Kazuchika Okada is one of the very best professional wrestlers of all-time.
His big matches start slow. They are glacial. Excruciating for some. The idea is to exert total mastery over his opponent because Okada's character is the born Ace. Greatness was entitled to the rain-making playboy. As visually depicted by his stunning entrance, he is so great, inherently, that money descends on and is drawn to him, not the other way around. Effective crowd psychology is the ability to manipulate a crowd into the desired response to the story being told, the success of which is measured by sustained volume and the oscillating way in which the crescendo is reached. On that basis, Okada perfected the classic approach to psychology in puroresu, which has been established since the dawn of the form as an underdog's fight. Okada is so great and so convincing at playing the impenetrable virtuoso that the crowds melt into rapture when his opponents start to scrape their way back into the match.
Much is made of the trademark Okada finishing sequence, and with good reason: the closing stretches of his matches are incredible. Extracting more from the spaces between moves than almost anybody, the warp-speed counters and reversals create breathless, overwhelming drama every time. What should scan as formula never (or very rarely) fails to feel like magic.
But the real genius is that second act of his trademark match. Any wrestler can - and most wrestlers do - convince a performative crowd that the near-fall isn't the finish. What Okada does in the middle phase is very slowly relinquish his control and build belief within the crowd that his rival might - with their support - get the pin on a man to whom a loss is an event of real significance. And then, because he is peerless in his ability to manipulate emotion and subvert the flow of a match, he nails that stunning dropkick - always when you least expect it. Practically levitating into position, Okada's trademark cut-off spot is as athletically impressive as it is dramatically effective. If wrestling isn't about what moves are struck but when they are executed, the Okada dropkick is a masterpiece. He dashes hope, but by that point, the emotion is so fervent that he only succeeds in driving it forward and into the stretch.
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