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Scott Talks Wrestling: Okada v. Omega

Scott Talks Wrestling: Okada v. Omega published on No Comments on Scott Talks Wrestling: Okada v. Omega

I finally watched Wrestle Kingdom XI, AKA the Japanese WrestleMania. So, I want to take a second to talk about Kazuchika Okada versus Kenny Omega since we likely won’t get the chance to talk about it on the Title Hunt podcast. It has a lot of cultural implications that really could affect the way that stories are told in the ring. To explain what I mean, I briefly need to talk about a man named Dave Meltzer.

Dave Meltzer runs the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which has been in the business of reviewing and analyzing wrestling for something like thirty five years. To casual fans he’s probably most recognizable because he’s given almost every wrestling match since the 80s a star rating out of five. The ratings are entirely subjective, but in wrestling communities around the world many people take what he says as a sort of gospel. In 34 years, Dave has given out eighty or so five star match ratings—that might sound like a lot, but remember that this man has rated several thousand matches over the course of his career. Matches that receive a five-star rating typically only come once or twice a year, and occasionally there will be a drought where no matches meet his criteria for a whole year.

Okada v. Omega was a six star match.

This is nearly unprecedented, having happened only twice before this in thirty-something years, with the other two being significantly older. Given that WKXI just happened, I felt I owed it to myself to check out what all the hubbub was about. Of course, I promptly waited ten weeks to get around to doing that, but listen, it’s my article, I’ll say what I want.

I’ll say this: Dave’s criteria and my own don’t always gel. For one thing, as a younger wrestling fan, I tend to value big singular moments (called “spots”) in a match moreso than older fans, who place more emphasis on smooth storytelling and technical acumen. This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate technical wrestling, instead it’s saying that older fans see spots as a negative whereas for me they are a positive.

Dave also tends to prefer longer matches; the longer the better. On this point I agree with him conditionally, that condition being that the action stay consistent throughout. If a match is an hour long, Dave tends to hold it in higher esteem regardless, whereas if a match is an hour long but it only really goes for like half an hour I tend to get bored. Dave also tends to prefer matches that build very slowly to an intense ending climax.

Okada v. Omega is:

  • About an hour long
  • A really slow burn
  • A good mix of coherent storytelling and absurd spots
  • Stiff as hell

Stiffness in wrestling is a gradient between something that looks obviously like a fake attack and something that is actually just a regular attack. So, in America, for example, our wrestling is not very stiff because we emphasize safety over realism. In Japan they’ll just straight-up kick your head off. It’s barely even a wrestling match, you’ll just get punted right in the fucking teeth. Dave also prefers this.

Okada v. Omega truly is a gorgeous match, and it really is fascinating to watch two of the best in the world do the thing that they’re amazing at. Omega, despite being business in the front and party in the back, cuts an intimidating figure as the opportunist, calculating his every move in the hope of defeating the more passion-driven Okada. The announcers spend their time trying to sell me on the fact that Omega only has one chance to hit his finishing maneuver before Okada will have him figured out and the opportunity will be lost. Okada, on the other hand, hits finishing move after finishing move in the hope that one of them will be the one to knock Kenny out. The difference in their styles and the way that the story is crafted as a result of that clash is apparent in their movements rather than any build-up prior to this match.

As the match goes on both men become increasingly tired and desperate. You start to think that it’s going to be over any second now. And then you check the progress bar on the video and you realize that there’s still twenty-five minutes of match left. And oh man.

The front half of this match is a little slow, I will admit. With a few exceptions, the men are fairly clearly conserving their energy for the long haul. But the last twenty minutes of this match is off the fucking chain. And the groundwork done in storytelling in the first half allows it to all make sense: Like I said, both men are getting increasingly tired and desperate. They start thinking less. They start busting out bigger and badder moves because they know that they’re equally matched. Omega tries Okada’s finisher and it doesn’t work. He tries his own move and gets nowhere. Okada keeps hitting clothesline after clothesline while Omega keeps trying to knee Okada so hard that his head pops off like a fucking Pez dispenser. The match is truly beautiful.

As all good things in wrestling go, the WWE is very likely going to ignore it, but they shouldn’t. Forget for a second that watching someone get dropkicked in the back of the head is both terrifying and awesome, the impact that this match will have five or ten years from now is in its storytelling. I don’t know anything about Kenny Omega, and I know less about Kazuchika Okada. Omega came out to the match to the theme song from Terminator. I’m not invested in these men either way. The stakes of the match were for things I didn’t care about. What makes Okada v. Omega special was their ability to tell a coherent story just in the motion and pace of the match. No words, no build-up. By the end I was invested. I was upset that Okada won. Kenny was my boy. His finishing move is a Final Fantasy 7 reference. He had that calculating “intelligent wrestler” mindset that I love, and it felt like he got bowled over by endurance and stick-to-it-iveness rather than a brain. That upset me. It upset me! I don’t give a shit about these people and I was upset when the match was over.

I encourage anybody who gives a shit to go watch it. It really is something special.

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