5-Star Match Reviews: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega - NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11, by Alex Podgorski

Oh boy, here we go. This is THE most-talked about wrestling match of the past decade. When it happened, everyone was talking about it like it was the new standard bearer for all future wrestling matches. It was an anomaly, a spectacle, a legendary performance. It was so good that it officially ‘broke the scale’ and was awarded six stars out of five by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Only one televised match had gotten that rating beforehand, and that was back in 1994.

This is the match that got the whole world talking and brought considerable international exposure to New Japan Pro-Wrestling. It’s the first in a series of four legendary matches: Omega vs. Okada I.

This match took place on January 4, 2017, at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan.

As a reminder, I am reviewing 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 here is simple. Omega won the 2016 G1 Climax tournament, becoming the first foreigner to do so. His main event push began earlier when he ousted AJ Styles from the Bullet Club in early 2016 and gradually rose to the top thereafter. Meanwhile, Okada was on a roll in his fourth run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion and was taking on all-comers.

They do ring entrances and Omega’s opens with a shot-for-shot remake of the first Terminator film, with him playing the role of Arnold. As his video ends, it shows the line “New Legend is About to Begin”. Truer words have never been spoken. Omega appears with a half-face terminator-style mask and fake shotgun, looking totally badass. Meanwhile, Okada comes down and it is literally raining Okada dollars. He pauses before entering the ring because he knows how big this match is going to be. Omega shows some subtle storytelling by crunching a piece of Okada money and tossing it at Okada.

The match

The match starts with a long stare-down and some fake out attempts at a Greco-Roman knuckle lock. They begin chain grappling and Omega stars wrenching Okada’s arm. Okada with a leg takedown but Omega reverses into a cross armbreaker attempt. Some quick transitions occur and Okada cinches in a grounded side headlock. Omega tries to pin but Okada gets up before the ref can even count one. Omega pulls Okada’s hair to escape the headlock and continues attacking the arm and the neck. They trade strikes for a bit before Omega locks in a headlock of his own and refuses to let go, even as Okada back suplexes him. Okada tries the headlocked suplex again but Omega escapes.

An Irish whip reversal occurs and Okada tries to send Omega into the turnbuckle but Omega kicks him away and does a springboard sunset flip attempt, but Okada blocks it and does a jackknife pin for two, but Omega powers out to everyone’s amazement and does a backslide for a two-count of his own. I love the way Omega drags his feet and ‘runs in place’ to put extra force into his pin. They get up and Okada hits two hip tosses followed by an armlock, but it gets broken in the ropes at the five-minute-mark.

Okada taps on Omega mockingly and taunts him. Okada answers an Irish whip with a huge shoulder block. Omega ducks a big boot and whips Omega into the corner again. He looks like he’s going to do the top-rope dropkick but Omega kicks Okada away. Omega teases the One-Winged Angel (OWA), but Okada escapes and tries the Rainmaker lariat, which Omega breaks from and spits on Okada and mocks him by doing his own rainmaker taunt. Omega does out of the ring to recover as the Young Bucks cheer him on. Omega stalls ringside until Okada comes after him, and after ducking some moves Omega runs into a huge big boot from Okada. Snapmare by Okada followed by a huge and very loud dropkick to Omega’s head.

They both go out of the ring and Okada whips Omega hard into the steel ring barricade. Okada tries a running kick but Omega catches him and teases a vertical suplex onto the barricade, but Okada reverses that into a huge Randy Orton-style draping DDT from the barricade onto the ringside mats. As Omega recovers, Okada brings out a table. After a brief struggle, Omega tries to throw Okada over the barricade but Okada reverses that sending Omega over the barricade instead. Then Okada hits a huge running crossbody over the barricade onto Okada at the ten-minute mark.

Okada’s in control back in the ring and slams Omega then hits a senton atomico for a one-count. Okada locks in a chinlock with his knee deep in Omega’s back. Omega struggles to escape, so Omega hits a swinging neckbreaker for a two-count. Omega fights back with forearms then gets a second wind and hits a dropkick to Okada’s knee followed by a jumping legdrop bulldog for two. Omega stomps away on Okada and then hits a brutal chop to Okada’s chest once he’s standing followed by a forearm to the back. Omega slams Okada and tries a great Muta-style flashing elbow but Okada dodges and tries a senton but Omega dodges that, so Omega throws him into the ropes and hits another forearm to the back for a two-count. Omega tries to hit the forearm again but Okada blocks it and charges but eats a knee to the gut from Omega instead. Omega attempts Aoi Shoudou (cross-legged fisherman buster) but Okada kicks his way out of it, only to walk into a snap hurricanrana at the fifteen-minute mark.

Okada rolls out of the ring as Omega rises like the terminator. Omega runs and hits an enormous suicide dive that makes the Undertaker’s look weak by comparison. Omega’s in control as he scoop slams Okada onto the ring apron and he lands right on the spot Omega hit with his earlier forearm strikes. He rolls Okada into the ring and then Omega hits a huge diving dropkick to the back of Okada’s head. Wow, that looked vicious. It almost looked like Okada got whiplash, that’s how his head snapped from the impact. Omega goes for a pin but Okada grabs the bottom rope, much to Omega’s frustration. Omega goes for another pin but Okada kicks out. Omega drags Okada to the middle of the ring and applies a modified chinlock that Omega keeps locked in until the ref makes him break the hold at the ropes.

Omega teases a powerbomb but Okada won’t go up do Omega strikes his head some more. Omega tries to knee Okada in the head but Okada grabs his leg, hoists him onto his shoulders and hits a Heavy Rain neckbreaker slam that closely resembles an Attitude Adjustment. They both get up after a while and Okada begins his comeback with running forearm strikes, followed by a DDT and a Shawn Michaels-style kip-up. A basement forearm smash gets another two-count for Okada.

Omega begins a comeback of his own at the twenty-minute mark but walks into a flapjack from Okada. Okada locks in the Red Rink submission hold and Omega looks like he’s fading until he gets a sudden burst of strength that slows him to reach the rope and break the hold. Omega charges Okada but walks into a tombstone attempt, but Omega struggles so Okada reverses that into the Reverse Neckbreaker to the knee. The fans – who have been pretty vocal for a Japanese crowd so far – are starting to come unglued.

Okada ascends the top rope and tries the diving elbow drop but Omega gets his knees up at the last second. Omega hits a single-knee pumphandle backbreaker and Okada rolls out of the ring, so Omega hits a running baseball slide dropkick to the back of Okada’s head, which sends Okada over the barricade towards the announcer’s table. In the ring, Omega has a devilish grin on his face as he signals to the crowd that something’s coming. As soon as Okada’s back on his feet, Omega springboards onto the top rope and hits an Asai moonsault over the barricade onto Okada. Holy shit, what a move.

Omega recovers in the ring as the ref begins the ring count. Okada struggles to make it back, so Omega puts the table on a supine Okada and hits a diving foot stomp from the apron onto the table (and Okada). Wow, that was nuts. Omega tosses Okada back into the ring and hits a kneeling powerbomb for another two-count. Still in control, Omega deadlifts Okada and hits the Dr. Wily Bomb for a 2.8-count. Meanwhile, the Young Bucks, who are still ringside, setup the table from earlier. Omega teases using the table but he struggles to get Okada into position for it, so Omega stomps and knee strikes Okada instead. He whips Okada into a corner and charges but Okada boots him in the face and tries to gain some momentum, but Omega reverses this into the ‘you can’t escape’ fireman’s carry slam/moonsault combo for another 2.8-count. Omega smiles devilishly as he tries the dragon suplex, but Okada keeps escaping it. Okada dodges a corner charge and puts Omega onto the top turnbuckle and dropkicks him out of the ring.

Okada’s in control now as he lifts Omega onto his shoulders and teases throwing him into the table, but Omega reverses that and tries the OWA into the table, but again Okada powers out. Omega tries a springboard move but Okada catches him on his shoulders Cena-style, but Omega reverses and keeps fighting, until he tries a running charge but Okada back body drops him over the rope, out of the ring and through the table. Good God, what a move. Omega landed so hard he cut a massive hole into that table. The Young Bucks are with Omega warning him about the referee’s count. Then Okada comes out (presumably because he wants the satisfaction of actually pinning Omega) and drags Omega back into the ring. Then Okada perches himself on the top rope and hits an enormous diving shotgun dropckick to Omega’s chest. Wow, Omega was hit so hard he flipped backwards. Okada pins but gets a two-count as the crowd awakens again.

Okada hits the diving elbow drop followed by his rainmaker pose. Okada sets up the Rainmaker lariat but Omega reaches the ropes. You can hear the Young Bucks will Omega on. Okada tries the Rainmaker again but Omega ducks and pushes him into the corner. Omega tries to lift Okada onto the top turnbuckle but Okada’s holding on for dear life. Omega looks to be spent as we reach the thirty-five-minute mark.

Omega slaps the hell out of Okada and places him on the top turnbuckle and teases some move but Okada powers out. A frustrated Omega continues to hammer away at Okada’s lower back. Then, with all the strength he has left, Omega joins Okada on the top rope and hits a dragon suplex from the top rope. Sweet Jesus, Okada landed right on his neck. And yet somehow, Okada STILL kicks out at 2.8.

Omega continues attacking Okada’s neck with the Aoi Shoudou and charges for a V-Trigger, but Okada dodges and hits a German suplex and tries the Rainmaker again, but Omega dodges and hits a V-Trigger knee against the ropes and goes for another, but somehow Okada musters enough strength to his hit perfect standing dropkick. Now both men are down. Okada tries the Rainmaker for the fourth time but Omega kicks his arm away but Okada blocks one V-Trigger, but can’t block a second one, and then Omega hits a Poisoned Frankensteiner, dropping Okada on his head again. Omega does the bullet club taunt and hits the V-Trigger knee again. Omega hoists Okada onto his shoulders, hooks the head and lands the One-Winged Ang—no, Okada jumps out of it. Okada attempts a V-Trigger again but Okada catches him and drops Omega with a Tombstone! Rainmaker pose! Okada hooks the wrist! Rainmaker! That’s it! Match over!  Cue the ‘they killed Kenny’ jokes.

The referee counts one…two…thr—NO! Omega kicks out! Omega kicks out! Incredible! How did he do that?! The crowd has exploded and I agree with them. Okada stares into space with a look of concern as we reach the forty-minute mark.

Omega is still down, selling the rainmaker as if it had just crushed his windpipe. Okada takes a long time to grab omega by the hair to pick him up, but Omega starts fighting back. Okada has had enough of this and dropkicks Omega so hard he goes flying across the ring into the opposite corner. The fans in the arena are on their feet. Okada picks up Omega slowly for the Tombstone, but Omega powers out and reverses it into a double cradle piledriver of his own but that gets a 2.9-count. Both of them are on their knees and start brawling with each other. They keep brawling until they’re both standing. Neither man wants to show anymore weakness. Fighting spirit! Then out of nowhere, Omega ducks a forearm and hits a snap dragon suplex followed by a V-Trigger shortly thereafter, but that also only gets 2.9. Omega hits another V-Trigger to Okada and lifts him for the OWA yet again, but Okada holds on while on Omega’s shoulders, refusing to let Omega wrap his arm around his neck. Okada struggles until he falls off and lands on his feet and lands a huge Rainmaker lariat.

Both men are down as Okada crawls slowly towards Omega. He grabs the wrist again and prepares for another Rainmaker but omega kicks his lariat arm away. Okada maintains wrist control as Omega kicks away at Okada’s head and brutalizes Okada with three V-Trigger-like knees to the side of the head. But Okada still has plenty of fighting spirit left and hits a third Rainmaker lariat onto Omega. Okada then goes for his fourth Rainmaker but Omega ducks it, then Omega tries his own Rainmaker but Okada ducks that. Okada goes for a Tombstone but Omega escapes, so Okada charges and runs into a standing dropkick from Omega, who then does the Rainmaker pose to Okada. Then Omega grabs the wrist and hits a Rain-Trigger knee. Wow, that was brutal. Omega tries the OWA YET AGAIN, but Okada reverses it into a spinning Tombstone piledriver, and then delivers a fourth and massive Rainmaker lariat. The referee counts one…two…three! That’s it! The match is over!

The camera pans to the crowd and there are fans with tears in their eyes! The fans give both wrestlers a standing ovation.

Winner and still IWGP Heavyweight Champion after 48:25: Kazuchika Okada

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5ap3hx

Review

HOLY SHIT! THAT WAS SPECTACULAR! That did indeed live up to the hype. They more than delivered. Okada and Omega put on an instant classic that set a new standard for main event, world title matches. The story in this match was beautiful. It was a well-crafted tale of teases, reversals, kick-out sequences, and above all, insane toughness. This is a classic made of the same structure as the All Japan Pro-Wrestling classics of the 1990s. Everything in the opening minutes was done to establish dominance, followed by a lengthy weakening segment, and finally a long and insanely dramatic closing sequence that left the fans on the edge of their seats.

There was also an underlying story that demonstrates perfectly how to craft an intricate wrestling story through showing without telling. Omega was the underdog in this match challenging the champion and company ace. Omega took absolutely everything from Okada; it took Okada hitting every single one of his biggest moves – including four of his killer rainmaker lariats – to keep Omega down for the count. But Omega never hit his ultimate finisher, the One-Winged Angel. Omega teased it several times but Okada fought out of it on every occasion. At the time of this match – and at the time of this writing – no one in NJPW has ever kicked out of the OWA. If Omega hit that move in this match, it would’ve led to a different ending. But we didn’t see that move hit, which leaves the door open for a rematch down the road.

The final ten minutes were of the best moments ever seen in a wrestling ring. Everything after the top rope dragon suplex was insane. So much unpredictability, so many reversals and counter-reversals, you never knew when or how the match would end. And unlike in WWE, in which a roll-up would be seen as a weak finisher, in this match Omega and Okada had demolished each other so badly that a simple roll-up or cradle could be believable as a finisher.

I only have on real gripe with this match, and that’s Omega’s selling of exhaustion. Omega was on offense more than Okada in this match, yet he took his fair share of insane moves. Yet whenever Omega went for his running strikes – especially his V-trigger – he’d move around with the same energy and speed as he had earlier in the match when he had taken less damage. It made him look like he was barely in pain, despite taking an inhuman amount of punishment. Had he moved more slowly later on in the match, Okada’s offense would’ve looked more brutal and would’ve made Omega’s exhaustion feel more real.

But that minor gripe doesn’t take away from what is arguably the best match in Wrestle Kingdom history.

Final Rating: *****

I don’t think it’s proper to rate anything on a 5-star scale beyond five stars. This was a perfect wrestling match and deserves all the praise that was heaped on it and on the wrestlers involved. This was simply outstanding, especially in the final ten minutes. These two had awesome chemistry and it showed in how well they knew each other’s big moves and how to try and steal them as well. If you want to watch a clinic on how to craft an unpredictable wrestling contest filled to the brim with believable near-falls, watch this contest. It serves as a template on how to do that and more. Highest recommendation possible.

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