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5-Star Match Reviews: Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito II – NJPW G1 Climax 2017

Kenny Omega is one of the most controversial wrestlers active today. People either adore him or despise him for a myriad of different reasons. Some people love him for his maverick approach to pro-wrestling and his extensive catalogue of impressive matches. Other people hate him for those very same reasons and have argued that he’s overrated and a lot of his supposedly-great matches are all style no substance.

Many people have called Omega the best wrestler in the world today and personally, I’m skeptical about that. I’ve seen some genuinely great Omega matches that have really and truly deserved the hype and praise. And I’ve also seen some of his matches that were praised to the moon but ended up being extremely disappointing. Today I continue that deep dive into Omega’s match history with one that a lot of people consider to be in his top five best matches. When it first came out, Dave Meltzer rated it *****3/4 stars out of five, meaning more than perfect. But was it really that good? There’s only one way to find out.

Today we revisit the second-ever singles match between Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito from the 2017 G1 Climax tournament. My review of the first Omega/Naito match from 2016 is here.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Going into this match, Omega and Naito don’t have much of a story between them. Omega beat Naito in the previous year’s tournament to advance to the finals and was out for revenge in this match. But both wrestlers had very good reasons to want to win this match, and both reasons centered on then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada.

At the time, Omega was fresh off his incredible, scale-breaking series of singles matches with Okada. He had lost his first match with Okada, drawn in the second, and beat him in the third, with that third one having taken place the night before this one. If Omega could win the G1 for a second year in a row, he would guarantee himself a world title match against Okada and would get his decisive, series-concluding match against the Rainmaker.

But Naito had a much longer and deeper history with Okada. Before he turned tranquilo, Naito was a rising star in new Japan that was as goodie-goodie as they get. New Japan’s fans hated him for this and rejected him from the Tokyo Dome main event, even though he earned that spot fair and square. That was in 2014. The new, tranquilo Naito returned in 2015 and made waves in New Japan as this detached, apathetic IDGAF sort of guy. And in 2016, this new Naito achieved a career milestone by beating Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. But that was on a lesser show, his reign was short, and Okada beat him to regain the title (which also started Okada’s legendary 721-day fourth reign). Naito hoped to correct the wrong that was done at Wrestle Kingdom VIII and main-event the Tokyo Dome like he was supposed to. despite all his detachments and apathy towards presumably everything and everyone, Naito still wanted the glory he felt was stolen from him. And to do that, he had to overcome a seemingly-unstoppable Omega, who had been on an absolute tear since the year began.

The stakes were incredibly high as we were guaranteed to see a two-time G1 Climax winner once this match was over. But which of them would win? Would it be the cocky Naito or the self-proclaimed Best Bout Machine Omega?

The match

This match originally took place on August 13th, 2017.

The bell rings and the crowd are very loud and split between both wrestlers. Omega goes for a lock-up but Naito sidesteps twice. On the third lock-up, Omega returns the favor to Naito and mocks him some more. They try again and both fake each other out. Omega counters an Irish whip but Naito holds onto the ropes and spits on Omega. Omega lands big chops to the chest but Naito tosses him out of the ring and slides into his tranquilo pose.

They brawl ringside and Omega blocks a whip into the barricade and lands an asai moonsault. Omega drives Naito back-first into the barricade and lands a jumping bulldog in the ring for two. Naito dodges a corner charge and trips Omega up and then lands a falling neckbreaker on the apron. Naito isn’t done as he drapes Omega off the apron and lands a second neckbreaker to the floor. Back in the ring, Naito clubs away at Omega’s neck, then lands a single knee neckbreaker and dropkicks Omega’s neck. Naito lands a suicide dive that launches Omega over the barricade and onto the announce table, but Naito hurts both knees in the process. Naito isn’t done ravaging Omega’s neck. He climbs onto the announce table and goes for a piledriver. But something goes wrong. Naito misses the table and drops Omega between the table and the barricade. That looked like a rough landing.

Back in the ring, Naito lands a bridging German suplex for two. Omega fights out of a dragon suplex attempt but gets his knee dropkicked. Naito goes for his corner slingshot dropkick but Omega boots him first. Omega lands some chops and a running backbreaker for his own two-count. He gets two off another big chop and applies a shoulder-trapping camel clutch but Naito reaches the ropes quickly. Omega whips Naito hard into a corner and lands a back suplex for another two-count. Naito fires back with elbows but Omega cuts him off and goes for the ‘you can’t escape’ fireman’s carry/moonsault combo but only lands the first half because of the damage to his neck. That momentary hesitation allows Naito to land a springboard neckbreaker to further weaken Omega’s neck.

Naito lands a hiptoss and a dropkick and shuts down Omega’s attempt at a comeback with an atomic drop and a corner dropkick. Omega fights out of a swinging neckbreaker and lands a snap hurricanrana that sends Naito out of the ring. Omega powers up and lands a suicide dive onto Naito. A diving missile dropkick to the back of Naito’s head gets Omega another two-count. The fans remain firmly in Naito’s corner as Omega attempts to keep up his momentum. Omega goes for a dragon suplex but Naito escapes. He goes to run but Omega holds on and tries again. Naito fights out and lands a huge slap. Omega ducks an enzuigiri and lands a big German suplex. Great sequence there.

Omega lands his fisherman knee neckbreaker and starts making his comeback in earnest. He charges for a V-Trigger, Naito sidesteps and goes for a German suplex, Omega lands on his feet and charges, but Naito ducks and lands a tornado DDT. Naito goes for a super hurricanrana but Omega drops him face-first in the corner. Snap dragon suplex. V-Trigger knee strike connects. One, two, no, Naito kicks out.

Omega goes for a double underhook piledriver but Naito fights out. Omega answers with a powerbomb but Naito counters that into a DDT. Another sick counter by Naito. Omega goes to boot a charging Naito but Naito counters and lands another single knee back/neckbreaker. Omega fights out of a side powerslam so Naito answers with an enzuigiri and then counters an Irish whip with a flying forearm. Naito lands his Gloria side powerslam finisher and drops Omega on his neck once more. One, two, Omega kicks out. Naito goes for Destino, Omega counters into a wheelbarrow piledriver. Omega pins but Naito somehow kicks out.

Omega goes to the top rope but Naito cuts him off and goes for a superplex. But Omega comes up with a clever counter by driving Naito’s head into the steel ringpost. Omega goes for a top-rope powerbomb, no, Naito counters into a diving Frankensteiner. Another terrific counter. Naito saves himself at the last possible second. Now it’s Naito’s turn to land a corner move and boy does he ever. Avalanche poisoned Frankensteiner. Naito drills Omega onto the top of his head. One, two, thr—no, Omega kicks out. Naito slams Okada and goes for the stardust press, a move he hasn’t done in years. He dives…but Omega rolls out of the way.

Omega takes advantage and lands a double underhook piledriver for another two-count. V-trigger knee connects. Followed by a second one. He goes for a third one but Naito slumps forward before he can connect. But Omega won’t have that and forces him up and charges. But Naito catches Omega’s leg, no, Omega wrenches himself free and connects with another V-trigger. That’s followed by a gutwrench powerbomb. One, two, no, Naito kicks out again. Omega lands a fourth V-Trigger and goes for the One-Winged Angel (OWA). But Naito still has some fight in him. Naito escapes with a desperation poisoned Frankensteiner. Destino! Naito lands Destino out of nowhere! One, two, thre—no, Omega kicks out. Naito goes for another one. Omega fights out and lands a deadlift German suplex. He pins but Naito kicks out. Omega grabs the wrist and lands a Rain Trigger Omega pulls his knee pad down and lands a fifth V-Trigger. OWA, no, Naito counters into Destino!

Both guys get up slowly and land sluggish strikes. Naito gets the upper hand but Omega lands two more V-Triggers. He goes for one more but Naito lands a rolling kick to cut him off. Naito follows with a bridging dragon suplex for two. Omega fights out of one Destino but not another. That’s Naito’s third finisher. One, two, no, Omega still kicks out. Destino #4. Naito drops Omega on the top of his head. One, two, three! There’s the match!

Winner of the 2017 G1 Climax Tournament after 34:35: Tetsuya Naito

 

Review

What an insane bomb-fest of a match. It was one of the most brutal and head-spikey matches I’ve ever seen. It was definitely a tremendous match in almost every way. However, what made it awesome also made it a bit excessive as well.

There was no deep inner narrative here; the match featured a simple story that sought to show who could land more high-impact bombs and win. That was it. It was all about two wrestlers hitting each other with as many insane neck-targeting moves as possible in the hopes that sooner or later one of them would be unable to answer the three-count. And both Omega and Naito stuck to that same strategy and never ventured from it. They went ridiculously far with their head spikes: they hit each other with high-angle suplexes, piledrivers, inverted head-spiking hurricanranas and so many other moves that were angles in such a way that made it look like they were genuinely trying to drop each other onto each other’s head or neck. It was a textbook case in layering moves on top of one another and applying a focused logic to a target a single body part to create a genuinely tense and exciting finishing sprint.

But at the same time, they went WAY into overkill territory here. As soon as Omega started sprinting around (while also no-selling the supposedly serious neck damage Naito had caused earlier), the match basically went into video game mode with both wrestlers spamming big moves. They just stacked more big moves on top of one another like a big WWE match to the point that those moves had less importance. Did Omega really need to land nine V-Triggers in a single match? And did Naito really need to use four Destino DDTs to end Omega? It just felt excessive and repetitive at that point, which took away from the overall drama of the match.

And once again, one of Omega’s biggest flaws was put on display. As Hiroshi Tanahashi once said of him, ‘only the last five minutes of his matches really matter’. Well, that was the case here. The first ten minutes or so didn’t play into the match at all and neither did that huge table piledriver that was built up as a major spot early on. Naito was the same here. He hurt his knee on a dive but he stopped selling it less than a minute later. And Omega should’ve known to attack that limb since it was taped up and it would’ve slowed Naito down and given him a huge advantage. Instead, Omega missed a huge opportunity to tell a different story than the one he typically tells, which is basically ‘finisher spam ad infinitum’.

That’s not to say this match was ‘bad’ or anything like that. On the contrary; this was the perfect match for anyone that loves the ‘holy-s**t-how-can-they-survive-that’ kind of wrestling, which has become something of a staple of New Japan’s during the latter half of the 2010s. And what the match lacked in logic and reasonable limits on big moves it more than made up for in pure drama and intensity. The crowd absolutely loved Naito on this night and was behind him from bell to bell. They fed of his tenacity and reacted bigtime whenever he hit any big move. He brought his A-game here and seemed to actually out-do Omega in almost every way, which was no small feat in 2017. Naito left this match looking like a true main-event-level star and top-level wrestler. It’s just a bit unfortunate that he came to adopt a lot of Omega’s biggest weaknesses as his own when it came to how he would lay out his matches.

Final Rating: ****3/4

While this was not a perfect match in my opinion, I still think it was fantastic all the same. This match definitely appeals to those wrestling fans out there that want fast-paced, intense action with lots of complex and brutal-looking moves. I understand the appeal of that sort of wrestling and see why so many people have praised this match and still do.

In the end, I guess this really comes down to personal taste. I liked this match but didn’t love it. There was just too much blind bomb-throwing here and the head-spiking was done to the point of over-saturation. It’s like letting someone control their own chocolate fountain and watching them fill their plate with it until it’s leaking off the edges. Of course they’re going to over-indulge. But while it’ll be good in the moment, it’ll also be slightly ruined by its own excess. Wrestling matches, like most things in life, need the ideal balance of different elements to create a perfect contest. And in my opinion, this bout included too much of one particular ingredient that slightly ruined the overall taste.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.