NJPW's 'Rainmaker' hopes to bring Japanese pro wrestling to new heights

New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Kazuchika Okada does his signature "Rainmaker" pose at Marina Bay Sands on Nov 15, 2016.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Kazuchika Okada does his signature "Rainmaker" pose at Marina Bay Sands on Nov 15, 2016. PHOTO: SHARON LEE
New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Kazuchika Okada has a lot of male and female fans, thanks to his good looks.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Kazuchika Okada has a lot of male and female fans, thanks to his good looks. PHOTO: NJPW

New Japan Pro-Wrestling's standard bearer Kazuchika Okada has a heavy burden to bear.

As arguably the figurehead of the company, the 29-year-old, now into his fourth reign as the IWGP Heavyweight champion, has to ensure that tickets get sold to its wrestling shows.

He need not have worried about the Singapore reception. Some 1,300 fans, both local and Japanese, packed the Marina Bay Sands convention hall on Tuesday (Nov 15), to watch an exciting blend of storytelling and in-ring action.

The NJPW is the largest pro-wrestling company in Japan and the second largest in the world, behind the United States' famous WWE.

Founded in 1972 by wrestling legend Antonio Inoki, it holds several pay-per-views each year.

Wrestle Kingdom, held annually in January at the Tokyo Dome, is its largest event of the year. Other annual tournaments include the G1 Climax, World Tag League and New Japan Cup.

When Okada was 14, he decided to be a professional wrestler. He started training at 15 and made his debut a year later.

In 2010, NJPW sent him to Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in the United States to further develop his wrestling skills. While his stint was not entirely successful, Okada developed his present Rainmaker nickname there.

Okada, who spoke through an interpreter, told The Straits Times: "I heard of the word 'rainmaker'. It means one particular star who could make a company or project rich and successful. Someone that makes it rain with money.

"I thought it was a really good concept so I took over that idea to become the rainmaker."

Despite the Rainmaker having a "bad guy" persona, Okada played the character so well such that it turned him into a favourite with fans.

Standing at 1.91m, Okada towers over his fellow Japanese colleagues in and out of the ring.

Although he has the physical attributes sought by rival company WWE, Okada has no plans to join the American sports entertainment juggernaut.

It's a question he has been asked often and his answer has always been the same. A firm no.

He has watched his compatriot Shinsuke Nakamura and former colleagues AJ Styles and Finn Balor leave NJPW for WWE where they've tasted championship success but does not see himself following in their footsteps.

Right now, his priority is selling out Tokyo Dome, where Wrestle Kingdom - NJPW's marquee event of the year - is held (on Jan 4 next year).

He said: "I want to see the stands fully packed with fans."

The charismatic wrestler has a softer side to him. In 2014, he established the Rainmaker Kikin (Rainmaker fund), dedicated to raising funds for child cancer.

He donates 30,000 yen (S$378) from every match he wins.

"My uncle suffered from cancer so I decided to start this fund to give back to society," said Okada, who wrestles in about 150 matches a year.

He now hopes that Japanese wrestlers as well as foreign wrestlers who have competed in Japan will become more successful and popular, so there will be more awareness of NJPW.

He added: "I hope these wrestlers become more famous so that they can spread the word about NJPW."

The fans who packed MBS last Tuesday are just the start.