Have you ever experienced those stories you never wanted to end? You want it to continue so you can continue to live, feel, and breathe all the moments and never let that sensation go. I had this feeling when seeing the camera pan up to the stars above on the final episode of Cowboy Bebop. The same feeling when Bilbo Baggins finished his journey in the final chapter of The Hobbit. You’ve spent so much time invested in the stories that it leaves you with an empty feeling. The escape is over, and you’re back to your life.
Such was my experience watching the series of immortal bouts between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada, from Wrestle Kingdom 11 in 2017 to Dominion 2018.
Hearing about it from the rest of the world for years, however, the story took on a life of its own. For someone like me, a stranger to New Japan Pro Wrestling, it quickly became this unknown beastly legend like those of yore: Rock/Austin, Misawa/Kawada, Danielson/McGuinness, etc.
Much like a kid at the movie rental store that wanted to see what was in the Adult section, I wanted a peek, but I never had the drive to actually try and watch it. Yes, I even procrastinate watching things I want to watch.
Years after the rivalry had ended, it is still talked about and still looked back on with reverence. It’s in the history books and proof that pro wrestling was never dead – we were just watching the wrong ring.
One of the reasons I am writing this article is because there’s something so interesting, so charming about seeing people react to amazing forms of media when it sticks out to us. That’s why I created Noob Japan and wrote What You Haven’t Seen.
Join me as I play catch-up and watch a wrestling story that many comapre to a spiritual experience.
What I Know of the Story So Far
Second-hand, I had heard what had led both the Rainmaker and the Cleaner to Wrestle Kingdom 11.
Okada, on the precipice of a historic title reign with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, was called out by the G1 Climax winner from Bullet Club, Kenny Omega. With his achievements and abilities to back up his reputation, Okada accepted with fellow Chaos member Gedo by his side. He’s handled the likes of AJ Styles, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and countless other big names in his time, who is this westerner compared to him?
Omega himself was on a trajectory that continues to build today. First drawn to Japan by a blooming rivalry turned tag team relationship, Kenny formed the Golden Lovers with Kota Ibushi. The young Kenny grew as a wrestler, yet was outpaced by his partner until finally, the two separated. Directionless and alone, Omega found himself in the ranks of the Bullet Club, lead by AJ Styles, and soon took it over as darkness spread. Kenny sought to clean Japanese wrestling and take it over, injecting it with a lethal dose of poison.
Following the Bullet Club member issuing the challenge, everything seemed set to go. This hot young prospect with fire in his heart and the cocky reliance on his stable mates had notions of a sure-fire thing.
Wrestle Kingdom 11
Starting off with a Terminator short, Kenny traversed the ramp, flanked by Bullet Club friends Nick and Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks, while Okada had Gedo accompany him.
The main event match between the two was the longest in the Tokyo Dome’s history at this point, going almost fifty minutes. This match is memorable to me for the many moments outside of the ring – the barricade spots and Omega’s double-stomp on a table serving as a blanket to Okada were among these. But the one that really shocked me the most is when Omega was back-body-dropped by the Rainmaker from the ring to a table on the outside. This dude just straight up flipped his opponent like he was a pancake on a Saturday morning!
It all seemed in the bag for Omega, with a V-Trigger and the One-Winged Angel, but Okada reversed out of that son of a bitch and hit Omega with a Rainmaker, folding his adversary like he was a bad hand at poker.
One. Two. Three. Okada retains. Commentary struggles to make sense of the spectacle they just witnessed. The crowd was in tears. Hell, I was in tears. This was a fight that, for almost an hour, felt as though time itself had stopped and all that existed was combat.
Okada would go on to defend the title against Bad Luck Fale, Minoru Suzuki, and Katsuyori Shibata while Kenny Omega would take time off to “assess his future”. Okada would choose Omega to face him again at Dominion in 2017, and expectations were high for this one, given how high the bar was set by the Wrestle Kingdom encounter. Fans were frothing at the mouth to see the rematch.
Something that I have noticed with Okada is that for as great as he is at the physical aspects of in-ring ability, his psychology is just as deadly if he knows the man across the ring from him is trying to keep up with him. He knows what they expect and will use mind-games to gain the advantage. Shown in the early goings, the limb-targeting by Omega seemed the ideal way to go.
Kenny didn’t stick with this, and would either get a lot of offense in, or would be knocked back down. Okada is unforgiving in wanting to ensure this challenge does not overcome him, and that Omega did not keep up his momentum towards the gold. Kenny took so much abuse in this match but refused to give up. Losing was not an option. It really wasn’t, I’m not kidding; the dude in essence said no to losing at every turn. Even when his own teammates tried to throw in the towel for him the Young Bucks rejected the notion, knowing their friend better than that.
Perhaps it was Okada’s consistency, in spite of the growing cracks in his armor, coupled with Kenny’s tenacity and growth since their last bout that this match was brought to a sixty minute time-limit draw. Even when Kenny managed to execute the One-Winged Angel, Okada escaped with but a leg on the rope to break the pinfall. One of my favorite spots of this match was an attempted Rainmaker by Okada, missed as Kenny slumps to the floor, lifeless. The whole wrestling world was essentially blue-balled, yet filled with hope that Omega would overcome this mountain with the same passion and fire he came into it with, as more and more people became invested, wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike.
This draw would elicit a bitter taste on Okada’s tongue while Kenny Omega would soldier on with the G1 Climax on the horizon. Luckily enough in 2017, the rivals would both be planted in the B Block. Both men with a score that would see them to the finals if they won.
G1 Climax 27
With a thirty minute time limit and so much at stake, the pace had no choice but to be quick. Thanks due in part to a neck injury, Okada would be vulnerable. A wounded gazelle trapped with a bloodthirsty lion.
Both men start off the match ready to go, hitting finishers right out of the gate. Drawing close to the middle of the match, Omega tears apart his prey, a dying animal fighting so hard to live on. Perhaps it was this desperation to persist, because it wasn’t just about the G1 anymore. He’s the champion, the alpha male, and the brick wall that was to not let another man reach the pinnacle of NJPW. This threat can’t, just can’t continue, not after everything Okada has done.
Forced to be on the defense, opposed to offense, the champ pleaded with his own body. Dread it, run from it, but fate arrives all the same. The Cleaner won’t be scrubbed away to be just a memory and nothing more. He will never be just a memory. With wing spread, Kenny’s One-Winged Angel ensures no more rain on this night. Kenny Omega has Kazuchika Okada’s number.
While Kenny advances to the finals, he is unable to beat Tetsuya Naito in a crushing loss that saw former Golden Lover partner Kota Ibushi offer comfort, which Omega rejected. Omega would spiral from this. As Kazuchika Okada proves to himself he is the top face of New Japan, he faces off against old rival Hiroshi Tanahashi, with both men having something to prove. In the end, the Rainmaker defeated the Ace and secured his place as the most successful IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time. Meanwhile, after another crushing loss (this time to a fresh faced Jay White), Omega was met with a betrayal by his Elite friends as he was kicked out in the midst of a Bullet Club civil war, only for Kota Ibushi to come in for the save as the Elite scattered from the broken bout machine… only for Kenny to refuse him again…
Until the embrace. Wrapped in a hug while confetti rained down, Kenny had his Golden Lover back in his corner.
With renewed vigor, Okada decided it was time to clean the slate of that filthy draw. Surprised after having given up the chase for the IWGP title in lieu of tag team gold, Kenny accepted. No time limit. Two out of three falls. Dominion 2018 was to be the finale.
Okada had focus and determination in his eyes. Kenny had Ibushi, and entered this match a different man than previous bouts with Okada. The darkness had cleared in Omega as the greyish blonde hair was washed clean into a golden mane.
The competitors start off evenly enough, Okada knowing he must use everything he previously used to win every title defense during his reign, Kenny looking for any opportunity to use the One Winged Angel. What results in this match is an incredible amount of reversals. These men were like dance partners, privy to the flow of the other. Facing off in long matches across a short time span, these men knew each other like the back of their hands.
Okada leads the early half of the match, gaining the first pin after sitting Omega down during a failed reversal. This shakes the confidence of Omega, but with the calm encouragement of Ibushi, Kenny is able to quell his doubts and eventually hit the One-Winged Angel to make the second fall of the match. They’re in the endgame now.
The men grow weaker as the match goes on, the fallen Rainmaker spot from Dominion 2017 recreated, but this time Okada slumps to the mat. The match is soon ended and the curtain is drawn in the end of a memorable conflict. Finally, after all this time, Omega is champion, one of the few gaijin to win the IWGP title, what he has fought for since Wrestle Kingdom 11.
As Omega’s coronation is about to commence, the tearful Young Bucks journey down the entrance ramp to help celebrate. Pushing aside the newest prize, Omega embraces his friends alongside Ibushi in an emotional group hug. The journey is over and the antagonist is defeated.
But is the story truly concluded? Will there one day be a revisit to the story that changed professional wrestling?
Only time will tell.
In the years following the Dominion 2018 match, the match has become a measuring stick for wrestling fans, in ways surpassing the Attitude Era for many. So much storytelling. Call-backs, psychology, and insane spots.
If you ask fans who have seen this collection of matches what their favorite is, chances are they’ll tell you something different each time. For some, the answer might change over time and through subsequent rewatches.
For me, I thought it was going to be the G1 match, with desperation from both men. But now, I truly can’t decide. Each match was their own story that progressed the overall plot. Each match doing something different.
WK11 had Omega failing to secure the One-Winged Angel, Dominion 2017 had the time limit draw, G1 had Okada’s beaten neck and the quick-paced nature, and Dominion 2018 had both men fighting to prove themselves in a two out of three falls match, both men changed going in and heading out.
Often what sticks out in most people’s minds is where they were when any of these matches happened. A night out with friends, graduation day, weddings, funerals, or even a night relaxing after a rough night at work. Any of these is bound to stick out in one’s mind, like any story you come across at any point in your life.
What I find interesting is watching back the videos or reading the articles from the times these matches transpired. People that are just making sense of the fact wrestling became something more. It became art.
Fascinating it is that people didn’t know it was history in the making until the tale unfurled in a modern Cinderella story. All the tears shed, bodies broken, and sweat poured out in the ecstacy of gold. But how historical would it be? The fact AEW exists feels unreal unless you look at the context of Omega/Okada. It changed how we looked at the medium of professional wrestling. It changed how people rank matches, with Dave Meltzer famously breaking his own scale repeatedly and controversially. I do not personally care about match ranks but this is a testament to the power of long term storytelling and the ability to execute it.
How long until we find something that gives us this collective high again? Not told through face or heel turns, through returns and debuts, or through promos, but through matches that break the barriers of time and language? When will we have stories like this in wrestling from bell to bell that brings us to tears from catharsis and heartbreak?
When we look back at these moments that sometimes last mere seconds, time stops and when it resumes we remember it forever.
I’m pissed at myself for not having seen Omega/Okada sooner. And now, I wish I could relive watching them again. Like your favorite story before it reaches the final credits or final pages, you want to rewind and forget what happened. You want to live in this moment, this time, this world. Never to forget the time you connected with something you felt was greater than yourself and live with it forever.
I can wax poetic all day long, but I’ll just leave you with this. The stories that made you feel and think and changed your life? Go back to them. Right now. Remember that feeling that reminded you that you are human. These were the ideas that will live on after we are gone, so cherish them while you are still here.
For it will stay with you. From Kingdom to Dominion, you will carry it with you.