What’s Kazuchika Okada‘s next move after losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship? The answer could be tag team wrestling.
Before New Japan Pro Wrestling went on hiatus – the company hasn’t run any shows during the COVID-19 pandemic and has committed to not laying off its workers – there were shake-ups in multiple title pictures, including Tetsuya Naito becoming the first person to hold the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles at the same time and the new-ish team of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi winning the heavyweight tag team championship. Tanahashi and Ibushi’s win gave the tag title picture an injection of star power and, Okada said in a recent interview, made the scene a lot more appealing.
The prospect of guys that I’ve fought so hard with in singles being tag champions, that’s intriguing… And wrestling the two of them together, that’s something different to singles matches we’ve had before. I know I only just lost my title to Naito, but if it’s a question of wrestling for the tag titles or a double IWGP championship match, the tag titles are more interesting to me.
That’s obviously a kayfabe answer, but Okada goes on to make some legitimate points about Ibushi and Tanahashi winning the tag titles and about tag wrestling in general, along with some hints about the next stage of his career:
It’s something new. It’s a breath of fresh air. I really feel that I want to show something new, so there is something appealing about being in a tag team championship situation. It’s something I’ve never done, rather than try to take my belt back from Naito…
Plus, we don’t see tag title main events these days. Maybe at Korakuen, but not often for major cards. I’d like that. Tag is something that makes pro wrestling distinct from other martial arts. Not in boxing, not in MMA. It can be something we point to and say, ‘Pro wrestling is a level above anything else.’
Who would Okada go for the tag titles with? He says it would have to be Yoshi-Hashi. “We’ve been together since we were both starting out in New Japan. We fought each other on our return match, but we get along really well. It’s easy to speak my mind with him, there isn’t any sempai/kohai stuff. I never get tired of teaming with him.”
There’s a few teams in the tag title mix already – Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. were clearly gunning for the champs before the pandemic began – but maybe we could see Okada and Yoshi-Hashi with gold whenever New Japan starts up again.