Editor’s Note: Every day this week, we’ll take you back to one of Dave Meltzer’s top-rated matches of the past year, starting with No. 10 and going through No. 1. What follows is an edited version of Dave’s writeup of that match from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter with the context relatively intact.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega
Wrestle Kingdom 11 | January 4
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Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada may have put on the greatest match in pro wrestling history in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4th at the Tokyo Dome.
The 46:45 classic, coming at the end of a show that lasted five hours and 40 minutes, set New Japan’s all-time record for live foreign streaming viewers, peaking at about 7:30 AM EST. A Jim Ross/Josh Barnett commentated version of the match will air on January 13th on AXS TV, which very well could be the best one hour pro wrestling television show ever, given one match shows (Jack Brisco vs. Dory Funk Jr. from CWF in 1972; Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich in Dallas; Flair vs. Von Erich in Honolulu; Flair vs. Barry Windham in Fayetteville; Midnight Express vs. Fantastics in Chattanooga; Tanahashi vs. Okada from 2013; Tanahashi vs. Styles from 2015) have been among the best.
As great as the aforementioned matches were, this had most of the elements that all of those matches had, but elements they didn’t and really combined the elements they did better.
Okada retained the IWGP heavyweight title after a spinning jumping tombstone piledriver and a fourth Rainmaker. This featured nearly every element of a classic match from intensity to crowd heat to tremendous psychology to off the charts athleticism to hard hits to timing to innovation and to high risk, dangerous moves. The keys to the story is that Omega never once got to hit the One Winged Angel, and even in defeat, he came out of the show being almost clearly the best big match wrestler on the planet.
While watching the show, it felt like the time and place to do the title change, but the argument was that was too early in the Okada reign. Still, based on the performance and the performance of Omega in the build to the show, by all rights, he should win the championship at some point this year. Part of it is that if they are going to expand internationally, Omega is the best face of the company because he can talk different languages, is ridiculously good athletically, and has so much charisma. But losing this way was almost better, because it’ll mean more when he wins it, particularly if it’s in June in Osaka, which will be a hot crowd and right before the U.S. push.
Another key is his future. If I’m WWE, I would not just want him, but he could be that elusive special star that they’ve been unable to make. There is the issue that he can’t wrestle matches like this nightly, or even monthly, without having a short life span on his career. But he’s got the presence, charisma, cockiness and acting ability, as well as the look that WWE is afraid to push someone who doesn’t have.
Plus with the world a smaller place and mainstream U.S. sports websites giving him media exposure, he could walk in with a hardcore base he could build from. Plus, he’s turned into a tremendous promo, although he’s got the huge advantage of being able to use his own voice and use reality for his promos like he did to build the Okada match.
Then again, from a WWE standpoint, having him have a couple of years as the face of New Japan will only elevate him and he’d be able to walk in like A.J. Styles did this past year.
Kazuchika Okada pinned Kenny Omega in 46:45 to retain the IWGP heavyweight title
There was a great video feature on Omega before the match and the videos made this feel like the biggest match of the year. It started slow, but it had to given how long it was going and what it was following. They opened with Omega doing the bridge and backslide spot that Flair used to do in his classic matches. Okada did a draping DDT off the barricade and a sprint on the floor, diving over the barricade with a crossbody. Omega did a Frankensteiner out of nowhere for a near fall, and did a running flip dive over the top while the Young Bucks played the theme from “The Terminator”.
Omega did this ridiculous missile dropkick to the back of the head that looked like it nearly kicked Okada’s head off his shoulders. I have no idea how Okada’s neck could be in decent shape after this match. Omega worked over the neck with the camel clutch. Okada came back working on Omega’s neck with the Red Ink and the neckbreaker over the knee. Okada came off the top with the Randy Savage elbow but Omega got his knees up. He used a backbreaker and a sliding dropkick to knock Okada over the guardrail. He motioned for the announcers to move the tables out of the way and cleared things out. Omega then did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor, over the guardrail, and onto Okada in the first of the memorable spots. Omega followed with a run along with apron into a double foot stomp onto a table that Okada was underneath.
Omega got near falls after two power bombs. Okada was selling great and the crowd started strongly getting behind him. Omega used a middle rope moonsault for a near fall. Okada’s back was sliced up, probably from hitting a table when he flew over the barricade before the moonsault. Omega was on the top rope and Okada dropkicked him to the floor. Omega tried the One Winged Angel off the apron through a table but Okada got away. Then came the second crazy spot, which was Okada’s high backdrop where Omega flew over the top rope and crashed through the table. Don’t try this at home. If he had landed just a foot to the left, he could have been impaled.
Okada hit a missile dropkick for a near fall and an elbow off the top rope. Omega kicked out and slapped Okada in the face. Then came the next crazy spot which was Omega’s dragon superplex off the top rope. Omega continued to work on the neck with a neckbreaker over the knee. Okada used a high angle German suplex, and when he finally hit the dropkick, the place exploded. The key was everyone knows in a long Okada match, the dropkick means they are working toward the finish, but they went several minutes after it this time. Omega started doing the jumping knees and a reverse Frankensteiner, and then hit another running knee. Omega again went for the One Winged Angel, but Okada not only got out of it, he landed on his feet.
Okada used a tombstone piledriver and the Rainmaker, but Omega kicked out. Okada used a running dropkick and went for another tombstone piledriver, but Omega reversed and did the tombstone to Okada. The two traded elbows until Omega did a fast dragon suplex and a series of running knees. He went for the One-Winged Angel again, but Okada was holding the wrist, got out and hit a desperation Rainmaker. Omega recovered with kicks and knees over and over until Okada did another Rainmaker. Both were selling the effects of the match.
They got up and Omega hit a dropkick and a hard jumping knee. Omega went for the One-Winged Angel again, but Okada got out of it, used a jumping and spinning tombstone piledriver, and then a fourth Rainmaker, finally getting the pin.
A number of people after the match stated that it was the greatest they’d ever seen. Personally, I’d say the same thing. As people were leaving the Tokyo Dome, the murmur in the crowd was that it was the greatest pro wrestling match ever, and at restaurants in the area and on the subway, that was the main topic of conversation. The talk backstage was also that it was the greatest match anyone had ever seen.
The match didn’t rely on crazy moves, and more relied on psychology. However, it had the few memorable spots built up that will be remembered. The scariest spot, and one I hope doesn’t get copied, saw Omega do a top rope dragon superplex. Okada landed off the top rope almost on the top of his head. While he seemed fine, announcer Steve Corino noted that when, not if, Okada has neck fusion surgery, he’ll always remember that spot. The 90s All Japan stars, as great as they were, should be the example of why taking suplexes at high angles nearly on top of your head should be avoided at all costs. This wasn’t just a suplex but it was him nearly being spiked falling backwards at a high angle off the top rope.
Okada will likely defend his title next in Sapporo or Osaka. The winner of the New Japan Cup single elimination tournament will get the title shot at Sakura Genesis and while it’s possible for Omega to win the tournament and get the shot, I’d do the rematch at Dominion from a timing standpoint.
The Dome show drew 26,192 paid and there was in the neighborhood of 35,000 to 37,000 in the building. It was well up as far as total in the building from last year, although paid was only up about 1100. Still, that is considered a major success because it’s the first time since 2010 that Hiroshi Tanahashi wasn’t in the Tokyo Dome main event, and Omega was unproven as far as headlining a show of this caliber. Going in, the crowd saw Okada vs. Omega as that epic championship match, and both came out of it having transformed from two of the best wrestlers in the industry to bonafide big card draws.