Greatest Matches of All Time Series - Okada/Omega 1
Written by Harry Walker
Considered by many to be the greatest wrestling match of all time, the fourth instalment of the Omega and Okada rivalry is a match not only defined by exciting, compelling in ring action and a background rich and deliberate in subtle story beats, but also an epic saga which defined the years of professional wrestling surrounding it as a whole.
Each encounter between these two men had huge ramifications in the wrestling media. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter famously rated the four matches 6, 6.25, 6 and 7 stars in that order. Their first three bouts being the only matches rated over 5 stars since an AJPW Budokan Hall Show main event in 1994 at the time.
As controversial and polarising as the journalist’s personal match rating scale remains, these facts have became synonymous with the Okada/Omega series and was groundbreaking to the wrestling world. Divisive among fans as Meltzer may be, the man is the closest thing to an encyclopaedia of the international library that is wrestling history and his typically 5 star scale being broken for the first time in over 20 years for their Tokyo Dome battle lent itself as a gateway and introduction to NJPW for many western fans of the sport.
In Omega’s pre match video package, the like of which have became celebrated amongst fans for following video game and anime tropes, we see the Bullet Club (the faction behind his meteoric rise) logo disintegrate and an angelically glowing Kota Ibushi, Omega’s Golden Lovers partner, ask him, in Japanese, what did it cost? To which the Cleaner responds “全て”translating as “Everything.”
This is a consequence of Omega’s redemption arc throughout the spring of 2018 after reuniting with Ibushi and being amidst difficulties with his Bullet Club brothers including the Young Bucks. It is important to note the Young Bucks had seconded Omega being in his corner in all of his last three wrestling matches with Okada but were absent this time around, the role of Omega’s manager instead being occupied by the Golden Star, Kota Ibushi.
It is interesting to see how Ibushi’s presence influences Omega’s tactics. Omega utilises an astonishing 104 strikes in this match, including some deafeningly powerful chops, elbow strikes and later some hard open palm strikes, a typical resource of Ibushi’s in a big match scenario. He also uses 4 dives in this match which is common of Ibushi’s at-times high flying approach to wrestling. During the third fall, as Omega begins to exhaust his offensive library, Ibushi also advises he uses his own diving attack, the Phoenix Splash but Okada is able to avoid it.
The two men in this bout had a record of 1-1-1 having wrestled over 130 minutes in singles action against each other in 2017. As the match began, both were aware this match would likely go similar lengths as their previous battles possibly why it took almost a full minute before the first lockup.
Okada knew if he was going to emerge successful from this match then he would have to rely on the techniques and strategies that defined his record breaking 720 day title reign and its 12 successful Championship defences. Similarly, Omega knew he would need to execute his One Winged Angel finishing move which had defeated every man it had been used against during his New Japan tenure if he was to walk away with the gold. This is reflected in both men attempting and failing to find each of their respective finishing moves within the first 5 minutes of what would become a very lengthy bout.
112 reversals over the course of the match is an insanely big amount and is a feature of the constant back and forth action which runs throughout. Okada performing slightly more than Omega could be a consequence of his aforementioned title reign. Many of those title retentions saw him fighting from underneath against sometimes more dominant and more aggressive opponents such as Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata. In these excellent matches, it was crucial for Okada to use many reversals for survival which would allow them to become a common part of his repertoire. The excessive counter attacks could also be symptomatic of the men knowing each other so well. Whilst they had only met one on one three times at this point, they had wrestled very long matches and both been huge figures in NJPW for multiple years.
Omega is responsible for delivering almost 54% of the offence in this match, again being indicative of the balanced and back and forth action that takes place. At 07:26 Kenny Omega scouts Kazuchika Okada’s incoming patented running dive over the guardrail and counters it into a mid-air V Trigger; notably a move he was unable to defend himself against during their Wrestle Kingdom 11, Dominion 6.11 and G1 Climax 27 matchups. Putting over the impact of this signature move, Omega is then able to take control of the fight. For more than 5 minutes after this move, Omega takes no punishment at all – during this time he manages 4 near falls and a lengthy 61 second submission attempt.
This dominance from Omega lasts until a Kazuchika Okada elbow strike at 12:47. At 14:45 he manages to lock in his Cobra Clutch submission move. The Cobra Clutch was a move Okada added to his arsenal in the final few months of 2017. Omega, having not wrestled Okada in singles action since he began using this hold, senses unknown danger and rolls Okada through the middle rope within 20 seconds.
The first pin fall comes as Omega attempts to float over Okada with a reversal to the Rainmaker lariat but Okada manages to sit down and pin Omega in a fashion which acts as a modern day, athletically impressive tribute to Davey Boy Smith’S iconic victory over Bret Hart at Summerslam 1992.
This surprise first fall takes Omega completely out of his game and the beginning of the second fall finds Okada in charge for a lot of the time. He even manages to lock in a second Cobra Clutch and sit out with it for a further 62 seconds.
Omega introduces a table a little over 37 minutes after the first bell of the match and performs his routine foot stomp from the apron onto the table laying atop his opponent. They then set it up but it’s never broken. Two of the best table spots of all time featured Kenny Omega in 2017: Okada’s gigantic backdrop of Omega to the outside through the table in the Tokyo Dome and Omega performing a Dragon Suplex to Tomohiro Ishii in the G1 Special in USA Night 2 match to crown the first ever IWGP US Heavyweight Champion. Both spots are teased but neither occur and the table is never broken; Chekhov’s gun is never fired. I would typically criticise a match for not paying off this story device, but the rest of the action is too engaging and too compelling to care about the table after they move past it. It is a very bold move of the two competitors to design a match which flirted with a huge table spot but never actually deliver one.
Each meeting of these two men, like a good book or a classic movie, tells a different story and reveals different patterns and threads upon each rewatch. Perhaps the most obvious takeaway from their first match, which lasted 46:45, was Omega’s ability to hit Okada with everything except his One Winged Angel finishing move which had ended every match he has used it in since 2012 - it is still yet to be kicked out of at the time of writing in March 2021.
Omega managed to finally execute this move on Okada in their meeting at Dominion 6.11 but Okada’s leg fell onto the bottom rope making the subsequent pin fall attempt meaningless. The two battled on further before reaching the 60:00 time limit. Omega was unable to find the strength to use the One Winged Angel again before the hour was completed and fans were left wondering if it was possible for Okada, as possibly the greatest wrestler in the world and Omega’s greatest rival, to kick out of this move.
In a hatrick of great performances, the men stepped into the ring one on one once more in the summer of 2017, with their paths crossing in the final of B Block competition of the G1 Climax 27 – the winner advancing to the tournament final to wrestle Tetsuya Naito the next day. During this match Omega was well aware of both the fact he had to win the match in now an even shorter time limit of 30:00 if he was to progress in the competition, and of the damage Okada’s neck and upper back had taken over the past 17 nights of competition action including a gruelling 30 minute time limit draw with the hard hitting, relentless Minoru Suzuki just four evenings earlier. Coming out of the gate at an immense pace, Omega managed to target this weakness of Okada’s for 24:40 before finally putting him away with one One Winged Angel!
The devastating, match ending nature of this move which had been an integral part of all of their previous matches played the same role in this fourth bout. It was obvious to fans going into this 2 out of 3 falls, no time limit, war that Omega would again pin Okada with the One Winged Angel at least once, but he would need to defeat him twice to walk away with the gold that had eluded him his whole career.
The deadliness and decisiveness of the move is demonstrated in the flow of offence too. As you can see in the below chart, Omega becomes responsible for dishing out the bulk of the offence after the 50 minute mark when he hits his first One Winged Angel and pins Okada to equalise the score. From this point forward in the match, Omega becomes very dominant and mostly in charge of all of the offence that takes place. Okada even lays motionless for the two minute break between the second and third fall.
The match is by no means over at this stage, however. At the beginning of the third fall, Omega immediately hits a V Trigger and attempts another One Winged Angel but Okada manages to escape and hit his Rainmaker move. His inability to capitalise and follow up with a cover could be what costs him the championship, though.
A total offence value of 280 is a huge amount by itself. But across its running time of 69:49, this averages at a move nearly every 15 seconds. Considering how long this match lasted though, along with some of the length submission holds and the extended periods of each man selling exhaustion in the latter stages, this is an incredible pace for them to have worked at!
One of the first examples of this immense pace is a two minute exchange during the first fall when Okada performs a Tombstone Piledriver on the apron, before dropkicking Omega off of the apron into the guardrail and finally proceeding to hit him with another missile dropkick from the top rope to Omega’s head.
Again before the first fall, there is a period not more than 90 seconds long which involved 3 separate One Winged Angel attempts and escapes, 2 Rainmaker attempts and evasions, 3 V Triggers including a ripcord variation, a deadlift German Suplex, 2 drop kicks and multiple near falls.
One of the most iconic spots from their 60 minute time limit draw featured Okada attempting a Rainmaker only for Omega to collapse to his knees before the lariat made contact, thus avoiding the extra punishment. A similar moment is recreated in this match, only this time whilst Okada does make contact with the move, he is too fatigued to apply it with as much force and aggression as he is known to do and instead collapses hisself.
Finally the match ends when Omega launches Okada up in the air into perhaps the fastest One Winged Angel of all time. Too exhausted and debilitated to pin him, the men lay side by side resting on the canvas and the bottom rope for some time before Omega musters the energy to hit him with yet another V Trigger and a third and final One Winged Angel to seal the victory, win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and conclude what is almost certainly the greatest wrestling match of all time at 69:49.