POLLOCK’S UPDATE: The departure of Kazuchika Okada

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POST IT NOTES

**Tonight’s Rewind-A-SmackDown will be hosted by Wai Ting & Neal Flanagan with a full review of SmackDown in Atlanta and going through the major news including Kazuchika Okada’s exit from New Japan Pro Wrestling. The show will be live on the POST Wrestling Café beginning at 10:05 p.m. ET tonight.

**On Saturday, we will have a review of the New Beginning in Nagoya card with Bruce Lord & Karen Peterson for members of the POST Wrestling Café. On Saturday night, Collision Course is on the Café feed with John Siino & Karen Peterson,

**We will have two free shows on Sunday with a UFC 297 review and The N.W.A. Podcast at 8 p.m. ET on the POST YouTube channel.

**The latest edition of TALK is available for POST Wrestling Café members. Wai and I went in many different directions covering our different career paths, how I got into broadcasting, tips for people trying to break in, and tons more. This was a really great show and one of my favorites from this series of shows.

**This week is the 19th anniversary of the premiere of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005 and we are releasing our Rewind-A-Wai episode covering the first season. This show features a deep look at the initial reports about the series, where the UFC was in 2004, its placement on Spike TV following Raw, the breakout stars on the show, and why this series was so transformative for the UFC. Our review covers the first three episodes of season one along with the finale fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. I don’t feel you have to be an MMA fan to enjoy this show and was one of our strongest editions of Rewind-A-Wai.

POST SCHEDULE

Friday: Rewind-A-SmackDown with Wai Ting & Neal Flanagan (POST Wrestling Café)
Saturday: NJPW New Beginning in Nagoya with Bruce Lord & Karen Peterson (POST Wrestling Café)
Saturday: Collision Course with John Siino & Kate from Montreal (POST Wrestling Café)
Sunday: UFC 297 with John Pollock
Sunday: The N.W.A. Podcast with Nate Milton, Kris Ealy & Andrew Thompson

KAZUCHIKA OKADA LEAVING NJPW

The pending departure of Kazuchika Okada from New Japan Pro Wrestling will be among the biggest stories of 2024. In time, it could cast an even greater cloud over New Japan for what it represents and a shifting tide of native wrestlers in the country seeing opportunities abroad.

At 36, Okada is in his peak years as a performer who stands to be the beneficiary of interest from the two major options in WWE and AEW.

While catching many off-guard with Thursday night’s release from NJPW, the table was being set with several reports on moves Okada was making along with an SI.com report of his possible exit. Still, with the promotion of Hiroshi Tanahashi and the exit of Takami Ohbari, it was assumed the chances of Okada leaving were lowered.

Okada is unequivocally the top star in the company and whose back the company has been built on over the past twelve years as the successor of iconic company figures. It was his several-year-long feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi that took NJPW out of the dark age cast through the prior decade and saw growth overseas through streaming capabilities and laying claim to the best wrestling in the industry. In 2017, there was another infusion of fan engagement and popularity through Okada’s matches with Kenny Omega that culminated with an epic 90-minute tour de force in June 2018.

Gedo’s goal of positioning Okada as the modern-day Antonio Inoki, the centerpiece of the company’s 50th-anniversary celebration, and placing him at a level above all others makes his departure cut deep into the perception of the company while placing NJPW in a position to radically adjust its year and create new players on top.

The loss of both Okada and Will Ospreay is a bigger loss than the previous example in 2016 when Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows were all WWE-bound after that year’s Wrestle Kingdom.

The short-term impact is a wide-open space for a top player(s) to emerge with no better options than programming the “core four” of Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, Shota Umino, and Ren Narita as the present rather than the future. Ryohei Oiwa and Kosei Fujita are part of the puzzle but the other four should be front-and-center in 2024 because the last thing New Japan needs is a pat hand that revolves around Tetsuya Naito and random challengers of the month that the audience has already slotted in their minds. The foreigner side could be a fractured picture with many contracts coming due and who will be back. Tama Tonga has publicly stated he is leaving, and we’ll get a better sense of whether he is staying or going based on Saturday’s NEVER Openweight Championship match against EVIL.

El Phantasmo seems poised for a major escalation as a fresh star who has connected as a babyface and could be someone unique as a rival to Naito.

Long-term effects remain a question mark. We could look back at Okada’s exit as the day the dam broke and became a sign of things to come with other native stars going for the big money offers. Worse, it would tell the audience that New Japan’s placement is a stepping stone with WWE and AEW as the big leagues of the sport where one “graduates” once they have reached their apex in New Japan. It has always been assumed that foreign talent will leave, but it is not the case for Japanese stars to leave, especially the top guys.

This year is going to be an incredibly influential one for the next era of U.S. professional wrestling based on the type of domestic rights deal AEW lands, but we are further moving to an industry of one superpower, a healthy number two, and then, everyone else. CMLL is a well-run operation with the historical infrastructure in Mexico that essentially, cannot fail and is in the middle of a strong run of business over the past year. NJPW will be the Japanese leader, but the forecast would suggest that the distance between WWE and AEW and the next ranking player, just got that much wider and leaves the “also-rans” with an even smaller portion of the sandbox to occupy.

WRESTLING NEWS

**Justin Barrasso at SI.com has a report on Kazuchika Okada’s exit from NJPW with multiple sources at New Japan telling him they were not unexpected or caught them off guard. Barrasso reports that AEW is the frontrunner but that WWE has an interest in the belief that one of Okada’s goals is to wrestle at WrestleMania. In the report, it states that one of the keys Tony Khan can offer is that Okada could stay in Japan, which was a big bonus for Will Ospreay, who will be stationed in the U.K. as he moves to AEW full-time.

**WWE has confirmed that the start time for the Elimination Chamber show on February 24 from Perth will be 5 a.m. ET. The event will take place from Optus Stadium and is the final PLE before WrestleMania 40.

**Friday Night SmackDown takes place from the State Farm Arena in Atlanta tonight. Roman Reigns appears on the show for the contract signing with Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and LA Knight before next weekend’s Royal Rumble. WrestleTix reports over 11,500 tickets out for tonight’s show. Below are the announced matches and segments:
*Women’s Tag Titles: Katana Chance & Kayden Carter © vs. Alba Fyre & Isla Dawn
*Randy Orton vs. Solo Sikoa
*Carlito, Joaquin Wilde & Cruz del Toro vs. Santos Escobar, Humberto & Angel
*Logan Paul appears on The Kevin Owens Show
*Contract signing for the Royal Rumble

**WWE is back to identifying Humberto and Angel without their last names on the website and would appear to be an elimination of “Carrillo” and “Garza”.

**AEW Rampage airs at 10 p.m. ET tonight on TNT with the following matches set to air:
*Chris Jericho vs. Matt Sydal
*Darby Allin vs. Jeff Hardy
*Kris Statlander vs. Queen Aminata
*Penta El Zero Miedo vs. Anthony Henry

**On the heels of the blockbuster news, NJPW returns on Saturday with its first of four New Beginning cards over the next month. They are at Dolphin’s Arena in Nagoya at 3 a.m. ET on New Japan World and will include Kazuchika Okada as his farewell tour begins. Below is the card:
*NEVER Openweight Championship: Tama Tonga © vs. EVIL
*KOPW Championship – Ten Minute Ishimori Ring Fit Match: Taiji Ishimori © vs. Great O-Khan
*Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, Yota Tsuji, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI vs. SANADA, Taichi, DOUKI, Taka Michinoku & Yuya Uemura
*Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii & Togi Makabe vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Shane Haste, Mikey Nicholls & Kosei Fujita
*STRONG Openweight Tag Titles: Hikuleo & El Phantasmo © vs. KENTA & Chase Owens
*El Desperado & Master Wato vs. SHO & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
*David Finlay, Gabe Kidd, Clark Connors, Alex Coughlin & Drilla Moloney vs. Jeff Cobb, TJP, Francesco Akira, HENARE & Callum Newman
*Ren Narita & Yujiro vs. Shota Umino & Tomoaki Honma
*Kickoff Match: Shoma Kato vs. Katsuya Murashima

**TNA is running tapings in Orlando tonight and Saturday at Osceola Heritage Park. Tonight’s taping will include Nic Nemeth vs. Trey Miguel, Alex Shelley vs. Eddie Edwards, Trinity vs. Gisele Shaw, Moose vs. KUSHIDA, Josh Alexander vs. Alan Angels, and Chris Sabin vs. Jason Hotch. These are the last tapings before its No Surrender event to stream on TNA+ on February 23.

**C*4 Wrestling is in Ottawa tonight at the Preston Event Centre with a card featuring Mustafa Ali vs. Vaughn Vertigo, Junior Benito vs. Myung-Jae Lee for the C*4 Championship, Alexia Nicole vs. Brent Banks vs. James Stone vs. Kristara for the Underground title, Gringo Loco vs. Gabriel Fuerza, Dominic Garrini & Kevin Ku vs. Evil Uno & Stu Grayson, Franky the Mobster vs. Macrae Martin, TDT vs. Isaiah Broner & Joshua Bishop, and LuFisto teams with Cecil Nyx against Kevin Blackwood & Haley Dylan.

MMA NEWS

**There was some negative coverage coming off Wednesday’s media day and the rant by Sean Strickland against reporter Alexander Lee. Lee brought up past homophobic and transphobic remarks by Strickland, who shot back at Lee by insulting him and calling him weak when Lee stated he wouldn’t have a problem if his child was gay. It was an ugly response but didn’t generate the level of blowback one would assume with a few outlets outside of MMA covering it. This would be a huge story if a high-profile athlete went on such a tangent. Strickland was the most popular fighter at the UFC 297 press conference on Thursday and only emboldened his supporters to defend his language and views. No one is kidding themselves that the UFC has embraced this type of behavior and language and by not condemning it, it does ring hollow when the promotion shares initiatives during pride month. The audience response is not going to place pressure on the UFC, which has adopted the role of being the bastion of free speech even if it veers into hate speech against groups. The pressure comes from sponsors, broadcasters, and business partners but by 2024, those entities know what they’re signing up for and what comes with attaching their brands to the UFC and the positive and negative stigmas attached.

**Morgan Campbell wrote about the incident involving Sean Strickland on the CBC website. Brian Campbell at CBS Sports also wrote about the incident among the outlets that have covered it.

**USA Today reached out to ESPN for a statement regarding Strickland’s rant and was told to contact the UFC.

**Dana White was interviewed by Aaron Bronsteter on Sportsnet to promote UFC 297. White stated that in the U.S., all the prelim fights at UFC 300 will air on ESPN before the pay-per-view on April 13. White dismissed the idea of Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre, or Brock Lesnar fighting at UFC 300 as a surprise announcement. White confirmed that the March 2 card set for Saudi Arabia has been postponed but denied that it had anything to do with the quality of the card, he said the new date in Saudi Arabia will be a Fight Night event and won’t have a championship fight. Regarding the anti-trust trial, he said he never thinks about it.

**Two fighters missed weight for UFC 297 and another fight was moved up to another weight class. The weigh-ins took place Friday morning at the fighter hotel in Toronto with Ramon Taveras missing the bantamweight limit by 3.5 pounds for his fight with Serhiy Sidey and Malcolm Gordon being 1.5 pounds over for his flyweight fight with Jimmy Flick. A previously announced flyweight fight between Priscila Cachoeira and Jasmine Jasudavicius will now take place at bantamweight. Below is the full lineup for Saturday’s card at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto:

MAIN CARD (10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view)

*UFC Middleweight Championship: Sean Strickland (184.75) vs. Dricus Du Plessis (184)
*UFC Bantamweight Championship (Vacant): Raquel Pennington (134.8) vs. Mayra Bueno Silva (135)
*Mike Malott (170.5) vs. Neal Magny (170.75)
*Marc-Andre Barriault (184.5) vs. Chris Curtis (185.25)
*Movsar Evloev (145.75) vs. Arnold Allen (145.5)

PRELIMINARY CARD (8 p.m. ET on ESPN)
*Brad Katona (136) vs. Garrett Armfield (135.25)
*Charles Jourdain (145.5) vs. Sean Woodson (145.5)
*Serhiy Sidey (135) vs. Ramon Taveras (139.75*)
*Gillian Robertson (115.75) vs. Polyana Viana (115.75)

EARLY PRELIMS (6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+, Fight Pass)

*Yohan Lainesse (170.75) vs. Sam Patterson (169.5)
*Priscila Cachoeira (133.5) vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius (133)
*Jimmy Flick (126) vs. Malcolm Gordon (127.5*)

**UFC light heavyweight Anthony Smith is in Toronto for UFC 297 and attended the Demand Lucha card in Toronto on Thursday night.

**Vadim Nemkov has vacated the Bellator Light Heavyweight Championship as he will focus on fighting at heavyweight. Earlier this week, Nemkov was announced to be fighting Bruno Cappelozza on the PFL vs. Bellator card in Saudi Arabia on February 24. Nemkov was the winner of the Bellator Light Heavyweight World Grand Prix in 2022 to become champion and made one defense beating Yoel Romero last June at Bellator 297. (MMA Junkie)

**The TKO stock closed at $77.55 on Friday and increased over 2% during the day.

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About John Pollock 5662 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.