This match! This rivalry! Where do I even begin? How about with a fun fact, and we’ll see what happens from there? Wrestle Kingdom 10 marks the 7th time Okada and Tanahashi will have faced each other for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. They are currently tied with three wins a piece. Tanahashi got the last, tear inducing win over Okada earlier this year at Wrestle Kingdom 9. In a way, you can think of their next match as the final in a very long “Best of Seven Series” which started in 2012 and ends, assumedly, in 2016. Another fun fact is that Wrestle Kingdom 10 will be Tanahashi’s 6th straight Tokyo Dome main event (3rd against Okada). What’s even more impressive is that he’s 5 for 5! If this were NBA Jam, he’d be “on fire.”
Okada is coming into the match as champion, defeating A.J. Styles for the title at Dominion in Osaka-jo Hall in July. Tanahashi earned his right to challenge Okada for the title by winning the 2015 G1 Climax. However, before getting to Wrestle Kingdom, Tanahashi had to defend his title match contract in matches against Bad Luck Fale and Tetsuya Naito, who both defeated Tanahashi during the G1 tournament. Meanwhile, Okada successfully defended his title against Styles in a rematch at King of Pro Wrestling in October.
Being the 7th time the two men will have met for the title, and their 9th singles match together (the first was when Okada was a Young Lion, but it still counts), there is a bit of a feeling of “not this again” coming into the match. But that’s the general complaint with New Japan in 2015. With the exclusion of an incredible character transformation here or there (Ingobernable Naito), New Japan’s booking has played things very safe for the most part, with very little changing since Wrestle Kingdom 9.
The Bullet Club is still…being the Bullet Club. With each passing day, they become more and more like the original NWO as they continue to spawn new members like Mogwai exposed to water (See Chase Owens). Nakamura is still the IC Champ, though he did part with the title throughout the year. Ishii is the NEVER Openweight Champion, just like he was going into Wrestle Kingdom 9. Gallows & Anderson are the IWGP Tag Team Champs, just like they were at Wrestle Kingdom 9. And you guessed it, reDRagon are the IWGP Jr. Tag Champs going into Wrestle Kingdom 10, just like they were going into Wrestling Kingdom 9. Even Kenny Omega, who won the IWGP Jr. title at Wrestle Kingdom 9, is the champ going into Wrestle Kingdom 10.
In a sense, we’re pretty much getting the same show as last year, though without the time restriction due to Global Force Wrestling’s broadcast in the U.S., and, sadly, also without Minoru Suzuki (Rambo entrant?). So the blame can’t be put solely on the main event for not feeling fresh. It’s a whole group effort. It’s like New Japan saw the Obama “Change” poster and said, “Nope, let’s not do that.” At least without the U.S. PPV time restriction, we’ll hopefully get the big, elaborate entrances of Wrestle Kingdoms past. DeLoreans and pole dancing routines, please!
While I may sound a little unenthused by yet another Tanahashi/Okada match, there are some upsides to Tanahashi vs. Okada VII. The most important being that they’ve never had a bad match together, and I don’t think they’re going to start at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Anything under 4.5 stars by these two on this stage would be considered a disappointment, which probably adds a bit of pressure. Another is the fact that while this match was only officially announced in October, it was more or less made the moment Okada lost to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 9. After the match, Okada was completely devastated, and left the ring in tears.
It was clear that match last January was not going to be the end of their long and storied rivalry, and another Wrestle Kingdom main event was looming. It was more just a question of if it was going to be at the following Wrestle Kingdom, or saved for further down the line. Thus, while it’s not the freshest match up, it does have a long, solid, emotional backstory and we can expect a fitting conclusion, i.e. Okada redeems himself for being a crybaby and finally defeats Tanahashi in the Tokyo Dome, the figurative torch is passed, the student becomes the master, and so forth.
Okada vs. Tanahashi: The Champion vs. The Ace. I know I should be more excited for this than I am, and I am excited. It’s just not off the charts levels. I think what I’m most looking forward to is this match possibly capping off what has been one of the highest profile rivalries in Japan in the current decade, and possibly the best in terms of match quality. If nothing else, it’s all but guaranteed to be a hell of a match.