Editorials NJPW

I Grew Wings

Photo Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling

As I type this at 6:00 PM EST on a Tuesday evening, it’s dawned on me I haven’t watched any wrestling in two days. Now, for a lot of people that’s not a big deal, and certainly not something worth writing about. But for me, someone that finds time to watch at least some kind of wrestling every day, I don’t have these kind of “dry spells” often. It’s not as if I don’t have stuff to watch. Recent uploads from OTT, ATTACK!, BJW, and AJPW are all on queue. It’s not like I’m sick or bored of wrestling (although I will admit E3 does have your boy amped more for video games right now). Work isn’t super stressful at the moment either so my free time isn’t being cut down. So, what’s going on with me? Well, since around 8:30 AM EST last Sunday, I haven’t been sure what to do after watching what I may consider to be the best match I’ve seen so far in my twenty years on Earth, in Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada II from New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Dominion show.

After their clash at Wrestle Kingdom 11, I said multiple times that if anything beat that match as my MOTY in 2017, it would have to be literally THE greatest match I’ve ever laid eyes on. I think their WK11 encounter is no worse than a top 5 all time level match for me. But I’ll be the very first one to admit that is all based on emotion. Whether it be seeing someone I admire succeed, telling a story that strikes all the right chords for me, or just an overall unforgettable viewing experience, when I love something that much to put it on a pedestal like that, there’s always strong emotions behind it. That night on January 4th, 2017, I won’t ever forget audibly begging Omega to get up and keep fighting. Talking to the TV as if from my home in Maryland that Kenny would hear it all the way in Tokyo, heed my words and somehow, someway, put away Okada. I won’t ever forget jumping up out of my chair, early in the morning, and punching the air when Omega hit a dropkick and a Rainmaker knee, giving me one more sliver of hope that it might actually happen. That this damn near 10 year journey of Omega following his dreams and risking it all by committing to Japan would get the ultimate validation.

It didn’t happen. He didn’t win. But I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t disappointed in the outcome. I didn’t go write something about how Omega should have won because in reality, he put on such a stellar performance and was booked so strongly that it didn’t even matter that he lost. He was now established as not just some stepping stone for Okada. He was now his equal, and in some ways, the generational rival Okada has needed.

I wrote this about the story of Okada/Omega I from WK11

“I’ve read people say this match had no story and while it’s not Okada/Tanahashi, it’s not a blood feud, and there was no clear limb focused story, there’s still a story there for me and that comes from caring about Omega’s path to get to this point. This is the biggest match of Omega’s life. The road Omega took to stardom is far from a conventional one and the fact that he is even in the position he is in right now is pretty insane when you think about it. He’s facing Okada, who for the last 5 years has been the most pushed commodity in the company. A win for Omega on this stage meant a win for the guy who bet on himself. The guy who carved his own niche. The guy who through sheer force of will made himself a star. It comes down to the fact that I have an emotional attachment to Omega. If you can’t stand the guy, I get it. A lot of the shit he does infuriates people. But l’ll always have an admiration for the guy that makes his own way. That’s the key to caring about the match or story to me: How much do you care that Omega made it this far and how much do you care if he actually pulls off a career changing win?”

As I look back on that excerpt from a post I wrote on PWO two days after WK11, it made me smile that I think this is even more true the second time around at Dominion. Leading up to this match I was even more nervous, even more excited than I was for the Dome, which is saying something because my nerves going in to that show were through the roof. At WK11 I badly wanted Kenny to win. At Dominion I NEEDED it but deep down I knew it wouldn’t happen. On what may be the second and last ever episode of WWW Roundup, Trask and I even both predicted a draw. But that didn’t stop me from having hope that Omega could win. One night, last week in our team group chat, a few of us were talking about this match for what could have been the 108th time. In previous conversations about what might happen at Dominion, the future of Kenny Omega and where he will be next year always seemed to come up. But on this day, five days away from Dominion, Liam, who’s probably an ever bigger Omega fan than me and is even more shaken up by the prospects Omega possibly signing to WWE said:

“I need to ignore the future of what may or may not happen, and just live in the moment and be happy that my favourite wrestler might win the top title in my favourite company”

As fans of any kind of sport or entertainment, we don’t get these moments often. We all like to watch something when it’s good. We all have teams, athletes, performers, actors, musicians, etc, we think are great and enjoy watching. But a lot of us have that ONE person, ONE  team, that you want to see succeed the most because of what they mean to you. Just like Liam, I put everything else aside and reminded myself that my favorite wrestler is facing another one of my favorite wrestlers in a rematch of one of my favorite matches ever, in what might be my favorite city for wrestling events to be in, in a company that for the last few years has presented some of my favorite matches ever. We don’t get these moments often. Moments like watching matches with my younger brother, who isn’t the biggest wrestling fan anymore, and us sharing these times of joy and escape in wrestling. Moments where it’s almost too good to be true. Moments as any kind of fan where you want to stop time, take a picture, and frame what is making you so happy, feel so rewarded and hang it up on your wall. Because you know that if or when you go back and watch it again, it won’t be the same. You may not get that same first watch magic, but remembering how you felt that day can be just as sweet.

On the morning of Sunday, June 11th, 2017, I watched a match that I with no hesitation or doubt call a masterpiece. I watched a match that told a story of growth, heart, will power, camaraderie, and even your best shot not being enough. A story of an untouchable heir to a throne, with a poise and confidence to back up everything said about him, being taken to a limit his rival of four years never took him to. We saw these two learn from their last match, try different attacks, counter things they got hit with before, work with more ferocity, and have to fight back harder to not let history repeat itself, even if neither of them wound up victorious. Kenny finally hits Okada with the One Winged Angel, but Okada doesn’t even kick out. He just barely gets his foot on the rope in time. Still protecting the One Winged Angel as death and continued the theme from WK11 of “what would have happened if Kenny hit it?” Now it’s “what would have happened if Okada wasn’t so close to the rope?”

I predicted a draw. I was even as vain to predict what the finish would be. While the draw happened they took me on a ride vastly different than the roller coaster I was expecting. The turns were more jarring. The momentum swings whipped me even harder. I bit on the drops, thinking this would be the end of the ride, only for it to keep going. And yeah, I reached the destination I expected, but I believed multiple times that somehow either guy was going to get the win, and hopefully it would have been Kenny Omega. I begged for Kenny to fight back and find someway to create space and pull out the victory. I stood up and started pacing back and forth when Bullet Club came out, scared that Kenny’s big moment could be soiled by the same interference AJ Styles had in his IWGP title matches. I wanted to pull my hair out when Cody and The Young Bucks argued about throwing in the towel. And I jumped when Kenny finally came to, dropped Okada on his head, took the towel, and wiped himself off with it in complete defiance. My jaw dropped when after Kenny starts to get rolling, Okada cut him off with a deadly dropkick, then wiped himself off with that same towel. Even the little things had me interested. The Bucks feeling like genuine friends who wanted to see their pal win, constantly shouting words of encouragement from ringside. Cody feeling a little bit more distant than the rest of the group when Omega started to come back, planting that maybe there were some ulterior motives to why Cody wanted to so badly throw in the towel. To the image that will stick with people for a long time when they talk about this match, Okada whiffing a Rainmaker, not because Kenny ducked, but because he collapses from exhaustion and all the damage he had already taken.

I think both guys turned in better performances in this match than they did at WK11. Okada was simply incredible cutting Omega off when he started gaining steam. Each cut off dropkick was more vicious and heart wrenching than the last. Omega’s resilience and fire was more infectious than ever, with Osaka-jō starting to be fully behind him. And as time expired, and both men are laying on the mat, exhausted with nothing left to give, I felt pride. Yeah, I wanted Omega to win again, but the pride I felt there was overwhelming. Seeing them create magic once again made me proud of both guys, but more a sense of pride in that neither of them rested on their laurels. They went out there and did something that in 2017, especially in mainstream wrestling rarely happens anymore. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but there’s enough there that feels unique to both those guys, to New Japan, and to the wrestling landscape in 2017 as a whole that doesn’t make it feel trite. There’s the added layer of people constantly saying this year “why have these New Japan main events been going so long?” You finally got your answer.

Most of all I’m proud to be a Kenny Omega fan. Since finding out about him in 2012, I’ve watched pretty much everything of him out there I can find. And while he’s an amazing performer and I’m glad he’s now applying his craft on an even bigger platform, I’m proud at how far he’s came. From quitting WWE, to having a very promising US indie career in front of him, but opting to follow his dream and go to Japan. To becoming an undebatable huge name in DDT. To accomplishing all there was to accomplish in DDT and making the jump full time to New Japan. To biding his time as a junior with a run that a lot of people hated, to taking over Bullet Club and over the course of the last year, showing the world how great he can truly be, while still being true to his goofy personality. Before Dominion started, I wondered if Kenny Omega was the first person to main event in the Tokyo Dome, Nippon Budokan, Ryogoku Kokugikan, and Osaka-jō Hall. While he wasn’t, Brock kindly researched and found that he’s the 13th person ever to do that. Who are the other 12? Look for yourself.

 

I’ll be honest, I wrote this because I was feeling sad. WWW Roundup won’t be happening anymore. I wanted it to be regular, to be consistent, that wasn’t going to be able to work out. I was also sad that I wasn’t going to be able to review Dominion and talk about this thing I adore so much. It sucks when you’re so ready to just open up but the place you were going to do it on won’t be coming back. But writing this made me feel better. The feelings rushing back of that Sunday morning as I type away is therapeutic. And while it isn’t something that will heal all wounds, it’s comforting to know that if things aren’t always the brightest, I’ll always have the memories of that Sunday morning  on June 11th, 2017, to remind me that moments like that can help put my mind at ease.

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