In Fans Bring the Questions match, we ask the public to ask questions of the top stars in NJPW! This time, Kazuchika Okada is in the hotseat!
Have you been looking at pro-wrestling differently since not being able to perform? What’s your stance on event cancellations?
Okada: I feel pretty much the same as all the fans. It just isn’t the same without wrestling… It’s a little bit of a contradiction; with the damage that we take as athletes, sometimes you feel you just want to take a break, but now I can’t wrestle, I want nothing more than to be in the ring again.
–You’re fired up to get back in there.
Okada: Right. I have so much time on my hands right now, I’m spending a lot of it thinking what I can get from all of this. I’ve been playing a lot of video games and getting something out of that (laughs).
What’s your most memorable IWGP Heavyweight Championship match to date?
Okada: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been in quite a few.
–That’s an understatement.
Okada: I’m not sure I can pick out one. That’s not a good or bad match thing, I’ve just forgotten more than one. For me, it’s all about the newest thing that sticks with me. So January 4 and 5 are freshest in my mind, and then before that October 2019 with SANADA…. And before that, it’s all a bit hazy.
Is there a specific place that you’d like to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship back in?
Okada: I’m not really hung up on venues. It isn’t like ‘I lost it in the Tokyo Dome, so I want it back in the Tokyo Dome’. Wherever I have a match, there’s still that connection between me and the fans, even if it were in Korakuen Hall.
It really seems as if there’s something different about your disposition and character when you have the belt as compared to when you don’t. Is that a conscious distinction?
Okada: It’s absolutely conscious. There’s a certain level of conduct that a champion needs to have, you have to be a little bit more polite, more gentlemanly I guess. That’s not to say you can forget your manners if you aren’t the champion, but I do feel I can be a bit more human and do what I want a little more.
Is there somebody in NJPW that you’ve never wrestled one on one that you’d like to?
Okada: Hmm. Nobody in particular (grins).
Are there any other wrestlers that you have your eye on?
Okada: I get that question a lot, but the truth is, I don’t really take much notice of other wrestlers. I know that I’ve said I want us to have an all star card, but that isn’t because I want to wrestle somebody specific. I think that’s the thing; because I don’t know my opponents so well, something exciting might come out of any situation. I think the fans feel the same way.
–There’s a sense of expectation.
Okada: Yeah. I’m sure there are a lot of fans who love NJPW but don’t know about other companies. So they might be surprised to take a look and see, ‘oh, this guy is really good’. I want that surprise, and I want the fans to have it too. That and I want everyone to go wild with speculation and imagine different guys wrestling each other.
–Fans love to speculate.
Okada: Right. Me, I do watch other promotions, but not too closely. I think if I did, it would ruin some of the fascination. So there isn’t someone particular I have my eye on, but that’s fine.
If you were to wrestle yourself, is there any particular move you would use, or be afraid to take?
Okada: Hm. Well, I wouldn’t want to take my dropkick. It’s definitely a shock to the system for most people I think, a guy my size jumping like that. Frankly, that’d be a bit scary (laughs).
–You’ve taken Tanahashi and SANADA’s versions of the Rainmaker in the past. Have you ever thought what it must be like to take an Okada Rainmaker yourself?
Okada: Well, frankly I don’t do a single move that I would want to take. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it, to deal the most damage. I think most wrestlers would say the same thing. Just once let’s see Tanahashi take a Tanahashi Dragon Screw…
Why is it called a Rainmaker anyway?
Okada: It’s been talked about quite a lot and you can find out about some of that stuff yourself if you’re good at digging around online. But to make a long story short, it’s this American phrase connected to people that can come into a company and instantly make a ton of money for them, and I thought it would be a cool fit for me in NJPW. So it became my nickname.
Okada: And then to make sure it was used and that brand of mine got strengthened, I made it the name of my finish, too. As for the move itself, you see that wrist clutch and extension quite a lot in lucha libre; I can’t remember the match, but I remember seeing it in America and thinking it looked cool. And I always thought something leading to a lariat would be a cool finish, so one was added to the other.
–What made you change from the neckbreaker variant you did on your return match?
Okada: Well, it just came down to thinking which would have more impact. Unleashing everything through a lariat like that is more powerful, I thought. Then again, if it were the other way round; if I used the lariat first time out, then the neckbreaker did more damage, then the Rainmaker would be very different today.
Who is the best tag partner you’ve ever had?
Okada: It has to be YOSHI-HASHI. We’ve been together since we were both starting out in New Japan. We fought each other on our return match, but we get along really well. It’s easy to speak my mind with him, there isn’t any senpai/kohai stuff. I never get tired of teaming with him.
–Would you be interested in the tag titles?
Okada: I’ve gotta say, ever since Tanahashi and Ibushi won the tag belts, that division is looking a lot more appealing. The prospect of guys that I’ve fought so hard with in singles being tag champions, that’s intriguing.
–It definitely is.
Okada: And wrestling the two of them together, that’s something different to singles matches we’ve had before. I know I only just lost my title to Naito, but if it’s a question of wrestling for the tag titles or a double IWGP championship match, the tag titles are more interesting to me.
–You think the image of those titles was changed the instant Tanahashi and Ibushi won them.
Okada: Absolutely. But that goes for singles too; I think a lot of people’s perceptions about the IWGP Heavyweight Championship changed when Naito beat me for the title. It’s something new, it’s a breath of fresh air. I really feel that I want to show something new, so there is something appealing about being in a tag team championship situation- it’s something I’ve never done- rather than try and take my belt back from Naito. Only thing is, I’m not so good at tags…
Okada: Well, I don’t have the track record, first of all. Plus, I want to wrestle at a singles pace. There’s a lot more to be aware of in that environment; even when you’re on the apron you have to keep an eye on the match, make saves, or stop the other partner getting involved. It isn’t like you’re resting half the time. There’s a lot I’d have to work on, but it’s interesting.
–So the pacing is something you’d have to adjust to.
Okada: Right, but I think that’s something I should try out. Plus we don’t see tag title main events these days. Maybe at Korakuen, but not often for major cards. I’d like that. Tag is something that makes pro-wrestling distinct from other martial arts. Not in boxing, not in MMA. It can be something we can point to and say ‘pro-wrestling is a level above anything else’.
From ‘Will Kota’
Would you like to team with Will Ospreay and go for the tag belts?
Okada: No. Ospreay is a phenomenal wrestler, but I’ve always teamed with YOSHI-HASHI, and I’d like to keep that going.
–You and YOSHI-HASHI with the tag titles is quite the image.
Okada: I might cry…. actually, nah. (laughs)