For the seventh time, I booted up my laptop to watch the final 46 minutes and 45 seconds of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 11. Not to take away from the 10 bouts prior, which I did enjoy, but it was January 4th’s main event — the longest in the history of annual the Tokyo Dome show — that detached my jaw from my body.
This time, I chose to watch it at The Dude’s.
The Dude is a father figure of sorts; one of my best friend’s father who is just as nocturnal as I am and is happy to share his beer. At 3 a.m., Family Guy was on his TV, only to have the show’s image blurred by the Christmas tree lights that’ll shine until June.
“Do you want to watch the greatest professional wrestling match of all time,” I asked.
“Going to pull up some old-school shit,” he inquired.
“Nope. I’m going to pull something up from yesterday morning.”
The Dude knew nothing of New Japan, Wrestle Kingdom, or the characters in the epic showdown that broke famed journalist Dave Meltzer’s rating scale: Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega.
Like myself at times, The Dude found professional wrestling to be stale: same shit, different outfit. He had seen Raw over the years, knew some of the key storylines, but bailed like many who couldn’t stand to see a guy in jean shorts get pushed to the moon. There were simply better things on TV for him to enjoy. When the choice is Family Guy reruns or Roman Reigns on a Monday night, I get his choice. But upon seeing Omega’s incredible entrance and the Okada dollars raining down for the IWGP Heavyweight Champion during his walk down the stage, The Dude opted to mute the TV.
From the slow build, we could easily see that these two competitors were evenly matched, and even though I knew the outcome, the opening minutes kept me guessing. Even after a seventh time seeing it.
“What’s their deal,” The Dude asked.
I described the gravity of the match.
“The company’s most coveted title is on the line and both wrestlers are the face of their respective groups,” I explained over a ice-cold Budweiser. “Omega is the leader of The Bullet Club. Okada is the face of Chaos. Whoever walks out with the belt is basically ‘The Man’ and their group is by extension.”
After an opening period of trading blows, holds, and pins, Omega finally found an opening for the kill shot: his One-Winged Angel. Held on Omega’s shoulders, Okada escaped, only to be spit in the face by his challenger. It was at this moment that the match felt real and that the title truly held value outside of being a perceived prop in a subculture of theater. It made me cast away the truths about professional wrestling: that both men are probably friends in real life and that the outcome was planned. While I never was given a reason to believe Santa was real after learning the truth, Okada and Omega suspended what I knew to be fact.
“Oh shit,” The Dude said. “It’s on.”
The disrespect by Omega for the four-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion set the tone for the rest of the match and solidified both mens’ roles. Even The Dude could tell who the Face and Heel were and was able to pledge his allegiance accordingly.
It was Okada who started to bend the rules, though, slamming Omega into the guard rail and bringing out a table that wouldn’t be used for 16 minutes later, which was perfect. Like a professor at Temple University once taught me, “If you show a lamp in the beginning, it has to have big meaning later in the story.”
When Omega got sent crashing through the table and Okada began to attack his opponent’s lower back, it gave greater meaning to Omega’s resurgence after the fact. His ability to persevere and follow up later in the match with quick slams and devastating knees made Omega seem indestructible considering the damage done by Okada to his back. The same staying power could be seen with Okada, who fought through a Missile Dropkick to his head and a heart-stopping Dragon Suplex off the top rope to prove himself as a fighting champion.
In the end, all the knees in the world to Okada’s head would not yield Omega the title in his first match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Omega’s angel was wingless and Okada’s final rainmaker preserved his reign.
The Dude lit up a cigarette, cracked another beer, and shared his final thoughts on the first match he watched start to finish in many years.
“If someone asks what match they should watch to learn about wrestling, show them that.”
I will abide.
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