Seven Star Anniversary: Revisiting the Highest Rated Wrestling Match Ever-Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada

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Omega and Okada Dominion 2018
Credit: NJPW

Dave Meltzer‘s 5-star rating system has often been controversial and certainly a point of contention amongst fans. There are primarily three camps of people, those who accept Meltzer’s ratings as gospel, those who deny them, citing favorability issues (“matches in the Tokyo Dome seem to automatically get extra stars…,” “Meltzer hates WWE and only likes NJPW…,” etc.) and those who fall in the middle, acknowledging the ratings but never putting much stock in them.

No matter what camp you fall into, however, whether you accept or decry Meltzer’s stars or simply don’t give them a second thought, when said ratings come out, people are always talking about them. This was, of course, no exception, when on June 14th, 2018, Dave Meltzer shattered his own ratings scale when he awarded the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship bout between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada from New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s Dominion event, held on June 9th, a record seven stars.

Now, Dave Meltzer had broken his scale before, the first time being in 1989, when he awarded the match between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat from World Championship Wrestling, a then-record six stars. In 1994, he equaled that rating for the first time, giving the match between Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada from the All Japan Pro Wrestling Budokan Hall Show (Jun ’94) six stars as well. For 13+ years that record stood, with Meltzer sticking strictly to his five-star scale. But then, Kenny Omega, who was nicknamed, “The Best Bout Machine,” due to his winning the Japan Indie Awards “Best Bout Award” on three separate occasions, put on a dazzling classic with Kazuchika Okada in his first IWGP title challenge, at Wrestling Kingdom XI in 2017. Meltzer pulled out the bag of stars and for the first time since AJPW Budokan Hall, found more than five, as the match, which later finished tops in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (WON) Awards for “Match of the Year” (MOTY), received six stars. Dave Meltzer, at the time, was quoted as saying that the two “may have put on the greatest match in pro wrestling history,” and that it was the best match he had ever seen.

Okada and Omega had reached the pinnacle but their rivalry was only just beginning and so too was the ability to dazzle audiences with what would come next. The two megastars set a new bar of excellence at Dominion 2017, as Okada defended his belt yet again against Omega in a match that set a new star record, 6.25. The match, which ended in a 60-minute time limit draw, finished as the runner-up to their Wrestle Kingdom bout, in the WON MOTY rankings. The two would go on to record another six-star classic a few months later (which finished fifth in the MOTY rankings) during the G1 Climax, an event which has seen 12 five-star or higher matches in the last six years.

The trilogy between the two wrestlers, both of whom were considered among the best in the world, seemed to have reached its final conclusion at the G1 as while Omega was finally able to defeat Okada after two unsuccessful tries, he couldn’t win the briefcase to ensure he’d be able to challenge the champion at Wrestle Kingdom XII. But the score was yet to be settled, both men having won a match. A deciding rubber match, one that would shatter all expectations of what a pro wrestling bout could be, was yet to come.

Briefly dropping out of the title picture, Omega became the first winner of the IWGP United States Championship, defending it through the end of January, when he lost the belt to Jay White. After a brief reunion with Golden Lovers partner, Kota Ibushi, Omega returned to the world title scene where Okada, ever the dominant champion (having held the title a record 720 days), was waiting. And on June 9th, 2018, in a no time-limit, best two-out-of-three falls bout, Omega and Okada wrestled their final singles match with Omega coming out on top, capturing the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship for the first time, and becoming the first Canadian to ever hold the belt in the process. The match, a culmination of what had been the previous year’s WON Feud of the Year, received an astounding and astonishing seven stars.

“This match, held before an advanced sellout crowd of 11,832 paid at Osaka Jo Hall, was at a different level far more than for what took place over 69 minutes and 49 seconds, which just happened to be, in the opinion of an awful lot of people, the greatest pro wrestling match they had ever seen,” Meltzer said in WON (as edited by F4wonline). “Whether it was or it wasn’t that, as far as storytelling, emotion and drama in a match, it is inconceivable to me that there has been another match close to this level in modern times…When it had ended, my thought was that this was the greatest match I’ve ever seen. Not arguably, and not by a little big either. It was at a level far beyond when it came to emotion, storytelling, and attention to detail. It was almost astonishing watching it…But the biggest difference was I thought I would never see another match this good again. This was not some five-star match or six-star match.”

Following the match and more specifically Meltzer’s official rating release, both the supporters and detractors came out in full force. Many believed that Dave Meltzer had finally gone overboard. That after giving Okada and Omega six stars or better in each of their previous matches, that he finally made his scale almost obsolete. The idea of getting seven stars became a meme and almost became a joke, with wrestling fans often sarcastically commenting how random matches should get seven stars, even ones so obviously not at that caliber. Others argued the opposite. For years, Meltzer had been rating matches below the parameters of a 0-5 scale after all, so why was it so hard to believe one of the greatest matches ever, would break it the other way?

Sure Meltzer could have upped his ratings gradually, giving Omega and Okada 6.5 stars, but as noted above, he felt the match would never be topped. And at least, according to his ratings, that’s still the case one full year later. Omega/Okada continues to stand up as the highest rated match ever and one of the best wrestling matches of all-time and it’s not just Meltzer who thinks so. The bout, as well as the trilogy leading up, have been lauded amongst the greatest pro wrestling rivalries, by critics, journalists and fans alike. On Cagematch, where fans can rate wrestling matches based on their own scale of 1-10, 441 out of 482 votes gave the match the full 10. Overall, the match has an average rating of 9.83 (tied for the fourth highest rated match on the site).

Some comments include:

“Considering Kenny only had 6 months remaining in his contract, you had to wonder if NJPW would end Okada’s record-breaking title reign against a potential outsider. This uncertainty propelled a 65 minute 3-fall match between the world’s greatest wrestlers into a stratosphere never seen before, and their legendary performance destroyed match rating scales globally. This is an exceedingly rare gem where a match with such high expectations not only lives up to, but far exceeds the hype. 5+ out of 5, “the greatest match of all-time”.”

“This is one of the two best match that I have ever watched. I am still not sure which one I liked better, their first match or this one. Amazing from beginning till the end. For over an hour these two guys showed us the perfect story telling, the perfect wrestling. The story was that Omega couldn’t outwrestle Okada but he could outlast him. The first fall took over half an hour and Okada pin Omega without using the rain maker. The second fall started slow but picked up fast with Omega finally pinning Okada in a championship match. The third and final fall with both wrestlers completely exhausted especially Okada who hit the weakest rainmaker ever and even after hitting Omega with a perfect rainmaker couldn’t capitalize and thus with two One winged Angel, Omega finally ascends to the top of professional wrestling as he beats Okada for the IWGP Heavy weight Title. Absolutely amazing. *****. Dave is gonna go over his 5 stars rating again.”

“I never thought that WK11 would be topped, but these two went above and beyond to produce the greatest match of all time. In their previous matches, Okada was only ever hit by the OWA in the middle of the ring once, and that was after a gruelling G1 for Okada, so Omega had to do the one thing that no one else had managed to do – outlast Okada. Every move meant something, there were several callbacks to previous matches, the pace was absolutely perfect and each fall was done absolutely perfectly. There is no doubt in my mind that Okada’s title reign is the greatest of all time, and Omega has a lot to live up to, but if there’s anyone that can do it it’s him. (*****+)”

“10/10 does not do justice in my opinion. I was emotionally involved in this rivalry since match one and It is without a doubt the most invested and happy I have ever been about pro wrestling. It changed my perspective on the sport, reminded me that it is an art form, not always a competition. I told my loved one that I was afraid I would cry if Kenny lost, I still cried when he won. At the beginning of this story, I did not want to like Kenny Omega. He is the cool guy to like and I am a rebel in my tastes. Slowly but surely, by being real, honest, passionate and that damn good, he won my heart over and is my favorite, and the best, wrestler in the world. This was the greatest match of all time, no doubt.”

The word ‘greatest match of all time’ is thrown around too often Ive found. Typically, for me anyways, the greatest match is driven by how much its effected your interest in wrestling. The only two matches for me that I’d dare make the claim of GOAT up until now is Misawa vs Kawada 06/03/1994 and Angle vs Michaels WM 21. there are many top tier bouts out there, but as great as they all were (especially Okada vs Shibata and Kobashi vs Misawa 1/20/97) none had me questioning whether they were superior to those two matches that made me a hardcore fan and a lifelong lover of Pro Wrestling. This one does. This is a match that’s two years in the making. Both guys have an equally viable reason to come out victorious. Okada has juuuust broken the record for most successful defenses against lifelong rival Tanahashi and looks to continue in this greatest of reigns. Meanwhile Omega is obsessed with bringing NJPW to a higher place, obsessed with bringing more eyes to the company, and to do that he needs one thing. He needs the ultimate trophy of New Japan. The single most prestigious title in Pro Wrestling; The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. The match that follows is littered with call backs, insane spots, and an emphasis on endurance. This time it isn’t Omega ‘dodging’ the Rainmaker from sheer exhaustion, its Okada falling limp after hitting a weak one. This time it isn’t a matter of Omega hitting the one winged angel, its can he escape from Okada if he tries to quick pin him again (the answer ends up being yes), and if so can he follow up and finish things with the OWA (once more the answer is yes). There are countless moments in this match worth pointing out, like the V Trigger to Okada diving over the rails or the Tombstone on the apron, but this match isn’t about the spots, its all a matter of endurance and a final definitive exclamation point on this year and a half war for the heart of New Japan. *****++”

It had to take an incredible classic to break the scale in such a monster way and for the most part, fans seem to believe this match lived up to its ratings. Perhaps the only thing more divisive and more subjective than Meltzer’s ratings, is the use of the phrase, “best wrestling match of all-time.” That too was thrown around a lot and one year, continues to be the choice phrase many people use when describing this fantastic piece of art between Okada and Omega.

Looking back on the match one year later, it seems feelings on its greatness have not changed as many of the comments cited above came within the last few months even, showing the staying power this match still has. The storytelling, the callbacks, the quality of the match, the in-ring chemistry, psychology, everything came together to lead this to be considered the highest rated wrestling match of all-time. Especially the performers. Combined, Okada and Omega have nearly 50 five-star matches, including ones where they shared the ring together. All of those were rated six or above, making Omega and Okada owners of four of the five matches given at least six stars.

In some ways, Omega and Okada, not just in this match but throughout their rivalry, reinvented what the five-star scale could be. Prior to their first six-star match at Wrestle Kingdom, Meltzer hadn’t rated a single match above five stars since 1994. In the last three years, he’s rated 14 matches with such a distinction, including two of which came in NXT to give WWE their highest rated matches ever (NXT TakeOver XXVJohnny Gargano vs Adam Cole – 5.25; NXT TakeOver: New York – Johnny Gargano vs Adam Cole – 5.5). The highest rated match of 2019 broke even those marks, as Will Ospreay, who recently wrestled Dominion’s third consecutive five-star match, following Omega and Okada from 2017-18, added 2019’s best match earlier in the month (Best of the Super Juniors XXVI – Day 15 – Will Ospreay vs Shingo Takagi – 5.75).

Whether or not any future match breaks the Omega/Okada scale remains to be seen. However, what fans witnessed in that feud and that match, is something that came to transcend wrestling perceptions and continues to have that impact, one year and seven stars later.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. 

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