Exactly three years ago, on June 9th, 2018, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada clashed in one of the most defining bouts of their respective careers: a no time limit, 2/3 falls match for the IWGP title at Dominion 6.9, in Osaka-Jo Hall.
Their year and a half long feud left a lasting impact on wrestling history, and in retrospect, marked the end of an era. The 4 match series held high stakes on a long-term scale, which professional wrestling had not seen in decades.
These men came into this match with a tapestry of brutal history woven between them.
Kenny Omega, as the bitter hungry outsider, had spent the last year and a half trying to take down Kazuchika Okada: wrestling Prince and establishment hero, standing as champion with the most successful title defenses in the history of New Japan Pro Wrestling; Omega had tried and failed to unseat him three times before.
However, by June 2018, Kenny had re-weaved his story and became a far cry from the cocky gaijin heel stalking through the halls of the Tokyo Dome, flanked by his personal hype men and closest comrades, The Young Bucks.
Credit: NJPW via ESPN
By then, Okada’s regal and princely aura had started to thin and the weight of his historic run as IWGP Heavyweight Champion was visibly wearing on him. Okada may have seemed untouchable up to this point, but the new era of Omega was dawning.
So today, on the anniversary of a wrestling feud that sits comfortably alongside the likes of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, and Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi; Libby, Charlie, Caro, and MX Sharpe look back on the anticipation for this match, the impression left on those who watched it, and the lasting impact it has had on the years since.
The Build Up
Already having faced Okada in 2 title matches and a G1 fight before this infamous match, Omega had also been through an emotional war with himself and those around him in what was dubbed the Bullet Civil Club War in early 2018.
Ultimately, Omega stepped away from the Bullet Club’s splintered factions, designed to divide loyalties and drum up chaos. Instead, he shed his villainous ways and re-formed the Golden Lovers with Kota Ibushi, ready to leave the past behind him and take on the tag division.
However, in a surprising move, Okada decided to call out Kenny to face him in one more title match, upset with their previous 60-minute draw.
The intentions of Okada were to destroy Omega’s momentum towards the title, before it could take off, by squashing their previous 60 minute draw.
Kenny, with an equally surprised attitude, accepted the challenge and ignited rumblings among NJPW fans across the world that this was his time.
Addtionally in a special pre-match interview, Omega said of Ibushi:
“He was the bane of my existence. I had thought that he stood for everything that I hated and everything that I wanted to destroy: both the man himself and what he was inside of me. And then I realized that that really wasn’t the feeling at all and that was something that I needed to embrace. All of my best performances… have all been ones that come from the heart.”(Source)
Where Okada’s challenge was bathed in righteousness and his shallow need to have proved his singular dominance, Omega’s response was about unity, knowing his relationships could not be separated from his rivalry with Okada; he evolved alongside them.
Omega sought this win as a way to repair every broken bridge, drawing strength from the regretful years lost dedicated to destroying Ibushi, and aimed to bury the hatchet with the Young Bucks to have them walk the halls with him again.
The air in Osaka-Jo hall that night was fraught with nervous tension. Where many had turned their backs on Okada, a former beloved hero, the question remained – could Omega finally do it?
Torment was painted all over Kenny’s face.
Okada was almost anguished with the amount he needed to amend their previous draw.
As the match moved through its motions, the falls stamped an exclamation point on each arch of the match as it unfolded.
1st fall – Running before you can walk: The Rainmakers Cradle
From the bell, Okada could be seen thinking, going through a series of pauses and then brutal strikes. Any plans were quickly rendered useless for Kenny, fulfilling the role of the underdog, rushing to try and be as dominant as possible, but only found mere gaps to get any offense in, often in high flying spots and reversals.
Credit: Toru Eguchi
Audible smashes and clunks of guardrails, made from brutal bodily contact, had filled the arena alongside one of the loudest crowds in recent NJPW history.
Okada rained his fury down upon Omega, smashing ruthlessly through countering moves, such as Omega’s attempted Hurricanrana into a brutal Tombstone.
Even when Omega managed to counter a Rainmaker into a sunset flip, Okada caught him, using his momentum to cradle Omega into the first pin.
Omega’s eagerness became his early downfall.
Wrecked and slightly overwhelmed, Omega was left to scuttle over to Ibushi who had nothing but quiet encouragement for him, a contrast to the booming Gedo on the outside.
A ⅔ falls match can easily be criticised for feeling too long or pointless, this first fall made viewers shuffle forward on their seats. Everyone knew that both had more in the tank; both of them only just starting to truly ramp on their efforts, solidifying every reason why this match had to have this stipulation.
2nd fall – Turning the tables: The Uranage
Omega, now on the back foot, reached down to his base instincts and full-on headbutted Okada without letting go of wrist control, causing Okada to melt into a devastated pile on the floor.
This all led up to another One Winged Angel attempt which, once again, Okada countered into a Tombstone. However, unlike the countering Rainmaker like before, Omega countered with a catastrophic Uranage.
A thrilling and visceral move, Okada flew through the air. Omega’s leg lifted with every ounce of desperation to drive Okada’s body not just onto, but through the mat. Finally feeling as though the upper hand wasn’t as far away as the first fall let him believe.
Credit: Toru Egtuchi
They got up to trade punches, but Omega was refreshed enough to deliver the 8th V-Trigger of the match.
After the following near-fall, Omega had finally worn Okada down enough to deliver a One Winged Angel and kept Okada down for a 3 count.
Contrastingly to how Ibushi jumped to confidently support Omega, Okada crawled in sluggish fashion to be tended to like an injured war veteran by Gedo, down in the trenches with him.
A bad taste of desperation and an overdramatic attitude saturated the heel corner and prepared audiences for the incoming win for Omega.
3rd fall – Rewriting the past: The One Winged Angel‘s Crescendo
In this overwhelmingly anxious last set of sequences, each man was absolutely exhausted, barely able to see through their moves due to the fact they kept kicking out of every pin.
Therefore, Omega reached through the depths of his patchwork soul to those before him.
Kenny looked to his second for the match and first went for a Styles Clash, the move which served Ibushi a loss to previous Bullet Club leader AJ Styles after being distracted by a then junior-heavyweight Cleaner.
It was not enough for the pin, but in response, Ibushi signalled with a tumble of his hands: the Phoenix Splash.
With Ibushi by his side again, the question was raised – could Omega finally perform such a move without failure?
Credit: Toru Eguchi
Kenny ascended and moved beautifully through the air, but Okada rolled out of the way, devastating every fan who thought that this was the end. But with all the bitterness gone from Omega’s soul, he kept moving. It was not a failure, but simply a road block for a man now remade.
Propelled to keep fighting after a near collapse, Omega delivered a Frankensteiner that felt eerily close to Omega vs Ibushi’s 2012 Bokudon match, but it was still not enough.
After V-Trigger #14 of the match, the crowd hollered for Kenny to persist, and he delivered the final One Winged Angel.
The Last Pin
With every ounce and fibre of his being, Omega had managed to finally defeat the man who stood for everything he was against.
Okada was more than a competitor to Omega—he represented the business behind the wrestling, every nay-sayer and twitter troll, every critic that swore up and down that this moment could not deliver anything close to the historic moments of wrestling’s past.
Before anyone even had time to process what they had just seen, a match which might go down as one of the best of all time, the Young Bucks came out.
Pained by their stubborn pride, they slinked out while Kenny was celebrating with Kota. The audience gasped, only to see Kenny shove the belt aside to hug Matt to mend fences with him and his brother.
Each of them clinging to each other, we saw Omega complete – not surrounded by yes men or those with ulterior motives in mind, but held tight by three men who meant more to him than words could describe.
Simply joy, achievement, and sigh of relief exhaled by all those around the world.
Kenny Omega was finally IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Credit: NJPW via @geneticghost
The match was historic in both its contents and what it meant for Omega as a Gaijin (a non Japanese person) in NJPW.
Trusting a said Gajin with the top belt in the company was a big statement for NJPW, but it was more than just winning a championship, or sending Okada a statement.
It was a reset of the limits of wrestling narratives. Audience members were moved to audible sobs and wailing, echoed by every global fan on their sofa and across social media.
An emotional experience, shared between performers, audiences, and critics alike, transformed into a beautiful victory. A bittersweet, yet wholesome, reminder of the sacrifices Omega, Ibushi, Matt, and Nick made to break into the pro wrestling scene.
Uncharacteristically for wrestling, themes of love, hope, and friendship persisted. Every somber reminder of Omega’s faults and mistakes informed each and every move and motivation.
Omega was finally champ, tackled the Imposter Syndrome inside, and only when his completeness was fueled by a spirit aligned for something better, his and The Golden Elite’s then new mission statement was realised: Change the World.
Kenny was shouldered with the responsibility of heading their western expansion. It’s fair to say, the way New Japan handled his ensuing title reign and the Bullet Club Civil War’s conclusion wore him out emotionally and physically.
After not granting Omega the Tokyo Dome main event against Ibushi, and a twisting of his enlightened face character into someone far more bitter for Tanahashi to eventually defeat, his spirits were seemingly ground down into the dirt.
Okada’s character, differently, had a crisis of confidence after losing the belt.
He dyed his hair, started bringing balloons to the ring, and Gedo even ended up betraying him. After such an Omega heavy ending to his reign, it was certainly necessary to refresh and kind of reinvent Okada’s character, showing that he could have a reach outside of the dominant champ that he had been for 2 years at that point..
As of now, Omega dominates across several promotions as the narcissistic and ruthless heel. But in true Omega fashion, this is no rehash of something before. People begged for the cleaner? Critics asked: where is the best bout machine?
Omega answered by saying: be careful what you wish for.
Rather than being alone in his pain, this time, Omega has chosen to shroud himself with other broken spirits, the heavy weight of the need to prove the nay-sayers wrong, and the ridiculousness of every Batman villain mushed together.
Credit: AEW Press
Omega, and the Elite, will play the part for you to laugh at – the campy villains you want to see fall – but deliver unbelievable matches and the most aggressive offence you could catch on prime time right now.
Okada on the other hand, has been extremely vocal in a different way. Approaching Dominion 2021, he spoke legacy and expressed a dislike of the status of not only NJPW’s new unified title, but also of Ibushi’s reign that came before the unification.
While he seemed eager to become the third IWGP Heavyweight champion to hold this new belt, he also implied that it was cursed and only a champion like himself, one that respected the legacy that came before, could possibly move past it.
As noble a goal as it seemed, Okada did not overcome the mountain before him, and lost his title match. Perhaps this was not the Okada of old that everyone had advised was back.
Some may say, Okada needs an old dance partner to reignite the spark inside of him.
However, questions are undeniably left in such a concept’s wake.
Could such a match between Omega and Okada ever deliver what the fans want? And what would be gained, or lost, in the process?
Despite any bad blood, the pandemic has forced water under the bridge. Tackling any dwindling audiences and pandemic growing pains through becoming united forces. The appetite is more than present, and insatiable as ever.
NJPW has shown renewed interest in 2021, allowing KENTA and Yuji Nagata to appear on Dynamite and Rocky Romero and Ren Nartia to appear on Dark Elevation. And so, alongside the the inclusion of the various IMPACT apperances, fingers continue to be crossed for a situation that allows the Elite to find the key to unlock the story they have yet to finish writing.
Omega’s last match with Okada is often dubbed the best wrestling match of all time. Proving family doesn’t have to be blood and can not be held back by oceans of space, but simply motivated by it.
As golden dreams continue to be locked away behind the forbidden door, perhaps Okada will come barrelling through to run it back- or Omega will look to add some more gold to his collection from one of his most formidable foes…
Until then, history continues to be written.
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Featured Image: Toru Eguchi