As of October 22nd, Kazuchika Okada is now officially the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling. At 490 days, the “Rainmaker” surpasses the previous reign set by the legendary Shinya Hashimoto in 1996.
Okada breaks the record with one more title defense under his belt than Hashimoto at eight in total, with his ninth defense already confirmed for Wrestle Kingdom 12. The “Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi holds the all-time record for defenses in a single title run with eleven; perhaps the champion’s next goal should he successfully retain against Tetsuya Naito on January 4th.
Hashimoto’s two decade old record was the final accolade that many fans and wrestling historians needed to declare Okada’s reign the greatest in history. During his 490 days as champion the young 29-year-old prodigy has competed in several of the highest rated and regarded matches of all time, including three bouts with Kenny Omega that were all rated at “six stars” or higher by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Under Okada the promotion has seen measurable growth in virtually every available metric, with fans selling out nearly all of New Japan’s tours in 2017. Their arrival in the United States – featuring a main event title defense against Cody Rhodes – sold out in a matter of hours. Tickets for this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 were well above previous years (which were already on an upward tick), and sales for Wrestle Kingdom 12 in 2018 are reportedly several months ahead of projections before on-sale to the general public has even begun.
As champion, Okada’s performances in both the 2016 and 2017 G1 Climax tournaments were nearly flawless. He has easily set a record for the most stars awarded by the Wrestling Obsever Newsletter to a single performer over the course of a single title reign; one that is likely to never be broken. His bouts with Tomohiro Ishii, Naomichi Marufuji, Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki, Michael Elgin, and of course Kenny Omega will stand the test of time; any one of them would be in serious contention for Match of the Year at any point in history.
490 days. Today Kazuchika Okada not only becomes the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion to ever hold the title, but he stakes his undisputed claim as the greatest champion in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
And now we begin to ponder the impossible question: how does he compare to the greatest title reigns in all of professional wrestling? Runs like Kenta Kobashi from 2003-2005 with the GHC Heavyweight Championship; Hulk Hogan’s four-year reign as WWF Champion; Bryan Danielson defending the ROH World Championship 38 times in 462 days; Ric Flair’s 1989-1990 run against the likes of Ricky Steamboat and Terry Funk.
Congratulations Rainmaker: Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World.