Once 2023 is over this might end up being the most controversial match of the year.
Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay have long been…interesting…figures within the wrestling industry. Both Omega and Ospreay have extensive catalogues of ludicrous matches filled with the kind of insanity that makes viewers question how they can still keep going. Both of them have legions of loyal fans. And both of them have been praised to the moon and back by various wrestling observers and pundits
In fact, as of this writing Will Ospreay has surpassed Mitsuharu Misawa’s record with the most 5-stars-or-higher matches according to Dave Meltzer. This won’t be the last time Misawa’s name will be mentioned because, as it turns out, his legacy will have a major impact on this match, as we will see shortly.
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.
Forbidden Door was built on and catering to the most dedicated of wrestling fans, those that follow the business extremely closely and know a lot about wrestling in other countries. It was promoted as a dream card that involved the best AEW had to offer and the best its biggest business partner NJPW had to offer. Although the show’s main-event between Bryan Danielson and Kazuchika Okada was hyped up the most by the company, this was the one most people wanted to see.
This was the second chapter in a rivalry that officially began in late 2022 but had been building slowly for years before. As I mentioned in my review of the first Omega/Ospreay match, these were two men who wrestled in similar high-octane styles that emphasized surreal and explosive impact with a somewhat subdued sense of realism. Some of their critics have argued that these two resemble video game characters more than wrestlers; and yet there looks to be a huge market and interest for that sort of surrealism.
Anyways, Omega beat Ospreay at WK17 in January to win the IWGP US Championship in January and then had one successful defense against Jeff Cobb in late March. With Forbidden Door on the horizon, it seemed fitting for Ospreay to demand a rematch and Omega accepted. That’s all it was: the former champion asking for a rematch. Nothing more needed to be said since AEW and NJPW knew that the audience would be hyped for this because they were well aware of both wrestlers’ reputations. But would these two be able to meet or even surpass their own standards? Let’s find out.
This match originally took place on Jun 25, 2023. It was rated ****** by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
This is for Omega’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. They start with some chain grappling and technical exchanges. Ospreay out-wrestles Omega and does an over-the-shoulder armbreaker. Omega continues the grapple chain and eventually locks Ospreay in a headscissor. Ospreay escapes but he’s already clasping his head and neck. Omega chops him into a corner and lands some forearms to the back of the neck but Ospreay fires up and retaliates with similar strikes of his own. Omega blocks a corner charge and attempts the One-Winged Angel. Ospreay blocks and goes for the Os-Cutter. Omega blocks and tries a dragon suplex. Another sequence ends in a stalemate accompanied by loud applause.
They tease locking up again but Ospreay thumbs Omega’s eye and lands more stiff corner strikes. Ospreay sends Omega into a corner but Omega flips out of it and lands a snap Frankensteiner and his You Can’t Escape fireman’s carry slam/moonsault combo. Ospreay bails to ringside and Omega teases his big suicide dive. But as he picks up steam Don Callis grabs Omega’s foot in full view of the referee. Callis’ security protects him but the ref still kicks him out and sends him back to the locker room. Omega turns around…and eats a pescado from Ospreay from the ring to the floor.
Ospreay smashes Omega knees-first into the ringsteps and then arm-first into a ringpost. A spinning backbreaker gets Ospreay a two-count. Ospreay lands a forearm to Omega’s back but Omega fights back with chops. Ospreay shuts him down with a vertical suplex that gets another two-count. Omega tries fighting back with a hiptoss but Ospreay blocks and counters into an abdominal stretch. Omega escapes but Ospreay attacks Omega’s midsection once again. Ospreay shoots Omega into the ropes again but Omega dodges him and lands a jumping facebuster, a punt to the ribs, and a running takedown for a two-count.
Ospreay blocks a powerbomb so Omega chops the hell out of him. Omega charges to the ropes but Ospreay hits first with a step-up enzuigiri. Ospreay drapes Omega onto the top rope and hits a shooting star press that sends Omega onto the apron. Then Ospreay succeeds where he failed in January and lands an Os-Cutter on the apron.
Despite Omega’s best attempts at resistance, Ospreay smashes his head into one of the commentary tables. The crowd chants “you’re a wanker” as Ospreay removes more pieces of the ringside table and Omega starts moving, now bleeding from the head. Ospreay does something similar to Omega as what Omega did to him in January and snaps a piece of the table in two as Omega’s head goes through it. Once in the ring, Omega staggers around as Ospreay punches his wound. Some of Omega’s blood ends up on Ospreay’s forearm so he licks it, which causes the crowd to chant “you sick f**k”, to which Ospreay responds “yum”.
Ospreay continues toying with Omega with forearms and kicks but Omega tries fighting back with forearms. I say “try” because Ospreay shuts him down with a Misawa rolling elbow. Ospreay follows with a V-Trigger after an exceptionally long taunt sequence and then starts toying with some fans. Some of them talk trash to him so he pulls a Canada flag from someone else. And now the crowd lets him have it as they boo him loudly. Ospreay flosses the flag through his crotch and sticks one end in his nostril, which causes most of the crowd to boo. Finally, someone that isn’t afraid of getting heat. But Ospreay’s antics take too long and he walks into a big clothesline from Omega.
Omega fires up and choke tosses Ospreay around the ring with the flag as the referee does nothing. He uses the flag as a makeshift noose to briefly choke/hang Ospreay and then gives the flag to some kids, which gets a monster pop. Then Omega hits a V-Trigger knee and hits Ospreay with so much force the momentum sends Omega over the barricade.
Omega drives Ospreay’s head into the ringsteps and now he too is bleeding. Omega shows no mercy as he flips the steps sideways and DDTs Ospreay onto it. Back in the ring, Omega lands some palm strikes to Ospreay’s head. Omega follows with a sleeper and a cross armbreaker attempt. As Ospreay tries rolling over Omega switches to a triangle hold and hits some elbow strikes. Ospreay starts fading but then he fights up and powerbombs Omega with one arm. Both guys no-sell as they hit German suplexes on each other. Ospreay escapes a dragon suplex and charges to the ropes…only to eat a V-Trigger. Omega charges…and runs into a standing Spanish Fly. One, two, Omega kicks out.
The crowd, after giving both guys a standing ovation for that exchange sequence, starts booing loudly as Ospreay locks in a sharpshooter. Ospreay pulls Omega away from the ropes and then locks in a crossface as the crowd boos once again. The video I’ve included below doesn’t capture the audio that well but that move got much louder booing from the crowd. Omega tries rolling out but Ospreay maintains the crossface until Omega finally gets to the ropes.
Ospreay hits a barrage of Kawada kicks and Kobashi-style stiff chops to the chest. Omega chops back but he’s hitting pitifully compared to Ospreay and Ospreay shuts him down with a head-butt. Ospreay lands more kicks and goes for another Os-Cutter but Omega lands a kneelift. Omega ducks a forearm and lands two snap dragon suplexes. Ospreay escapes a third but eats a V-Trigger to the back of the head for his efforts. Omega follows that with a poisoned Frankensteiner and a piledriver for a two-count. Omega hits his fisherman knee neckbreaker and yet another V-Trigger. He goes for the same top-rope Croyt’s Wrath that he hhit in their first match. But this time Ospreay counters with his Cheeky Nandos through-the-legs kick to the head. Omega bails to ringside and Ospreay dives onto him with a top-rope Sky Twister press.
Ospreay lands a diving elbow to Omega’s neck back in the ring and teases the Hidden Blade elbow. Omega ducks it and both men boot each other at the same time. Double lariats. V-Trigger #6. Ospreay counters a clothesline with a Ligerbomb and gets another two-count. Top-rope Os-Cutter. Omega kicks out again and then counters a Stormbreaker with a back-to-belly piledriver. Both men collapse…and suddenly here comes Don Callis. The referee does nothing, proving he has no power as Omega hits two more V-Triggers. I was expecting Ospreay to block the next one but no, it lands, bringing the total to nine. Omega signals for yet another one but Callis jumps onto the apron. Come on now. I know the New Japan referees hate disqualifying people but this is ridiculous. Omega calls Callis’ bluff and lands yet another V-Trigger. Callis tries pulling a seemingly-unconscious Ospreay out of the ring as Omega tries keeping him in. the ref gets involved and Callis uses that distraction to hand Ospreay a screwdriver. Omega goes for the OWA. Ospreay stabs him in the head. Hidden Blade/Stormbreaker combo. The referee counts one…two…and thr – Omega gets his foot on the rope. Ospreay lands the KAmigoye that Omega hit him with in January and then uses Omega’s own finisher on him. One-Winged Angel. The referee counts one…and Kenny Omega kicks out with authority. The crowd goes absolutely APES**T!
The crowd chants “Kenny” as he and Ospreay trade forearms in the middle of the ring. Ospreay’s forearms turn to slaps but Omega lands V-Trigger #11. Ospreay lands a hook kick and tries a Brainbuster. Omega hits his own Brainbuster first. Omega lands his Croyt’s Wrath deadlift bridging German. One, two, Ospreay survives. V-Trigger #12 connects and Omega tries his OWA. Omega escapes another Stormbreaker and Ospreay hits a ripcord into a Hidden Blade. Here comes the spike of spikes. Tiger Driver ’91!
One…two…and thr – no, Omega kicks out at 2.99! Ospreay hits one more Hidden Blade and a successful Stormbreaker. One, two, and three! There’s the match! Ospreay evens the score with Omega!
Winner and NEW IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion after 39:50: Will Ospreay
When I first saw this match live I thought it was inferior to their first match at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Looking at it now I must change course; this is the better of the two matches, though that’s mainly because their first match ended up being disappointing on a re-watch. This one started off strongly, had a great middle – mostly thanks to Will Ospreay actually showing some personality and being a proper heel – but fell apart towards the end. And while some fans, critics and even other professional wrestlers have zeroed in on the Tiger Driver ’91 as the moment this match jumped the shark, I think that brutal head spike paled in comparison to something earlier that basically set Kenny Omega’s doom in motion: Don Callis’ return.
When Don Callis returned to the ring after being banished earlier, he started the chain of events that would lead to Omega losing. Callis gave Ospreay the screwdriver that allowed him to block Omega’s OWA and then begin his big move combination – TD91 included – that ended with Ospreay winning the match. Given that chain of events, there is one big question that no one has been able to answer: why was Callis just allowed to return and stick around? The referee sent him to the back and he just returned later on. It made the referee look completely impotent (an AEW official lacking authority, what else is new…) and it changed the match around. Given how the story was going, it was clear Omega was on the verge of getting his babyface win in front of his fellow countrymen, but then Callis went and screwed that up.
Even in New Japan where the refs are a bit more lenient and don’t just jump right to disqualification the moment things get chaotic, those guys still enforce rules and when they lay down the law the wrestlers and other personalities actually listen. Here. The ref saw blatant interference and nonsense happen in front of his eyes and didn’t call for a disqualification, nor did he do anything else about it. He could’ve simply refused to count Ospreay’s next one or two covers and justified his inaction by saying “you’re cheating, why should I count after you just got an unfair advantage?” or something along those lines. While it wouldn’t’ve justified Callis’ blatant interference, it would’ve been a justifiable and in some ways logical response that would’ve added to the drama without harming the match.
But given the direction they ultimately went in, the match’s conclusion came across as sloppy. It was as if they needed a blatant, shoehorned reason to necessitate a future rubber match by adding Callis into the equation, instead of letting the inevitable third match come naturally from this match’s result. By overbooking that part of the match, it made what was up to that point a solid and coherent match become somewhat ridiculous by making fans think “let’s just roll with it”, as if ignorance or confusion on the audience’s part was required.
As for the second half, which featured tons of near-falls and spammed high-impact bombs, I understand the mindset Ospreay and Omega had with how they put together the finishing sequence. They wanted to layer one believable match-ending move on top of another to make people believe that was the finish when it wasn’t. When Ospreay hit the Tiger Driver ’91, many people believed it was the finish, but since it wasn’t, it was a genuine false finish, which has become so hard to pull of properly in recent years because fans are conditioned to believe that only a handful of moves will end matches.
Additionally, this match was a very clear love letter or reference to Misawa’s 1990s singles matches since he is the guy who popularized the TD91 in the first place. It was obvious to me that these guys were trying to copy Misawa’s title matches with Kenta Kobashi from 1997, 1998, and 1999 in which Misawa hit the Tiger Driver ’91 but Kobashi kicked out at the last possible second, which in turn forced Misawa to hit something else after that to win.
That being said, there has also been a lot of blowback surrounding that move in particular. For anyone wondering why, let me explain.
This is a standard Tiger Driver:
This is a Tiger Driver ’91.
The TD91 is a stronger, more dangerous head-spiking version of the original Tiger Driver that Misawa used as his main finisher. If someone survive his regular Tiger Driver and he had nothing else left, he’d bust out the TD’91 as his final salvo. It was an ultra-dangerous move that he only used fourteen times between 1991 and 2006. And based on the video above, there is an at least somewhat safe way to land the move without it being absolutely apocalyptic.
This video does a great job of explaining the difference between Misawa hitting his TD91 and Ospreay attempting the same. Omega’s landing was far worse than any that Misawa’s opponents took. He landed at such a high angle with almost no way of absorbing the impact onto his shoulders or back. It was as if he landed directly on his neck with his body folding over top of him like an accordion.
Naturally, something like this is bound to get wildly different reactions. Some have used it to praise Omega for being so dedicated to his craft and how much passion he has. Others have noted that it’s too much and that it sets an awful precedent. Omega, for his part, hasn’t been all that diplomatic about the criticism, which has only fanned the flames of argument within the wrestling community even further. Personally, I don’t put too much stock into that particular move since there are far stupider things done in wrestling these days.
With that aside, the question is whether this is a true 5-Star match; that is, whether this is some kind of historic epic and you must drop everything to see it in all its glory. And the answer to that is…no. Close, but no.
In terms of the actual wrestling action, there was little in here that hasn’t been seen before, especially from those that follow Will Ospreay or those that are diehard AEW fans. This match was almost a carbon copy of their WK17 match in terms of structure, key spots, story, and biggest moves. There were some refreshing minor variations in some key sequences, but otherwise there wasn’t anything in here that most of us haven’t seen before. Omega spammed V-Triggers like this was his fourth match with Okada. Ospreay hit his crazy dives like he does in almost every match. The final ten minutes looked like almost every Omega main-event singles match since 2017. If we isolate the wrestling action itself, the only really unique part of the match in that regard was the Tiger Driver ’91 and I’m sure many people want to elevate this match simply because Omega had the guts (or lack of a brain, depending on your point of view) to take that move, since that move hasn’t been seen on a major stage anywhere since 2006.
And yet, these two wrestlers compensate for that copy-and-paste big move sequencing by having much more of a face versus heel match, which had become so rare in modern wrestling because too many fans have embraced the absurd “both these guys” mentality. A big part of that was thanks to Ospreay, who actually did a fantastic job of being the villain this story needed. There was simply no way Omega was going to get anything less than a hero’s welcome in Toronto.
Knowing this, Ospreay went above and beyond to get this crowd to hate him as much as possible. He pulled a Shawn Michaels and insulted the Canadian flag. He used the crossface, which is in some ways verboten because of who it’s usually associated with (hint: not Bryan Danielson). He licked Omega’s blood off his body like Kevin Steen that one time to make the crowd truly think he was out of his mind and without any sense of limitation. This was the kind of personality the match needed.
Unlike Omega, who in the WK17 match hammed it up and acted all wacky for whatever reason, Ospreay actually acted serious all throughout the match. For a moment it the sense of performance disappeared as Ospreay acted a bit like MJF and seemed genuinely determined to rile the crowd and Omega up as much as possible. Ospreay’s personality in this match helped elevate it beyond their first match and beyond many other alleged top-tier matches that both guys have had before. Without him actually wrestling more like a classic heel, at least for a while, this match would’ve been nothing more than the same sterile and sanitized maneuver exchange of a match that has been endemic in the wrestling business for over a decade now.
Final Rating: ****3/4
While this match had some strong moments and benefitted from Will Ospreay being a lot more than just another flippy MOVEZ guy, I can’t say that this is a truly cream-of-the-crop epic. It’s definitely up there and should be seen once but not more than that. There was simply too much performance, staginess, and lack of realism for me to consider this a genuine epic. And while I don’t think there’s such a thing as a truly 100% perfect match, this one falls too far from the mark for me to consider it in that elite tier of industry-changing matches.
I’m sure that this match will still get plenty of discussion for some time to come, mainly because of the morbidity factor that came from the Tiger Driver ’91, which now appears to be the only part of the match that anyone wants to talk about. Though to be fair to these two wrestlers, the match had so much more than that, some of it good and some of it bad. It’s often said that any publicity is good publicity, so at least on that front Omega and Ospreay are drawing plenty of eyes onto what they do in the ring.