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Phil Schneider

[2017-01-04-NJPW-Wrestle Kingdom XI] Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada

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I certainly had no plans to watch this, but I figure someone at SC should weigh in on the canonized best match in wrestling history before we go back to reviewing Black Terry Jr. HH's or Tamon Honda matches.

I am really burned out on both long matches and 2010s style CrossFit wrestling, so two guys doing the ultimate CrossFit endurance match for 45 minutes wasn't going to do it for me. By CrossFit style, I mean a wrestling match where it seems like the goal is to pound out one more set of kettlebells to show how tough you are, rather then any sort of sensible progression or story, every match is a show of endurance. It is what Volador is doing in CMLL, Seth Rollins in the WWE, tons of people do in indies I don't watch and what a lot of NJ main events devolve into. Even taking away the problems I have with this style, I didn't think this match was particularly close to the apex of that style.

For one thing I am really surprised at how bad both guys basic execution was. Big spots looked great for the most part, but Okada is throwing missed clotheslines that fly a foot over Omega's head, they exchange Ethan Pagian forearm smashes and wrestling school level kicks to the stomach, Okada's top rope elbow is a big move of his and he clearly takes all of the impact on his hip before gingerly placing his elbow in Omega's chest. The match is all wild drum solos, but the back beat is off.

The match was also way too long, these guys don't have 40+ minutes of a match in them. They either can't or won't do matwork, so instead it was basically a 20 minute house show workrate match, followed by a 20 minute big show workrate match. It's like Finn Balor v. Seth Rollins on RAW, followed immediately by Finn Balor v. Seth Rollins at Payback.

The match did have a couple of awesome huge spots, Omega's bump of the year into the table and the top rope Dragon suplex. That table bump was fucking lunatic, maybe the greatest table bump I can remember seeing, Omega got truly insane height and he landed like a V2 rocket on the table, I honestly don't know how he didn't lacerate his spleen. Still that move was 20 minutes into a 40 minute match and didn't play into the finish at all. Basically the next offensive move either guy executed was Omega hitting Okada with a super nasty top rope dragon suplex, which again didn't play into the finish at all or really get a compelling near fall. If either move led directly into a finish run it would have really made the match make more sense. Instead the finish run was a lot of dancy reversals around Okada's silly clothesline finisher.

Omega is a guy with great athleticism, and big holy fuck spots. There was a moment during the finish run where he whips off a dragon suplex that looked like it was in x2 speed, and I really liked some of his desperation running knees. If someone could tone down some of his bad tendencies and and craft a match around what he does well it could be really awesome. Okada isn't that dude, and I don't think that guy is in NJ (or the WWE for that matter, I actually don't know who that guy is, maybe if Finlay gets fired again.)

Our 2017 MOTY list will be filled with random small US indy matches, CMLL trios and Kurisu matches on Rutube, and honestly this match probably had enough good to make it objectively better than some of those. But I didn't enjoy it, and it was the poster boy of the type of wrestling I hate. Hard Pass.

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I have to disagree with a lot of the people here. I thoroughly enjoyed this. I am no Kenny Omega fan, probably this was second time ever I enjoyed one of his matches ( I enjoyed one of the Golden Lover vs Apollo 55 tags back in 2010 which I loved for what it was). Is it one of the 3 or 4 greatest matches ever? No. Would be a MOTYC in most years? Yeah. As an aside I found the match and the entire show for that part to unwatchable with English commentary, I was only able to watch the match and enjoy it with the Japanese commentary. And I have to disagree about the Dragon Suplex spot and the backdrop. I actively disliked both spots because they were super dangerous, career shortening spots and managed to add nothing to story of the match. I haven't seen a lot of people here talk about how physical and violent the match was. It was downright brutal in some parts. The physicality combine with the holy shit athleticism is what made the match for me. It was poorly paced, and the selling was uneven, but I loved it for what it was.

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This was almost 50 minutes long, and for the first 20 minutes or so, it was so goddamn boring. I was ready to hate it, and I did hate the first half of it, it was truly awful; didn't feel any heat there, it was hollow, dull & straight up boring - but then they kicked it into the 2nd gear & basically went nuts - Kenny Omega in particular gave an outstanding performance (as expected). Very good match, but did not reach the ****+ great status because of the absolutely awful first half. ***3/4

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I've made my peace with what modern New Japan is and try to make use of my time and watch matches with an open mind and distance myself from the hype surrounding them since I'm so apart from the way most people watch these matches that I'd just be a waste of time to get into useless arguments. I enjoyed the match-about as much as I could without getting emotionally invested in it whatsoever. To say they did nothing for the first 20/30 minute or so would just be wrong-they did a lot of stuff. There was some teasing of the big moves that would come latear, a perfectly logical thing to do when you're working such a long match, and there were some big spots. What they cared about was those big spots. Inbetween it felt like they were just kicking things off a bucket list-ok, we do the headlock now, now the armdrags, now we're gonna go outside....and so on. They went through a lot of stuff without giving any of it meaning or establishing any sort of narrative. And I'm the last person to cry about "storytelling" in pro wrestling but if you're working a match this long there should at least be a focus. I didn't see any in this match. You could probably make up one about limbwork but the reality is that it just happens 80/90% of wrestling moves are done on the head/neck and back. The true focus of the match was the drama and the physicality of it. And, maybe if I were watching it live, without thinking about wrestling critically, I would've loved the match a lot more. But that's not where I am as a fan, and even just watching it the first time it was clear to me this match wouldn't have the staying power that I look for these days. The six star rating reminded me of the Ibushi/Omega match at the Budokan and how someone said something along the lines of it reaching " a new standard in workrate". I like that match a lot more because it was straightforward in what it was and didn't take almost 50 minutes. I also found the spots a lot more impressive and memorable. There was really nothing innovative or never seen before in this match-I've seen top rope Dragon Suplexes before, I've seen dumb table spots before, every New Japan match these days is built around finishing countering and selective selling. I understand why people think it's the greatest match of all time, because it embodies everything modern New Japan style is, and it was longer and featured more of the elements that people enjoy in it than any New Japan match since the style changed in 2012. Personally I can't say it really connects to what I want out of wrestling or that it even impressed me as a piece of art I might not personally favour but recognize as a peak of this dedication to recklessness and craziness. Not when you have Omega throwing himself from the second rope, rolling backwards and sprinting up, or him and Okada dancing through a German Suplex. Not when you have a million basic strikes inbetween all of those spots that look eye rolling. Not when Okada's big submission looks like a man in a midlife crisis in his first kung fu practice. I commend them for managing to have a match that garnered such buzz and discussion, but as someone familiar with the patterns that sees the important thing here is what works in the moment I give this ***. There were a lot of moments and I like my moments to sink in and be parts of significant control shifts in the match and so on. They have a different vision, that's fine, like what you like.

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So I watched this on January 4th, mid-morning spoiler-free, awake and fully engaged. I knew the story going in but didn't actively follow NJPW. A couple notes I had made:

 

- the first 20 minute or so didn't bother me. It was a mix of anticipation, but also the idea that this was the first time these two had locked up. There was an extended feeling out with Omega working the back/neck, aiming to weaken Okada for the one-winged angel later. It's a stamina game and Omega knows Okada has long main events, and Omega feels he's the best wrestler in the promotion.

 

- I liked Omega's first heat sequence in the early going, it teased to bigger stuff later and was a good bridge into the middle portion of the match with the big outside stuff. Introducing the table was a callback to the build to this match.

 

- Into the second half, which is fantastic, and detailed already in the thread. My lone issue with the match was some of Omega's selling late (in particular the Rainmakers that Omega would quickly rollover after, while Okada was motionless selling the entire matches' exhaustion.

 

An all-timer for me - ****3/4

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The only thing that I didn't particularly care for was the final stretch, with all the head drops, and the kicks and knees to the head. I don't particularly care for Kenny Omega, but, I also don't want him to turn into the next Chris Benoit.

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I enjoyed the match, but other than maybe the Westerners who made the trip and watched live just living in the moment, I really don't get the "best ever" thing at all. Even by the standards of the modern NJPW style, I have no idea what it has to take it so far above, say, Nakamura vs. Ibushi, other than some people losing it for the dangerous bumps. Omega did have one really fantastic false finish with a jumping knee near the end, though.

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Great match, in my top 10 so far this year. Not quite MOTYC because there was just too much that could have been cut out and the first 2/3 of the match was largely the Kenny Omega show without much from Okada. Finishing stretch however, was one of the most insane things I've ever seen. Both guys really delivered in the end. Wasn't perfect, but still a really good wrestling match.

 

****1/2.

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Finally watched this last night. Had to watch it with the Japanese commentary for the true, authentic experience. I could count on one hand the number of modern New Japan matches I've seen, let alone any PWG, ROH, UK indy, or whatever the kids are losing their shit over today. But I watch NXT regularly, so I'm still hip right? Anyway, point being I'm no expert on 2017 pro wrestling and have no emotional connection to these guys, other than some pride with Winnipeg boy Omega.

 

I thought this was a great match. This is pro wrestling in 2017. This is what the fans love. I've made my peace with that. It's nowhere near my preferred style of pro wrestling but I don't hate it. I think NXT is better because they take the modern, fast-paced "dive" style, slow it down, and fuse it with old school storytelling. Again, I'm no expert and I know a lot of New Japan and other promotions present wrestling in a similar way. So, the style of all-action with little selling or storyline nuance didn't really bother me as I was watching this match.

 

I got into the highspots and the last half of the match was like watching the frantic end of a really good playoff basketball game, with back and forth responses and no team able to hold a lead. The crowd was super hot and that can sometimes be tough to convey in a dome setting. Both Okada and Omega feel like huge stars and I'm definitely going to check out more of their work. The finish felt satisfying, Okada hit the buzzer beater in OT to finally end it, and neither man had anything left.

 

All that said, I'm definitely not going to become a full-time supporter of modern wrestling because of this match. I know if I watched too much of this style it would turn me off. For example, I hate, hate, hate the insistence on constantly going for meaningless pins throughout that plagues modern wrestling. I know in kayfabe the point of the match is to pin your opponent, but to me relying on pin attempts is a lazy crutch and the worst legacy of Savage vs Steamboat. Save the pin attempts for the very end, and even then the best matches to me are the ones that don't have to rely on 2.9 kickouts to be great. Also, of course, this style is ridiculously dangerous and will obviously lead to no good in the future for those involved. But to enjoy wrestling, you kind of need to ignore that unfortunately.

 

Anyway, for someone not fully emersed in this style, I thought this was great fun. It's like the modern blockbuster Marvel movies. I love them, but most of my favorite movies are from the 30s-70s, just like my favorite wrestling is from 30-40 years ago. And it always will be. Still, this is pro wrestling in 2017

 

****1/2

(I could go on about 6 stars and all that but enough for now. Going to watch 2 later today)

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Probably should have done a review of this months ago but no matter. I did think this was a great match and I was really surprised at how much I liked this and how this was worked. When I saw the 6 star rating initially, I expected Davey vs. Elgin on steroids or something. Nothing but nonstop workrate action for 45 minutes. But this actually had a classic pro wrestling build and a clear narrative. Wild man Omega trying to topple the champion by targeting his back and neck but falling short because the ace was too resilient was a simple story but presented very effectively.

 

I liked Omega's energy, it was effective in putting over his desperation and urgency and got across the fact that he was facing an uphill battle against the ace. Okada's selling was very good and reasonably consistent. Both guys took some nutty bumps. The first 20 minutes were slow yes but it's harsh to say they are filler. Nearly everything done had some sort of purpose and they built a solid foundation for the rest of the match. The escalation was really good. Finishing stretch was well done and exciting without going overboard. No where near GOAT match level but it hit the very good mark nevertheless. ***1/4

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Actually got worse on a rewatch. Where my first impression of it was a bloated spectacle that goes too long, my impression of it now is that it's a match where too much is unnecessary and what's good doesn't even serve to outweigh the bad. Of course, there are some actually great things in here. I'm a fan of Omega's knees, his big high spots, and even his over the top histrionics. But oh my god did this lack focus. It's so strange to see them move so quickly but just be so uninvested for so much of the first half. Things don't really pick up in this match until Omega goes through the table. And then after that, the fun sequences are too far spaced apart to gain any real momentum. What a drag of a match and I dread seeing their hour draw again. Goodness me.

 

****

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Coming off the back of three great matches the idea was to initially tone it down - let the crowd catch its breath before ramping things up again to the fever pitch finale, and that’s basically what they did. The match consisted of two distinct halves. The first was Okada and Omega feeling each other out, some standard mat work punctuated with a few big moves that weren’t especially treated like big moves, and a furious second half littered with bomb throwing, one immediately following the next, with no time to catch your breath in between.


The first half has been disparaged by some, and it’s by no means perfect, but its biggest failings were not poorly executed mat work or that it was boring, it’s that nothing they did - and they did a lot - was carried over to the back nine. The beautiful Tope by Omega followed by an incredibly brutal missile dropkick to the back of Okada’s head could have instigated a run of Omega taking control of the match by focusing on Okada’s neck. The same could be said for Okada’s Draped DDT on the floor. They neglected to ensure these moments carried any weight by having them neither serve as a shift in momentum or as an indication of a weakness that their opponent could exploit.


The second half was essentially a twenty minute finishing run, prefaced by a crazy Springboard Moonsault by Omega that clears the ringside barriers and carries him into the announcer’s area, followed by Omega placing a table atop a prone Okada and unceremoniously double stomping a dent into said table. Okada got in his biggest shot of the match when he back body dropped Omega over the ropes, who proceeded to splatter through another table on the floor in one of the more jaw dropping spots I can remember. Omega quickly continued his offensive tour de force hitting a veritable smorgasbord of knees and committing attempted murder on Okada’s neck via a top rope Dragon Suplex. This was interspersed between countless Rainmakers, half Rainmakers, and faux Rainmakers until Okada mercifully put Okada away for good. (Quick aside: After Omega kicked out of the first Rainmaker, Okada offered up the best example of the “I can’t believe he kicked out of that” face ever by doing….nothing - he just stared blankly into the space like a little chubby child who’d slipped into a food coma. Glorious)


The level of execution, perhaps not in terms of the basics of mat wrestling etc., but in regards to the big spots was extraordinarily high and the margin of error on both the drop through the table and the Dragon Suplex was so mind boggling, it’s impossible not to give credit to both guys involved for pulling them off. They also held back on spunking away a One Winged Angel kick out, something they have played off of in subsequent bouts, so that was a really nice example of booking with the future in mind. What is inexcusable however, is that following every single bomb that was thrown, whichever guy taking the move would have recovered and be back on offense in some way within thirty seconds or so. This complete disregard of any credible selling was extremely jarring to watch, and this match, unlike any other, to me resembles wrestling as Mortal combat cosplay. I could just imagine the health bars hovering above their respective heads, hit points being depleted as they each take a combo after combo, but no matter how close to the K.O. they were, it had no effect on their abilities to fight. I don’t think it would have been that difficult to fit it in either: when Kenny crashed through the table, by the time Okada had got out of the ring and made it to the floor, Omega was already getting to his feet. I’ll admit that he was woozy and stumbling around, but personally I don’t think that this was the accurate response to someone going through a table. Potentially The Young Bucks could have stalled the referees count or ran interference with Okada while Omega lay motionless on the floor and it would have increased the drama tenfold.


Ultimately, this was the story that they wanted to tell. They did so much right that you know with the right direction both Omega and Okada are capable of something truly great, but this, this match, wasn’t their something great, and it definitely wasn’t the story that I wanted to see.

 

***3/4

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Phil calling this CrossFit wrestling and deriding it is exactly what I have been trying to articulate. So thank you and yes this style sucks. What is so annoying about this style is that it is both too fast and too slow. Way too much dramatic selling in between spots. But then during the action there is NO struggle so it is too fast.

 

IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega - NJPW 1/4/17

 

I have reached Pro Wrestling Nirvana...I don't know what to do now...lol...nah. Long match lets break it down

 

First Fifteen Minutes: I have not seen Okada since 2015. Dude has improved LIGHT YEARS! Way more expressive. He is no longer a stone-faced, apathetic douche. He is interesting, sympathetic babyface. Very happy to see that. Kenny Omega's Terminator entrance was pretty good, not as good as Hunter's but a good try. Strong perfunctory New Japan opening matwork. I liked the solid side headlock and the nearfall attempts. Omega avoiding Okada's dropkick, Okada avoiding Omega's finish, then Omega avoiding the Rainmaker Lariat was a good sequence. Big complaint about the match: NO STRUGGLE! Omega gets back in and then gets kicked in the head in seated position. How did Okada earn his position on top? In fairness the next big spot, which is like a minute later (way too much over dramatic selling) Omega does block the suplex only to eat a Hangman's DDT. I really liked Okada crossbody over the railing on Omega. I thought Okada wrestled really strong in the first third. Omega's was not doing too much. Again, Omega does NOT really earn his heat segment. It just sort of happens. Okada is AMAZING at selling those forearms to the back. Neither guy should be doing a strike exchange. Get another Omega finish tease. Omega hits the AJ Styles dive to the outside. Then bodyslams Okada into the apron. Okada is pretty much ruling everything right now. Omega looks like every other video game wrestler.

 

Second Fifteen Minutes: I am in utter shock this got six stars. I was expecting something like Cena/Owens on steroids. This is so plodding and meandering. Omega hits a dropkick to the back of head. Looked awesome. I hate moves where people stand around and look dazed. Dean Ambrose elbow to a standing opponent comes to mind. Match meanders until Okada hits a suplex thingy out of nowhere. Okada's fire is great on his comeback. He really does look awesome. Omega has a funny way of feeding for him. He just keeps running at him full speed. He seems like a massive toolbox. I have to be fair Okada applies and absolutely terrible submission. He does not wrap the legs right at all and then gives Omega a shoulder massage. What the fuck. Anyways, Okada misses the elbow drop. Backbreaker. People made a point to talk about the back psychology but I don't really feel like it has been present. This is definitely about the few and far between high spots. Okada ends up over the railing, Omega does a cool moonsault. I am not trying to be an asshole. It is legitimately cool moonsault. DOUBLE STOMP ON TABLE! Ok, we are getting better. Powerbomb->1-2->KICKOUT! They do the big sell. Okada is dead. Omega cant believe it and there bodies are entangled. THERE IS TWENTY FUCKING MINUTES LEFT IN THIS MATCH AND THEY GO FOR THAT SELL! ARE YOU SHITTING ME? More stuff happens. Okada hits that dropkick to an opponent perched on the top and Omega takes a nasty spill. FINALLY! A good transition. They tease Okada putting Omega through a table that does not happen.

 

Last Fifteen Minutes: I lost track of everything. Things I remember: Omega taking a nutty backdrop over the top rope through a table. Awesome spot. There was a super Dragon Suplex. Awesome spot. A Dragonrana. Great spot. I thought this was definitely the best fifteen minutes because they dropped all pretenses and just had a spotfest. There was some unnecessary melodrama here and there, but they tightened thing up for the most part and delivered an exciting finish. There was even some struggle with Okada hitting a Rainmaker through a barrage of kicks. Omega stealing all of Okada's stuff was kinda lame. I was actually pretty happy Okada won because he is clearly a better wrestler and Omega is a tool.

 

All in all, I feel like I should apologize to Cena & Owens. I bitched and moaned about their spotfest, but at least it was exciting and action-packed. This was both too fast and too slow at the same time. Tons of downtime trying milk drama but nothing had any consequence. Then when the spots did happen they usually happened way too fast without any struggle. Omega just running at Okada to feed almost every spot was hilarious. You look like a fucking moron, dude. There were enough good highspots from Omega to say and enough good work from Okada to say this is good, but not even great. Okada does look like a world class pro wrestler now. Great selling, great fire, damn good moveset. It is not even the opponent. Omega could be a good wrestler. The layout was brutal. I actually believe these two can go 45 minutes. They have enough stuff. It is just the pacing was terrible and nothing had any consequence. Yeah there was some loose back psychology and the fact that Omega was desperately trying to unseat Okada, but nothing mattered until the end. Why not just do a ten minute sprint? Length does not mean strength. ***1/4

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Finally watched this. I have an aversion to long matches (30+), but gave the AXS version a try. Ross and Barnett were perfectly fine and certainly helped me get into the action more.

Thought the first half was very strong, including many spots that made me audibly gasp. Both table spots were bonkers (double foot stomp, dropkick off top), but that top-rope dragon suplex was gnarly and should have been the finish based on when it happened. I was with the match all the way past the first Rainmaker, but when that finish sequence started, boy was I done.

Too many Rainmakers, too many Rainmakers that Omega recovered immediately from, even when Okada didn't go for the pin. Too many big, big, big moves hit (like Omega's Rain-Trigger) without pins or close calls. The last 5-minutes were disastrous and completely took away everything that came before. It was frustrating and it felt like a beauty pageant or something where Omega and Okada just wanted to show off what they can do, without playing into any of the stuff that came before. 

I just can't fathom how Omega constantly hitting big moves in-between Okada hitting his own finisher works. It doesn't help either guy and it devalued the finish.

I don't do star ratings, but I'd probably go 4.25. I could see Dave giving it 5 stars because it's his deal, but in hindsight the 6 star rating feels even more of a PR stunt than it did back then. Can't care about the ratings of someone who thinks this is greater than (almost) all matches that came before it.

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