There are moments in art when the medium is transcended. Moments where the zeitgeist is shifted. Moments where everyone learns or is forced to expand their understanding. Nirvana’s Nevermind, Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, and Banksy’s graffiti turned street art in Exit Through The Gift Shop all represent this idea. Examples of art executed at the highest level and as such, are inherently filled with risk. The payoff for this risk is usually critical acclaim, universal (for the most part) praise coupled with backlash from the old guard, and finally an unreasonable pressure to bottle this magic and produce it on command.
In wrestling, there are a handful of stories and matches that have reached this peak. Ric Flair v Steamboat, Bret Hart v Shawn Michaels in the iron man match etc. In the modern age of wrestling one storyline and one match tower above all else. Kenny Omega vs Kazucika Okada 4 from Dominion 2018 from Osaka at Jo-Hall.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has long been the “hipster” brand for wrestling nerds. There are a variety of reasons for this but primarily it stems from the seriousness with which the material itself is taken. Taguchi notwithstanding, New Japan doesn’t need comedy acts or absurd storylines to sell matches. No love triangles, no reality stars in matches, no women being drugged to participate in weddings, nothing extra except for perhaps some of the walkout gear (which is usually kinda awesome?). New Japan understands that top athletes competing for belts and the friction that can cause within a unit is all that is required to get fans invested. They care who wins and loses and they care deeply about who holds the IWGP heavyweight title.
Kazuchika Okada is without question the biggest star NJPW has ever had and should be in any serious conversation about the greatest of all time. When he and Kenny met at Dominion he was two years into a heavyweight title reign that included 12 defenses making him the longest-running champion in the history of New Japan. Accolades aside (of which there are many more), he has the thing. The elusive star quality that can’t be quantified but exists as clear as day. He is just a million-megawatt supernova. An iconic individual who is so good in the ring his victories seem almost inevitable.
Not like a Roman Reigns who’s protected despite not having the crowd behind him. Okada’s air of invincibility comes from an absurd skillset, a masterful command of pace and timing as well as his ability to make his opponents better in the ring. His matches aren’t bad, ever. He came into Dominion as hot and invincible as anyone has coming into a match in the history of professional wrestling.
On the other side of the ring is Kenny Omega. A brilliant in-ring technician and storyteller. He has the ability to do things in the ring that are perfect and unique. Couple that with a completely authentic in-ring persona which feels like an extension of himself and a knack for storytelling. He is simply put the complete package. Kenny was dubbed “The Cleaner” and upon his arrival in New Japan, he proceeded to clean out any division he was a part of. He won the I.W.G.P. junior heavyweight title, the I.W.G.P. intercontinental title, the NEVER openweight six-man tag titles, was named the 2017 Wrestler of the Year by Sports Illustrated, and finally, he won the G1 Climax.
The G1 Climax victory is notable due to the fact that he became the first Gajin to win that tournament. The G1 is universally recognized as the most prestigious heavyweight wrestling tournament in the world. A meat grinder of an affair that tests the wrestler’s endurance, in-ring skillset, and storytelling ability. Wrestling that many matches in that short space require an enormous amount of creativity. To be the last man standing means to earn yourself a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom.
Omega Vs Okada I, II & III: A Beautiful Trilogy
This is where the story of Omega v Okada begins in earnest. Okada and Omega would meet at Wrestle Kingdom 11 with the I.W.G.P. title hanging in the balance. The match itself is breathtaking. Physical, athletic, and paced very well. It is clear from the outset that these two athletes have generational chemistry. After 40 minutes plus of wrestling perfection, Okada retains. That being said, nobody lost that evening. On the biggest stage in “smart mark” wrestling, Kenny and Okada put on the match of their generation.
They broke the Meltzer star rating system, received acclaim from the high priests of the wrestling subculture, and moved spectators at home and in the area to tears. After achieving such heights, how could they be expected to top them? Especially in wrestling where more often than not the rematch isn’t as good as the original. This is where they truly begin to separate from the pack
Omega vs Okada would wrestle two more singles matches before their masterpiece. The second match ends in a 60-minute draw, the final sequence being Okada desperately crawling toward Kenny exhausted and unable to cover him before time expires. During the first two matches, Kenny is either unable to hit his signature One Winged Angel or he hits it too close to the ropes for him to secure the pin.
Match three during the G1 is a faster-paced affair due to the time limit constraints of those matches. Kenny finally hits his finisher and pins Okada clean, one, two, three. The rivalry now sits at one match a piece and a draw. It is also important to include the backstory of dissent within the Bullet Club. Kenny’s leadership is being questioned by Cody Rhodes which leads to Kota Ibushi rushing to the ring to save Kenny from an attack.
Finally, the Golden Lovers are reunited and the New Japan crowd is again moved to tears. Kenny has rediscovered his center. Not just the leader of the BC, not just a Golden Lover, he is both. The alpha and the omega if you will (wink wink). Now that he has found his balance Kenny is ready to challenge the most invincible “final boss” in wrestling history. Very appropriate indeed for a man who names his moves after Final Fantasy and Street Fighter games. Clearly given their history and the gravity of the match the only way to settle it is two out of three falls.