5-Star Match Reviews: Kenny Omega vs. Hirooki Goto – NJPW G1 Climax 2018

njpw kenny omega goto 2018

Like many wrestling fans, I’ve come to take Dave Meltzer’s five-star ratings with a grain of salt. On one hand, his ratings are still well-respected by many fans because he’s the closest thing pro-wrestling has to an objective outside source (and even that is a stretch). On the other hand, some of his ratings have left people scratching their heads, especially since ‘breaking the scale’ has been a common occurrence since 2017.

A great example of this has been the explosion of (supposed) 5-star matches from 2015 to the present day. In older editions of his Observer, he explained what the ratings meant and that he “may see ten 5-star matches in any given year”. Clearly, something special must’ve happened in 2018 because that year had 21 5-star-or-higher matches. Twenty-one! Was that a sign that pro-wrestling had peaked in terms of quality? Or was the wrestling quality that year just a bit overrated? Let’s look at yet another allegedly-historic match from 2018 to find out.

Today we revisit the singles match between Kenny Omega and Hirooki Goto from NJPW’s 2018 G1 Climax tournament.

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

Omega and Goto have a short but significant history together. Two years earlier, both of them were in the finals of the 2016 G1 Climax. Many people expected Goto to win. He was the best example of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” in modern wrestling, having come up short time and time again. But he always persevered, hoping one more chance would come up. But instead of winning, he lost to Kenny Omega, who was a dark horse that few people expected to win. Omega had an up-swell of fan support and New Japan needed a new leader for the Bullet Club after AJ Styles left. And by beating Goto, wrestling history was changed forever. Although Omega had a few great matches prior to that match with Goto, his meteoric rise to superstardom truly began with his G1 victory. Omega became (in)famous for his matches with Okada and a slew of others, and proceeded to become arguably the top non-Japanese wrestler in Japan.

Fast forward two years and boy have things changed for Omega. He had his legendary four matches with Okada that made him a household name. He and the Young Bucks created a cult fan following that would later serve as the foundation of AEW. And most importantly (for that time), Omega was IWGP Heavyweight Champion. He fought his ass off to become only the sixth non-Japanese heavyweight champion in NJPW history and, in many fans’ eyes, cemented himself as the best in-ring performer alive.

As for Goto, well, he spent that same two-year period treading water. He lost a rematch to Omega a few months after the 2016 G1 in a last-ditch quest to capture Omega’s title rights certificate for Wrestle Kingdom 11. From there he drifted aimlessly, bouncing around winning lesser titles and tournaments here and there. He was firmly entrenched in New Japan’s midcard. Any chance at moving up was all but impossible. He did win the NEVER Openweight Championship, but that win and subsequent reign were less chances for him to move up and more a series of thanks for his work. A giant pat on the back and nothing more.

And so came this match. By sheer happenstance, Omega and Goto – two New Japan champions – would face each other in a highly-anticipated rematch. Though it was something of a fall from grace – going from the finals in 2016 to the fourth night of the whole tournament two years later – there was still some excitement around this. Omega was by far the bigger star of the two but Goto has remained consistent as a wrestler without ever really faltering. Sure, he never reached the same highs as Omega, but he also didn’t really have any flaws or drawbacks as an athlete, which can’t really be said about Omega.

Plus, if there was one thing the G1 was famous for, it was upset wins. Many new rivalries and surprise pushes began with unexpected victories in the G1, the best of which being Kenny Omega himself. So with that history behind them and an unshakable sense of unpredictability in the air, would Goto eke out a win here? Could he undo the historic loss that saw his push taken away from him by this maverick Canadian? Or would Goto fall to the One-Winged Angel like everyone else?

The match

This match originally took place on July 19th, 2018.

They start with some chain grappling that ends with Omega landing a douchey light “slap” to Goto’s face. Omega takes Goto’s left arm again and uses his free hand to slap Goto’s head some more. Goto counters into a hammerlock but Omega quickly counters back into a side headlock. Goto sends Omega into the ropes and Omega hits a shoulder tackle, but all it does it send Goto backwards into the opposite ropes and Goto lands an even stronger tackle and Omega goes down. They dash at each other and Omega boots Goto down. Goto bounces up and lands a high kick of his own. Omega escapes an ushigoroshi and Goto escapes the OWA. Omega avoids a GTR and hits a kick to Goto’s face. Goto dodges a V-Trigger by spinning and goes for a discus lariat. Omega avoids that and hits a snap hurricanrana. He charges for a suicide dive. Goto hits him on the apron first. Omega hits back with a dropkick and a baseball slide that send Goto into the fans. Omega goes for a springboard dive into the fans. Goto blocks by throwing a chair into Omega as he balances himself on the top rope. The crowd boos loudly and Goto pulls Omega out so that only his legs are touching the ring apron. Reverse GTR. Goto drives Omega face-first into his knee while driving his arm into the back of Omega’s head. But Goto isn’t done. He drags Omega further into the crowd as the referee doesn’t count for some reason. Goto attempts a suplex on the bleachers. Omega blocks, lands a chop, and scoop slams Goto. Goto takes a nasty landing onto the bleachers. Goto hurts both his back and his leg. But Omega isn’t done yet. He climbs onto a nearby handrail. Quebrada moonsault press. Omega dives onto Goto.

Omega tosses Goto into the ring and lands some nasty chops. Goto tries fighting back but Omega shuts him down with a strike combo and a legdrop bulldog for a two-count. Omega has completely healed from Goto’s earlier attacks as he foot chokes Goto in the corner. He hits some double ax handles but Goto starts firing up a second time and gets chopped down just like before. Omega follows with a running knife hand chop for a pin and another two-count.

Omega hits some elbow drops to Goto’s collar and locks in a deep chinlock. Goto gets a ropebreak so Omega kicks his spine. The two men start trading forearms. Omega counters an Irish whip with a fireman’s carry. He connects with the slam/moonsault splash combo and pins for another two-count. Omega goes for a vertical suplex. Goto counters and hits one of his own. Goto sends Omega into a corner and charges but Omega flips over him and hits another big chop. Omega charges but Goto chases after him and hits a rebound lariat. Goto connects with a corner wheel kick/backdrop suplex combo for a two-count of his own. He tries another ushigoroshi. Omega elbows out and lands on the apron. Omega tries another springboard move. Goto cuts him off and connects with the ushigorishi, driving Omega’s head into his knee. Goto tries firing up again and goes for a sleeper hold. Omega reverses and tries a sleeper of his own. Goto sends Omega into the turnbuckle and goes for a German suplex. Omega lands on his feet. V-Trigger knee strike. Omega goes to follow-up with a superplex but Goto fights out. Omega answers that with a running V-Trigger. He tries to follow-up with a top-rope Fisherman neckbreaker. Goto blocks and the two wrestlers brawl on the top rope until Goto gets the upper hand. Diving sunset powerbomb. One, two, Omega kicks out.

Goto goes for a chest kick but Omega catches his leg. The two men start trading forearms again. Omega lands a sudden snap dragon suplex and charges for another V-Trigger. Goto hits first with a lariat and then hits another inverted GTR. He goes for a regular FTR. Omega blocks and tries a suplex. Goto blocks and hits a Shouten Kai. Awesome move. One, two, and – no, Omega survives. Goto tries the GTR again. Omega counters into a roll-up. One, two, Goto kicks out.

Both wrestlers stagger around and then trade strikes again. Goto blocks a kick and hits some elbows. He charges but runs into V-Trigger #3. Omega goes for a double-underhook piledriver but Goto counters and lands a head-butt. He instinctively runs into the ropes to gain momentum…and turns around only to eat V-Trigger #4. Omega follows with his Aoi Shoudou cross-legged fisherman neckbreaker to the knee. Goto barely kicks out. V-Trigger #5. One-Winged Angel connects in the middle of the ring. One, two, and three! There’s the match.

Winner after 19:29: Kenny Omega


If there was ever a match to make one believe that Meltzer was overrating Omega’s matches, it would be this one. Point blank, this was nowhere near the 5-star level. Not even 4.75 or 4.5. Just because Omega sprinted around and did all the same shtick he had done many times before didn’t make this one of the best matches of all time. In fact, it’s easily one of the most forgettable (supposedly-) 5-star matches of the past decade.

Even though Omega and Goto had solid chemistry together, something was clearly off here. This wasn’t as good as their match from the G1 finals two years earlier, mainly because of how much of a mismatch this was. Unlike two years ago when both of them had equal chances of winning, the vast gulf between them in this match made the ending a foregone conclusion. Most people knew that Omega winning and Goto didn’t do much of anything to convince those people otherwise. There was no real moment of tension when Goto could’ve conceivably won the match.

Goto tried to take advantage early with some power moves but none of it worked. He stayed in his comfort zone when it came to landing his biggest moves and only tried to shake things up with some pointless crowd brawling that actually blew up in his face since Omega turned that potential asset against him. From there the match just lost all its tension. It became an easy night for Omega as he just toyed with Goto and really didn’t encounter much resistance. Sure, Goto fired up here and there and landed the odd surprise counter or head-targeting move. But nothing of his was sustained. He failed to string together enough moves or momentum to make people believe he could win. The closest he got to winning was his Shouten Kai slam and once Omega kicked out of that, it was all over.

I cannot help but compare this match to both Omega’s match with Goto from two years earlier and Omega’s match with Ishii two nights later. In the 2016 match with Goto, Goto brought so much more to the table. He had a strategy. He took advantage of a weakened Omega and showed his desperation to win. He threw his trademark honor out the window to try and win. He had long and complex counter sequences that actually built up the tension in an exciting way. Goto actually stood as Omega’s equal in that match. Here, Goto was a joke, a stepping stone for Omega to hop over without much in terms of resistance.

As for the Ishii match (which I watched before this one), that was much better for a bunch of reasons, but the main reason was that it was actually competitive. Omega actually struggled to not only keep Ishii down but to survive Ishii’s own offense. Ishii was more relentless and way more brutal than Goto was here. even though both matches started off the same – with Omega acting like a douche and mocking his opponent – only Ishii managed to turn that against Omega and beat him bloody like he deserved.

Maybe that was by design; maybe Goto was expected to be a night-off for Omega and just happened to deliver a 5-star ‘easy night’ performance. If that’s the case, fine. But by no means does such a one-sided cakewalk deserve to be praised as some kind of historic epic.

Final Rating: ****

This is very much a once-and-done match that isn’t worth seeing more than once. Aside from some brief bleacher brawling, there was nothing to this match. As I’ve said before, Omega has some days where he wrestles like he’s checking off a list. This was one of those days. Once he got Goto back into the ring it was every Omega match we’ve seen before. He didn’t slow down despite eating some heavy offense from Goto. He spammed his biggest moves including five V-Trigger knee strikes and the big move sequences he’s done time and again.

I wouldn’t say that Omega is a ‘5 moves of doom’ wrestler; instead, he’s a ‘15 moves of doom’ wrestler. Having a slight bit more variety in moves used in a match doesn’t magically fix a critical problem: if all a wrestler does is the same shtick in each match but with more steps, they don’t automatically become a better wrestler. Having the same moves hit at the same times with minimal variation breeds too much familiarity. And in Omega’s case, familiarity very much does breed contempt.

Even though the action was good here, it was still inferior to what these two have done before. But if you really want to see Goto and Omega do something great, revisit their 2016 G1 match. It was so much better than this.

Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.