One record yet to be set. One mountain yet to climb.
The greatest rivalry in the modern era of Professional Wrestling is Kazuchika Okada versus Hiroshi Tanahashi. Their all-time, head-to-head record in singles matches stands at 4-4-2 and they meet one more time for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on May 4th in Fukuoka.
Okada will have held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for 686 days when these two perennial foes close out the two-day Wrestling Dontaku event on May 4th.
686 days is 199 days longer than Shinya Hashimoto held the title for in the previous record.
Okada’s 686 day reign also represents:
Eleven consecutive title defense leaves Okada tied with Tanahashi. One more win and he stands alone at the top.
While the Rainmaker owns the time since taking the title for the fourth time on June 19, 2016, time has not been kind to Tanahashi.
A shoulder issue shelved The Ace and forced him out of the Intercontinental Championship picture when Okada beat Naito at Dominion nearly two years ago.
In May of 2017, Tanahashi tore his bicep. Okada was 11 months into his 4th reign when the “Once a Century” talent went down.
Late in 2017, Tanahashi was diagnosed with an arthritic condition in his knee, forcing him to miss time. January 28, 2018, he was stretchered out of Sapporo following the torturing at the hands of Minoru Suzuki.
But each time, Hiroshi Tanahashi came back.
Now, he comes forward to challenge Okada one more time.
In January 2012, Kazuchika Okada returned from an underwhelming excursion and a middling match at Wrestle Kingdom to challenge then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tanahashi. “No chance”, they said. Even Tanahashi scoffed but accepted.
On April 1st, the tables turned when The Ace challenged Okada. “No chance”, they said. Even Okada scoffed but accepted.
Tied at 11 title defenses and tied in head-to-head record, it’s apropos for Okada to face Tanahashi at Wrestling Dontaku.
Can Hiroshi Tanahashi turn back time and end the record-breaking reign of Kazuchika Okada? It will take a Herculean effort to beat a champion on a whole other level.
Also on this tour, I am excited to see David Finlay challenge “Switchblade” Jay White on April 24th at Korakuen. Finlay speared White at laid down the challenge at “Strong Style Evolved”. Nine singles losses in a row to White can be washed away with one win for Finlay, as the fourth-generation star looks to claim his first singles title in NJPW.
On April 27th, the Road to Wrestling Dontaku heads to Hiroshima and Juice Robinson faces champion Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship. They met in 2017 in Juice’s first singles title match. Both are improved since then and the challenger is a favorite among several experts.
Matches within factions are rare in New Japan. Title matches within factions are even more rare. On May 3rd, Bullet Club members The Young Bucks and “The Villain” Marty Scurll take on fellow Bullet Club mates Bad Luck Fale and the Guerrillas of Destiny for the NEVER Openweight Six Men Tag Team Championship. In the main event, Kenny Omega meets Hangman Page in a grudge match going back to January 29th in Sapporo. What will Bullet Club look like following this tour?
Will Ospreay defends the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against KUSHIDA on May 4th in Fukuoka. After barely surviving against Scurll at Sakura Genesis, will the Aerial Assassin be able to outlast the former 5-time champ? Ospreay had lost four in a row to the Timesplitter before finally taking the title from him last October at King of Pro Wrestling.
The tour starts on April 13th and the broadcast schedule can be found on njpwworld.com. Don Callis and I will be in Fukuoka to call the final two nights live! Sign up now & Stay tuned to https://njpwworld.com/
Yours in Sport,