Photo credit: NJPW/TV Asahi
“…You may never see a better wrestling match than we just witnessed…” -Jim Ross
As you may have heard, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada headlined NJPW’s January 4 supershow, Wrestle Kingdom 11, with a match being heralded as one of the greatest of all-time.The match, which has received praise from all corners of the wrestling world, makes its debut on United States television tonight as NJPW on AXS TV kicks off their newest season with the monumental main event.
Over the next four weeks, NJPW on AXS TV will feature the very best from the NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 show including the semi-main event of Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi as well as Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata and Hiromu Takahashi vs. KUSHIDA. A full schedule of NJPW on AXS TV’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 coverage can be found at the bottom of this post.
But for now, let’s stick with the task at hand: Okada vs. Omega.
Really, the only choice for matches to debut the new season with, this all-timer was shown in its entirety with only a few spots for commercial breaks. There had been some worry about what clipping could do to a match with such reverence, but fear not, you won’t miss a second of Okada vs. Omega if this is your first viewing.
For those new to NJPW on AXS TV, former WWE lead announcer Jim Ross and TNA superstar Josh Barnett (spoiler: it’s been a weird week) are your commentary team. The duo began a few seasons ago quite rough, in particular, Ross, who needed time to familiarize himself with the New Japan product. As the last season progressed, you could hear Ross noticeably more comfortable with the names, the moves and the stories surrounding the company. Still, despite familiarity, at times Ross seemed lethargic and uninterested with the match presented in front of him.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
Ross was far more energetic than he was at any point over the last season and seemed geniunelly interested in the background of the match and everything that led into it. Ross is a big match announcer. That’s what he lives for and it shows, there may not be a better big time, main event announcer in the world than Good Ol’ JR.
Tonight, that classic Ross, the one that’s called some of the biggest moments in pro wrestling history, was out in full force. His excitement for the match was palpable throughout. Both men (Ross & Barnett) obviously went to extra lengths in researching the background of this match as at no point did either lose sight of important match elements.
Ross was quick to point out Omega’s attack and subsequent One-Winged Angel through the table on the Road to Tokyo Dome, adding much-need context for those unaware of the events leading to the match. Barnett was also quick to point out the invincibility of Omega as of late and how his One-Winged Angel has never been kicked out — this became relevant later in the match when Okada was able to squirm out of the finishing move multiple times. Again, for hardcore NJPW fans, that’s not a new revelation but first-time viewers gain a multitude of background to add more context to what they’re seeing.
Both Ross and Barnett took time at the outset of the match to recap both men’s years: Okada becoming the face of the promotion and Omega emerging from the junior heavyweight ranks. Given the quick turnaround for this episode compared to prior seasons of NJPW on AXS TV, I really do have to hand it to both Barnett and Ross for the amount of research and context they were able to add to this match.
Even as a hardcore fan, I was more drawn into each and every move because they were always adding extra importance and relevance to every movement. It certainly made the beginning portion of the match—which some considered mediocre on initial viewing—seem far more significant, than on initial viewing.
The match itself, I mean, what can you say? Our very own Joe Lanza gave it *****. Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer went with ****** (no, that’s not a typo, he broke his own five-point scale for this match). It’s one of the greatest wrestling matches ever and an absolute spectacle in every sense of the word. Fans were openly weeping when it was over and Ross & Barnett could barely contain their adulation when it was over.
My one minor complaint with the editing of the match: they took a commercial break after Kenny Omega’s infamous table bump.
This took me out of one of the match’s most important moments and be the time they came back from the break, it really felt like that moment had came and went and we were ready for the next progression of the match. First time viewers, particularly those use to WWE production, will probably have a different take on the commercial break and instead want to wait through the ads to see if Omega is still alive and how he survived the devastating fall.
One of NJPW on AXS TV’s greatest attributes is the subtitling of promos and while we didn’t get prolonged post-match promos like we likely would have with a shorter match, we got a quick promo from Okada in-ring after his victory:
“I’d like to say three things. Number one: Kenny. I have to say it, you are the strongest foreign wrestler in NJPW history. Number two: this year’s Wrestle Kingdom has lots of different wrestlers from last year’s. However seeing this many people come out to watch, I will keep new japan exciting in 2017. Don’t take your eyes off me. Number three: nothing in particular. (laughs!) I want to say something though I’m carrying njpw on my shoulders. It is a very heavy burden, but I am carrying it. Even so I can carry more, I’m going to make NJPW bigger than ever! As long as I’m carrying NJPW, I’m going to make it rain!”
Unfortunately, we did not get a post-match promo from Kenny Omega. This could be a results of time running out as the match itself took up all but the final few minutes of AXS TV’s air time or there’s more at hand with Omega’s break from Japan.
Whether you’re a first-time viewer of this match or this is your 2nd or 3rd rewatch, you won’t waste a minute watching this episode. Ross and Barnett were in rare form and added so much more to the match than I had even anticipated. Ross, in particular, rose to the occasion big time and the level of research and context added to the match tremendously.
NJPW on AXS TV’s premiere of New Japan Pro Wrestling Wrestle Kingdom 11 is Friday, January 13 at 8:00 p.m. EST. The season kicks off, of course, with Omega vs. Okada and follows with January 20’s airing of Naito vs. Tanahashi and Guerillas of Destiny vs. CHAOS vs. Great Bash Heel.
January 27 sees Shibata vs. Goto and David Finlay, Ricochet & Satoshi Kojima vs. Los Ingobernable de Japon vs. Bullet Club vs. CHAOS.
Finally, February 3 has Cody vs. Juice Robinson, The Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice and KUSHIDA vs. Takahashi. For more information on NJPW on AXS TV.