second, by losing that streak he would no longer be a shoe-in to win the block. And third, SANADA would avenge years of losing to the company ace and knock him from atop his perch.

It was hard competing against the weight of history, but could SANADA accomplish something that was next to impossible?

The match

This match originally took place on August 3, 2019.

kazuchika okada sanada g1 2019

The crowd sounds like they’re mostly pro-Okada as the two wrestlers begin with some technical holds. This exchange goes on for a bit until Okada shoulder tackles SANADA and then reverses a hiptoss. A series of quick legsweeps leads to a stalemate and some loud applause. They lock-up again and Okada gets a break on the ropes but then mocks his opponent. The two block more moves until SANADA hits a basement dropkick around the five-minute mark.

Okada blocks a corner charge but SANADA catches his foot and tries a Paradise Lock. Okada blocks it but gets elbowed down to the mat after a one-count. SANADA applies a chinlock but Okada escapes, ducks some clotheslines, and hits a back elbow of his own. Okada follows with a corner splash/DDT combo for a two-count. he slams SANADA and goes for a diving elbow but SANADA dodges. Okada lands on his feet, catches SANADA, places him on the top turnbuckle, and dropkicks him to the floor.

Okada sends SANADA into the guardrail and then boots him over it. he follows with a hanging DDT using the guardrail which appears to do serious damage to SANADA, who had suffered a concussion sometime before this match. SANADA makes it into the ring but Okada meets him with a running dropkick to the head. Then Okada does a cocky pin but the ref refuses to count it and the crowd starts turning on Okada.

Coordinated “SANADA” chants echo out as the ten-minute mark passes. SANADA tries firing back but Okada hits a big uppercut. Okada goes for his trademark standing dropkick. SANADA holds onto the ropes to avoid it and dropkicks Okada’s knee. Okada reverses an irish whip, hits a forearm, sprints across the ring, and eats a huge dropkick from SANADA. Then SANADA hits a pescado to the floor.

SANADA tosses Okada into the ring and the two continue blocking each other until SANADA trips Okada and locks him in the Paradise Lock. Okada’s arms and legs appear to be tied up together like a pretzel which is why he can’t move and SANADA uses that time to rally the crowd behind him. SANADA gets a two-count off another dropkick and the wrestlers trade corner charges. Okada dodges a moonsault body block but SANADA lands on his feet, only to run into a flapjack. Another strike and block exchange ensues and ends with SANADA flipping into a dropkick to Okada’s spine. SANADA follows with a Backdrop suplex but only gets a two-count.

After more blocking and reversing, SANADA tries a Ric Flair-style flip over onto the apron but Okada catches him and drives him neck-first into his knee. Okada follows with a successful diving elbow drop and does the Rainmaker pose. Okada goes for his Rainmaker lariat. SANADA flips over into his Skull End dragon sleeper submission hold. Okada hits some elbows, walks up a turnbuckle, and counters with a Tombstone Piledriver. Awesome counter. Okada goes for another Rainmaker. SANADA counters with a rope-assisted dragon screw neck whip. Christ, what a brutal move.

The two wrestlers trade forearms as SANADA appears to be having nerve pain shooting from his neck down his right arm. they both make it to their feet and Okada demands SANADA hit him back and SANADA does. Okada doesn’t even look SANADA in the eye as he turns his head and points to the side of his neck. He really does think SANADA ain’t s**t. Okada starts firing back but so does SANADA. Forearms become uppercuts. Okada slumps to his knees but refuses to go down completely. Suddenly Okada dropkicks SANDA twice. He tries another Rainmaker. SANADA goes for the same counter as before. Okada blocks it, but only for a moment. Skull End locked in. Okada tries escaping so SANADA switches to a bridging Tiger Suplex. One, two, Okada kicks out. TKO by SANADA. Okada kicks out again. SANADA tries a moonsault. Okada dodges again but SANADA lands on his feet once more. Okada blocks yet another corner charge but this time SANADA successfully lands a moonsault body block into another Skull End. But Okada falls backwards and counters. Rainmaker lariat! Wait, he’s not done. Rainmaker #2! But that’s still not enough. Rainmak – no, SANADA hits a lariat of his own first. The crowd’s going nuts for SANADA. SANADA picks Okada up into another Skull End and swings him around at the same time. SANADA locks in a bodyscissor in the middle of the ring.

Five minutes left.

Okada escapes the dragon sleeper but not the bodyscissor. Okada does everything in his power to escape but SANADA quickly reapplies the same hold. SANADA wrenches the hold as tightly as possible but Okada escapes and rolls over into a pinning predicament. One, two, SANADA escapes and locks in Skull End once more.

Three minutes left.

Okada’s arms are flailing about as he refuses to submit or tap out. the crowd’s chanting and clapping for SANADA as Okada starts going limp. SANADA loses his patience with Okada’s persistence and goes to the top rope. Moonsault connects…with Okada’s knees. both men collapse.

One minute left.

SANADA tries Skull End once more but Okada escapes via arm drag and hits a standing dropkick. Okada goes for another Rainmaker. SANADA counters with a pop-up RKO. Wow, what a move!

Thirty seconds left.

SANADA hits a diving moonsault. But Okada’s on his stomach. So SANADA flips him over.

Twenty seconds left.

A second moonsault connects. One, two, and three! SANADA beats Okada for the first time ever!

Winner after 29:47: SANADA


As expected of NJPW main-event matches, this one started pretty slow and plodding but then went into overdrive towards the end. NJPW has become famous for putting on solid technical in-ring matches, but there comes a time when one questions whether these alleged top wrestlers know how to tell stories as well or are just move mechanics. Luckily, we saw a great example of NJPW-style storytelling here as SANADA finally had his big victory over the most dominant NJPW wrestler in decades.

If we were to look at this match purely on a motions and movements basis, then it would come across as mechanical, bland, and repetitive, especially during the first ten minutes. But once we peel back the curtain, we can see that this all made sense given the match’s story. Okada moved mechanically, wrestled “as usual” and acted cocky because SANADA was no threat to him. He wasn’t worried about his opponent whatsoever so he let himself coast and just go through the motions knowing the end result was going to be the same. But as the match progressed, control slipped out of Okada’s grasp bit by bit. Even though SANADA was dealing with a bad neck, he still fought through it and everything Okada threw at him. SANADA won more exchange encounters than Okada, and just when it looked like Okada would win while on cruise control SANADA came up with one surprise after another.

Okada was cocky here, but at first he had every right to be. He had history on his side and no matter what SANADA did, he didn’t think this match would be any different. Even as SANADA started winning more exchanges, Okada dared SANADA to hit him while his guard was down. SANADA obliged, and from there it became a question of which wrestler’s overkill strategy would win out in the end. SANADA spammed the Skull End over and over while Okada did the same with Rainmakers. But Okada fell victim to one-trick pony syndrome. Even though he can hit the move from out of nowhere, his insistence on only winning via Rainmaker was his undoing. SANADA survived two of them and then countered several attempts at a third. And when his Skull End didn’t work, he also had the moonsault. All of Okada’s conditioning, arrogance, perfect timing, and tenacity couldn’t save him from several minutes trapped in SANADA’s submission hold and two consecutive moonsaults.

In the end it was a refreshing take on seeing a lower-carder move up by beating the top star in the company in clean and decisive fashion. SANADA overcame the odds to win here and the crowd loved him for it. And even though it didn’t have any major immediate consequences – Okada still ended up in the main-event of Wrestle Kingdom 14 while SANADA was stuck in the mid-card – this win still did a lot to prove that SANADA had the credibility to beat top stars.

The only things I would put against this match is improper move structure. Okada sold that dropkick to his knee like he was in major pain, and then seconds later SANADA had him running the ropes and he was still going full speed. Considering the vast breadth of matches I’ve reviewed for this series I’ve come to expect deeper and more consistent limb selling. Because if the wrestlers themselves don’t bother to sell offense, then why would the audience care about that piece of the story’s puzzle?

Additionally, there’s something about how Okada structures these matches that make many of them somewhat off-putting. While one can argue that he’s exceptionally talented for being able to wrestle at such an elite level on a consistent basis, it doesn’t help when all his matches start off more or less the same. The best matches of all time, and those worthy of a genuine 5-Star rating, pull the viewer in right away with some sort of important development, or at the very least, a subtle tease of what’s to come. This match didn’t have that. Even though the mechanical action made sense given how much if a bigger star Okada was, the opening minutes were bland and disinteresting all the same. Even something as simple as a bitchslap or a more intense struggle for control against the ropes would’veadded some much-needed heat to the start of this match. But alas, if you want that sort of wrestling perfection, you’re going to have to turn the block back quite a bit farther than this one.

Final Rating: ****3/4

While I can’t in all honesty call this a perfect match I really think it was outstanding towards the end. The second half more than compensated for the somewhat slow start and the story of SANADA overcoming the cocky and arrogant ace is one of those transcendent stories that anyone can understand and connect with. I think it could’ve been slightly better at the start, but the minor flaws during the intro don’t necessarily harm the big picture or overall story that these wrestlers told in the ring.

Okada had a great night here and SANADA had one of the best matches of his career, if not the best. Pretty much everything came together so well here. These two had awesome chemistry together that they made this match fly by. Even with NJPW’s somewhat laggy service here in Canada, this match makes those minor interruptions worth it.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.