To many wrestling fans, there aren’t any two wrestlers active today better than AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada. One is a legend that made his name all over the world and has been named the Shawn Michaels of his generation. The other is, without question, the biggest wrestling star in New Japan history.
Both men are known for their extensive catalogues of amazing wrestling matches, and today we look back at one of the few singles matches they’ve had against each other.
Today we look back at the fourth ever singles match between Styles and Okada from NJPW’s Dominion 2015 show.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Okada and Styles have some interesting history together. Styles faced Okada in his first-ever NJPW match and beat him for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. This was a complete embarrassment for Okada; here he was, this supposed new ace of New Japan, losing to an outsider in his debut match. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it wasn’t Okada that beat Styles for the title, but Hiroshi Tanahashi, Okada’s bitter archrival. That made things so much worse for Okada; he was trying so hard to prove he was better than Tanahashi, yet Tanahashi was cleaning up after Okada and doing all the things that Okada couldn’t. In the meantime, Styles got his own measure of revenge by pinning Tanahashi in February and regaining the IWGP world title. And after Styles beat Kota Ibushi in his first defense, he found himself staring down Okada once again.
For Okada, this was his chance at redemption. He had to win to get past his earlier loss to Styles and prove that, at the very least, he could beat Styles just like Tanahashi did back in 2014. But there was an extra element of danger going into this match. Months earlier, a botched Styles Clash broke the neck of Yoshitatsu. But instead of banning the move, NJPW turned this into a story and established the Clash as a ‘killer’ move.
Going into this match, the card was stacked against Okada perhaps more than ever before. He had to deal with AJ Styles, who was seen as a better wrestler than him. He also had to deal with Styles’ finisher, which was now feared as a move that could end his career, or worse. As if that wasn’t enough, Styles also had the backing of his Bullet Club buddies, who accompanied him to the ring and liked to get involved in his matches behind the referee’s back.
So with all of these things working against him, could Okada do it? Could Okada overcome the odds more than ever before in his career and become champion once again? Or would Styles keep New Japan’s most coveted title in the Bullet Club and maintain that stable’s supremacy?
This match originally took place on July 5th, 2015 at Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Looking back now, let’s see if this match really lives up to that praise.
This is for Styles’ IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada gets a clean break in the corner and pats Styles mockingly. They trade armlocks until Styles grapples his way into a headlock. Some more technical wrestling ensues, followed by a long flash sequence involving quick pins, arm drags, Irish whips, and missed dropkicks. Styles returns to the ring following a breather and lands some quick forearms and chops. He avoids a flapjack from Okada but walks into a big back body drop. Okada follows with a cross-arm stretch but Styles gets to the ropes, so he follows with a slam/senton combo. As Styles sells on the mat, his Bullet Club buddies all come onto the apron to distract the ref. Styles goes for a sucker-punch but Okada ducks and goes to the ropes, only to be tripped up by Amber Gallows, another BC member. That allows Styles to dropkick Okada, taking control of the match.
Styles lands a corner forearm smash followed by a knee drop and then shouts at the fans, for some reason. That moment of gloating allows Okada to spring up and land some forearms and kick Styles as he attempts a back body drop of his own. And yet, Styles maintains control with a counter backbreaker and then he literally kicks Okada out of the ring. Styles distracts the referee while the BC members all stomp on Okada and throw him back into the ring. The fans remain behind Okada as he tries a comeback following a suplex with some forearms. But Styles is quick to shut him down with a big standing dropkick. And once again, he distracts referee Red Shoes while his BC buddies stomp on Okada. But this time Red Shoes has had enough and ejects BC from ringside, and then tells Styles and the rest of BC to ‘suck it’ as Styles had told the fans moments ago.
Okada tries to take advantage of this newfound evenness with some strikes but Styles knocks him to the mat and applies a deep facelock. Okada starts powering up and hits some elbows but Styles lands an elbow of his own. Styles charges but walks into a big boot. Undeterred, he lands a KENTA rush, Okada ducks a discus chop and lands an uppercut, Styles follows with an enzuigiri, and Okada answers with another uppercut. Okada starts making another comeback with forearms and counters an Irish whip with a DDT. He goes for the corner dropkick but Styles kicks first. Styles jumps off the top rope but walks into a flapjack that gets Okada a one-count. Okada goes for a diving elbow drop but Styles gets up, elbows Okada, and lands a Phenomenal DDT. Nice move there. He sends Okada into the corner and charges but Okada blocks and Styles ends up on the apron and elbows Okada. He goes for his Phenomenal Forearm but Okada kicks the ropes as Styles jumps, which causes Styles to get crotched on the rope. Then Okada dropkicks him to the floor. Now Okada’s in control.
Ringside, Okada goes to boot Styles over the barricade but Styles dodges and Okada flies over. Styles follows with a springboard elbow using the barricade and then tosses Okada back into the ring. Okada tries a desperation forearm but Styles ducks and lands a wheelbarrow facebuster for two. Styles misses a corner charge, and then so does Okada. Styles goes for his Phenomenal Forearm, but Okada dropkicks him in midair. It looks like Styles gets hit almost in the groin. Okada follows with a diving elbow drop and does the Rainmaker pose. He goes for his lariat finisher. Styles elbows out and suplexes Okada into a corner. Phenomenal Forearm connects. Styles goes for the Styles Clash. Okada counters with a reverse neckbreaker. The fans start chanting Okada’s name loudly. Styles fights out of a Tombstone and lands a big elbow. Both men start trading stiff elbows. Okada takes advantage with some uppercuts. Styles fires back with a flurry of elbows that drop Okada to his knees. Styles pulls Okada to his feet and runs to the ropes. Okada answers with a standing dropkick. He goes for a Tombstone but Styles reverses. Wait, Okada reverses. No, Styles reverses his reversal. Styles connects with a Tombstone on Okada and goes to the apron. Springboard 450 splash. One, two, Okada kicks out.
Styles drags Okada to the corner and attempts a Bloody Sunday from the top rope. But Okada hits first with forearms and then drops him off his shoulders onto the apron. Nasty landing for Styles. Styles sells like he’s struggling to breathe as Okada ascends the turnbuckle. Okada follows with a diving shotgun dropkick. That’s followed with a successful Tombstone Piledriver from Okada. Rainma – no, Styles ducks and lands a Pélé kick. Styles goes for the Clash. Okada counters and goes for a Rainmaker. Styles blocks and lands a backslide, and then flips Okada over. Okada escapes the Clash but Styles catches him in a front facelock. Bloody Sun – no, Okada escapes and tries the Rainmaker again. Styles elbows out. Okada catches his arm and uses it for his own backslide. Okada follows through with a successful Rainmaker lariat. He tries for another. Styles ducks but Okada out-maneuvers him and lands a German suplex. That’s followed by a second Rainmaker. One, two, three! There’s the match! Okada’s the new champion!
Winner and NEW IWGP Heavyweight Champion after 26:16: Kazuchika Okada
That was…not the match I was expecting. On paper, AJ Styles wrestling Kazuchika Okada should’ve been a masterpiece. They were (and still are) regarded as two of the best pro-wrestlers alive. With that in mind, I was expecting this to be some kind of monumentally-great match. But what I got was something…average. Average by these two wrestlers’ (high) standards, but average nonetheless.
I have no idea why, but outside of a teased Bloody Sunday from the top rope, Styles didn’t really do anything truly unique in this match. The first half of the match was filled with tired ‘distract the ref/interference’ clichés that every heel stable has done for decades. They tried to tell the story that Okada was outnumbered from the beginning to make him more sympathetic, and it worked to the extent that it got the fans to rally behind Okada. And yet, neither Styles nor his Bullet Club allies did anything important during that period. There was no limb being targeted, no devastating spot, no major moment of concern from the referee or the fans. It was just boring stomping and shenanigans, until the referee ejected BC from the arena. And while it got a cheap pop (for the referee, not Okada), it would’ve meant a lot more if the BC had actually anything to give Styles more of a chance of winning.
And when Styles and Okada actually got down to the nitty-gritty and wrestled, the match…lacked flow. There was no overarching story, very little in terms of psychology, and the worst part, no real tension. Even with all the moves Styles landed and all the control he had, there was something in his execution that made it hard to believe he was going to retain here. The true excitement didn’t really come until the last eight-to-ten minutes. In other words, 2/3 of the match was just pointless filler.
That said, there were some good moments in the match, though. Styles’ athleticism was on full display here as he landed one great move after another, especially towards the end. But even with those cool moves being executed, they were done without regard for any larger narrative. He and Okada had a great exchange at the end with the counters and reversals, especially with Styles coming up with creative ways to make something as simple as a backslide mean something. And of course, the teasing of the dangerous Styles Clash was great, yet it wasn’t sold by either the fans or the announcers as the dangerous, career-threatening move that it was built up to be, which, again, lessened the overall tension and atmosphere of the match.
I also think his Phenomenal DDT out of the corner was a great way for Styles to maintain control and keep Okada grounded and on the defensive. Then there was Styles’ selling, which was great. He sold Okada’s dropkick as if it were absolutely lethal, and when he fell to the floor and hit the apron, he looked and sounded like he was in legitimate pain with his labored breathing and groaning. He brought some much-needed legitimacy and realism to a match that, up to those points, came across as a bit overly theatrical.
As for Okada, he came across as…mechanical…in this match. Even though he tried to show some fire and personality by overcoming the odds and going nose-to-nose with Styles, it just didn’t work. The only time Okada did anything truly unique or special was, as usual, in his closing sequence. He and Styles had another clever counter exchange that led to a surprising and exciting finish. But outside of that, there wasn’t anything special in what Okada did. He did every single thing you’ve seen in every other big Okada match with little deviation. The only positive thing from this match’s story was that once Okada began his finisher sequence he made sure to land three Rainmakers in a row to make sure that Styles stayed down. At least in doing that he showed how much of a threat Styles was as an opponent.
Final Rating: ****1/4
As a pure athletic wrestling match, this was great. But as a singles match between two of the most beloved and skilled in-ring wrestlers in modern times, it was a bit underwhelming. There was a marked lack of tension or obstacle for Okada to overcome, which led to his win coming across as less of an unlikelihood and more of a foregone conclusion. Even with the solid action and yet another fantastic finishing sequence, the match was ultimately less thrilling than it was billed to be. Both wrestlers could’ve gone further to make this match tenser and Styles could’ve done more to really make Okada come across as an underdog. Alas, they never reached that higher level.
There are only two real silver linings in this match. First, Okada made Styles look like a monster threat by having to decimate him with multiple finishers to end the match, which made Styles more credible for the upcoming G1 Climax tournament. And second, by winning the title here, Okada was able to redeem himself and further his larger story with Tanahashi, which would continue in five months’ time at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
Thanks for reading.