Cross Examination: Okada vs. Tanahashi Is The Perfect Main Event

Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi will meet again in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10. Both earned those spots at this week’s King of Pro Wrestling event—Okada defended...
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Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi will meet again in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 10. Both earned those spots at this week’s King of Pro Wrestling event—Okada defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against A.J. Styles and Tanahashi topped Tetsuya Naito to win No. 1 contendership. It’ll be their third main event together at a Wrestle Kingdom. For the fourth straight year, Okada will battle for the heavyweight title. For the sixth straight year, Tanahashi will main event the biggest New Japan show of the year.

Even though it seems like a repetitive finish , it’s exactly the right call.

Along with Shinsuke Nakamura, Okada and Tanahashi are unequivocally the top stars in New Japan. At least one of those three needs to be in the main event of every major show, and at Wrestle Kingdom, two of the three should main event unless a new star is being built à la Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 31. That’s not happening this year, and for good reason.

Okada and Tanahashi have met eight times before in singles matches. Tanahashi has a 4-3-1 record in these matches. Six of the matchups came with the heavyweight title on the line, and they’ve each won three. Although it’s been a very even rivalry, Okada still has something to accomplish: defeating Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom.

Okada lost to Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdoms 7 and 9. Although they didn’t battle each other at Wrestle Kingdom 8, Tanahashi still came out on top of Okada. A fan vote was held to determine the order of the final two matches: Tanahashi’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship match against Nakamura won, relegating Okada’s heavyweight title defense against Naito to the penultimate fight of the evening. Although he beat Naito to defend the title and defeated YOSHI-HASHI in less than five minutes at Wrestle Kingdom 6, Okada said this week between the match demotion and the losses to Tanahashi, he has no good memories of Wrestle Kingdom.

This seems to be setting up for a fairly obvious story. The young Rainmaker will finally overcome the aging Once in a Century Talent, triumph over his demons, and take his rightful place as the face of the company. Tanahashi has been the top guy in New Japan for nearly ten years—which is why so many refer to him as the Japanese John Cena.

Much like Cena, it is amazing Tanahashi has been on top for so long. He’s won the last five Wrestle Kingdom main events. The last time he lost a match at Wrestle Kingdom, the Jacksonville Jaguars were in the NFL playoffs. It’s time for his winning streak to break.

Ever since Okada returned from TNA, he’s been pegged as the next big thing. Although he’s proven himself to be a worthy top guy, he hasn’t beaten the current top guy on the biggest stage. It looks like it’s going to happen in January, and the greatest rivalry in wrestling of the past three-and-a-half years will likely have the passing of the torch fans have been waiting for.

Other notes from King of Pro Wrestling

New Japan is not for everyone. King of Pro Wrestling was chock full of great matches, but that’s about all it had. There wasn’t much in the way of humor or popcorn segments. It was nearly four hours of wall-to-wall wrestling with a 10-minute recap segment halfway through. While that sounds great in theory, it was very difficult to sit and watch it all at once. Even though all the matches were good, it was too long and not varied enough.

The crowd wasn’t very interesting. Wrestling fans in Japan treat it differently. American fans treat pro wrestling as a sport, while Japanese fans treat it as a play – they applaud after good moves or when the match is over, but they rarely chant or cheer excessively. The chants didn’t get any more complex than the name of the wrestlers. This has good points and bad points – there were no Full Sail-esque fans putting themselves over, but there were no significant pops either.

Matt Striker has improved, but he needs to get over his WWE tenure. Striker, who wasn’t very good in WWE mostly because his style didn’t mesh with anyone else who worked there as an announcer, was a very good color commentator alongside the reliable Kevin Kelly. Striker dissected moves while nicely walking the line between unclear and excessively detailed. However, he continued to take shots at WWE, saying at one point that the workers were “wrestlers,” not “Superstars.” Although there may be some bad blood between Striker and WWE, he needs to stop pandering to the indy crowd like that. New Japan doesn’t need to be compared to WWE; it just needs to be entertaining, which it is. Let puroresu be puroresu and let sports entertainment be sports entertainment. columnist Evan Cross can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter .

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