The feud between Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito is one of the hidden gems of modern pro-wrestling. These two men rarely crossed paths when both of them were in New Japan; but when they did, the results were largely spectacular. In fact, these men have only ever faced each other in singles competition three times. All three of their matches took place during NJPW’s prestigious annual G1 Climax tournament. And all three of those matches were rated (at least) 5-stars by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Clearly that’s supposed to mean that these two wrestlers were incredibly talented athletes and had spectacular chemistry together. But is that really the case, or is it instead an example of overhype? Let’s find out.
Today we look at the third and final singles match between Omega and Naito from the 2018 G1 Climax tournament.
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.
This is the final match in a trilogy of G1 singles matches that began in 2016. In their first-ever encounter, Omega mustered through a focused Naito to advance to the finals of the tournament that he would later win. A year later, they faced off in the finals and took each other to hell and back in another epic that Naito won. Beyond those two matches, Omega and Naito had very few interactions with each other.
This match is to bring an end to that mini-feud. This was the first match of their block in the 2018 G1 Climax tournament. Both men needed a win here to start the tournament on the right note. But there was more pressure on Omega because he was going into this tournament as champion. He had beaten Kazuchika Okada for the title just over a month earlier in a titanic clash for the ages. Fan expectations for him were very high now that he had the belt, so Omega felt the pressure on two fronts. He had to make sure he could beat as many people in his block as possible, and he had to deliver in the match quality department to convince people that his title win wasn’t a fluke.
This match originally took place on July 15th, 2018.
They don’t avoid each other like in previous bouts and lock-up right away. Omega knocks Naito down with a shoulder tackle, then runs to the ropes, stops, and casually walks over him. Omega goes into blatant mockery mode by making fun of Naito, helps him up to his feet, and then spits in his face. Naito answers with forearms and returns the favor by walking over a downed Omega. He knocks Omega out of the ring, teases a dive, then decides no and spits on Omega before rolling into his tranquilo pose.
Omega gets back in and they brawl for a bit. Omega lands a knee lift and a back suplex for a two-count and continues his mockery. He soccer kicks Naito’s back and then foot chokes him in a corner. He maintains control with a hard Irish whip into a corner, some stomps to the back, and a running backbreaker, all of which gets another two-count. Then he applies a camel clutch which goes on for a while until Naito reaches the ropes.
Naito gets hits in the spine but kicks out at one. Naito avoids another forearm to the spine but Omega shits him down and attempts a powerbomb. Naito fights out with hard slaps but Omega kicks him on a back body drop attempt. Naito escapes another powerbomb and lands a snapmare/neck dropkick combo. He spits in Omega’s face again and Omega responds by going for Naito’s eyes. Naito escapes out of Omega’s ‘you can’t escape’ combo move and lands a single knee backbreaker followed by a swinging neckbreaker for two. He goes for his corner sweep/dropkick combo but Omega counters into his fireman’s carry slam/moonsault combo successfully this time. Naito kicks out of a pin and escapes to ringside, but Omega follows and drops him on the apron with a back suplex.
Omega starts ripping off the ringside mats to expose the concrete floor but Naito dropkicks him. Naito successfully lands his corner sweep/dropkick combo and goes for a side powerslam, but Omega fights out and lands a snap hurricanrana. Omega powers up for his running suicide dive but Naito cuts him off and lands a nice tornado DDT for two. Naito tries to maintain control but Omega throws him out of the ring and dropkicks him so hard he goes over the barricade and into the fans. Omega powers up, and lands a springboard dive all the way out to the fans. That was cool.
Both men are slow to re-enter the ring. Omega goes to the top rope but Naito cuts him off. He goes for a top-rope hurricanrana, but just like the year before, Omega counters and drops him face-first into the turnbuckle. Snap dragon suplex/gutwrench powerbomb combo by Omega. Naito kicks out. Omega charges for a V-Trigger knee strike. Naito sidesteps and goes for a German suplex. Omega lands on his feet and goes for another knee. Naito blocks and attempts an enzuigiri. Omega ducks. V-Trigger to the back ofg Naito’s head. Omega’s not done. He goes for the One-Winged Angel. Naito counters into a reverse hurricanrana. Naito’s in control now as he goes to the top rope. Super hurricanrana connects. Naito follows with an arm-trap side powerslam that drops Omega on his neck. One, two, Omega kicks out of that and elbows out of a Destino attempt. Naito lands an enzuigiri. Omega counters an Irish whip and ducks a flying forearm. Another V-Trigger knee connects. Omega goes for the fisherman knee neckbreaker. Naito counters into Destino. He drops Omega on his head. Naito goes for a second one. Omega counters into a OWA. Wait, no, into a wheelbarrow piledriver. Omega pins. Naito barely kicks out.
Naito fights out of another dragon suplex so Omega spinkicks him in the head. Omega continues the punishment with a third V-Trigger, this time to the back of Naito’s head in the corner. He places Naito on the top rope and goes for a dragon suplex from the top rope. Naito fights out. Omega insists on landing a big move and lifts Naito onto his shoulders. He’s going for a top-rope OWA. Wait, no, Naito counters into a sunset flip powerbomb. Spectacular counter from Naito. Naito charges and lands Destino. He drops Omega with his inverted DDT finisher. One, two, th—no, Omega kicks out.
Naito goes for another Destino but Omega resists, so Naito lands an uranage instead. He attempts yet another Destino but Omega fights out again and goes for a V-Trigger, only for Naito to land a vicious slap and a wheel kick. Desti—NO, Omega counters with a sitting Tombstone piledriver. One, two, Naito kicks out. Double underhook piledriver. Naito kicks out again. V-Trigger #4. One-Winged Angel connects. One, two, three! Omega wins.
Winner after 23:19: Kenny Omega
That was a disappointing match. It was basically an almost move-for-move copy of their 2017 match but with some very minor changes. It wasn’t as exciting as either their 2017 match or their 2016 match, and came across as too rinse-and-repeat.
The story of the match was that Omega was much more cocky and confident, which came from his position as world champion. And that cockiness translated into open mockery, which successfully got the fans to get behind Naito as the underdog in the match. It worked to a degree, and Naito really fired up towards the end and tried to create some great near-falls. But it took Naito a long time to get there. The first half of the match was basically meaningless, as nothing important really happened until Omega began doing for dragon suplexes.
Worse, Naito really didn’t show anything new here. He basically played the hits and only landed his biggest moves and a few spit spots. Naito’s only shining moment as a wrestler in this match came when he countered a top-rope electric chair into a sunset flip powerbomb. Even in slow motion Naito moves with incredible fluidity and precision to hit that move. His sense of timing was perfect here. It’s just too bad that his idea of a finishing sequence is to spam Destino inverted DDTs over and over again until one of them works. Going to the well like that over and over weakens the impact of that move as a finisher, both metaphorically and literally.
Omega was only slightly less guilty in this regard here. He spammed V-Trigger knee strikes like always, but at least here he used those to build to something. For all the crap that Omega gets these days, at least he’s got one logical idea down pat. Once he hits the OWA, the match is done. And that’s exactly what he did here. Omega threw one big bomb after another at Naito until Naito’s guard was lowered enough for him to land that unescapable finisher. So in that sense, Omega was better than usual. It was Naito that failed to live up to expectations here, which was a huge disappointment because he was a very good wrestler around this time.
Final Rating: ****1/4
This match was good but not 5-stars good. This was a typical modern NJPW main-event style match, which means that it only really got good during the second half. The opening minutes were dull and Omega’s attempts at mockery were laced with a phony sarcasm that made it impossible to take him seriously. But at least that shtick did its job of getting under Naito’s skin, which allowed Omega to take advantage and punish him with a barrage of big moves.
If you’re a fan of explosive big moves and crazy head spikes, this match will deliver for you. The finishing stretch with its never-ending bomb-fest was exciting, albeit at a level beneath what these two have already delivered. If you’ve seen their second encounter in 2017, you’ll get more of that same ‘how-can-they-keep-surviving-this’ craziness at the cost of more time. But if you want to see these two at their best together, it’s (ironically) their first match together that stands out the most.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.