Greatest Matches of All Time Series - Omega/Okada 2
Written by Ryan Gorneault
When Kazuchika Okada defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt against G1 Climax Tournament winner Kenny Omega at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest event of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, there was no doubt that the two would put on a great match. Still, I’m not exactly sure anybody could have predicted that match would end up being considered one of the greatest of all time.
The match ended up being just over 45 minutes long (the longest January 4th Tokyo Dome main event ever at that time), but the two managed to keep the match compelling throughout. Okada’s more methodical style and Omega’s flashiness merged perfectly here. The first 20 or so minutes were dedicated to mind-games and simple-but-effective technical work, while the rest of the match was filled to the brim with dangerous spots and excellent counter wrestling. Of course, Okada won the match and retained the belt by hitting his Rainmaker lariat finisher for the 3-count. All in all, these two not only set the bar impossibly high for themselves for the inevitable rematch, they set the bar impossibly high for the entirety of the wrestling world.
By the time these two met again 5 months later, Okada put his title on the line against Minoru Suzuki, Katsuyori Shibata, and Bad Luck Fale and won each time, showing that he could defeat some of the most brutal members of the NJPW roster in a quality manner. Omega on the other hand, was a little less successful following Wrestle Kingdom. He had only 3 singles matches; a win against Tiger Ali for England’s 4 Front Wrestling, a loss to Tomohiro Ishii in the first round of the New Japan Cup, and a win against Ishii a month later. Sure, Omega and Ishii had great matches together, but Omega did not last 40 minutes against Suzuki; Omega did not survive a brutal war against Shibata that resulted in Shibata retiring due to a subdural hematoma; Omega was not the one to drag Fale to the best match of his career. Most importantly, Omega was not the one to walk out of Wrestle Kingdom as champion.
Finally, a long 158 days of waiting came to an end with Dominion (which can be seen as NJPW’s SummerSlam equivalent). Okada knew he needed to extinguish the flame of the most popular gaijin talent since AJ Styles set foot in New Japan. Meanwhile, Omega needed to win the most important championship in wrestling from his hardest challenge yet. And somehow, both needed to have a better match than their 6-star Wrestle Kingdom match.
I had previously seen this match a few times before I was asked to review this match, but I had never examined this match through a statistical lens. For that matter, I have never examined any match through a statistical lens. Part of it is that I have never thought about how the statistics might change how I look at a match, but another part being that I have never had the willpower to do the work that is needed to assemble said statistics. Luckily, the statistics were assembled for me, and now, I have a better idea of how this match works.
What is so notable about this matchup is how much offense Omega gets in on his opponent at the very beginning. Initially, it looks as if he is trying to match his opponent, but around the 10 minute mark, he starts working on Okada’s leg. The amount of offense Omega gets in on his leg is unparalleled; neither competitor was able to get in as much offense on their opponent in such a short period of time like Omega did at that point in the match.
This is why Okada’s inconsistent selling of his leg was so disappointing. To me, there is not any logical way his leg would be able to “heal” as quickly as it did, and it makes Omega’s offense look ineffective, despite having done the majority of it. What could have made the match even more interesting is if Omega had spread out the offense on Okada’s leg more evenly throughout the 60-minute time-span so that the selling on Okada’s part could be more consistent, and so that the matchup could seem a little more evenly matched. Of course, if they had gone down this route, a lot of Okada’s moves, whether it be that dive over the barricade or his beautiful dropkicks, would need to be scrapped, or at least done less-than-perfectly.
As the match goes on, Okada slowly but surely gets ahead and pummels Omega. Any time Omega seems like he is getting ahead, Okada halts his momentum. What Okada has over Omega throughout this match is consistency in terms of flow of offense. Omega only has two modes in this match: he either goes full force on his opponent, or he gets completely destroyed. Besides that period of time where he was getting his leg worked on, Okada never truly beat Omega down to the best of his ability, because he did not have to, but also never got beaten down too badly himself. This is partly why Okada seemed unbeatable, and also why Omega’s comebacks are so miraculous. Okada is so dangerous and seemingly so unbeatable because to him, it is all about the gradual beat-down.
Typically, when Okada wins matches, it is because of this sense of consistency. Okada's offense value in this match ranged from 10 to 25, while Omega's offense value ranged from nearly 0 to almost 50. Even at Omega's highest offense value, Okada was still solidly in the match at around 15. The only reason Omega was able to last as long as he did was the sheer amount of offense he threw at his opponent. While it is true that his offense did not have the desired effect on his opponent as he would have liked, it at least kept him in the game for as long as it did.
Here, it's a matter of quality versus quantity. Okada did not need to throw everything at Omega because his moves were impactful enough, while Omega needed to throw everything at Okada to ensure he can negate some of Okada's most powerful moves. This is evident in the strike-down rates for each. Omega strikes Okada at a higher quantity (94-71), but Okada is much more likely to strike down Omega (22-15).
Okada's opponents need to learn from this match in order to understand how to beat him. Omega probably would have been better off had he went straight for the limb-targeting, rather than going for the lock-up; any opponent who tries to match Okada ends up falling for his mind-games, ends up failing to beat down Okada when it counts, and loses because they did not do enough to ensure that Okada was down-and-out for the count.
Still, just because Okada is more likely to win, it does not mean his opponent will just lay down and take the loss. Anybody who can last as long in the ring with Okada as Omega did should be deified. Around the 40-minute mark, it seems as if Omega's body is completely giving out, yet, he will not give up. He refused to tap out of any submission maneuver, and he managed to kick out of every pin attempt. To be frank, he looked battered and broken. This prompted Cody and the rest of Omega's Bullet Club faction to show up in an attempt to throw in the towel on Omega's behalf. Of course, Omega's closest friends, Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson (The Young Bucks), who are already out there supporting Omega, refuse to let him end the match.
From a story standpoint, this is the perfect way for Omega to usher in one of his miraculous comebacks with an incredible reversal to the Rainmaker (a move in which he had already taken and probably should have stayed down for) a V-Trigger, and a reverse-Hurricanrana, to solidify just how much babyface fire and heart he had, despite technically being the heel in this match. The next few minutes of the match are absolutely incredible, with Omega popping up from an Okada drop kick to hit multiple V-Triggers, before finally hitting his own finisher, the One-Winged Angel. It was all for naught, though, as Okada was close enough to the ropes that could easily break up the pin-fall attempt that followed. Unfortunately, for Omega, that pin-fall attempt was the beginning of the end for him.
If anything exemplified the exhaustion he was feeling from trying to fight a 60-minute match with a break-neck pace, as well as the pain of Okada's offense, it would be the spot where he ducked a Rainmaker attempt simply by passing out. He never truly gained momentum after the Bullet Club involvement, and Okada's offense value continued rising until the time limit draw closed the match on a seemingly paradoxical note: how can a match ending with no winner be both upsetting and hopeful at the same time?
Of course, any match ending in a draw is upsetting, but the sense of hope comes from the fact that Okada's offense, despite being powerful, was not enough. Sure, if the match did not have a time limit, Omega probably would have been defeated anyways, but the fact that he survived that long shows just how resilient he is. Over the course of 60 minutes, Omega survived 71 strikes and 22 strike-downs, 5 submission holds, 54 reversals of his own moves, and 2 finishers. He was on the receiving end of 108 instances of offense while dealing out 141 instances himself. Sure, Okada is highly celebrated for his in-ring abilities, but Omega was the true warrior of the match.
Nobody had ever pushed Okada to a 60-minute draw. Okada had three 30-minute draws during various G1 Climax tournament performances, and another 30-minute draw at Minoru Suzuki's 30th Anniversary event, but Okada never had to fight as long to keep the IWGP belt in his possession. Up to that point, Okada had never wrestled as long as he did during that match. Does this mean Okada's offense was not as effective as once thought, or does it mean Omega is just that durable? Really, it could be either.
That's the beauty of this match. Omega comes off as a star, even more than he did during their Wrestle Kingdom match. Meanwhile, there is finally a noticeable crack in the mystique of Okada, which is weird to say because he is still considered one of the best wrestlers in the world up to that point. Okada and Omega both put in major work to not only make this entire match compelling (which is hard to do when tasked with wrestling for 60 minutes), but to also advance their own stories. Plus, the time limit draw sets up a third match between the two.
If you ask me, the only thing that bugs me about this match is the fact that Okada refused to sell his leg injury after the initial attacks. I remember it bugging me after I first watched it, and it still bugs me today, especially now that I have the statistics to back up my point. Really, that is the only problem I have with the match though, and I still consider it to be one of the greatest matches of all time. While my preferences in wrestling have changed tremendously since then, I can still say that the match was excellently wrestled and compelling for its entire runtime.
Would Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega's third match against each other be able to reach the heights of their first two? How will the 30-minute time limit effect the match? Be sure to check out the next article in the Greatest of All Time Series: Omega/Okada to find out!