Posted August 31st, 2017 by Bill Apter

Jermaine Royster reporting …

Its that time again where wrestling fans flock to magazine stands or their iPad’s to see which wrestler scored #1 in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated 500 list, an award that’s given to the top guy that’s had the best year in Pro Wrestling. When you mention a wrestler having a very special year that’s worth remembering, there aren’t that many examples to go around. Ric Flair’s run in JCP/WCW circa 1989 comes to mind with the tremendous matches with Ricky Steamboat then the return feud with Terry Funk. Steve Austin’s first WWF Championship run in 1998-99 is just as good as I thought anyone could get as he almost single handedly brought the then World Wrestling Federation out of the shadow of World Championship Wrestling during the Monday Night Wars. Pro Wrestling always evolves and sometimes you get classic matches, long title runs & great stories that come with it. This year New Japan Pro Wrestling superstar and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada has done all of the above. “The RainMaker” has had a year for the age’s and he is now the first ever Asian Pro Wrestler to be named at #1. With all the progress(no pun intended) that New Japan has gained in 2017 by entering the US Market and all the success of the streaming service NJPWWorld there is no shock that Pro Wrestling Illustrated has made this choice.

Right now in in the Pro Wrestling World there is no one who has done what this man has done simple and plain. From July 2016 to July of 2017 Okada has faced just about every top name in New Japan, NOAH and Ring of Honor and they all have fallen to the RainMaker short arm lariat. In April of last year Okada faced Tetsuya Naito at Invasion Attack and with the help of SANADA, Naito pinned Okada and took the IWGP Heavyweight Title. Okada would get the strap back at the rematch in June at Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall, this is where Okada’s great run with the title would begin. In the very first night of the annual G1 Climax 26 tournament Okada faced Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Naomichi Marafuji and in a stunning match Marafuji would hit his jumping Tombstone Pile Driver and get the win, it would be the last time Okada would get pinned for quite sometime. Of course there would be a rematch and in October at King of Pro Wrestling, Okada would get his win back but the story of this match was the punishment that Okada took to get that victory. This match would start a string of performances where Okada would face someone and almost all of the matches were different. After beating Marafuji it was time for Wrestle Kingdom 11, his opponent..Kenny Omega. If you’re a fan of Pro Wrestling then this needs no introduction. Okada would face Kenny Omega in the main event at the Tokyo Dome and they put on a show that no ever could have imagined, Dave Meltzer would give it 6 stars instead of the regular 5. These two would put on a classic rematch where they would eclipse the 60 minute mark which gained more stars(7) then during the G1 Climax semi’s Omega would finally pin Okada and advance to the Finals but lets go back for a minute.

Okada’s matches from February through July of this year are just a beauty to watch because he took on all challengers and each time the matches would get better. Minoru Suzuki stepped up at New Beginning and he literally beat the crap out Kazuchika, then it was TigerMask W. Okada/TMW wasn’t as brutal but the high spots were amazing and both showed stellar moves. What did it for me was when Okada faced the winner of the New Japan Cup Tournament and my favorite wrestler, Katsuyori Shibata. What people remember most is the Subdural Hematoma that Shibata suffered but this match told a story that Okada has to now face a “Man’s” Man. After Shibata was the massive “Underboss” of the Bullet Club, Bad Luck Fale. Fale would simply toss Okada around but again like in the Shibata match we would see Okada change his style mid match to defeat someone and that’s why he is no doubt the best wrestler in the world right now. Okada would round out July with a great match with Ring of Honor World Champion Cody & a 30 minute draw with Minoru Suzuki in the G1 Climax 27 tournament.

There has never been an Asian born Pro Wrestler to achieve No.1 honors in the annual PWI 500 issue, Okada spoke to Pro Wrestling Illustrated and he said, “What this award signifies is that wrestling fans and media worldwide are thinking about what promotion and what wrestler deserves their attention, and their answer is Okada. Its an indication that finally the world at large is realizing just how great Japanese wrestlers and Japanese wrestling is, and that’s special.”

If there is anyone who deserves this award it is “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada for not only putting on stellar matches but to have the IWGP Championship for this run and putting down all comers. Also the way he has been the leader of New Japan Pro Wrestling surpassing the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi & the departed Shinsuke Nakamura(WWE) as NJPW is now promoting in the USA and their presence is rapidly growing.

The “PWI 500” is available for purchase in print and digital formats at
Okada appears exclusively on PWI Podcast to discuss the “500” and New Japan’s emergence in the U.S. market at or via free subscription at the iTunes Store.

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