This match is one of the nine singles meetings between Minoru Suzuki and Kazuchika Okada. It took place at the Great Pirate Festival, an outdoor show put on to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Suzuki’s wrestling career. The theme of the show was inspired by Suzuki’s favorite manga/anime One Piece. Predictably, Suzuki’s match against Okada was the main event of the show.
While the rain held out for the start of the festival, by the main event there was torrential rain. The audience was unfazed, though, as 18,000 remained outside to watch the match. Suzuki was the first to enter, accompanied to the ring by the performance of Ayumi Nakamura, the singer behind Suzuki’s theme song “Kaze ni Nare.”
Though he was certainly not the focus of the festival, this match did come at an interesting time for Kazuchika Okada; he’d lost the IWGP Heavyweight belt just two weeks before the festival, capping off his record-breaking 720-day reign. Cannons shot Okada’s signature yellow dollar bills in the air as he made his entrance. It didn’t take long for those dollar bills to crumple and soak in the puddles surrounding the ring.
Rain and condensation immediately fogged up the hand-held cameras surrounding the ring. While this continues to be a bit of an issue for the whole match, the in-person audience was largely unfazed. In the front row were several kids in rain ponchos, chanting “Minoru! Minoru!”
The action consisted of a lot of strikes, clotheslines, and brawling outside the ring. It was fairly standard for any Okada vs Suzuki encounter.
The raindrops on the cameras and the obvious awkwardness that comes with having to wrestle in a wet ring make it hard to call this match one of the greatest of all time, at least in a traditional sense. There were some moments where Suzuki and Okada ran a bit clumsily, obviously trying not to slip. At one point in the match, Okada actually did slip while running the ropes. He got up relatively smoothly, though, and the match continued without a hitch.
At the end of the match Suzuki was about to tap Okada out; the Rainmaker (haha) was caught in a convoluted submission that somehow had him in a banana-split and a full nelson with Suzuki’s leg, but the time ran out and the match was declared a draw before Suzuki could bring Okada to submit.
Like I said before, it’s hard to call this match a technical masterpiece given its production issues and clumsy spots. But, given the circumstances of the match (both the fact that it was at a fun, outdoor festival and that they were caught in the rain), I don’t think the match ever needed to be a seven-star classic. The match was booked to be a fun, enjoyable fight between the brutal but lovable Minoru Suzuki and NJPW’s current biggest star.
The Draw in the Downpour is immensely enjoyable to watch. This is both because of its nostalgia, and because it’s a testament to Okada and Suzuki’s work ethic. Not many wrestlers would have the heart to put on a match in a rainstorm, let alone carry the match out to a 30-minute draw. It remains a cool little bookmark in NJPW history that I think every fan should give a watch.
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