Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega (01/04/17) - Is It Really THAT Awesome?

Some are calling the Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event the single greatest wrestling match ever. But is it really as great as the IWC would have you believe? 

By: Jimbo X

By now, you folks should know I'm a pretty big fan of the pro 'rasslin, particularly, all the great shit that was going on in the 1990s. That said - and I've said this numerous times before - I really don't know what's going on in any pro wrestling organization these days. In fact, I haven't watched a full pro wrestling PPV or super card - or even a single one hour cable TV broadcast - since 2007. Thanks to that great content aggregator/pirated source for all things multimedia called the Internet, I've stayed abreast of the absolute cream of the crop thanks to forums like DVDVR and ProWrestlingOnly and stellar sites like The Armpit (W.P.'s quadannual rankings of the best seasonal matches of the year is pretty much your one-stop shop for the best fake fisticuffs out there.) 

Of course, the authoritative voice on what's great and what's crap in the wrestling biz is still Dave Meltzer, the grand poobah of the long running dirt sheet Wrestling Observer. After being incredibly stingy with his [*****] reviews in the aughties (the dude didn't even hand out a single fiver between 2006 and 2011), the Meltz-man has been showering the modern New Japan product with so many snowflakes, NJPW head honchos Jado and Gedo are pretty much buried alive under a blizzard of paper praise. Think I'm shitting you? Since 2012, he's given no less than 12 NJPW bouts an A+++ "perfect" five-star rating - that's just one less that Mitsuharu Misawa (long considered the greatest fuckin' wrestler ever) throughout the entirety of his career

While Meltzer's ratings are generally considered the gospel by forum-dwellers, I've always been a tad skeptical of his methodology. Por exemple, this is the same guy who gave that dime-a-dozen DragonGate match in ROH in '06 a higher score than the after the fact consensus pick for MOTD, the chop-happy Kenta Kobashi/Kensuke Sasaki donnybrook from a year earlier. And this is the same guy who considered the terribly overrated Joe/Punk affair from 2004 a better bout than the hourlong Burning/Kensuke Office eight man masterpiece from 2008. And how in the hell he considered Michael Elgin/Davey Richards a better bout than anything FUTEN has put together is a mystery to me. 

Yeah, I know a lot of you casual readers are probably perplexed about what I'm talking about. And I don't care, either - I'm allowed to get autistically technical about niche shit from time to time. It's in the Bill of Rights or something.

So, long story short: Meltzer is a guy whose opinion, much like Roger Ebert, we can respect, but when he gets it wrong, by golly, does he get it WRONG

Which brings us to Davey Boy's latest "perfectly rated" bout: the Kazuchika Okada/Kenny Omega IWGP Heavyweight Championship main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11. Actually, per the Meltz, the bout was so great it LITERALLY broke his rating system, as he issued the Jan. 04, 2017 match an unprecedented "SIX STAR" rating (not to be confused with a six sided star rating - those are only reserved for Bill Goldberg matches.) In fact, D.M. dug the shindig so much he actually said it was quite possibly the greatest wrestling match of all-time. That's lofty, lofty praise, especially considering how great Abe Lincoln's worked shoots were reputed to be, but still - when a dude like Dave says something is arguably the best he's ever seen, that's code word for you to hit up the DailyMotion and start punching in some keywords pronto

All right, the background. Kazuchika Okada is pretty much the Ric Flair of his generation - he has flashy robes, he talks mad shit, and he's somehow able to have stellar matches against pretty much everybody despite having a repertoire limited to 11, maybe 13 different moves if you count punching variations. He's to NJPW what John Cena is to the WWE - he's expected to sell all the merchandise and bring all the outside media attention to the promotion and make as many other wrestlers look good enough to sell tickets for the next major TV spectacular. Kenny Omega is this American gaijin that's been working the Japanese indy circuit for damn near 10 years, cutting his teeth on absurd comedy matches like this one where he brawled out in the wilderness with about 20 other wrestlers for an hour straight and this one where he kicked the living shit out of a real 9-year-old girl. Well, after having a string of insanely great matches nobody really expected to be awesome against everybody in New Japan who wasn't named Okada last year, the suits at NJPW said "you know, what the hell, let's give this American kid who looks sort of like the bastard love child of Matt Hardy and Bobcat Goldthwait a crack at the belt ... I mean, shit, we can only do Okada vs. Tanahashi 500 times a year so many times before the locals get restless." And lo and behold, the table for the WK 11 main event is set

The challenger comes out first, introduced via a parody of The Terminator. If you haven't see this, you really should - dude comes out with the prop shotgun, leather jacket and shitty metal exoskeleton mask and everything. He is accompanied at ringside by his good buddies the Young Bucks, a tag team that looks just like members of The Screaming Trees circa 1993.

Okada's entrance starts off with planets floating around on the Jumbotron. Omega bounces off the ropes in anticipation of his arrival. The video segment zooms in on Earth, then Japan, then the Tokyo Dome, and the man himself comes out rocking his trademark multicolor robe, accompanied by Gedo (who looks pretty much EXACTLY what you would imagine the cast of Duck Dynasty to look like if they were Japanese.) Dollar bills - err, Yen bills, I suppose - start fluttering all over the arena. You know, because his gimmick is making it rain and whatnot [*coughWAYTOAPPROPRIATEBLACKCULTUREGUYScough*.]

Pulling English commentary duties are WWF castoff Kevin Kelly (you know, that guy The Rock used to call a hermaphrodite) and STEVE MOTHERFUCKIN' CORINO, who was awesome in ECW for approximately one year before vanishing off the face of the Earth (which, in wrestlespeak, means Vince McMahon wouldn't return his phone calls while he was making upwards of $200 a month 'rasslin for such illustrious organizations as Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling and Major League Wrestling.) 

Yellow yen notes (which I'm guessing aren't real Yen notes) are still flying all over the place. Omega picks up one of them and wads it up in his hand, because that's Japanese sign language for "fuck you and everything you believe in." While the IWGP title is on the line tonight (by the way, IWGP stands for 'international wrestling grand prix," if you are ever on Jeopardy!) this bout is really about deciding who the top dog in New Japan is going to be for the remainder of the year. Whoever wins this one is going to be the guy doing all the publicity stops and TV interviews and - obviously - making all of the big bucks. There's no goofy subplot like in 'Merican 'rasslin, where the two guys are scuffling because one of them killed the other guy's chihuahua or dug up his deadbeat dad's coffin or tried to shock his balls with a car battery to make him sterile. It's just two guys beatin' the tar out of one another to symbolically declare themselves the best of the best, just like it was in the good old days of Dory Funk and Mr. Wrestling II. That leads to a brief discussion about the ramifications of a non-Japanese wrestler representing the company (kind of a moot point, seeing as how Omega is actually fluent in Japanese in real life, per the Wikipedia), and our commentatin' duo says that the art of pro wrestling transcends all language barriers and that many non-Japanese speakers enjoy listening to the Japanese announcers call the matches even though they can't understand a single world they're saying (although it is fairly interesting to note that the Japanese word for "suplex" is "BRAINBUSTAAAAH" shouted at the top of your lungs.)

Believe it or not, this is actually one of the more mundane moments from the match.

After we get the linguistic metaphysics out of the way, it's time to RASSLE, dammit. We've got your standard collar and elbow tie up to begin. Okada works a hammerlock early. Omega and his sweet, sweet almost-mullet reverses it into an arm twist. Okada sweeps the leg and Omega counters with an arm bar. Okada in the full mount, with a segue into a headlock. Gotta dig those rainbow panties on the defending champ. Omega escapes and Okada responds with a shower of elbow strikes. Okada lands a European uppercut and Omega ripostes with a headlock of his own. 

Okada lands a backdrop, but Omega holds on to the headlock. Omega grabs his hair and flips out of a back suplex. The we have one of those old RVD/Jerry Lynn million-billion nearfall spots, complete with those ridiculous looking mid-air arm drags. Okada bullies Omega up against the rope. He feigns a chest slap but just pats him on the shoulders and cockily struts away. Okada with a shoulder tackle. Omega responds with some hard overhand shots. Omega looks to land his patented finisher, the One-Winged Angel (basically, an electric chair drop/Mexican flyswatter transitioning into a hook armed package piledriver ... yes, it does look pretty ouchy, in case you needed the visual) but Okada escapes. Omega rolls to the outside for a breather. Okada gives him a big boot to the face as soon as he gets back in the ring, along with a snapmare and a "basement dropkick" for good measure. Omega rolls to the outside again, and this time, Okada follows suit and throws his ass over a guardrail. He lands a SICK DDT using the rail for leverage. Omega sells it like he is half dead. Okada drags a table from underneath the ring and I can't help but laugh it just how much thinner it is than the particle board buffet tables we have over here in the States. Okada tosses Omega over the guardrail again. He lands a running crossbody and the two slide across the arena floor for a good five feet. Then the announcers hard sell their Facebook and Periscope apps, because WHAT A TIME TO SHILL, amirite?

Both men are back in the ring. Okada with a fallaway slam and a slingshot Senton (Do you capitalize Senton or leave it lower case? I think it's a proper noun, even though I'm not sure what the hell  a "Senton" is, exactly - my guess would be a Futon competitor.) And time for an extended chinlock segment, because who doesn't love those?

Swinging neckbreaker form Omega once the action resumes. It's just a two-count. Omega with a dropkick to the shin and a KILLER looking bulldog\churched-up Rocker Dropper hybrid move whose proper name I'm too lazy to look up. Now he's stomping Okada like a pissant hill. He follows that up with your classic Ric Flair\Ricky Steamboat chops and some very hard elbow strikes to Okada's spine. Omega jumps up and down on Okada's back (ah, the good old 1980s "spinal hump!") and lands a very vanilla body slam. Okada misses another Senton and Okada responds by elbowing the hell out of Okada's kidneys some more. The announcers keep putting over Omega's finisher as a one-hit insta-kill - so if he lands it, we know Okada is a goner. Okada with some good elbow shots of his own, but Omega puts his comeback down with a knee to the stomach. A hurricanrana (no joke, en Espanol that translates it into "hurricane frog," and all these years later I still don't know the context of the etymology) sends Okada flying over the top rope and the crowd starts stomping their feet to the tune of The Terminator theme and Omega lands a FUCKIN' ACE Swanton Bomb to the outside, nearly taking out the photog with the Nirvana shirt in the process. Omega body slams Okada on the edge of the mat (shit, why don't we see that spot more often?) and rolls the champ back in. Omega lands a killer missile dropkick to the back of Okada's skull which - if history is any indication - will probably make him kill himself and his entire intermediate family a couple of years down the road. And demonstrating something you would NEVER hear in WWE programming nowadays, the announcers actually crack jokes about Okada needing neck surgery after absorbing the previous blow to the head.

Omega with a Camel Clutch/STF hybrid submission. Omega has Okada in the piledriver position, but Okada sinks to one knee. Omega hits him with a ton of elbows and knees and out of fuckin' nowhere Okada lands a high angle suplex/brainbuster and Omega is (kayfabe) OUT OF IT. Omega miraculously recovers but Okada puts him right back down with a DDT. He kips up and hits Omega with another running European uppercut. Okada with a flapjack and an STF variation whose proper title Steve Corino can't remember. Omega gets a rope break. Okada goes up top, Omega roll out of the way on the splash attempt and Okada lands a SATANIC jackknife reverse neckbreaker - you just got to see this to grasp its awesomeness. Omega gets his knees up when Okada goes for the old Macho Man top rope diving elbow. Omega with a backbreaker and a dropkick that sends Okada flying to the outside and over a guardrail. Kelly asks Corino if he has any advice for the Japanese announce team and he politely responds "move the hell away." Omega does two full revolutions on a springboard moonsault to the outside. Okada acts half dead after the collision, gasping for air while rolling all over a bunch of electrical cables. Omega drapes the ridiculously small table over Okada and does a running double stomp at full speed - you KNOW that shit had to hurt for real. Omega retrieves Okada and throws him back into the ring. Omega hits him with back-to-back powerbombs but all he can get is a two. The Young Bucks set the table up on the outside, while Gedo just kinds of waddles around like a flannel-clad penguin with a mountain-man beard. The ref prevents Omega from doing whatever he was thinking about doing with the table, so he just wallops Okada with big knees and a couple of hammer fists to the back.

Sure, it looks like it hurt like hell, but it's probably only the fourth or fifth worst thing that happened to Okada's skull throughout the bout.

Loud "OKADA!" chants echoing throughout the Dome. Okada takes a big back-first bump to a corner turnbuckle but makes Omega eat a big boot on the rebound. And another. Now Okada is elbowing the shit out of him. Okada with that old Ken Kennedy barrell roll thingy and a moonsault for a two-count. Okada has a huge gash on his back now. Okada hits Omega with a dropkick that sends him flying over the top rope and spiraling to the outside. Omega teases putting Okada through the table with his finisher, but he snakes his way out. Omega lands some stiff knife-edge chops, bounces off the rope and - of course - gets back body dropped a good 10 feet in the air before crashing through the anorexic IKEA furniture. The Young Bucks tend to Omega, but Okada says "fuck that" (probably in Japanese, though) grabs Omega and rolls him back into the ring. Omega eats a HUGE missile dropkick, but it's only good for a two. Corino lets the audience know that submission move he couldn't remember 15 minutes ago is called "Red Ink," if it was really bothering you that much. Okada with an elbow drop and a SUPER DUPER DRAMATIC CAMERA PAN OUT SHOT to let you know shit is about to get all kinds of real in this motherfucker.

Okada signals for his finisher, the Rainmaker (basically, a fat-assed short armed clothesline his opponents sell by doing 45 flips before falling down.) Omega counters and rams his head into Okada's back in the corner. He acts like he threw his back out trying to pick Okada up. Omega with some hard slaps and Okada fires back with some elbows that knock Omega off the top rope. Omega keeps clobbering him on the back and he KILLS THAT NIGGA' DEAD with a belly to back off the top rope that sends Okada crashing to the mat head first from about 10 feet in the air. And it's only worth a two count, if you can believe it.

Omega with a funky one-legged neckbreaker thingy. Okada retaliates with a high angle German suplex. Omega with a jumping knee to the face, and Okada hits a beautiful dropkick on the rebound. Okada whiffs on his finisher and Okada lands a reverse hurricanrana, dropping the champ on the top of his fuckin' head for about the sixth or seventh time in this match. He adds to the inevitable CTE damage with a stiff running knee to Okada's noggin. Omega looking for his finisher, but Okada reverses and tombstone piledrives that motherfucker. The crowd is MOLTEN at this point. OKADA LANDS THE RAINMAKER! But it's only a two. Omega is on his knees, throwing pillow-heavy punches at his foe. Another dropkick sends Omega flying 10 feet across the ring. Omega reverses another tombstone attempt into a package piledriver, but it's only a two count. Both men on their knees, trading winded elbow shots and slaps. "This is pro wrestling," Kelly says. Both men back on their feet. The crowd is shouting every time a shot lands. They do a brief homage to the old PRIDE Takayama/Frye slugfest and Omega lands a German suplex/running knee combo for a two count. Omega with another knee shot and yet another One Winged Angel attempt. Okada reverses it and lands another Rainmaker, but Omega is right back up, kicking the shit out of Okada's face. Okada's still holding onto Omega's arm though, and eventually, he murder-death-kills him with a third Rainmaker. Now it's time for a million billion feigned finisher reversals. Omega hits a dropkick and a GHASTLY knee to Okada's face. Okada counters the OWA again and lands a twirling Tombstone and one more Rainmaker, and THAT's what gets him the three count.

Happy Japanese fans with Yen throw towels jump for joy while women openly weep in the stands. Both men are temporarily laid out while Okada's music plays. Okada has his arm raised and immediately falls down. Omega rolls out of the ring and stumbles around a bit. Okada gets back up and has the IWGP title wrapped around his waist. In the post-bout interview, he says some stuff in Japanese - not quite sure what, to be honest, but if I know the Japanese the way I think I know 'em, he probably wasn't using the airtime to apologize for killing more people than the Nazis. And, as they say in Italy and Spain, that's all she wrote, folks.

Okada's shameless attempts to net a toothpaste sponsorship, however, has to be worth at least a 1/4 * demerit.

As Mr. T is oft fond of spouting, I pity the fool who thinks he's going to top this one in 2017. The same way Okada/Tanahashi at WK 10 set a standard no other match in 2016 could reach just four days into the new year, pretty much every match that comes down the pipes in '17 is going to be judged by the insanely high bar these two competitors set. It's definitely a MOTY candidate, and if we see anybody anywhere put on a better 'rasslin match then this one over the next 300-something days, we truly are some lucky motherfuckers. 

Alright, so there's no denying that Okada/Omega is one of the best matches of the decade, but is it really the kind of bout that ought to be bandied about as the single greatest of all time

From my stance, this thing is a SOLID [****3/4] match, teetering on the edge of being a legit [*****] effort. Of course, time is the greatest gage of quality out there, so I'll have to rewatch this thing around July to see if it still razzle dazzles me the same way it did just a couple of days after watching it en vivo on the livestre ... I mean, through the official New Japan World app, available for now for Android! I might change my mind on this one, but just initially, I STILL think last year's WK10 main event was the better of the two. Indeed, I might even consider that AWESOME Cena/Styles headliner from SummerSlam a superior outing, but like I said - give it time, young grasshopper, give it time

Of course it's a great, great, GREAT match, but Dave Meltzer must've been high on bath salts when he said this was a contender for GOAT. Uh, aren't we still mesmerized by the great Flair/Steamboat trilogy from '89, D.M.? Hell, for that matter, there's a ton of shit from Japan and Mexico older than that that still holds up absurdly well, like the MS-1/Sangre Chicana hair versus hair bout from '84 and the Maeda and Fujinami shit from '86. Of course, me being the '90s All-Japan mark I am, if I was pressed to pick the best of all-time, I can check off about 25 permutations of Kawada/Misawa/Kobashi that I believe beats the pants off Omega/Okada. Sure, 01/04/17 is absolutely tremendous, but in my books, it ain't even close to capturing the magic of 06/03/94. And for the record? I'm still torn between picking that absurd L.A. Park/El Mesias bout from 2010 and that goddamn masterful Ishikawa/Suzuki vs. Ikeda/Super Tiger II BattlArts bout from 2011 as this decade's best, if you were wonderin'.

So yes, if you consider yourself anything even remotely resembling a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to see Omega/Okada by any means necessary because this shit really is outstanding. It's definitely an early frontrunner for 2017 MOTY, but for those of you expecting something that makes Tsuruta/Tenryu look like a throwaway Sunday Night Heat Crash Holly match from 2001? Eh, it's good, but I don't reckon it's AS good as the dire, desperate Internet hordes have convinced themselves it is.

1 comment:

  1. "Nirvana shirt in the process. Omega body slams Okada on the edge of the mat (shit, why don't we see that spot more often?"

    Because genius, that is the hardest part of the ring since it's where steel beams meet each other. You can get seriously hurt rather easily.


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