Professional Wrestling is, at its core, storytelling. We’ve talked a lot in this column about different stories that have been told in the ring and different wrestlers ability to portray those stories well or in some cases, not so well. As a long time fan, I can admit that pro wrestling isn’t always great. BUT, when it’s great, it’s fucking great. And the Omega/Okada trilogy this year was fucking great. It all started at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in January. At that time, Kenny Omega was coming off of a career year in NJPW which saw him not only have great matches with everybody he stepped into the ring with, but also take the coveted G1 Climax victory setting up the match with Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight title. Before that night in the Tokyo Dome, Omega and Okada had never been in the ring together. That fact alone is astonishing considering how incredibly well the two worked together. The story told in the ring was one of the foreigner who had earned the respect of the native country coming for the top prize and aiming for its beloved son. Make no mistake, Okada is the ace of New Japan, as well he should be. No one has put together the resume this guy has at such a young age. This match had absolutely everything; great chemistry, fun spots, athleticism, crowd work, false finishes, and an ending that, although it personally bummed me out, made total and complete sense for the story that was being told. Omega fell just short of his goal in January which set up the rematch perfectly. The fans wanted it, the wrestlers wanted it. The only problem was, there was almost no way to top what they had just done.
Knowing that there was no way to top the Wrestle Kingdom match, Omega/Okada II had to be something different. Now, for fans that primarily watch American professional wrestling, the idea of anything other than a finish, clean or dirty, is a bit strange. Sure, there a times where it is announced that a match has a set time limit but it is often simply ignored because it never really matters. NJPW also has time limits and while a draw is somewhat more common, it is still something that is largely ignored. Watching this second meeting there was no doubt in my mind that Omega was going over and realizing his dream of becoming IWGP champion. Gone was the over top pomp and circumstance of the first match. This was a focused, a determined Kenny Omega. The match had its fair share of drama throughout along with some incredible spots. What really set it up though was the commentary. They referenced the time the two had been wrestling as a testament to their athleticism. It made us watching realize that, damn, these guys have been going hard for a while. And then they mentioned the time again, and again. And then Bullet Club came out in full with Cody “wanting” to throw in the towel and end the match. And then Omega hit the One-Winged Angel and Okada just got his foot on the rope to break up the pin. The classic tropes were there setting up Omega to win. Except, the match went on. And the moment of dawning realization, that time was running down, hit the live audience and the viewing audience at the same time. The thought crept in but even with the announcers calling five minutes left, four, three, there was never a chance it would end on a time limit draw. There was never a chance and yet, amidst a flurry of close finishes, time ran out. And we were left, somehow, wanting even more.
So one win for Okada and one time limit draw set up the 3rd meeting, so far, between The Cleaner and The Rainmaker. Omega had won the IWGP US title by this point and Okada was again IWGP Champion however this match would not be for either belt. This match would decide who would move on to the finals of the 2017 G1 Climax, the tournament Omega had won the year previous. And what was so beautifully booked by NJPW was the point system going in to the match. In order to advance to the final Omega had to win. Okada could move on with a time limit draw or a victory. All Kenny had to do was accomplish something he had never done. The time limit this time though was only 30 minutes, not the 60 they had previously. The match started fast and kept the pace up for the most part. In wrestling you never really want to tell the same story again and in order to compete with their previous two matches, Omega and Okada had to do things differently. There were still big spots and big displays of athleticism sure, but the pace and psychology was different. Here were two guys that wanted to put the definitive nail in the coffin of their rivalry. The entire match was stiff as hell and delivered all the drama of the previous two and more. The finish saw a bunch of quick counters and a frustrated Omega pull out all the stops to hit the One-Winged Angel and pick up the win.
So here we sit. 2017 is drawing to a close. Wrestle Kingdom 12 is coming and Omega/Okada 4 is… not the main event. Okada will be defending the title against Tetsuyo Naito in a match that should be every bit as good, for different reasons, as their previous bouts. Kenny Omega on the other hand is wrestling Chris Jericho in a match we previewed just last week. I’m sure it will be excellent, though I have no idea where NJPW is going with it. Getting the US title off of Omega so that he can resume his Heavyweight chase makes sense. Keeping it on him and setting up a Champion vs Champion showdown also makes sense. Either way, we will get Omega/Okada 4. And it damn sure has a lot to live up to.
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