The newest Wrestling Observer Newsletter is its Hall of Fame issue. Five new members were voted in by Dave Meltzer’s voting body, including New Japan’s reigning IWGP World Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, lucha libre trio El Brazos, and promoters Jim Crockett, Jr. & Don Owen.
Unlike the active wrestler who was enshrined the last time the WON inducted new members in 2020, there’s little debate about the 34 year old Okada. 92% of voters — who include Meltzer-selected current & retired wrestlers, people working in other roles in the industry, and wrestling journalists & historians — had The Rainmaker on their ballot. Only Kenta Kobashi in 2002 (98%) and Jushin “Thunder” Liger in 1999 (95%) ever had a higher percentage.
In addition to meeting the objective critieria with 15 years of experience in the wrestling it’s hard to argue Okada doesn’t also qualify based on subjective ones like historical significance, being a draw, and in-ring skill. Whether you follow the Japanese scene or not, you’ve heard of New Japan’s current ace. He was atop the company during probably its greatest run of global popularity pre-pandemic, and he remains their most bankable star. Just the prospect of his showing up in AEW or Impact gets the wrestling community buzzing.
You can argue that much of his in-ring reputation comes from Meltzer’s own praise — Okada has been in 22 matches Dave’s rated as five star or better, including the first above five and the highest ever. But while he has some detractors, an overwhelming majority of fans rate him as one of the best in the world (Cagematch users currently score him at 9.68 on a 10 point scale). His bosses at NJPW clearly agree, and have data showing he puts butts in seats. Otherwise he wouldn’t have held the IWGP Heavyweight belt for a record-setting 720 days from 2016-2018.
Expect discussion of this year’s on who didn’t make the 60% threshold for inclusion, including Sgt. Slaughter and Big Daddy. Some who cover The Observer* predicted both getting in this year based on tracking of publicly shared ballots.
Congrats to Okada and his fellow 2021 inductees for joining a group of 200+ wrestlers that already includes Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, and Bryan Danielson!
* There are dozens of us — dozens!