New Japan Pro Wrestling kicked in the door of 2017 with Wrestle Kingdom 11, an action packed wrestling event of the highest quality executed to perfection by every talent showcased on the card. It was the main event however that would bring down the house, setting the standard for not just the company or its biggest show but for professional wrestling as a whole going forward in 2017 after what some are calling the greatest match they have ever seen.
If you haven’t seen it sign up for NJPW World, go on YouTube or DailyMotion and find it. If you have AXS TV on your cable or satellite provider Wrestle Kingdom 11 will begin airing with this match featuring commentary by Jim Ross on January 13th at 8PM with a variety of replays to follow.
Having finally vanquished his heated rival Tanahashi the year prior and forcibly attaining his role as the unquestioned face and “new ace” of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Kazuchika Okada would compile an impressive list of victories in great match after great match throughout 2016, as he carried the company and the championship for most of the year. Though facing a new opponent in the form of Kenny Omega, Okada would find himself in a familiar position at Wrestle Kingdom 11, fighting once again not only to retain his title but to reinforce his position as the leader of New Japan as it continues its global expansion.
Kenny Omega sought to cap off a year long journey in which he transitioned from junior to heavyweight while racking up wins against top talent like Tanahashi and Naito in stellar matches. This new career path would see him become the first North American to win the fabled G1 Climax tournament and secure a spot in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11. His main event title match with Okada in the Tokyo Dome was the last hurdle to overcome before Omega could take his place as not only IWGP Heavyweight Champion or the international face of New Japan Pro Wrestling, but as the legitimate legend he already believed himself to be.
From the stylized entrances to the closing bell everything about the match was intense. Though the title was on the line and the match certainly served to elevate its prestige following the bout, it didn’t feel like a title match. Closing what was already a fantastic show that kept the momentum building bout after bout, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega clashed in New Japan’s biggest spotlight as if their lives were on the line (and at times that very much appeared to be the case) as they attempted to prove to themselves, to the world and to each other that they were the best that the professional wrestling world has to offer.
The moves, the psychology and the storytelling were on a level very few have ever seen before. Each man’s technical prowess and toughness undeniable as they channeled their totality of career experience in the squared circle. They would unleash a bevy of bone rattling strikes and jaw dropping maneuvers as they constructed the crown jewel to Wrestle Kingdom.
If it had ended after 22 minutes it would have been a respectable main event to close out Wrestle Kingdom 11 but it didn’t. The match would last another grueling 24 minutes and never lose an ounce of intrigue, intensity or excitement…in fact it would continue to up the ante to the amazement and adulation of the fans in the Tokyo Dome and the worldwide audience streaming it. Back and forth action, tables and top rope insanity were all intricately woven into the fabric of this thrilling story between two men who with this match demanded their inclusion in not only the discussion of best in the world, but best match of all time. The drama heightened in the closing moments as Omega would rally from Okada’s best shots continually trying to hit his finishing move, “the One-Winged Angel”, only to be denied and countered again and again until Okada was finally able to keep him down and earn an incredible and surprising victory.
Following this instant classic that was given an unprecedented 6 star rating by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, Kenny Omega would leave the world wondering about his next move posting several tweets that he was “stepping away from Japan” to make a decision on his future. Several online reports have suggested that his contract with New Japan expires on January 31st, the day on which SmackDown Live will air following the Royal Rumble. Could he be jumping to WWE?
His stock has never been higher after his G1 victory and now this incredible match with Okada. He’s now wrestled the three biggest stars in the company (Tanahashi, Naito and Okada) in a year in high profile matches and come up short in chasing the heavyweight title in the main event of their biggest show, so if he was scheduled to slide back down the card perhaps that would affect his decision to cash out now and join WWE. AJ Styles and Nakamura have had excellent runs in WWE thus far and even his old tag team partner Kota Ibushi had a fantastic showing in the Cruiserweight Classic as well as several other appearances on NXT.
It is also curious to note that not a single match for either of New Japan’s “New Beginning” events in February contains any member of Bullet Club. With the current storyline featuring the Suzuki-Gun faction could the absence of the Bullet Club be a precursor to a fan favorite turn for the notorious faction? Does Kenny Omega continue as their leader? If not, would Cody Rhodes assume that mantle? His debut and rumors of Omega’s departure occurring at roughly the same time may be more than coincidence, leaving New Japan scrambling as to what to do with the Bullet Club, having already seen their domestic popularity be eclipsed by Los Ingobernables de Japon.
The speculation on the future of Kenny Omega adds excitement to an already stacked month kicking off 2017 for wrestling fans. The fact is Okada and Omega went out in front of the world and showed off exactly what is cool and exciting about professional wrestling. They bulldozed language and cultural barriers by telling an incredible story and captivating a worldwide audience with unique and stunning athleticism. The unwavering belief in their own abilities and the pride and passion for their craft shined through in what was nothing short of a 46 minute “F you, follow that” to the entire world.
Fair or unfair, this is the match every high profile bout this year is going to be compared to. So the question isn’t whether or not it’s the “best match of all time”, the real question is: “What, if anything, in 2017 is going to be able to top it?”