In the world of wrestling, when two wrestlers perform at a historic level, such an effort often leads to demands of a repeat performance.
Whether it be Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, or Steve Austin vs. The Rock, if a match tells a great story and receives large amounts of praise, a rematch is warranted. As soon as fans see something that they like and connect with they have a desire for more, leading bookers to either hastily book sequels for the next month’s pay per view to maximize the hype or let the first match marinate in the minds of the hungry fans until they serve the rematch on a future date.
The same holds true for the first match between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Throughout this ongoing series, WrestleTalk will continually analyze the greatest rivalries in professional wrestling history, starting with the six-year story told by New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi. In Part 1, we analyzed the famous “Rainmaker Shock” of Okada and Tanahashi’s first match from The New Beginning in 2012. Their first match together was a surprise to all who witnessed it as few expected the ace of New Japan to be thoroughly dominated by a cocky young heel as Tanahashi was by Okada. However, when the match was over I don’t think there was anyone watching it that thought that it would be the end of their story.
Every time a sequel is made there is a pressure to deliver a product better than the original: some sequels attempt to find success in simply giving audiences more of what they liked the first time by regurgitating the same exact plot as the first time. More often than not this leaves the audiences disappointed. However, the great sequels of history are the ones that chose to expand upon the characters and plots of the originals and executed such a task masterfully.
And the second bout in the Tanahashi/Okada rivalry did just so.
In the months following the shocking defeat of Hiroshi Tanahashi at the hands of Kazuchika Okada, Okada defended his newly won IWGP Heavyweight Championship on two occasions. The first being against the young and popular Tetsuya Naito at New Japan‘s 40th Anniversary show. Naito worked over Okada’s knee during the match and had many in attendance believing that he would win his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada was able to outlast the “Stardust Genius” and pick up his first successful title defense, which came at a cost: his knee was damaged in the match, an important storyline factor to keep in mind going forward.
Meanwhile, Hiroshi Tanahashi nearly managed to earn a rematch by competing in the 2012 New Japan Cup. Driven by his desire to regain his championship, Tanahashi managed to defeat Toru Yano, Tetsuya Naito and Karl Anderson to make it to the finals of the tournament where he faced Hirooki Goto. Despite fighting well, the tournament had taken its toll on Tanahashi and he fell to Goto, failing to earn the rematch he longed for.
Okada’s second title defense came at Wrestling Dontaku against Goto. In this match, Okada had significant support from the audience who seemed to be drawn to his consistently great matches and all-around talent since winning the championship in February. After a good match, Okada is able to hit his Rainmaker and secure his second title defense before he was challenged by Tanahashi for a long-awaited rematch. The reactions of both men are telling how much their attitudes have changed in just three months. Tanahashi is calm and collected while Okada is arrogant and confident. Okada accepts Tanahashi’s proposed rematch as both men pose in the ring.
With a young, arrogant Okada now the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and a determined Tanahashi entering as his challenger, the stage was set for their rematch at Dominion in June.
NEXT: NJPW Dominion 6.16: “The Rematch”