Wrestle Kingdom’s main event. The Rainmaker vs The Stardust Genius. Both men represent the new generation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. These men had very different rises to the top, both men have crossed paths many times. You have an unstoppable champion taking on a very charismatic and talented foe. This is what you need to know about both guys heading into their showdown on January 4th.
Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada faced off for the first time at NJPW 40th anniversary show at Korakuen Hall. Okada successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Naito in his very first defense ever as champion. Later that year, Naito would get his win back during a match at the G1 Climax. Okada would set his focus on making his name as a main event performer as Naito was on the rise. Naito would suffer a knee injury in October and would miss 8 months of action.
Robbed Of Opportunity
Tetsuya Naito would return in 2013. Naito went on to win the G1 Climax defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals. Later that year, Naito defeated Masato Tanaka for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Okada and Tanahashi had been feuding for a year. Okada defeated Tanahashi at Invasion Attack to regain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Despite winning the G1, the fans never accepted Naito. Naito received negative from the Japanese fans especially in Osaka. Fans perceived him as a poor man’s Tanahashi. Tanahashi has even critiqued Naito’s promos in his book as being too negative for a babyface. Okada was fresh off a hot program with Tanahashi and fans weren’t ready for a change.
Fans expressed more interest in seeing Nakamura vs Tanahashi. Tanahashi looking to finally beat Nakamura on a January 4th show. NJPW held a fan poll to decide what match would main event Wrestle Kingdom. The majority voted for Nakamura vs Tanahashi over Okada vs Naito, thus casting them off as the co-main event. Naito personally felt humiliated by this response. Okada would defeat Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 8. Both men would face off at the G1 where Naito would defeat Okada who would win the tournament. This win granted Naito a chance to challenge Okada for his Wrestle Kingdom spot but was unsuccessful.
Rise To Ace
At Wrestle Kingdom 9, Hiroshi Tanahashi successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Kazuchika Okada. Following the loss, Okada broke down in tears. Tanahashi would tell OKada that he has a long way to go before becoming the “Ace” of NJPW. Okada would fall into a slump during the first half of the year, suffering losses to Bad Luck Fale. At Invasion Attack, Okada would defeat Bad Luck Fale. Later on in the night, he would attack IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles and challenge him. At Dominion, Okada defeated Styles to capture his third IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Okada would continue to have a big year. Legend Genichiro Tenryu choose Okada to be his opponent in his retirement match. Okada would defeat Tenryu, Tokyo Sports awarded them with MOTY. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, Okada defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to finally solidify his spot as Ace of NJPW.
The Redemption of Tetsuya Naito
In May 2015, Naito returned to CMLL for a tour and would join the Los Ingobernables faction. After joining the stable, Naito developed a new attitude and look. Naito returned to NJPW with a new persona. He displayed an attitude of not taking his matches seriously and slowly undressing in the ring. During interviews, Naito took shots at various talent on the roster including Okada, Tanahashi and Shibata. Naito would challenge Tanahashi for the G1 contract, he promised to bring some friends with him. During the match, Naito’s mystery guest attacked Tanahashi. The person revealed himself as Takaaki Watanabe now known as EVIL. Tanahashi defeated Naito in the end. During the Tag League, Bushi joined Naito’s new stable now called Los Ingobernables de Japon. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, Hirooki Goto defeated Tetsuya Naito. Naito would earn his victory back during the finals of the New Japan Cup.
Tetsuya Naito earns a shot at Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The event at Ryogoku Sumo Hall was a sell out. During the match, the fans finally embraced Naito. The huge turning point came when Seiya Sanada interfered and his a Moonsault on Okada, joining LIJ. Naito hit the Destino on Okada to win his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He would have on successful defense against Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestling Dontaku. Naito lost the title back to Okada at Dominion.
Road To Wrestle Kingdom 11
Both men had very impressive showings in the 2016 G1 Climax. Kazuchika Okada finished second in Block A. He had a classic match with Naomichi Marufuji which earned him his 3rd consecutive MOTY from Tokyo Sports. Naito finished second in Block B. Eventual winner Kenny Omega defeated Naito in the B Block finals. After the G1, Naito defeated Michael Elgin at Destruction in Kobe to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. The same championship that took his main event spot a few years back.
He would spend his reign abusing and destroying the title whenever he got a chance to. He showed disrespect for the Heavyweight Championship, but this was pure disrespect. Naito would make his first successful title defense against Jay Lethal. Tokyo Sports named Naito the MVP of wrestling, Naito won 18 votes out of 21. Meanwhile, Okada successfully defended the title against NOAH representative, Naomichi Marufuji, the man who beat in the G1.
Wrestle Kingdom 11
Tetsuya Naito went into his match looking for some payback against Tanahashi. The man who took his spot defending the same title he used to do so. Naito defeated Tanahashi in a hard fought match. Okada retained his IWGP Heavyweight Championship over Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega. Dave Meltzer gave that match a rare 6 stars, claiming that it was the best match that he ever seen. Those two matches helped set the bar for pro wrestling this year and had international fans migrating to the company.
G1 Climax 2017
Naito made two successful defenses against Michael Elgin and Juice Robinson before falling to Hiroshi Tanahashi at Dominion. Okada made successful defenses against Katsuyori Shibata, Bad Luck Fale and Kenny Omega which went to a 60 minute draw. That match managed to top their first match from Wrestle Kingdom. At the G1 Special, Naito lost the first round in the inaugural IWGP United States Championship to Tomohiro Ishii. Okada successfully defended against new ROH World Champion, Cody Rhodes.
Tetsuya Naito finished the G1 with a record of 7 wins and 2 losses. Kazuchika Okada finished with 6 wins, 1 draw and two losses. One of those losses came from the man he’s been having classics all year with, Kenny Omega. Kenny Omega won the B Block while Tetsuya Naito won the A Block. Naito defeated Omega in which many fans consider the greatest G1 match ever. Naito beating Okada’s biggest rival of 2017 in the finals of the G1. One of Okada’s losses came at the hands of Los Ingobernables de Japon member, EVIL. Naito’s right hand man. One of Naito’s losses came from Ishii who also eliminated Naito in the first round in the IWGP US tournament.