by “Gorgeous” Garrett Smith
You read that headline correctly. I am calling it right now. I have said it in a previous article for Mark Set Go, when I was stating how great Kazushika Okada is, and how amazing his year plus title reign will go down in history. Well now in this particular piece will highlight the rivalry between Okada and Kenny Omega, and how it should be seen compared to other great pro wrestling rivalries like Steamboat/Flair, Undertaker/Kane, Rock/Austin.
This all began a little over two years ago as I put words to page, during the summer of 2016. Kenny Omega, a Canadian born wrestler who was making waves in the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion as leader of the ever soon to be world popular Bullet Club stable, competed in and won the prestigious G1 Climax tournament. Not only did he win it on his first attempt, but he was the first non-Japanese born wrestler to do so. You could tell that the company was behind him and had big things planned for him. The winner of said G1 is given the opportunity to compete for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (arguably the biggest title outside of the WWE) at Wrestle Kingdom, the biggest show of the year. Enter Kazushika Okada. In his fourth reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, took on the challenge from Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4th, 2017:
In a match that broke the scale according to The Wrestling Observer rating system (6 out of 5 stars), and what many people at the time were calling the greatest match ever. If you are not a wrestling fan you could complain that this match was long (at the time was the longest match in the show’s history, at over 46 min), but it really hit another gear when the second half got going. Hard hitting, high flying, action packed things that you would not normally see in most places. Okada shocked many and retained his title here, as this should have been Kenny’s spot, but it didn’t take away from the match as a whole. The main story in the match, as well as leading up to it was the fact that all Kenny had to do was hit his “One-Winged Angel” finishing move to put Okada away. He attempted it many times only to fail and allow Okada to take advantage. This was the match that got me hooked on NJPW. You could probably say that for a lot of folks. I was really getting back into wrestling as a whole at the time and was finally getting my bearings with what was happening in WWE, when all I was hearing about was this match, with two people that I had never heard of competed in the greatest match of all time. I checked it out and was blown away. Not only was I Bullet Club 4 Life after, but NJPW as a whole. It opened the door for a whole new world that I didn’t even know existed, and next thing you know these two men took over the world.
Fast forward six months, and we are at NJPW: Dominion, on June 11th, 2017. This is the second biggest show of the year for them and we were already getting Omega vs Okada 2. Somehow they improved on the quality of match and broke the scale yet again with a 6 ½ star match. In my personal opinion I prefer the first contest due to the overall impact it had on me, but I see where everyone was coming from on this one. It was again for the title, and Omega finally hit his finisher on Okada….only for him to do it so close to the ropes to cause a rope break.. preventing an opportunity for a pin. As a whole, this match was exhausting, but in a good way. You could feel how these two men were feeling and understood how tired Omega had to be when (the spot of the night) avoided a clothesline by collapsing due to pure exhaustion. That was storytelling at its finest. Okada again retained here by way of a 60-minute time-limit draw.
Everyone was shocked when we saw part 3 on the calendar again so soon after the previous two encounters. This time it was in the summer of 2017’s G1 Climax tournament. This was a non-title match, as both men were competing in the same block and had to face each other at some point no matter what. The most forgettable of the trio thus far if you want to go to a length, because it was not on a big stage like the others, but it was the time that Omega got his victory over the champ. He hit his “One-Winged Angel” to pin Okada in the middle of the ring. This brought the record to 1-1-1 and allowed Omega to move on to the finals of the tournament in hopes to challenge Okada to a Wrestle Kingdom rematch (which he unfortunately didn’t accomplish, as Testsuya Naito did).
Before Okada himself nominated Omega to be the number one contender to his title at Dominion 2018, Omega had quite the year and a half since their first meeting. He was the inaugural IWGP United States champion only to lose it to Jay White, defeated Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12, as well as dealt with all of the drama that surrounded himself and Bullet Club (which is an article for another time). Okada, which I had addressed in a previous article, had just completed his 12th title defense and demolishing the record with his 720 consecutive days as champion. The fourth match between the two was settled as a no time-limit, best two out of three falls match. It was essentially going to be the true de facto rubber match. It not only lived up to expectations, but far exceeded them. The match went over an hour and forty-five minutes, and it was exciting throughout. Okada secured the first fall in dramatic fashion by simply catching Omega in a rollup position. A little bit later, Omega hit his finisher to even up the falls at 1-1. In a contest that was brutal to watch, as these men put their bodies through the ringer like they had never done before, again this match was closing in on two hours. That kind of match hadn’t even been heard of since the old NWA days, but those matches were slow and methodical. These guys worked such a fast pace that it made me tired just trying to keep up with the action. Omega ended up earning the final and deciding fall to win the match. It ended up with another 6 ¼ star rating, more than deserving.
And that is how it happened. Kenny Omega earning the title that should have been a year prior but competing the feat by defeating the most dominant champion, and the biggest thorn in his side. What made this rivalry and all of the matches so great was the fact that it eclipsed the heel/face dynamic, as the promos beforehand all became about how much they respected each other and were more about who was the best, and that’s what mattered most. These two were continuously being neck and neck in rankings for the best wrestlers in the world. The best thing about it is that it the rivalry as a whole is far from being over. It can be seen as a new beginning. Now Omega is the man with a target on his back. I am very confident in my pick for Okada to win the G1 this year and competing for that title right away. They can even revisit this thing a year or two from now and people will still be all about it. I am beyond stoked now because I am attending the NJPW show that is coming stateside in San Francisco this summer, and I get to see one of my favorite wrestlers, Kenny Omega walk out with that title. I cannot wait.
It all comes down to what these two have accomplished together and what else is still able to be done. They put on magic together and blow us away each and every time. It’s weird to think that Omega and Okada can do this is today’s age of pro wrestling, but when these two steps in the ting together, the world seems to stop and pause, as everyone has to take a look and see what they are going to do next.
“Gorgeous” Garrett Smith is the Head Writer for Mark Set Go as well as a former SmackDown Predictions Champion. Follow his thoughts on New Japan, Lebron James, and much more on twitter @SmithGarrett91