5-Star Match Reviews: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 (Jan. 4, 2018)

5-Star Match Reviews: Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12 (Jan. 4, 2018)

For many people, this was a dream match pitting two of the best wrestlers of all-time against one another. Chris Jericho had accomplished so much throughout his storied career and had this uncanny ability to reinvent himself and have great matches with pretty much anyone. Kenny Omega was riding an enormous wave of momentum for putting on some of the best pro wrestling matches of the decade and was also beginning to earn a reputation as the best active wrestler in the world.

Chris Jericho. Kenny Omega. Alpha. Omega. Two Winnipegers fighting on the biggest stage possible to see which one was the better wrestler.

Let’s see if their 5-star match really was that good. Let’s look back on the co-main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12: Jericho vs. Omega. It was rated five stars by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It was also rated five stars by TJRWrestling’s John Canton as well.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Chris Jericho made a surprise appearance for New Japan Pro-Wrestling on December 11th, 2017 and attacked Kenny Omega. He left the IWGP United States Champion battered and bloody. This stemmed from a Twitter feud that had started between them, probably over which of them was the better pro wrestler from Winnipeg. After Omega attacked Jericho at a press conference, the feud intensified. Jericho vowed to prove that he, as the Alpha, was better than Kenny, the Omega.

And thus the stage was set. Two of the best Canadian wrestlers still active would fight in the Tokyo Dome to see which one really was the best.

As an aside, this match really showcased Jericho’s showmanship and marketing skills. He promoted this as the co-main event of WK12, and it led to a much higher number of tickets sold and a larger number of foreigners coming to Japan just for this show. So for people questioning whether Jericho is actually good at drawing people in wrestling, here’s your proof that he’s still got it.

The match

This match took place on January 4th, 2018 at Wrestle Kingdom 12. It is for Omega’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship and is being contested under No Disqualification rules. This means that weapons are legal and there are no rope breaks. Keep that last detail in mind as we begin our review of the action.

The ref asks the Young Bucks, who accompanied Omega to the ring, to leave. As Omega hugs them, Jericho attacks from behind. A pull apart ensues with the Young Bucks plus the referee and several NJPW Young Lions keep them apart until the bell actually rings. And when it does, they brawl. Or at least, Jericho does, because Omega’s punches are very visibly missing Jericho’s head. Not the best start here.

Jericho reverses an Irish whip, Omega ducks and lands a big boot. Omega fires away with punches, chops and forearm shots. Jericho pulls the ref in between them to use as a shield, and uses the momentary distraction to rake Omega’s eyes. Jericho lands some big chops of his own, then Omega fires back again.

Jericho gets whipped into the corner but gets a boot up into Omega’s face (while also not trying at all to hide how he’s slapping his thigh to make the kicking noise). Omega goes for a Frankensteiner, but Jericho counters into the Walls of Jericho. Except this is the weaker Boston Crab version, not the higher-angle Liontamer version. Still, the crowd pops big because they know that the Boston Crab is a rookie’s move, so for Omega to get hurt or lose to this would be utterly humiliating. But Omega doesn’t have to worry about that because he reaches the ropes quickly. Except there’s no ropebreak in a No-DQ match. Too bad no one told the referee, and both Jericho and Omega appear to have forgotten already.

Omega manages to flip onto his back and kick Jericho off, before dodging his charge and sending him out of the ring. Omega charges for a baseball slide, but Jericho catches his leg. Jericho attacks Omega’s knee but Omega kicks him into the barricade. Baseball slide connects. Jericho goes flying over the barricade. Omega springboards. Flying plancha. But Jericho dodges. Omega goes through the table. Walls of Jericho. The ref gets in Jericho’s face (for God knows what reason). So Jericho pie-faces him. Then he slaps the ref’s son (Shota Umino, who is a NJPW trainee) and puts HIM in the Walls of Jericho (the Liontamer version). Omega comes in and boots Jericho. This match has been a clown show thus far.

Omega tosses Jericho into what’s left of the table and throws a chair onto him. They start brawling into the crowd as we pass the five-minute mark. Jericho takes a breather as the ref is back up (and apparently apathetic to the fact that his young son just got beat up by Jericho) and he stops Omega from setting up another table. Omega gives Jericho the softest scoop slam I have ever seen onto the exposed floor and places a folded table over top of him (like he did in previous matches with Okada). Diving stomp off of a metal stage tower. Through the table and onto Jericho’s ribs. The ref starts counting them out as Jericho suplexes Omega over a barricade and onto the ringside mats. Jericho makes it into the ring by a count of 14 and Omega by 19. Jericho goes to smash Omega into the steel ringpost but Omega blocks and smashes Jericho into the turnbuckle. Omega lands some forearms and prepares to springboard. But just as he jumps onto the top rope, Jericho lands his triangle dropkick, right to Omega’s surgically-repaired knee.

Omega writhes in pain ringside as Jericho sets up another table. Jericho goes for a powerbomb but Omega resists. He gets Omega on his shoulders, but Omega still fights. Jericho decides ‘screw it’ and drops Omega on the floor.

Jericho tosses three chairs into the ring and steal’s a cameraman’s camera as the ten-minute mark passes. He takes some photos of a hapless Omega then of himself flipping off the crowd. I guess he’s having Super Lyger flashbacks. Omega gets a sudden burst of energy and fires back, but Jericho counters his Irish whip and knees him in the gut. Jericho tosses Omega back into the ring and lands a diving elbow for a two-count. He places a chair in one corner and chokes Omega using the ropes. Jericho whips Omega into the corner, no; Omega counters and whips Jericho back into the opposite corner. Omega charges, but Jericho kicks him and lands a diving dropkick. Jericho pins, but Omega kicks out.

Omega starts making a comeback with slaps, punches and chops. Jericho reverses an Irish whip but eats a kick for his efforts. Omega charges again but eats an elbow from Jericho. Lionsault. Omega kicks out again. Jericho kicks him around some more but then walks into a Frankensteiner. Clothesline over the top rope. Suicide dive by Omega.

Back in the ring, Omega lands a Kotaro Crusher (jumping bulldog) for another two-count at the fifteen-minute mark. Aoi Shodou (fisherman knee neckbreaker) by Omega. He starts channeling the Ultimate Warrior and goes for the V-Trigger. But Jericho counters. He tries for the Walls of Jericho. Omega counters into a pin. Jericho kicks out at two. Omega kicks Jericho’s hand. V-Trigger. Jericho’s still standing. He counters a dragon suplex into the Walls of Jericho. Omega starts crawling (but where to? There’s no rope breaks). And yet, Omega pulls something from under the ring. It’s a can of cold spray. He sprays it into Jericho’s eyes. What is this, a comedy skit now?

Jericho tells the ref that he can’t see (believable) as Omega and then shoves that ref into Omega, causing the ref to collapse in a heap (not believable). Omega walks towards Jericho with authority, but Jericho pushes him face-first into the turnbuckle. Jericho asks for a towel and gets one from a Young Lion (I’m not sure why they’re even listening to him) and then smashes Omega head-first into the steel chair he places into the corner earlier. Then Jericho starts taunting the crowd by pretending he’s Hulk Hogan (instead of, you know, pinning the guys whose head he just caved in).

Omega tries to fight back, but Jericho overpowers him and smashes him into the chair again (while mocking the fans that scream Omega’s name). Jericho poses in the corner as commentator Kevin Kelly asks, “what is wrong with Chris Jericho?” Good question. He’s being more of a cheap showman instead of a pro wrestler. If this is supposed to be a grudge match, why is Jericho letting Omega recover so much?

Twenty minutes have passed as Jericho smashes a now-bloodied Omega into the same steel chair. Once again Omega tries to fight back but ends up eating an elbow to the face for doing so. Jericho slaps him around, but this time Omega lands a V-Trigger knee, followed by two snap dragon suplexes. He goes for a third but Jericho elbows out. So Omega answers with a wheel kick to the back of Jericho’s head. He picks Jericho up for the One-Winged Angel (OWA) but Jericho fights out. So Omega drops him and lands a third snap dragon suplex instead. Omega’s in control, but Jericho smashes him with a steel chair to the head. Damn, that’s something you hardly ever see anymore.

Jericho grabs a chair that’s still intact and wallops Omega in the back. Several times. Then he smashes the frame into Omega’s back.  Jericho continues his mockery and climbs the top turnbuckle with the third chair. But this time, Omega runs over and dropkicks the chair into his face. Jericho loses the chair but holds onto the top rope. Omega gets a sudden burst of energy (seriously, this guy is totally channeling the Ultimate Warrior right now). V-Trigger. Jericho falls from the corner and through the table he setup earlier.

Both men are down at the twenty-five-minute mark. Omega starts hulking up, apparently totally recovered from all the back damage Jericho has done. Short-range V-trigger. Followed by a stronger running one. Double underhook  piledriver. Omega pins. One, two, no, Jericho kicks out. Another running V-trigger. Omega goes for the OWA, He lands I – no, Jericho rolls through. Walls of Jericho again. Great reversal. Omega starts crawling. Jericho transitions into the high-angle Liontamer version. With a knee on Omega’s face. But Omega refuses to tap. He even grabs the ref’s shirt out of desperation. Omega reaches the ropes, and Jericho…lets go? He shouldn’t have to, but OK.

We’re thirty minutes in as Jericho knocks the referee down again. Jericho goes for the Codebreaker, no, Omega lands another V-Trigger. Followed by yet another one. Omega goes for OWA. Despite his weakened back, he still goes for OWA. He lands it. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Jericho grabs the rope. Again, WHY?! There’s no ropebreaks in the match! Grabbing the ropes shouldn’t matter!

Omega gets up first and goes to the top rope, but Jericho cuts him off. He goes for a top-rope Frankensteiner but Omega escapes and drops Jericho face-first into the turnbuckle. Or, it looks like it, but he hits his knees on it and his face barely touches it. Omega lands another V-Trigger and goes for the ‘you can’t escape’ combo move. He lands the fireman’s carry clam and goes for the moonsault, but Jericho rolls away and Omega lands on his feet. Codebreaker by Jericho out of nowhere. Jericho crawls over. One, two, thr—no, Omega kicks out.

A frustrated Jericho implores Omega to stay down and hits him with another chair. Jericho goes for another Lionsault but Omega gets up and throws the chair at Jericho. He puts Jericho on his shoulders. One-Winged Angel onto the steel chair. One, two, three! That’s it! There’s the match!

Winner and STILL IWGP United States Champion after 34:36: Kenny Omega

Review

I haven’t been so disappointed in a Dave Meltzer 5-star match in a long time. This match-up had a great build and an awesome story justifying its existence, but the match itself was all over the place. It was a contrived mess that featured lots of sloppiness, plodding structure, tons of silliness, and some stuff that straight up didn’t make sense. Yes I know, this is pro wrestling and everyone knows it isn’t real. But as this match unfolded, I got the impression that neither Omega nor Jericho were even trying to make it convincing that it could be real.

Let’s start with the first issue: sloppiness. This match was riddled with botches and sloppy execution from the opening bell. You could clearly see that neither man was even touching each other in the opening ‘heated brawl’. Many moves throughout the match, like the double underhook piledriver, Kenny dropping Jericho face-first into the turnbuckle, and some of the brawling near the commentary table, looked horribly botched or done poorly. One slight mistake can be ignored; several in one match makes it hard if not impossible to turn a blind eye.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the stipulation. People can blame the referee for not understanding the no-disqualification stipulation since it’s extremely rare if not nonexistent in New Japan. But that would be unfair, since equal fault lies with Omega and Jericho for laying out their match in the way they did. If they knew of this stipulation, why, then, would they structure their match in such a way that ropebreak situations would even come up in the first place? There was a complete lack of continuity as to whether the ropebreak applied or not. Why did the referee enforce it during the first Walls of Jericho, ignore it the second time, and then reapply it when Omega had the match won with the first OWA? That inconsistency really hurt this match, and frustrated me as I watched it. How can you expect someone to truly enjoy and appreciate a match’s inner story when the rules aren’t being applied consistently?

Then there’s the third issue: the campy aspects of both characters. I’m a firm believer in consistency and don’t enjoy it when someone introduces something into a story that doesn’t fit. In this case, Omega and Jericho really shifted into exaggeration territory here, with Jericho mocking and playing to the crowd unnecessarily (thus giving Omega crucial time to recover) and Omega juxtaposing his seriousness with some…comedy, I guess? I don’t know what you call a man spraying his own crotch and making silly faces, but it seemed completely out of place in this match.

Some people think that a wrestling villain should always be cheap to be most effective. I disagree. If every villain is cowardly and underhanded, then that makes them predictable and on a lower level than the hero they’re facing. Being underhanded has its place in storytelling, whether it’s pro wrestling or otherwise. But it shouldn’t be universal. Big Van Vader terrorized NJPW, WCW, WWF/E, AJPW and NOAH because he was a badass monster that posed a legit threat due to his raw power and athleticism. Triple H, when not using politics or a numbers advantage, was a great villain because of how utterly remorseless he could be in the ring. Brock Lesnar is supposed to be a villain on paper, and he’s awesome in that role because he has been built up as this legitimate monster with a near-unbreakable aura of badassery and a complete disregard for others. If all three of these men always behaved in cheap, underhanded fashion, there’s no way they’d be as successful as they actually have been. For both Jericho and Omega (and especially Jericho), the story didn’t feel as brutal and person as it should have.

Lastly, there’s one very specific thing that bothers me about these modern wrestling matches: the slapping the thigh thing. I get it; wrestlers do that to imitate the sound of hard contact. But…is it REALLY necessary? I really don’t think so. All it does is gets the crowd to make noise for a split second before fading again. It doesn’t add to a wrestling match beyond that. If anything, it detracts from matches bigtime because a lot of wrestlers nowadays don’t even try to hide it. And besides, nine times out of ten when you see a replay of one of those big kick spots, the focus is on the visual of the impact, not the sound. I bring this up here because Jericho’s usually a great wrestler, but seeing him succumb to that sort of obvious phoniness is disappointing. Omega was also guilty of doing so in this match, but he does it way more often than Jericho does, so that kind of an expectation with him.

By this point, you’re probably asking if this match had anything positive. Well, it did. The actual drama of the match was pretty good, and during the final fifteen minutes, it could’ve ended at any time. Jericho fought way harder and way better than I thought he would. I loved how he hit most of his signature moves, including the triangle dropkick and the Lionsaults, perfectly, despite the wear and tear on his body. And he really kept up with Omega for all of his crazy sequences which, given Jericho’s age, is nothing short of amazing. I can see why Jericho gets so much praise for his consistency as an athlete. I also really appreciated the hardcore elements they did introduce, including Jericho’s chairshot to Omegha’s head. Some people might find that a bit distasteful especially given what we now know about concussions, but I think it added a nice edge to the match and showed both how ruthless Jericho could be and how determined Omega was. And the closing moment featuring Omega using the same chairs Jericho introduced to beat him was a nice and fitting touch of poetic justice.

Final Rating: ***1/4

This is one of the most overrated main-event-level matches of the past five years. The in-ring action didn’t create the idea that this was a brutal blood feud borne of one man’s unbridled hatred for and jealousy of another.  Jericho really chewed the scenery here, acting less like a serious competitor and more like a WWE-style cheap villain. His actions and promos leading up to the match made him look credible and created the impression that he had some genuine hostility towards Omega. But in the match itself, he hammed things up and resorted to cheap tricks to get the crowd to respond to him. And yet, for a guy that had wrestled in Japan before, he should’ve known that shit doesn’t fly well over there. All the cheap things he did, from the pre-match sucker punch to putting the ref’s son in the Liontamer, got a momentary reaction at best. There was no sustained heat or reaction from the crowd. And while that’s kind of normal in Japan, even today, that lack of a response could’ve been salvaged by strong in-ring action, but Jericho didn’t deliver on that front, either, aside from a few awesome Lionsaults and clever reversals.

As for Omega, this match seemed to bring out his worst qualities instead of his best. Two years earlier, he had one of the best matches I have ever seen against Tetsuya Naito. In that match he balanced his typical explosiveness with a seriousness and realism that just wasn’t on display here. He was simply wacky and goofy here. Nothing he did seemed credible or really engaging. He took a huge dropkick to the knee but didn’t even sell it after five minutes. He was put in the Walls of Jericho three times but barely sold his back or parlayed that into his offensive comeback. And there just wasn’t any logical flow to what he did. One minute he’d be crawling on the floor barely able to move, the next he’d be running across the ring like Rey Mysterio hitting one knee lift after another.  I understand that this is part of his appeal; that he’s wrestling counter-culture and spits in the face of the wrestling’s traditions and conventions. But being a maverick like that isn’t always a good thing. His explosiveness and out-of-nowhere comebacks make it harder to take him seriously.

This match really was an overhyped mess. Something like this shouldn’t have taken place in a New Japan ring. Because of how different it is, any flaws get magnified and exposed more easily. And while they worked very hard to make this feel like a main-event-level match, it really wasn’t. This was supposed to be a big fight but ended up more like a performance art piece. All in all, this is definitely a disappointing match that isn’t in the same atmosphere as other great matches featuring either Omega or Jericho.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.