5-Star Match Reviews: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega II - NJPW Dominion 6.11.17, by Alex Podgorski

5-Star Match Reviews: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega II - NJPW Dominion 6.11.17, by Alex Podgorski

This is considered by some to be the greatest wrestling match in history. It pitted two of NJPW’s biggest stars in yet another epic war for the most prestigious title in Japan. It was lauded for its intensity, unpredictability, raw action and incredible tension. And it was one of the main reasons why NJPW is considered to have surpassed WWE in terms of the great match department since the early 2010s. Now we look back to see if all that praise was well-deserved.

Today we look at the second match in the legendary Omega-Okada series: their 60-minute match from Dominion 2017.

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

Six months prior to this match, Omega and Okada tore the house down at Wrestle Kingdom 11. By May 2017, Okada needed a challenger for the upcoming Dominion event. And in NJPW, the champion offers a shot to a challenger, not the other way around. This is seen as a form of respect from the champion as they – considered the best wrestler in the company by virtue of being champion – deem someone worthy of facing them for the prestigious championship.

Thus, Okada chose Omega, who was more than happy to face Okada a second time. But for this match, Omega promised that things would be different from their epic match at Wrestle Kingdom.

The match

This match originally took place on June 11th, 2017 in Osaka-jo Hall for NJPW’s second-biggest annual event, Dominion. It’s for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which by this point Okada had held for about a year. And Dave Meltzer originally rated this match 6.25-stars out of five, making it (at the time) the greatest professional wrestling match in history.

They lock up and Omega takes the arm and wrenches it, but Okada counters with a leg takedown. Omega tries to counter into a cross armbreaker but Okada maintains a guard then tries a leglock but Omega kicks him in the back with his free leg. Another tie-up leads to a hammerlock from Okada, but Omega escapes and shoulder tackles Okada. Omega starts acting like a douche by slapping and taunting Okada which leads to some takedowns and another stalemate.

Okada gets a clean break on the ropes then pats Omega in a mocking way. Another shoulder tackle by Okada followed by a running crisscross. Omega escapes a waistlock with an elbow. There’s some good foreshadowing because you know Okada will try to hit the Rainmaker as many times and as often as possible.

Omega charges Okada in the corner, Okada tries to counter into the reverse neckbreaker but Omega counters into a sunset flip. But Okada counters that into a leglock attempt, only for Omega to counter once again by kicking him away. Scoop slam by Omega, Okada kicks him away, Okada with a front slam and goes for a topé, Omega gets his knees up and goes for the One-Winged Angel (OWA). Okada reverses into a Rainmaker attempt, Omega breaks out with an Irish whip, Okada reverses and goes for the dropkick, Omega hangs onto the ropes and charges, but walks into a back elbow from Okada. Great sequence.

Okada looks to be in control yet may have tweaked his knee on that failed dropkick. A neckbreaker gets Okada a one-count and he applied a rear chinlock. He snapmares Omega and goes for the running basement dropkick, but Omega counters with a snap Frankensteiner that sends Okada out of the ring. Time for the rise of the Terminator as the Young Bucks cheer Omega on. Omega starts building up speed but runs into a big boot from Okada. Now it’s Okada’s turn to dive as he lands a gorgeous suicide dive onto Omega, but he hurts his knee in the process.

Okada tosses Omega into the ring, but as soon as Okada’s on the apron, Omega dropkicks the tweaked knee as hard as he can. He follows with multiple leg snaps, a knee breaker and a springboard dropkick to the knee. Figure-4 leglock by Omega. Okada tries to reverse it on Omega, but Omega maintains control. He even grabs one of Okada’s arms to stop him from grabbing the ropes, but Okada eventually succeeds and escapes. Omega continues the assault with a knee breaker onto the apron as we reach the ten-minute mark.

Omega’s in control as he smashes Okada knee-first over the barricade into the announcer’s table. Brutal landing for Okada The referee begins his ring-count as Okada limps to the ring and gets back in at 15. Omega stomps and kicks at the injured knee, then moves to kicking Okada in the head mockingly. Okada starts getting angry as Omega forearms him in the cheek, and then fires back with a European uppercut.

They have another Irish whip crisscross that ends with Okada landing the basement dropkick with the good leg. Omega kicks the leg some more and charges but walks into a flapjack from Okada. Another running sequence ends in an elbow knockdown for Okada. He lands a forearm on Omega in the corner and goes for a DDT but Omega counters, but then Okada counters that and sends Omega into the corner. Okada charges, Omega flips over him and charges back but runs into a boot, Okada does a victory roll into the Red Ink submission hold. Omega struggles and reaches the bottom rope.

Okada whips Omega into the steel barricade, but Omega stops it and tries to springboard, only for Okada to push him sending him face-first into another steel barricade. Okada gets a running start and lands a running crossbody onto Omega, landing on the bad knee in the process. Another great move.

Okada tosses Omega back into the ring and goes for a top-rope move, but Omega charges so he hands on his feet. He goes for a Tombstone, Omega counters, Okada counters back, Omega counters into a victory roll. This reminds me of Undertaker-Angle from No Way Out 2006. Omega pins but Okada kicks out at two.

Reverse neckbreaker by Okada and he goes for a diving elbow drop but Omega rolls out of the way. A pumphandle backbreaker by Omega sends Okada out of the ring and Omega follows with a running dropkick to the back of Okada’s neck. Top rope Asai moonsault by Omega onto Okada on the floor. Omega tosses Okada back into the ring and lands a VICIOUS diving dropkick to the back of Okada’s neck. That looked like it gave him whiplash, it was so brutal. Omega pins, but Okada kicks out at 2.75.

A deadlift gutwrench powerbomb gets another two-count for Omega. Omega teases a dragon suplex but Okada fights out. He tries the OWA but Okada escapes and lands a huge forearm to the jaw. Omega counters a whip into a fireman’s carry and lands the slam/moonsault combination, but now Okada gets his knees up. A big uppercut takes both men down.

They both get up and start exchanging REALLY hard strikes, including a brutal chop that downs Okada. Omega charges in the corner, Okada tries to escape but Omega counters him, Okada counters back and tries a fireman’s carry lift. They keep blocking each other on the top corner. Okada wants a neckbreaker and Omega wants a powerbomb, Omega lands on his feet and teases the top-rope dragon suplex, but Okada fights out.

We’re at the twenty-five-minute mark as Omega tries again for the top-rope dragon suplex but Okada counters sending both of them onto the apron. Heavy Rain (Attitude Adjustment) by Okada on the apron! Damn, that looked painful. Omega tries to return to the ring but Okada catches him off. Massive running dropkick by Okada. Omega goes flying into the barricade.

As Omega struggles from that enormous kick and as the Young Bucks argue with the referee, Okada sets up a table. Okada whips Omega and tries a flapjack into the table but Omega escapes. Omega teases a running powerbomb through the table and deadlifts Okada onto his shoulders. He runs but can’t get all the way there and drops Okada. More huge chops from Omega. He charges again, but Okada ducks. Omega lands on the apron. He springboards…and Okada kicks him in the stomach in mid-air. He follows with a diving elbow drop and attempts the Rainmaker, but Omega escapes.

We’re at the thirty-minute mark as they exchange stiff elbows on the top rope. Omega prepares for a superplex…no, avalanche fisherman buster instead for a close two-count. Omega follows with a standing fisherman buster to the knee. He goes for a V-Trigger but Okada dodges and attempts a German suplex but Omega lands on his feet. V-Trigger by Omega. One-Winged Angel. It’s blocked. Rainmaker! Omega counters into a backslide and another V-Trigger. Okada catches the leg. And flips Omega into a German suplex. And another. Rainmaker lariat connects. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Omega kicks out. The crowd starts chanting for Kenny.

Okada’s in control as he whips Omega. He goes for the standing dropkick, but Omega catches him in midair and powerbombs him. What an awesome counter. Both men are slow to get up. Omega charges, Okada boots him and walks into a big chop. Omega teases the dragon suplex, Okada counters, and Omega ducks the Rainmaker, and lands the snap dragon suplex. Omega charges into the corner but Okada dodges and dropkicks Omega off the top turnbuckle and to the floor.

Okada places omega on the table and lands a huge diving elbow drop onto omega through the table. Back in the ring, Okada lands a springboard dropkick for two. Three more running dropkicks from Okada get him another two-count.

Okada stands over Omega as Omega hits back defiantly from his knees with slaps. That defiance turns into a second Rainmaker. Okada maintains wrist control and goes for another, but Omega holds onto the rope for dear life. A third Rainmaker. But Okada doesn’t go for a pin. He lets the ref check on Omega to see if he can continue. The match could end by stoppage and it’d be believable given how much punishment Omega has been through.

But wait, here comes someone else. Cody Rhodes comes out and has a towel in hand. He wants to throw the towel in for Omega, but the Young Bucks stop him. An intense argument between the Bucks and the rest of Bullet Club ensues. While this is going on, the fans chant Kenny’s name and Okada sets him up for yet another rainmaker. Okada spins him…but Omega kicks his arm away. V-Trigger! Poisoned Frankensteiner! That gives Omega a huge opening.

Omega charges for a V-Trigger with some renewed spirit, but walks into another dropkick from Okada. Rainma—no, Omega ducks. Rain TRIGGER by Omega. The referee counts one, two, no, Okada kicks out.

We’re now 45 minutes in. Enzui Rain Trigger by Omega. Omega’s going for the OWA. Okada lands on his feet and lands an uppercut. He charges but walks into another V-Trigger. Another OWA attempt. He lands it! Omega lands the One-Winged Angel. He pins Okada in cradle position. The referee counts one, two, NO, Okada’s free foot reaches the rope. Omega only hooked one leg. Okada survives the OWA!! Amazing ring awareness.

Omega looks stunned as the Bucks try to encourage him from ringside. He starts taunting Okada with the bullet club gesture, but Okada turns it into another Rainmaker. That’s the fourth one! Both men get to their feet and trade blows again. Omega wins the exchange as Okada staggers. Another snap dragon suplex by Omega. He charges for a V-Trigger, but Okada lands another perfect dropkick. That dropkick’s a thing of beauty.

We’re now 50 minutes in. more stiff forearms from Okada, and Omega answers with a massive knee strike. He hits another and pins, but Okada kicks out at 2.85. Omega removes his knee pad and lands another V-Trigger knee to the back of Okada’s head. He goes for the OWA again, Okada reverses into a Tombstone. Both men go down. Okada summons his fighting spirit and gets up first. He goes for the Rainmaker…but Omega slumps down. He’s so exhausted that he can’t even stand by himself.

Okada tries another Tombstone but Omega resists and lands more forearms. Another big knee smash to Okada by Omega at the fifty-five-minute mark. Then another. Then a third. But Omega doesn’t pin right away. He goes for a Tombstone of his own, Okada escapes and dropkicks Omega once again.

Both men stagger, neither one able to really move smoothly. Okada lands a spinning Tombstone but can’t capitalize right away. A Bridging German suplex by Okada gets him a 2.9-count. Okada picks Omega up but Omega reverses into a small package. The referee counts one, two, Okada kicks out. Another gigantic dropkick from Okada.

There are now two minutes left in the match.

Both men are very slow to move Okada goes for another rainmaker but Omega grabs the ropes.

One minute left.

Okada maintains wrist control as Omega fires back with elbows to escape. Omega escapes with a snap dragon suplex. Dropkick from Okada. Rainmaker lariat. A fifth Rainmaker from Okada. Both men go down.

Thirty seconds left.

Both men are still down.

Twenty seconds.

Okada starts stirring and Omega hasn’t moved.

Ten seconds left.

Okada’s crawling over. He’s so close.

The bell rings. Time has run out. The match is a DRAW!

STILL IWGP Heavyweight Champion due to 60-minute draw: Kazuchika Okada.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

Review

OH MY GOD. What a mesmerizing wrestling match. Another spectacular contest from two of the best wrestlers active today. That was one of the most exciting sixty-minute matches I’ve ever seen. These two wrestlers managed to keep the same level of excitement and intensity for the entire match. There wasn’t a single dull moment at all.

There were many things in this match that I just adored. All the counter-wrestling and reversal sequences gave the match a fantastic level of unpredictability. Omega slumping to the ground to dodge the Rainmaker was a stroke of genius that underscored how brutal a beaten he had taken up to that point. Okada’s escape from the OWA was likewise genius because it made him look good while protecting the move. He didn’t technically kick-out but used the ring itself to survive. If that pin took place in the middle of the ring, odds are it would’ve meant a win for Omega. It also helped further the larger story as well since technically Omega had Okada beat with that move, yet since Omega didn’t win with it then he had a believable reason for a rematch.

But most of all, this felt like an absolute war in which two wrestlers utterly decimated each other. They threw bomb after bomb after bomb one another, each one adding on top of what was already landed. And while some might interpret the plethora of V-Triggers, dropkicks and Rainmakers as overkill, it made both of them look like monsters in terms of how much punishment they could take.

One small detail I liked was how few pin-falls were actually done here. Instead, both wrestlers would follow one big move with two or three move before pinning. This made for a marked difference of the usual move-pin-move-pin-move-pin-move-pin structure that dominates most main-event-level matches.

And that approach made this match just fly by for the most part. They put on such a captivating and tense performance that you’d hardly notice that they went a full hour. Even the last two minutes were fantastic as both men struggled so much just to land any big move. That made for one of the tensest and exciting closing sixty seconds I’ve ever seen and definitely helped close this match on the highest note possible.

That being said, I did have some problems with this match. The most notable was Okada’s lack of selling. Omega spent a good five minutes destroying Okada’s knee, yet within a few minutes after that segment ended, Okada was sprinting and jumping around the ring as if that damage never happened. Doing so turned Omega’s entire legwork segment into pointless filler, which ultimately harmed the story they were telling.

This was especially disappointing when one compares this match to other 5-star matches. When watching this match, I couldn’t help but compare it to the King’s Road-style matches from 1990s All Japan. Because to me, that wrestling style is the gold standard of pro wrestling. How those four wrestlers sold limb damage and incorporated limb work into their matches was simply amazing. And with that in mind, Okada made a mistake here that was too glaring to ignore.

Although Okada’s finisher is the Rainmaker lariat, arguably his most iconic move is his dropkick. Point blank, no one in wrestling lands a better dropkick than Okada. His execution is absolutely perfect, and the producers spent more time doing replays of his dropkick than his actual finisher. In fact, a lot of Okada’s matches are structured around him building up the momentum until he’s ready to land that one standing dropkick.

Because of that, Okada’s lack of selling in the latter half of the match harmed the match’s story. Omega had spent so much time in the earlier parts of the match attacking Okada’s legs without mercy. Yet after all of Omega’s intense focus on weakening the leg, Okada busted out dropkick after dropkick after dropkick. And whenever he did, he didn’t sell the pain afterwards or work the damage into his movements beyond some slight hobbling that stopped completely after the twenty-five-minute mark. He acted as though no damage had ever been done to them in the first place.

That weakens the story because Okada doesn’t have anything to overcome. He isn’t fighting through immense pain to land his trademark dropkick, nor does the supposed damage to his legs make it harder for him to move around and capitalize on any big moves that he does hit. And the story doesn’t evolve to suggest that Okada’s famous dropkicks are weaker due to damage which, logically speaking, they should be. Yes, Okada fought intense exhaustion, but so did Omega, and Omega’s selling of damage to his body was more consistent and realistic (and least when he wasn’t having massive bursts of energy that enabled him to run like an Olympic sprinter).

Secondly, while the match’s pacing was great, it did feel a bit too phony in some respects. There were many parts of the match in which long rest segments were juxtaposed with explosive bursts of blinding speed and agility. Kenny Omega was particularly guilty of this, as he moved with the same speed 50 minutes into the match as he did only 20 minutes in. It seemed like he and Okada were trying to make themselves look more like action superheroes than pro wrestlers. And while there’s a case to be made about the many parallels between those two areas, that approach made him look a bit silly.

This was especially true considering how many sickening bumps Omega took. One minute he was nearly catatonic from taking several Rainmakers and vicious head spikes, the next he’d run at full speed into Okada with his knee strikes and other high-impact moves. I get that he was trying a ‘comeback’, but there just wasn’t that much logic or realism to it. If he slowed down his movements or did a better job of showing how he was fighting through the pain barrier, these sequences would look much better.

Final Rating: ****3/4

I think that this is a fantastic, must-watch wrestling match that makes for a great example of wrestling as athleticism. It feels dramatic, technical, brutal and tense all at once. And it’s one of the few 60-minute matches that doesn’t really drag at any point.

And yet, I think that these two wrestlers were so ambitious with this match that they failed to maintain a coherent and consistent flow in some ways. Much of the work in the opening third was rendered pointless from a lack of selling, turning it into random work meant to pad the length of an already-gargantuan endeavor.

I’m used to seeing wrestlers make sense of their actions and follow up on stuff that happens earlier on in a match. Yet here, the usually-genius Okada abandoned selling his knee after about ten minutes. In doing so, he abandoned a golden storytelling device that, if reused towards the final 15-20 minutes when he was spamming dropkicks and Tombstones, would’ve launched this match into the upper stratosphere of historically-epic matches.

And just like in my review of their January 4th encounter, there were some issues with both wrestlers (particularly Omega) moved around the ring. There was no middle ground between ‘exhausted and can barely get up’ and ‘second win, power up, charge with lightning speed’.  I think that’s why some people still have their reservations about Omega as a wrestler. Yes, he’s incredibly talented and has a ridiculous amount of stamina. But he just seems to know two speeds in his big matches, both of which are extremes that don’t look that good when you see them side by side.

So while I can’t really bring myself to call this a truly-perfect match, it’s definitely something historic and captivating and you should watch it when you can.

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