That day has come and gone in Japan, and the multi-time IWGP Heavyweight champ and four-time G1 Climax winner has issued a statement on social media as he officially enters free agency:
新日本プロレス17年間お世話になりました！— オカダ・カズチカ (@rainmakerXokada) January 31, 2024
Translation via DeepL:
Thank you for your support for 17 years of New Japan Pro-Wrestling!
Thank you very much!
I laughed, got angry, cried, and it was great!
I look forward to the remaining three matches as a freelancer!
While Okada looks forward to his last few NJPW dates, a lot of wrestling fans are focusing on where he’ll sign next. Word went around last night that his merchandise was being removed from Pro Wrestling Tees online store, prompting speculation the 36 year old could be headed to WWE (since they’d put Okada’s merch on their own site eventually, and because AEW — like New Japan — has a relationship with PWTees).
But Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer posted that it’s not indicative of anything:
On the Okada front, the Pro Wrestling Tees thing regards no longer being able to sell New Japan merchandise of his. It's not a sign of going to WWE. It's not a sign of going to AEW either.— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) January 31, 2024
That doesn’t mean we don’t have any clue about Okada’s next move. Meltzer wrote about how AEW believes he’ll eventually sign with them in last week’s Observer Newsletter, and today PWInsider’s Mike Johnson writes the same thing:
As PWInsiderElite.com has noted previously, the belief is that with his long-time friendship with The Young Bucks, AEW is Okada’s likely destination. When Okada was a rookie on excursion in the United States and wrestling for TNA, The Young Bucks took him under their wing and befriended him, assisting him out when most others left Okada to his own devices to navigate living, traveling and working in a foreign country. Okada has maintained a steadfast loyalty to the Bucks in the years since as he evolved into one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world.
Amidst all this, Okada has filed for U.S. trademarks on his name and his “Rainmaker” nickname/finishing move. That’s probably also a sign he’s AEW bound, but if WWE is interested enough that could be something they’re willing to bargain around.