For at least the last three years, you would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished and critically-acclaimed wrestler on the planet than New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) star Kazuchika Okada.
The 33-year-old prodigy has cemented his status as the best wrestler of his generation with a collection of mat classics that could fill the Library of Congress. His combination of size, athleticism, and impeccable timing put in a rarified air that only a handful of wrestlers in history have come close to reaching.
WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels is one of those few.
In a career that spanned through four decades, “The Heartbreak Kid” built a legacy that now sees him often recognized as one of the three best wrestlers of all-time. Knowing that, it’s unsurprising to hear that Okada patterned a lot of his match layouts after Michaels’s matches.
Kazuchika Okada says that HBK/Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XIX helped him layout matches.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Okada talked about how Michaels’ WrestleMania XIX match with Chris Jericho impacted his approach to matches (h/t to Fightful’s Robert DeFelice for the transcription):
“The first match that made me realize how great wrestling is was Keiji Mutoh and Hiroshi Hase vs. Yuji Nagata and Jun Akiyama,” Okada says through a translator. “This was before NJPW World was around, so maybe non-Japanese fans aren’t so familiar with it, but it was a dream match and was fun to watch. There was one other match I used to watch a lot. It was on a DVD at my mentor Ultimo Dragon’s house, and that was Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 19. I learned so much from that match.”
While the Jericho/Michaels match at Mania is often overshadowed by their incredible 2008 feud, it still remains one of the best matches in that event’s history — doubly impressive considering how stacked the Mania XIX card was. While opinion on matches can vary, it’s telling that this one has been rated in the four-star ballpark, including a four-and-a-quarter star review from Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
In the same piece — multiple wrestlers were interviewed about their favorite matches — Michaels sounded humbled about that revelation while also saying that Okada would have no problem fitting into the WWE landscape if he ever made the jump:
“I’m so incredibly appreciative of that,” Michaels says. “I’ve always admired the style in Japan, and here’s a guy that admires my style. Someone once asked me how Okada would adjust if he were ever in the WWE, and I know the answer to that—he’d adjust fantastically, because he’s a fantastic talent. It’s like me. People would say, ‘Well, you only wrestled in the WWE,’ but I could have wrestled anywhere. When a guy is talented, he’s talented. So I’m thankful that Okada, this unbelievably talented young man, gained one or two things from my match.”
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