Kevin Kelly Believes Hiroshi Tanahashi Needs To 'Change The Narrative' Regarding Kazuchika Okada Leaving NJPW

Kevin Kelly weighs in on Kazuchika Okada leaving NJPW.

New Japan Pro-Wrestling surprised the wrestling world on Thursday night when they announced that Kazuchika Okada would be leaving the company when his contract expires at the end of January. He will work a handful of dates in February as his final matches.

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Appearing on Wrestling Observer Live with Jim Valley, former NJPW announcer Kevin Kelly gave his thoughts on Okada's departure.

"Yes, I was. I was and I wasn't," he said when asked if Okada's departure surprised him. "The business, now, is not what it was. A lot of it, people don't realize this, the value of the yen is extremely low. Everybody who wrestles in New Japan has gotten a 20 or 30 percent paycut if they just got paid the same amount of money because the value of the yen is that much less. When you take your yen and you want to go to America and buy things, it doesn't have the same value. Now, if you get paid in US dollars, it's like, 'Woah.' That could be part of it. He may want to get paid in USD. Who knows how long he wants to wrestle stateside. It could be a couple or three years. I wasn't shocked because I heard rumblings that, some guys were, just financially, it was 'ehhh.' It affects the business. That's just the way things are. The economy hasn't bounced back, wrestling hasn't bounced back post-pandemic. They're getting good traction at live events, but not quite where it was."

Kelly continued by discussing the previous management regimes in NJPW.

"I know he wasn't the biggest fan of Harold Meij. Harold Meij was gone. Nobody liked that guy. Everybody danced a jig when he left. I know how he felt then, but I have no idea how he felt about Ohbari or management in general. Obviously, Tanahashi coming aboard was not able to....I don't know if he played a role. The announcement was made a couple of days ago, but was the die already cast. When did New Japan know and find out? That's what I want to know. How long has this been brewing. Who has been trying to talk him out of it, if anybody. What's the exit plan and is there a return plan? These are the things we don't know," he said.

Kelly continued, addressing Tanahashi's statement about Okada's department.

"There was the vague statement from Tanahashi about 'after the rain is a rainbow.' You're the President now, this is time for a statement. This is time for you explain, unless you're just a figurehead, this is time for you to explain what went into this, what went into the decision. This is Bret and Vince [Vince McMahon], but different. This is Vince needing to go on TV and explain what happened with Bret Hart. He needed to change the narrative. I think New Japan needs to change the narrative. A lot of people are looking at this like 'this is a New Japan screw up.' I see it as an opportunity for them to change some things. This is where Tanahashi as President is in a tight spot. He needs to not speak in parables; he needs to give us facts and tell us what happened and when and why, and how we're going to move forward," he said.

Kelly noted that he would start putting over the young talent now that Okada is leaving. He said he wouldn't suggest a complete overhaul, but would "put his foot on the gas" a bit.

Circling back to Okada's decision and addressing anything internal, Kelly said, "You have to look at why. Why did he decide to leave and what were the causes of it? Was there anything internal and was there a process, procedure, personality, something going on within New Japan that would cause the biggest star of this generation to leave your company in his competitive prime? If you know, hand to God, that he just wanted to do this because and it had nothing to do with anything done in New Japan, then you can rest your head on a pillow at night and say, 'We did all we could to make sure he's happy, we know why he's making this decision.' Now, the ticket buyer needs to know why he's making this decision. Faith and confidence in the company is important. We're not shareholders, I'm not talking about it like that, but in a way, we are. I don't think the Japanese fan views it the same way we do. We want answers."

Fightful Select had more details regarding Okada's NJPW departure and interest from WWE and AEW.

Okada is set to face Hiroshi Tanahashi on February 11.

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