ALL ELITE ASSESSMENT – KAZUCHIKA OKADA: A look at his background, his latest chapter, and his future in AEW as a member of The Elite

By Dan Allanson, PWTorch contributor



Kazuchika Okada is the most critically acclaimed professional wrestler of the last decade. Building a legacy at the top of the NJPW roster which may never be surpassed, Okada sought a new challenge and alongside Mercedes Moné and Will Ospreay as one of AEW’s trio of statement signings in 2024.

Curiously, Okada’s journey did not begin in the New Japan Dojo but under the tutelage of legendary Ultimo Dragon in Mexico as part of the Toryumon wrestling school. After numerous independent dates across North America, Okada would return to Japan in 2007 and settle at the aforementioned NJPW dojo. Initially framed as a junior heavyweight the future “Rainmaker” would develop whilst opposing NJPW’s luminaries such as Tetsuya Naito, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Hirooki Goto. As is tradition, Okada would then be sent on a learning excursion in order to hone his craft and add differing styles to his development.

Okada’s destination was, infamously, TNA in 2010. In a bizarre “what could have been?” tale, Okada would flounder on the TNA roster. Often featured on TNA house events and supplementary show Xplosion, Okada was unable to gain a foothold on continuous weekly television. Indeed, Okada’s stay in TNA was exemplified by his character change to Okato, a seeming pastiché on the popular Kato character from “The Green Hornet” television series screened 30 years prior. Shockingly, the Kato character did not launch the talented Okada to new heights and soon disappeared. The ramifications for such a creative blunder were sizable as NJPW reportedly ceased its collaborative relationship with TNA thereafter (a reconciliation was made in 2017). Okada does, though, credit TNA for teaching him a valuable lesson – that character was just as important as in-ring acumen. It was a lesson Okada would take with him on his return to NJPW.

The following 13 years would cement Okada as Japan’s most valuable wrestling commodity of the 2010s. Adopting the “Rainmaker” character, Okada moved into the heavyweight division. The change in persona and size was stark as Okada added an exaggerated showman trait to his already impressive in-ring work. Okada would soon win his first of five IWGP Heavyweight Titles, defeating long-term rival Hiroshi Tanahashi. A G1 Climax tournament victory would follow, becoming the youngest competitor to do so, cementing Okada as a main eventer to stay.

The next several years would see a cavalcade of accolades for the former Okato. Four G1 tournament wins, a New Japan cup, and eight headlining spots on NPJW’s signature event “Wrestle Kingdom” would reflect an unrivaled NJPW in-ring career. Critical acclaim from fans and top-shelf wrestling publications would run in parallel. Two matches in particular against rival Kenny Omega could be considered the best professional wrestling matches of this millennium (depending on your metrics) and announced Okada as a sought-after name outside Japan.


Given his credentials, Okada entered AEW with surprisingly little fanfare as part of the inaugural “Forbidden Door” 2022 build. Known for his ostentatious entrance, Okada charged to the ring in street clothes to help an out-numbered “Hangman” Adam Page. He would then compete in a seemingly thrown-together four-way at the PPV opposite then NJPW Heavyweight champion Jay White, Adam Cole, and Hangman. White would retain his title and Okada would return to NJPW until the next “Forbidden Door” event.

“Forbidden Door” 2023 would pair Okada in another AEW “dream match” against Bryan Danielson. A much-improved match would lead to the same result, Okada losing (this time via submission) and returning to NJPW again with another mark in the losing side of the ledger.

In early 2024 NJPW announced that Okada would not be re-signing with the company. Negotiations with both major American promotions commenced with question marks over Okada’s destination. Familiarity (and a reported more favorable schedule) would win out for AEW over WWE so Okada would officially debut as an All-Elite wrestler on the Mar. 6 episode of Dynamite. Surprisingly, Okada would re-debut as a heel, attacking Eddie Kingston and aligning with real life friends The Young Bucks to form a re-engineered Elite.

This surprise attack would lead to Okada’s first AEW feud with then Continental Champion Kingston. Two weeks after debut Okada defeated Kingston on a loaded Mar. 20 episode of Dynamite to claim his first AEW gold, the Continental Championship. Backstage arrivals in sports cars, watching stablemates The Young Bucks on monitors, and squash match victories have followed, but Okada does thankfully have a next opponent lined up in a returning Pac. The two are on a collision course at the upcoming inaugural Dynasty PPV.


It has been posited that AEW Creative has an issue with featuring significant names on a consistent basis. Critics could cite multiple names that, once signed, have become quickly lost in the shuffle amongst AEW’s bulging roster. On current evidence, Okada’s AEW early months have been underwhelming.

There are reasons for this malaise. Firstly, Okada debuted in close proximity to fellow signees Moné and Ospreay thus diluting his impact. Secondly, the current main event scene has ongoing storylines which would suffer if interrupted. The World Title narrative is currently built around a rivalry between Samoa Joe and a resurgent Swerve Strickland. The TNT Title has been monopolized by the Adam Copeland vs. Christian Cage soap-opera and the Young Bucks have been preoccupied with the tag team title tournament. In wrestling, timing is everything.

As proven in NJPW, Okada is at his best when showcased as the centrepiece. That position may take time in AEW but Okada should be kept relevant in the meantime with a strong Continental title run. Feature Okada sparingly but significantly. A bi-weekly title defence against strong opponents would introduce Okada’s fighting spirit and style to a mainstream American audience. The aloofness, sports cars and prestige presentation help but when Okada is not in the ring feature him in character-based video packages defining his move-set and character.

A victory over Pac should be a given in a highly competitive and entertaining match. The PPV match at Dynasty should act as a template for Okada defenses moving forward. Matches against sympathetic babyfaces should follow. New and intriguing opponents such as Mark Briscoe, Daniel Garcia, Claudio Castagnoli, and Kyle O’Reilly could build Okada to a showdown with prior opponent Will Ospreay at All In 2024.


A slow start but certainly not terminal for the recently debuted Okada. There are reasons for the lack of spark (both in television ratings and talking points), but the Rainmaker is certainly a star which AEW needs to feature more significantly.

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