Coming out of Strong Style Evolved in Long Beach, only days stood between a matchup between Zack Sabre Jr. and champion Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Championship.
Zack Sabre Jr and his brand of ground based, submission wrestling have been on a Hindenburg going down fire flames run as of late. He submitted his way through the New Japan Cup, putting away the likes of Ibushi, Naito, and even Tanahashi en route to a date with the golden God himself, Okada-san.
Now, Okada is not the first person who comes to mind when you think of a “submission technician” like ZSJ has cut his teeth on being, but the IWGP champion has gone the extra mile to mix some ground game into his repertoire of skills. As Sabre was making his run through the New Japan Cup, videos of Okada working on his ground game coincidentally began to appear on Youtube. So it was no surprise when, following his New Japan Cup win, that ZSJ set his sights on Okada.
Between then and now, the two have faced off in tag competition via SSE in Long Beach, in which he secured the submission victory over Tomohiro Ishii (and Okada).
ZSJ has had an interesting past couple of years. Following his shockingly early exit from WWE’s Cruiser Weight Classic, which later we learned most likely had to do with his refusal to sign a full time deal with WWE, Sabre’s stock seemed to be leveling off. However, NJPW has booked him magically in his current run, making all of us actually believe he could legitimately take the title off of Okada.
Least we forget though, Kazuchika Okada is THE champion. The term, “Super Okada” doesn’t even begin to describe his ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds and devastating circumstances. Not only has Okada’s current reign as champion seen matches that will hold up over time and internet-breaking moments, it is also the longest consecutive reign in the history of New Japan. The Rainmaker is a 5-tool player and truly a step above most in the wrestling world.
(Any excuse to stick in Okada’s Entrance)
The two have a chemistry that flows beautifully. Whether ZSJ is able to lock in a submission is a no brainer, but will Okada be able to withstand the constant strain on his limbs or will it be Kazuchika locking in his newly perfected Camel Clutch? My prediction is Okada to retain, as I still think Kenny Omega will be the one to dethrone the Golden Gift to Wrestling, but look to ZSJ to keep his momentum going with an incredible performance and perhaps some post-match festivities.
Tune in at 3am EST/12am PST on April 1st for NJPW “Sakura Genesis”