DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE IS DAMN NEAR 3,000 WORDS LONG BUT IT IS ONE OF THE GREATEST STORIES EVER IN THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING AND I GUARANTEE YOU WILL BE CAPTIVATED BY IT BY THE END. ENJOY.
Indisputably, the greatest wrestling rivalry in the world right now is the Leader of the Bullet Club, Canadian Kenny Omega versus the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and Ace of New Japan, Kazuchika Okada. The thing is, New Japan’s a little difficult to get into and most fans of wrestling (and even people who aren’t fans of wrestling) might have it in their best interest to watch what will undoubtedly be a successor to the trio of epics the pair has between them already. This article’s gonna attack the pre-rivalry exposition, all three matches (and why they’re important) and then why this one is the most important match of the four before it even happens.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THE TWO WRESTLERS IN THEIR OWN REGARDS (IN A SHORT MANNER)
Here’s a disclaimer. This isn’t nearly as much as other sources will tell you. The stories of these two branch back to their infancy as wrestlers and so I’ve only told you what you need to do. However, there’s plenty of resources to learn about the two and I highly suggest you do if you’re interested in NJPW/Puroresu’s style of actually building characters.
I’ll start with the challenger, Kenny Omega. Kenny’s a Canadian who moved to Japan and is basically New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most notorious/biggest Western star. Kenny was a Junior Heavyweight when joining the Bullet Club as a low-level member until the day after Wrestle Kingdom 10: when AJ Styles lost his IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kazuchika Okada. It’s on this day that Kenny Omega turned on Styles and became the new leader of the Bullet Club. After this, Kenny declared himself a Heavyweight and began challenging for top titles to great success. Omega beat Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Ace of New Japan for the Intercontinental Title (the second biggest one in the company!) on first attempt. Then, he became a double champion by taking out the Briscoes and Toru Yano with the Young Bucks to become a NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion. That was short-lived until he lost the NEVER titles to a team composed of Tanahashi, Michael Elgin and Yoshi Tatsu which led to Elgin facing Omega for his Intercontinental Title: in a losing effort. Omega kept grasp of his singles title and then regained the NEVER titles in a rematch shortly after. It was after this match that Omega lost the Intercontinental Title to Elgin in NJPW’s first ladder match ever, and then shortly after lost the NEVER titles to a group of light heavyweights. That barely matters, though.
This lit a fire in Omega: he entered himself in NJPW’s G1 Climax (a round robin 2-block tournament to decide who gets the next shot at the Heavyweight Championship) and cleaned house, beating Hirooki Goto in the finals and going on to face the champion Kazuchika Okada in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11: the biggest match of the year, on the biggest card of the year for the most prestigious title in wrestling.
Now for Kazuchika Okada. He’s the top dog. He’s the longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, ever. He’s got the most title defenses in one reign, ever. He’s got the most five star title defenses ever. His character is practically a supervillain. He’s PROBABLY the greatest wrestler of all time, and his character shows it. The guy wears a golden robe while money with his face falls from the sky. He’s been the champion 3 times, practically ousted Tanahashi from the spot as top dog by force and has taken on literally every single practical threat to his title since winning it nearly two years ago. From strong style assassins like Shibata to technical wizards like Zack Sabre Jr., and even brutes like Bad Luck Fale. Okada has taken on all comers and beaten them all tidily. Well, sort of. We’ll get into that. For now, let’s talk about Omega’s showdown with Okada at WK11: their first match.
JANUARY 4th, 2017: WRESTLE KINGDOM 11 MAIN EVENT
Main Event. 60 minute time-limit. Winner takes home the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and becomes the man; the King of NJPW. With Gedo in Okada’s corner and the Young Bucks in Omega’s corner, the two did battle for the first time.
This is the match that broke the scale. This is the match that was praised by some as the greatest professional wrestling match of all time and seen as a favorite all-time match by industry veterans like Stone Cold and Mick Foley. Omega, the fierce Westerner who had risen from the Junior Heavyweight division as a low-level Bullet Club member is now the leader of the most dominant stable in the world facing off against the best in the world at the biggest event of the year.
The build to this match was simple: Kenny Omega had a fire lit under him by the competition in NJPW and became an evolved version of himself. He blew through the G1 Climax 25 and became the first Westerner to go to the finals and secure the win. He proved he wasn’t another boisterous gaijin by defeating the cream of the crop and challenging Okada for the prize knowing good and well Okada is quite possibly the most difficult opponent in the world. There’s a slow sequence of the two feeling each other out but there’s this consistent theme in Omega’s movement: desperation. You can watch him move erratically and see the specifics in his moves. They’re not sloppy, but they’re not the dictionary definition of well-executed. Okada, on the other hand, is. Okada is comfortable until the end where fatigue gets the best of both of them and leads to Okada and Omega trading finishers. Omega goes for his One-Winged Angel finisher multiple times, but Okada weasels out every time in an almost scared way. He fears the One-Winged Angel. He knows if it hits him, he’s done but if he can avoid it, he can beat him.
And that’s what happens. Omega smells blood in the water and gets greedy. He, not unlike a shark, lets instinct take over and tries to beat him with his instinct to prop him on his shoulder and take him down and instinct isn’t enough. He needs to be more conscious of his decisions and control every little thing he can — which is what undoes him. Okada counters out (after being dazed by a V-Trigger), nails Omega with a jumping spinning Piledriver and then finishes him off with the namesake finisher, the money-maker of NJPW: The Rainmaker clothesline. 1, 2, 3.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada (in 46 minutes and 45 seconds.)
JUNE 11th, 2017: DOMINION 6.11 MAIN EVENT
Main Event. 60-minute time limit and again, the winner takes home the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to prove they’re the best in the world. True to form, Gedo sits in Okada’s corner and the Young Bucks cheer Kenny on from ringside in the rematch of the ages.
This is the match that most determine to be the best of the trio so far. You see, Okada’s challenge to Kenny wasn’t based on Kenny qualifying himself in a tournament, or with number one contendership challenges. It was based entirely on the fact Okada was unstoppable, but Kenny had shown there were cracks he could exploit to win if he played Okada out long enough. Okada, fascinated by this, gave Kenny another shot and that’s what this is: Omega’s second chance. It’s two competitors who have only clashed once, but understand each other well. And it shows: the match is counter after counter until both realize they need to innovate and then it’s a war of attrition.
What’s great about this match is the fatigue. Both want this over quickly because last time, the match went for 47 minutes and it was a grab bag at the first finisher to end the match. Neither man wants it to be left to chance so both come out swinging. The thing is, they come out swinging so hard that by 40 minutes into the match, none of them have made progress. It’s apparent no one is giving up. They’re throwing moves out and exhausting each other but nothing is making strides forward. It gets to a point where when Okada catches his breath to close the match with a Rainmaker, Omega dodges it. Not because he’s alert or aware: because his legs collapse and he falls under the arm. Okada, who had put all of his energy into this move, swings for the fences and wastes all of his energy putting himself horizontal, right next to Kenny.
The best part of this match is the finish. The fighting spirit. See, Okada catches Kenny at one point with some energy and Rainmakers him. Kenny’s weak. He’s done. He’s out. One more Rainmaker and he’s going to get hurt. Okada doesn’t need to do it, but it’s the fireworks after this performance and so he grabs Kenny’s arm for one more. That is, until the Bullet Club shows up. The Bullet Club shows up barreling down the ramp concerned for Kenny, with every right to be. Leading the charge of this young mob is Cody: 6-month old Bullet Club rookie who insists he needs to throw in the towel for Kenny because if he doesn’t, Kenny’s going to get hurt. Okada, bewildered, is staring at the argument going on at ringside as well with the referee. It comes down to the Young Bucks staving off the group of disgruntled Bullet Club members insisting that he’s got it under control — that he’s not going to lose — and it’s around this moment that Kenny gets his second wind (or 14th wind if you count the other ones in the match) and nails Okada with a V-Trigger. This, leading to the move Okada could never be hit by in the first match: The One-Winged Angel. Omega drills him into the mat and the three count begins until the referee notices (at 2.9 seconds) that Okada’s foot is on the rope. It didn’t count. His one shot was gone and now he needed to create another one; but with what time? The match has no time left and both competitors are drained. They trade blows and try to establish footing until the final minute when Okada begins to set the Rainmaker up one last time. Omega counters out into Suplex. Okada absorbs the damage and throws a dropkick. Okada nails the dazed Kenny with the hardest Rainmaker he can until the fighters fall over. The final seconds of the match count down; Okada begins to crawl to Kenny and then right as he begins to secure his victory…
The bell rings. And it’s over. No man was better today.
AUGUST 12th, 2017: G1 CLIMAX B-BLOCK MATCH
Main Event. 30-minute time limit but this time, the title isn’t on the line. The chance to go to the finals of the G1 Climax is. Gedo in the corner as well as the Young Bucks as always, the two close out a historical trilogy.
This match happens by chance. See, after Omega/Okada 2, fans were clamoring for a third match because… that’s how we are. We see good wrestling and want it again regardless of circumstance: it’s how we get matches like Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles in WWE. Regardless of if we know it’ll live up to expectation or if it’ll fizzle out after their first lock-up, we want the chance to see it again. Omega/Okada 3 happens in a new context. There’s no main event, there’s no PPV or sold out arena and there’s no title on the line. On top of this, the thing that plagued Omega prior — the time limit — is now cut in half. As if all of this change wasn’t enough for these two with 100+ minutes of wrestling between them in two matches, there’s one huge stipulation. Points.
See, in the G1, it’s simple. You’re in a block of 10 wrestlers. You face your 9 competitors all on different days. You get 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss. Omega vs Okada was the final match in the B-Block, and the score was tight. Omega had 12 points, and Okada had 13 — Omega losing 2 matches through the block (to Michael Elgin and Juice Robinson) and Okada losing 1 (to EVIL) and securing a draw (with Minoru Suzuki). If you don’t understand what this means, it means Omega has to win. To go onto the finals, he has to beat Okada. He can’t lose or draw, he has to win. Okada only has to draw or win; he can weather 30 minutes of Omega’s storm and go to the finals against Naito. The odds are against Kenny, but he’s got a plan. Okada’s neck has been wearing down this entire tournament. Taking move after move from the best in the company has worn him down and so in this match, he paints an enormous target on the back of his neck with some trainer’s tape. On top of that, he’s going to give Okada everything he has because the time’s short and his style benefits much more from sprint-style energy expenditure. Where Okada is more methodical, Omega gets a ton from fighting recklessly/throwing everything he has. The only downside to Omega’s style is the fact he can’t do it for very long, but this match works out in his favor in that regard. He can’t burn himself out before giving Okada everything he has. Okada’s strength has been outlasting Kenny, and here, it’s both easier and harder. He’s got more risk in the beginning and less if the match goes long and Omega blows up.
This match starts quick. They skip feeling each other out and Omega goes straight for the throat. Into the ropes, Okada whiffs a dropkick, Omega whiffs a V-Trigger, Okada swings, Kenny counters and suplexes him: right onto the back of his neck. Right where he needs to keep the pressure. The two go at it for a while but Omega’s always one step ahead: he’s always keeping a foot on the neck (literally) and always making sure Okada doesn’t get control of the match pacing. It’s brilliant strategy up until the end, where Okada shows signs of life as to where prior he’d been a free kill. Omega props Okada onto his shoulders, grabs the neck and almost drops him down until Okada starts throwing elbows and gets his other leg over Omega’s shoulder. He’s still at Omega’s mercy but Omega can’t finish him off like this… until he uses something different. He pops Okada off his shoulders in front of him but grabs him in mid-air and holds him in a wheelbarrow position. Without Okada’s legs even touching the floor, Omega hits his old finisher: Croyt’s Wrath. Right onto his neck, again. 1, 2… and it isn’t enough. Omega, frustrated, knows he’s close. He can taste it. He rallies the troops, aims the gun at Okada’s head and goes in for a V-Trigger until Okada throws the one move he can to stop Omega all the time. The best god damn dropkick in the world. Omega, dazed, gets hooked in for a Rainmaker… and then it’s all up to instinct again. He ducks it. Hooks Okada. Rain-Trigger. Holds Okada under the legs. Double Underhook Piledriver. 1, 2… and it isn’t enough. It’s at this point you realize Okada’s going to get out of anything that isn’t the One-Winged Angel. It almost got him before and he’s capable of enduring anything else. He’s grasping at straws, Omega’s getting frustrated and time is of the essence because there’s less than 10 minutes left. Same as the last time Okada kicked out of a finisher, he aims the gun and goes in for the kill. But this time, he doesn’t kiss the hand and draw it out for show. He sloppily throws it out as if to say: “he’s fucking dead, no questions asked” and then goes in for the V-Trigger. It connects. Okada’s glazed eyes tell the story themselves: Kenny props him up for the One-Winged Angel and finally hits it, center of the ring. 1, 2, 3.
WINNER: Kenny Omega (in 24:40)
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT ROUND 4: THE TIE-BREAKER
If I’m being honest, I have no idea where this one could go. I’m absolutely clueless. These two are tied at 1-1-1 and they’re so competitive that either one winning does not surprise me at all. Kenny is on fire right now: he’s ditched his Bullet Club brethren for the most part to improve with his former partner Kota Ibushi and has practically solidified himself as the best Western wrestler in the world. There is no one on Kenny Omega’s level except Kazuchika Okada, who has proven his ability to fight tooth and nail to hold onto what he holds dearest: the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He knows Kenny is a threat: the biggest one so far. He’s beaten him. He’s drawn against him. He’s survived everything Okada has to throw to a point of where it doesn’t matter who hits harder, it’s about who hits more. It’s a warzone with these two and with three falls at stake, there’s anywhere it could go. Omega has a fall against Okada and Okada’s got one against Kenny, but none have two yet. Someone not only has to break the tie of pinfalls, but establish a genuine lead on their opponent and put them in the ground for good. Omega? Capable. He’s able to get the first fall by desperation and simply being more agile. Okada? Proven. He’s able to get the late game by fighting spirit and endurance. These two are going to have an absolute war on 6.11 and there’s no two ways about it. One man will be shown as the better man, and one man will walk away knowing they’ve been beaten by the best in the world. The fact that either ending yields these results: that’s what makes this match special.