Greatest Matches of All Time Series - Okada/Omega 4
Written by Huw Jones
The ‘big fight feel’ moniker has been tossed around with reckless abandon for too long. Recently, it’s been used to describe affairs ranging from a dull and drab 0-0 bore draw between Manchester United and Leeds to the stupefyingly dismal clash of Godzilla and King Kong. It’s rarely justified, then, and it’s especially rare for these bouts to deliver on the misplaced pomp and bluster. There are, of course, exceptions.
Even before we arrived at Osaka-Jo Hall in July of 2018, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega had built an intangible mystique and unparallelled aura around their rivalry which circled the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Both had notched a win a piece and had battled to an intoxicating time-limit draw 12 months prior; all three matches were cast-iron classics of the workrate era. And while the build to their climatic fourth encounter may have been slightly muddied by the fall-out from the melodramatic Bullet Club civil war, Okada Omega IV still felt like the biggest fight our humble rocky planet could stage. There simply isn’t enough pomp and bluster to quantify just how much this delivered, either.
Like many of Okada’s Miltonian title defences, the embryonic stages of the match are peppered with chain wrestling manoeuvres and submission holds. It’s worth stressing that these aren’t mere rest holds to conserve energy during this 70-minute marathon, though. Rather, this more measured stretch is the calculated calm before the furious firestorm of false finishes on the home stretch.
The pair spend an accumulative twelve minutes or so trading submissions, with the majority of those occurring within the first fall. Okada’s facial expressions here are second-to-none, as we’d come to expect by this point. Whether he’s wrenching in a cobra clutch or writhing in a modified body scissors, he makes for arresting viewing. Let’s be thankful we don’t have Kevin Dunn’s schizophrenic camera edits ruining these sumptuous moments of struggle and strife.
As the first fall approaches, the match has settled into its frenzied rhythm of see-sawing counters being traded back and fore. The reversals feed into the narrative of these competitors knowing every inch of one another’s arsenal, having shared the ring for over two and a half hours across the past 18 months in singles competition alone. Some of these counters are, frankly, outrageous. Even those that don’t boggle the brain or confound earthly physics are performed with nuanced perfection. We are, after all, dealing with two unequivocal masters of their craft, test tube babies who were farmed on their own unique wavelength.
Okada grips the ropes during a poisonrana attempt with anguished desperation and sidesteps innumerous V-Triggers amidst his challenger’s onslaught of punch drunk haymakers. Omega, for his part, ducks clotheslines, turns tombstone piledrivers into his own cradled variations and, in one incredible set-piece, anticipates the iconic Rainmaker pose and spikes the champion with a dragon suplex just as the camera is zooming out. Glorious stuff. The first fall, even, is awarded to Okada as he counters Omega’s sunset flip effort, itself an attempted counter to one of Okada’s Rainmakers.
Of Okada’s 60 reversals - slightly besting Omega’s 52 - it’s easy to lose count of how many of these see the champion escaping the One Winged Angel. This again forms an integral part of the match’s narrative as Omega constantly looks to deploy this devastating ace-in-the-hole. And before we condemn the challenger as a one-trick-pony, we must consider: Why wouldn’t Kenny try to put his foe away with this unstoppable finisher? The move has been built as a hail-mary trump card, the move which brought him to the proverbial dance and one which has put Okada away before. Of course he’s going to seek to use this most illustrious of ultimate weapons when the going gets tough.
Tension is consequently ratcheted up to stratospheric levels whenever Okada is hoisted above Omega’s shoulders, until gold is finally struck after 50 exhilarating and exhausting minutes, tying the contest at one fall a piece. The surplus of the challenger’s 23 grapples play like a veritable greatest hits catalogue, revisiting a glut of fan favourites and deep cuts. Croyt’s Wrath? Yes please, haven’t seen you in a while. Styles Clash? Don’t mind if I do. Aio Shoto? Why not, and here’s one from the top rope for good measure. The offence from Omega is as varied as it is vicious and violent, inch-perfect at every turn.
Given that many of these high-impact moves are saved for the third and final fall, it’s a testament to Omega’s lung capacity as much as it is his virtuoso execution. It’s quite clear by the time the hour mark approaches that we are witnessing two cardiovascular juggernauts who intend to leave absolutely nothing in the ring. A tale of stamina and endurance takes centre stage in the final act, with the flow of offence shifting repeatedly and more abruptly during the third fall. Glimpsing a ghost from Wrestle Kingdom 11, Okada collapses as he puts every last atom into a last-ditch Rainmaker, before Omega crumbles to the mat as he buckles under Okada’s weight going for the One Winged Angel.
The pair’s fatigue eventually leads to the match’s most memorable and mesmerising image, with both slumped across the bottom rope in the contest’s dying embers. The two greatest wrestlers in the world in 2018 - no hyperbole, no bias, no subjectivity, just a tenet from the water-is-wet and hell-is-hot school of truths - staring blankly into the abyss, tanks empty, in a crescendo of exquisite simplicity. It is Kenny Omega who summons the strength for one last dice-roll, successfully hammering the defending champion with a V-Trigger of apocalyptic proportions before - what else? - the One Winged Angel.
‘Hook the leg! Hook the leg!’, wails a partisan Don Callis for the benefit of New Japan World’s English-speaking subscribers. Devil’s Sky’s cacophonous orgy of epic bells, demented choirs and shrill strings washes over Osaka-Jo Hall. Give Dave Meltzer the rest of the year off. In fact, perhaps he can even retire. Such is the unassailable quality of the match we have just been blessed with. If we look into the sands of time and scan the breadth of eternity, we may never find two more telepathic dance partners than Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. This, the last entry in an already peerless catalogue of matches, is almost certainly their magnum opus. And that’s still not enough pomp and bluster to do it justice.