In a Rolling Stone interview this week, maybe the greatest young wrestler in the world said “I’m not interested in WWE at all.” What seems to be more important to Kazuchika Okada is, wanting to “make New Japan Pro-Wrestling bigger”. This was both an interesting and exciting thing to hear from the Rainmaker, who is the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
To begin with if you don’t know who Okada is, do yourself a favor and make it priority number one on your wrestling viewing list. Unlike back in the tape trading days there are plenty of his matches on YouTube and Dailymotion. I would especially recommend his matches with A.J. Styles, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura because these are matches that legends are made of.
He also has, without a doubt, the greatest drop kick in the business and can go with any wrestler of any size. The other great thing about Okada is he is only 27 years old! But, like most Japanese wrestlers, is mature beyond his years when it comes to his ring skills and in-ring psychology, due to his eight years in the business already.
What I find interesting about Okada’s comments is that at first glance you would think it’s about not wanting to wrestle in the States. However, that is not the case. Okada explains that “I like doing the shows with Ring of Honor” and “I really appreciate ROH for letting me wrestle in the United States. I love working in front of American crowds.” So why then would he have no interest in wrestling for WWE? Personally, it could be many reasons, but what jumps out to me is one word…wrestling!
Okada had a short stint in TNA and was frustrated that he didn’t get to wrestle while he was there. It sounds to me that the Rainmaker could possibly feel that since WWE places equal value on entertainment abilities and wrestling that he may be worried about getting lost in the shuffle since his mic skills would be limited. These are not the days of the Great Muta when you had a plethora of managers, in his case Gary Hart, that could do his talking for him outside of the ring while Muta took care of business inside the ring. Also, back in the day the NWA placed a great emphasis on actual wrestling skills as opposed to the WWF, so whether Muta spoke or not wasn’t important.
Let’s take a deeper look into his comments. Maybe Okada legitimately, as he says, “wants to make New Japan Pro-Wrestling bigger”, which for all wrestling fans would be a win-win. New Japan has made a concerted effort to get more exposure in North America over the past few years. Many of their stars have been seen at ROH events in both the U.S. and Canada this year. Also, for the first time ever, New Japan made one of their pay per views available in America this past January, in coordination with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling company. This could be a sign of things to come as Okada was also quoted in the Rolling Stone article of saying: “My dream is to bring a G1 tournament to the United States. I want to do a G1 in front of American crowds.”
The G-1 Climax tournament is the top wrestling tournament in the world, which occurs every summer. Of equal importance, NJPW introduced their first weekly wrestling program in the States, which is a one hour show on AXS-TV every Friday night at 9pm est. Their wrestlers have also appeared frequently in ROH’s weekly program on Destination America. Notice I said AXS-TV and Destination America, not exactly the USA network or TBS. Neither have coast to coast coverage on virtually every cable system, but it’s small steps. It’s also important to note that the NJPW show on AXS proved to be so popular that they are now in the midst of their second season!
New Japan also introduced a WWE style 24/7 streaming service that is offered world-wide called New Japan World. It broadcasts the company’s live pay per view events and offers content that goes back to 1972. I believe this was such a great idea because it gives fans the chance to see the likes of Andre, Hulk, Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen,Ted DiBiase and Dynamite Kid facing likes of Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Tiger Mask, Masahiro Chono and the aforementioned Great Muta as well as many others. Another cool thing is that they have set up an option to view the site in English. Keep in mind though that the commentary is still in Japanese.
— Samoa Joe (@SamoaJoe) August 24, 2015
Okada’s comments can also be viewed as trying to build some story line heat between WWE and NJPW. He stuck his nose up at the number one company, which I think is great! What better way to build friction between the two companies than having your champ blow off any notion of working for WWE. You may recall that at SummerSlam, Okada, Nakamura and Kushida were backstage guests of team McMahon. Also, the night before Jushin Liger performed on the NXT Takeover program. This would lead me to believe that WWE and New Japan are discussing a possible extended working relationship.
Regardless of their arrangements with ROH, New Japan is the ultimate free agent in the world of wrestling. They can choose whichever company from the states they want to work with. As we know one thing Vince absolutely HATES is competition, and he could be viewing NJPW helping ROH and Global Force as a possible threat to his empire. No better way to take them out of the equation than trying to work an exclusive deal with New Japan.
Could you imagine the show the two companies could pull off with a WWE vs. NJPW PPV? Maybe you have one at the Tokyo Dome and another in the states? Maybe this could lead to WWE having access to the New Japan match library or being their North American partner in NJPW’s streaming service? One other thing to remember is WWE did have their Japan tour culminate with the Beast In the East program back in July at the legendary Ryogoku Sumo Hall. Now while that program didn’t feature any Japanese talent on it, the fact that WWE went out of their way to use one of Brock Lesnar’s precious dates at an event in the Far East leads me to believe they want to increase their presence in Asia.
Lastly, Okada’s comments could be about bargaining for the all mighty dollar. Let’s face it he’s young and at the top of his game. I realize his roots are in Japan, but maybe he sees the Sami Zayn’s, Daniel Bryan’s and Samoa Joe’s of the world who didn’t get into WWE for a long time and might want to strike while he’s still in his 20’s. Too many times we’ve seen guys come into WWE with a lot of mileage under them only to see their careers get cut short. Maybe he also sees how over Finn Balor is with the crowd and the push he is getting. For those of you who don’t know, Balor was formerly known as Prince Devitt in New Japan where he wrestled for eight years, capturing the IWGP tag team title six times, and the Junior Heavyweight Championship three times. Okada is seven years younger than Balor. He could be a fresh, new and established younger performer that WWE can have for years to come. As it currently stands, Okada is playing the role of the heel in his career (although you’d never know by the reaction the crowd gives him). Who knows, he could possibly be a new “Paul Heyman” guy, where Paul can do the talking and Okada does the damage?
Do I think Titan Towers worries that Okada doesn’t want to work for them? Absolutely not. I’m sure there are many employees at WWE who probably don’t even know who he is. But, if Okada’s comments were sincere, then WWE should be concerned that a wrestler of his stature has publicly said the number one wrestling company in the world doesn’t appeal to him. Personally, I would love to see New Japan become a major player here in the states. Wrestling fans are hungry for competition, and NJPW is a famous brand, with some of the best wrestlers in the world, who would immediately become #2 in the states, that could possibly give #1 their best run for the money in a long, long time.
To read the entire Rolling Stone interview with Okada, please click here.