A trip to New York's famed Madison Square Garden and a date with IWGP heavyweight champion "Switchblade" Jay White awaited the winner of Sunday's New Japan Cup final between Kazuchika Okada and Sanada.
With a spot in the marquee match of New Japan Pro-Wrestling's biggest event in recent years up for grabs, the competitors held nothing back, delivering the action-packed main event fans expected to close out a tournament full of spectacular wrestling.
Would The Rainmaker emerge victorious Sunday, earning a showdown with rival White and a shot at redemption on April 6, or would the upstart Sanada pull off an upset to cash his ticket to the most important match of his career?
Okada defeated Sanada to win the 2019 New Japan Cup
The main event of Sunday's show began slowly, with the competitors setting the stage for what would likely be a lengthy match. Okada and Sanada took the match to the mat, jockeying for position early. The tag team specialist and underdog utilized his Paradise Lock to frustrate Okada, much to the delight of his hometown fans.
The Rainmaker recovered, though, and delivered a pescado to the arena floor that allowed him to seize control of the bout.
Sanada fought from underneath and unloaded with a flurry of offense on Okada. The established star answered with a back elbow and a DDT for a two-count.
Everything Okada did to try to wrest control of the match from his opponent was met with resistance from Sanada, who dropkicked him from the turnbuckle to the floor.
Okada worked the head and neck area of his opponent, delivering a draping DDT from the guardrail to the floor. He would follow up with a John Woo from the top rope but could not keep down the game Sanda.
The former IWGP champion looked for a Tombstone piledriver, but Sanada countered into one of his own. Sanada followed up with his Skull End submission and then downed Okada with a big suplex. He scaled the ropes for the moonsault, but his opponent got the knees up.
Okada delivered Rainmaker and tried for a second, but the elusive Sanada escaped. He still ate a big dropkick for his troubles. Okada followed with another Rainmaker attempt, which Sanada escaped before applying Skull End. Dueling Rainmaker efforts gave way to Okada delivering his own Skull End.
Sanada would recover and try for a moonsault moments later but, again, ate the knees to the midsection.
Now past the 30-minute mark, exhaustion set in. The action continued with strikes and reversals until Okada delivered The Rainmaker to put away Sanada for good, earning the hard-fought victory and a championship opportunity.
Redemption for Okada
Okada is the face of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, so it makes sense from that perspective that he would head to Madison Square Garden on April 6 to challenge for the promotion's top prize.
He has unfinished business with IWGP heavyweight champion White, who cleanly defeated Okada in stunning fashion at Wrestle Kingdom 13 to halt a return to glory for The Rainmaker.
The main event of G1 Supercard is not just any championship match—it is Okada's shot at redemption.
The Wrestle Kingdom defeat is not the only one Okada suffered at the hands of White.
There was the G1 Climax loss. There were the countless tag team defeats he endured at Switchblade's hands. There was the fact that White conspired with Okada's longtime associate, Gedo, to betray The Rainmaker.
In front of a sold-out American crowd, the NJPW standard-bearer will battle against the leader of Bullet Club in the highest-profile match the company could present, with considerable history between the two competitors helping to intensify the emotion and electricity of the marquee bout.
Okada has spent years establishing himself as this generation of New Japan's brightest star. His epics against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega made Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden refer to him as the greatest in his eyes.
And he may not be wrong.
The drama he brings to his matches, the manner in which he gets audiences to invest in every move, is masterful. He is an artist, and the squared circle is his canvas. He is also an enormous international star, the likes of which lends credibility to the young champion every time White mixes it up with him.
Their match in New York will not only be about Okada's chance to avenge his January 4 loss to White. It will not only be about the top prize in New Japan. The April 6 match in The Big Apple will be an opportunity for the promotion to present its most visible star, elevate its brightest young one and deliver a main event with long-reaching effects.
Who knows whether Okada will win and regain his title or whether White can replicate the success of Wrestle Kingdom and pin The Rainmaker's shoulders to the mat one more time.
What we do know is that as much as a Sanada upset would have been damn fun to watch, the promotion got the booking of this year's New Japan Cup right and now sets its sights on what may be the most significant event in its long and storied history.