The Tale Of The Dream Team: Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi



For the better part of the last 12 years, New Japan Pro Wrestling has been the gold standard of pro wrestling. And at the helm of the promotion have been the 2 greatest wrestlers of the 2010s, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi. As a team or as opponents, they represented NJPW through thick and thin. Their careers have been intertwined to such an extent that one’s story is impossible to tell without the other. As they part ways with Okada’s departure from NJPW, we look back at their legendary rivalry and the story of this dream team. 


Okada would return home from his excursion for Wrestle Kingdom 6 as he faced his YOSHI-HASHI in an extremely underwhelming match at the dome. He then went on to challenge Tanahashi for the IWGP heavyweight championship after Tana retained his title against Suzuki. This decision was met with almost universally negative reactions as Okada didn’t even look close to being ready for that kind of responsibiltybut regardless, the match was set for Edion Arena in Osaka. This turned out to be the masterstroke of the century as Okada won the title in his first challenge and completely blindsided everyone. This would famously go on to become known as the Rainmaker Shock. 


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The match itself is nothing short of fantastic either. Okada played the prick to perfection and Tanahashipaid the price for not even considering him as a serious challenge as he made mistake after mistake including not even doing the right amount of leg work that he would on any other challenger that he took seriously. If you go from the dome redebut to this match directly, it’s kind of shocking to see how much better Okada already was. Almost like he was bluffing but I don’tthink so. He just kind of takes the fake it until you make it route and goddamn does he make it quickly.


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Okada would go on to reign until Dominion before Tanahashi came back for his throne. Fully prepared, knowing what awaits him, Tana was ready for Okada who had been on top of the world since February and had the idea that he was invincible, even trying to skip the feeling out process. And that is what invites failure. It’s not quite the Okada performance from Newbeginning but it’s still great and Tanahashi being aware of all the holes in Okada’s game makes sure he is back to the top as the ace reigns supreme. And thus begins Okada’s trial by fire.


The pair meet again at the dome next year and this is completely uncharted waters for Okada. This time he cannot charge straight ahead because he knows Tanahashi has him scouted. He tries his best to take a measured approach and escape the leg work, but it all comes down to experience. Tana thinks on the fly, overwhelms him with big moves to distract Okada and eventually gets in the leg work. Okada panicks and relentlessly tries to hit the Rainmaker as his get out of jail option to no avail and falls yet again. Tanahashistomps his foot in authority, establishing that this is still his yard. 


After two consecutive failures, Okada has been humbled. He’s not the same brash young boy anymore, not to the extent he used to be at least. Crowds started warming up to him as their guy. This begins his ascension to acedom. However, with the support of the fans comes pressure. Not only of their hopes, but of the fact that he must prove to himself and everyone that the Rainmaker shock wasn’t a fluke and do something that he has never done before. The secret recipe to achieving that is very simple. It’s to stay true to yourself and do what you know how to do best. This is the key to Okada’s success. The ever-evolving Tanahashi seemingly wanting to challenge himself,goes for the arm when Okada was able to evade the leg attacks but instead of using that as a distraction, Tanahashi just leans heavily into it. To Okada’s credit, his selling is nothing short of amazing, in particular themoment when he takes the elbow guard off the left arm and puts it on the right arm is one of my favouritepieces of selling moments ever. The lack of the leg work makes it easier for Okada to avoid Tanahashi’sbig offence and Tana doesn’t have anything in his moveset to deal a killer blow to the arm so Okada is simply able to survive the onslaught and finally lands the Rainmaker for the win. The difference between the two on this night came because one stayed true to himself, and the other didn’t. 


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They run the match two more times in 2013 whichserve as perfect storytelling devices. The KOPW title match especially, really helps hammer it home that Tanahashi is much more prone to making mistakes at this stage as he goes for the arm once again and it costs him the opportunity to get back to the top. At one point, Tanahashi plays possum pretending to have hurt his leg and it’s just so good. The proud smirk on his face as he gets booed is wonderful and leads to an awesome payback moment later when Okada hits a dragonscrew of his own to actually hurt it! Tana is much more vicious with the arm work in this match and goads Okada into striking contests and hurt his arm even more. There are so many little things he does while selling the arm that are genuinely insane considering his experience level at this point. He’s able to survive an awesome extended counter sequence to seal his win. 




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In terms of the actual work itself, these two aren’t doing anything revolutionary this deep into their series but they always stick to what has been the best trait of their rivalry which is the fact that every match feels like a natural progression of their story so far. Tanahashi is back on top by the time Wrestle Kingdom 9 comes around and Okada is chasing him once again, combined with the his WK 7 loss and having lost the belt in 2014, he’s desperate. He makes Tanahashi work harder to get in his usual work as Tana is in the final days of his prime. They do all the usual big move trading which is still phenomenal. The difference comes with Tanahashi knowing his limitations now and the fact that he simply has to survive whatever Okada brings and thus comes the moment that changes everything. Tanahashi becomes the first guy to directly kick out of the Rainmaker and Okada is clueless after this. Tana overwhelms him with sick stuff and retains his title as we get the image of Okada crying on his way to the back, heartbroken by failure. 




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Okada holds the belt coming into WK 10 but it still feels like he’s chasing Tanahashi. A Tanahashi that is visibly slower and broken down and thus we get this match. This is Tanahashi’s masterclass. Okada plays his role well and does everything that is asked of himperfectly with the leg selling and everything. But what Tanahashi does to pass the torch here is genuinely once in a lifetime. He’s not only selling the damage of Okada’s work here but at the same time he’s also selling this idea that he’s at the twilight of his peak in such a way that he’s exhausted and in immense pain from the smallest of things. He has to pull out big stuff early on simply to get momentum in his favour. I have heard criticisms like him shifting legs during his limbwork but that simply comes off as a desperate measure to me as him trying latch on to anything to not let go of his position as the top guy. He’s able to survive the Rainmaker again but it’s different now. Time’s arrow only moves in one direction and so even though Tana doesn’t make any mistakes as such but Okada maintains wrist control in one of the most iconic images in wrestling history and hits another Rainmaker to finally become the undisputed top guy in the country. They meet in the G1 again and while they still go to a draw, it’s not about Okada being saved by the bell. He kicks out of the High fly flow as they firmly establish that Okada’s just better now. 





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Fast forward to 2018 and Okada is the god of the world having equaled Tanahashi’s defence record while Tana has had a rough year so far going through injuries, losing the IC title to Suzuki and losing the NJ cup final to Zack while also dealing with injuries. Okada and Tanahashi meet again at Dontaku as Okada’s looking to break the defence record. He’s so much meaner once again like he used to be in 2012. He has no respect for Tanahashi and his arrogance is through the roof. Tanahashi tries his best to control Okada to no avail. He’s not just fighting Okada, he’s fighting time. And time waits for no one. Nonetheless after trying so hard, he’s finally able to break the wrist control more than 2 years since WK 10 but Okada immediately grabs his tights and lands the Rainmaker for the win. It’s so emphatic and heartbreaking that it feels like this is theend. But the reality couldn’t be more different. 

They meet in the G1 again after Okada has lost the title to Kenny Omega and is going through a midlife crisis of sorts. He needs to win the match to qualify for the finals, but Tanahashi only needs a draw. However, Tana still hasn’t beaten Okada since 2015 so he’s very quick to go for the knee. Something that’s different once again is Okada, against his nature goes after Tanahashi’s injured knee too. He’s a total dick in this but in a different way than before which makes this match very interesting. Tana while only requiring a draw is still the more desperate of the two, trying his hardest to win but time runs out again. Nonetheless, Tana goes through and wins the G1. 



Tanahashi though, still isn’t satisfied. There’s one thing he hasn’t done in almost 4 years and that’s beat Okada. Okada is once again chasing him again for the first time in 3 plus years being desperate to get back to the title. Okada goes for the leg once again andTanahashi’s selling is out of this world. He intentionally throws weaker elbows to sell the fact that he isn’t able to get proper footing due to the hurt leg. Okada’s mean. Tanahashi’s the people’s beloved. Notexactly a new dynamic but pulled off to such perfection with an incredibly hot crowd. In the end the equation simply boils down who stays true to themselves. Just like it did 5 years ago in 2013. Tanahashi does that and pulls off the win after an awesome High fly flow combo. Time’s arrow only moves in one direction, and you can’t turn it back, so Tanahashi didn’t try to. He simply raced against time and ran harder than ever before. GO ACE!







The final chapter of the greatest wrestling story ever told would be with Okada and Tanahashi as allies now as they formed the dream team. Marquee matches, tag title challenges and an amazing trios title run with Ishii in 2023 as they would face each other 4 more times. 3 of these were just them playing the greatest hits, but the hits are so wonderful that you could never go wrong. 

This year, Okada’s departure from NJPW was announced and they met once again for the last time. Same venue as 12 years ago. When the bell rang it really hit me that this was going to be the final time.The crowd was going insane for Okada showing their appreciation for all that he’s given them. However, Okada can’t help but be a dick when he’s facing Tanahashi. He’s great here, just being mean enough for the crowd to boo him. Of course, this isn’t as great as their peaks of the years gone by, but it didn’t really need to be, and I appreciate that it didn’t try to be. Youjust give your best possible effort in the situation you’re in currently. It’s not about replicating the classics. It’s about what you have to offer in the present. They replay some of their classic spots, Tana tries to break the wrist control with slaps once again, the Rainmaker shock sequence among others. But time is too far ahead now and the gap between them has only widened. Okada hits the Rainmaker to close the book on the greatest wrestling rivalry of all time as both men embrace on the lion mark. 

New Japan’s Rainmaker is about to go make it rain on the world now as Tanahashi holds down the fort back home after bidding farewell 

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