(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto - NJPW G1 Climax 2016

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto - NJPW G1 Climax 2016

This is one of the most important wrestling matches in modern history. It was the moment that Kenny Omega – one of the most controversial wrestlers of the past decade – finished his ascent to the main-event level. With this match, he changed how the world saw him. Gone was the goofy comedy wrestler that no one took serious. In his place stood a guy that could draw the house and wrestle in the biggest matches. At least, that was the plan.

Today we look back at one of the biggest matches in Omega’s history. It might not be his best in terms of sheer quality, but from a booking perspective it’s the one that made people pay more attention to him given that he was main-eventing the biggest wrestling tournament in the world.

It’s time to revisit the finals of the 2016 G1 Climax tournament between Kenny Omega and Hirooki Goto.

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

This match pitted the winners of two opposing blocks of wrestlers against each other in the finals of the G1 Climax. The winner of this match would get a contract to face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 11. The two wrestlers involved had very different paths leading into this match.

Kenny Omega debuted in New Japan in 2015 and spent most of that time as a midcarder wrestling in junior heavyweight matches. But in early 2016, he ousted AJ Styles and became the Bullet Club’s new leader. Determined to fully elevate himself to the heavyweight division, Omega entered his first G1 and sought to make history as the first foreign-born wrestler to win that prestigious tournament. He had already taken the Bullet Club to new heights and sought to bring further glory to that notorious group of outsiders.

Meanwhile, Hirooki Goto was without a doubt the biggest bridesmaid in modern pro wrestling. He was once in the same group of future top guys as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura and Katsuyori Shibata. But he could never make it like they did. He won so many tournaments and awards, only to always lose the big one. He got shot after shot after shot but never managed to win a world title. Over time he developed this reputation that followed him everywhere and led to other wrestlers passing him by one by one. Tanahashi and Nakamura totally eclipsed him. Shibata left New Japan, returned, and became a superior version of Goto. He even got surpassed by wrestlers that came along later like Tetsuya Naito, AJ Styles and Kazuchika Okada. He was determined to prove everyone wrong, that he could still be a top draw and was worthy of being in the main event. But to get there, he had to overcome Omega, which was no easy task.

The match

This match originally took place on August 14th, 2016, and was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Let’s see how well the match looks now.

The crowd chants for Goto as they lock up. Omega slaps Goto in a douchey way but Goto doesn’t react to it at all. They have a nice chain grappling sequence that ends with Goto landing a shoulder tackle that actually looks like it hurts. Omega ducks a clothesline and lands a snap hurricanrana that sends Goto out of the ring. he prepares for his Terminator dive, but Goto cuts him off with a huge kick to his knee. Surprisingly, the fans turn on Goto and start booing him, even though he’s the babyface in this match.

Goto starts working that leg and applies a Figure-4 leglock which Omega escapes out of quickly. Each time Goto kicks Omega’s knee, the crowd boos very loudly. This is highly unusual. Omega rakes Goto’s eyes and runs to the ropes, but Goto chases him and clotheslines him out of the ring. Goto tries to whip Omega into the barricade, but Omega blocks, kicks Goto in the face, and lands a moonsault press using the barricade for support. His leg seems to be healed already because he scoop slams Goto onto the ring apron. Not satisfied, Omega warns some fans to move away as he teases powerbombing Goto into their chairs, but decides against it and powerbombs him into the apron à la Kevin Owens instead.

Goto returns to the ring at the count of eighteen and Omega lands a Rick Rude-style neckbreaker for two. The crowd is now cheering for both wrestlers as Omega applies a camel clutch. Goto slowly gets to the ropes so Omega lands a big chop to the chest for two and then applies a chinlock. Omega lands more stiff chops then whips Goto into a corner. Goto dodges a corner charge and tries his own but gets booted in the face and eats a leg drop bulldog. Omega pins but Goto kicks out again.

Both men get to their feet and trade stiff strikes until Goto blindsides Omega with a big rebound clothesline. Goto starts getting a second wind. He sends Omega into a corner and lands a wheel kick followed by a Backdrop suplex. Omega somehow ends up on his feet so Goto clotheslines him again and lands a top-rope elbow drop for two. Goto goes for the ushigoroshi but Omega escapes and spits on him. An enraged Goto charges but gets caught in a fireman’s carry. Omega land the ‘you can’t escape’ slam/moonsault combo for two. Omega starts hitting Goto in the head. Goto starts hulking up New Japan-style and asks Omega to hit him some more. Omega rakes the eyes again and charges. Goto goes for another crisscross. Omega sees it coming and counters with a snap dragon suplex. Suicide dive by Omega connects.

Omega tosses Goto into the ring and lands a diving dropkick to the back of Goto’s head. He goes for another dragon suplex but Goto fights out. They start brawling again and Omega charges…but walks into an ushigorishi. Goto plants Omega’s neck on his knee. Goto maintains control as he clotheslines Omega onto the apron. But he’s not done. Goto places Omega on the turnbuckle…and lands an ushigorishi from the top rope. Omega looks like he’s convulsing. Goto pins. One, two, Omega kicks out.

Goto applies a sleeper and goes for the GTR but Omega fights out. Both men go for sleeper holds but escape each other. Goto pushes Omega into a corner and goes for a German suplex. Omega lands on his feet and lands a V-Trigger knee. Followed by a Fisherman knee neckbreaker as a big middle finger to Goto. V-Trigger #2. Omega goes for the One-Winged Angel (OWA). Goto escapes and applies another sleeper. Omega fights out but Goto applies another one and jumps onto Omega’s back. Omega climbs to the top turnbuckle and falls backward onto Goto.

Both wrestlers get up at the count of nine and land sluggish forearms. Omega gets the upper hand and lands a boot but Goto demands more. Goto goes for a counter discus clothesline but Omega hits him first and lands a Last Ride Powerbomb. Shades of Kota Ibushi. One, two, Goto kicks out. Omega climbs the tope rope. Phoenix Splash…misses. Goto rolls out of the way and punts Omega in the chest. He pins but Omega kicks out. Goto goes for his Shouten finisher (suplex into a Rock bottom) but Omega lands behind him on one leg. Goto head-butts him and lands a reverse ushigoroshi. Another clever move. Omega gets dropped on his face. Goto pins but Omega kicks out yet again. GTR, no, Omega fights out. Goto blocks one V-Trigger but can’t avoid another one. Snap dragon suplex. Goto kicks out. Omega charges for a V-Trigger. Goto catches his leg but Omega fires back with knee lifts. He charges again, but runs into a massive clothesline. Shouten Kai! Goto drops Omega with a massive bomb. One, two, thr—NO, Omega survives!

Goto attempts the GTR (reverse headlock lariat backbreaker). Omega counters into a suplex, no, Goto counters, no, Omega counters again. BLOODY SUNDAY!! Shades of Prince Devitt! Omega’s not done. Styles Clash! One, two, Goto kicks out again! Omega hoists Goto onto his shoulders. One Winged Angel connects! One, two, three! There’s the match! Omega wins the G1!

Winner of the 2016 G1 Climax after 26:49: Kenny Omega

Review

On paper, a match between Kenny Omega and Hirooki Goto doesn’t seem like it would stand the test of time. And yet, that’s exactly what happened here. Omega and Goto went above and beyond to put on a classic wrestling match fitting for the finals of the G1 Climax. I don’t think it was perfect but it was pretty damn close.

The match was basically a gladiatorial fight to the death with each wrestler picking a different strategy. Goto tried to take advantage of Omega’s weakened knee from his amazing match with Tetsuya Naito from the night before, but it didn’t work. It didn’t work because it only succeeded in firing Omega up instead of slowing him down, and it didn’t work because Omega’s selling was wildly inconsistent, unlike the night before. But Goto was desperate to win, and the fans caught wind of that and turned on him. Though they started the match firmly behind him, they gradually warmed up to Omega with his flashier style and unpredictable offense. They and the commentators lost their minds each time Omega busted out another wrestler’s big moves. Callbacks and subtle references to the past go a long way in Japan because they reference earlier parts in a larger story. That way a single match isn’t its own contained universe but part of a larger narrative. And by teasing and referencing other stuff through stealing other wrestlers’ moves, it tells a deeper and more exciting story overall.

That’s why Omega made nods to Kota Ibushi (his close friend and former tag partner in DDT), Prince Devitt (the founder and first leader of Bullet Club), and AJ Styles (the man Omega supplanted). By using all of their moves as a lead up to his own finisher, Omega showed that he was stronger than them. Of course, Goto tanking so many high-impact bombs also made him look like a tough sonofabitch as well.

Unfortunately, Goto was actually a non-issue here. As much as I like him as a wrestler, I never got the feeling that he could actually win this match. The way he wrestled and the amount of offense he actually got in made it seem less like he was on Omega’s level and more as a supporting actor on the Kenny Omega show. He only had a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments of control where it looked like he had a chance. But for the rest of the match, it was all about Omega. Goto tried to mount some kind of a comeback against Omega during that amazing closing stretch, but it was in vain. It also didn’t help Goto’s case that he didn’t really have much of a strategy of his own but instead piggybacked off what someone else had already done. And considering how strongly symbolism and subtlety apply in Japan, it seemed like Goto didn’t deserve to win on that premise alone.

The reason the match doesn’t reach that upper level of greatness is because it’s vastly inferior to Omega’s match from the night before. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Omega’s 2016 G1 match against Naito is one of the best professional wrestling matches to ever take place. This match just doesn’t hold a candle to that one. In that one, Omega was focused and serious. Here, he went back to his faux comedy and wackiness, even though it was the wrong time and place to be fooling around. In that match his selling was consistent and he worked Naito’s offense into his own actions. Here, he couldn’t decide which way he wanted to go to in terms of selling and seemed all over the place in terms of his approach. In that match, Naito and Omega were basically on equal footing from bell to bell. Here, Omega overtook Goto during the last ten minutes and the match went from being about who would win to how long it would take for Omega to win.

Final Rating: ****3/4

While this match was far from perfect, its flaws weren’t so glaring as to knock it down from its original rating. I think Meltzer was right in giving this match the near-perfect rating because that really describes this match to a T. It was impressive and exciting, especially during the final ten minutes. Seriously, that last stretch beginning with the Last Ride Powerbomb was one of the best in New Japan history. But all that proves is that Hiroshi Tanahashi was absolutely right about Omega: that only the last five minutes of any big Omega match really matter.

If you’re a fan of Kenny Omega’s, this is a must-see match for both historic reasons and for match quality reasons. Omega was great here and Goto was perfect in his role of making Omega look as strong as possible. And while Omega did fall into his typical drawbacks, he still fought like hell to beat Goto down. All in all this is a solid match that, to be honest, should’ve swapped places with Omega-Naito I and been the semi-final match and not the final one.

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