The Hot Tag w/Steve Russell: Time Limit Bore?
June 11th, 2017 saw a rematch that many people wanted, but, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, was perhaps pulled together too soon. From a business perspective, Omega vs Okada II at NJPW’s Dominion event made all the sense in the world. After an undeniably phenomenal matchup during their first major main event, which took place at January’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 event, people were braying for the rematch, but instead of taking the time to draw out their feud, adding subtle layers as it ramped up over time, New Japan decided to eschew this in favour for a much more formal, straightforward challenge, leading us to the events of the 11th.
Business and story development aside, the focus is left solely on the match itself. Were people invested? Were they emotionally committed to the participants, and, given their first encounter’s 6* classic, did the match meet, match or exceed the lofty expectations placed upon it by the fickle wrestling community?
Enough time has passed since Dominion that people are now capable of looking at this match a little more objectively. I waited before sitting down to write this Hot Tag for that exact reason. I wanted to remove initial emotion and opinion as much as possible – to write about it from a different angle and remove this piece from the deluge of knee-jerk, reactionary posts, in turn finding myself adopting a view I hadn’t expected.
So, the question may become, which was better: Omega vs Okada I at Wrestle Kingdom 11 or Omega vs Okada II from Dominion 2017?
Both matches had highlight moments that caused people to sit up, to lean forward or catch their breath. You know the spots I’m talking about – the dragon suplex from the top rope; the numerous death-defying leaps over the top rope; that wonderfully planned piece of high drama with Omega collapsing, causing him to deftly, accidentally, avoid the thunderous Rainmaker.
We were spoiled with moments – real, crystallised, captivating moments – across both matches, which total a staggering hour and forty-six minutes, forty-five seconds of nearly non-stop drama, distilled through the purity of professional wrestling.
It’s rare that a time limit draw elicits the reaction that this match received, and that’s less to do with the booking to tell its story, and more to do with the talent displayed within the squared circle.
Unlike previous matches that went to a long stalemate, Omega vs Okada II had very few rest spots, with the action presented at a near-frenetic pace once they began to subtly shift gears. The storytelling and match pacing was practically perfect, and it’s a major contributing factor as to why fans have raved the way they have. It’s a perfect cross section between storytelling, drama, action, athleticism and, crucially, an emotional investment that had genuine high-stake pathos. Interestingly, the end result was as emphatic as it was inconclusive, setting it up for an inevitable third showdown. The stalemate, time limit draw saw Omega unsuccessful in his attempt to conquer Okada and claim the belt, but did he lose? No. Nobody involved lost that night.
But was it better than their first match?
You may have a preference, but favouring one doesn’t discount the sheer quality of the other. Ultimately, as fans, instead of trying to rip apart the infinitesimal minutiae of these two confrontations, debating as to why one encounter was superior to the other, we should revel that we have been granted two matches, totalling an hour and forty-five minutes, forty-five seconds of pure class.
These two are wrestlers of a staggering calibre, putting on consistently fantastic matchups for us to enjoy, and I, like most of you, I’m sure, am grateful to them for providing some of the best wrestling so far this year. There is an indefinable, undeniable quality that exists between them. Iron sharpens iron, after all, and we’ve had the chance to watch the process unfold across two main event clashes. When the third time comes around, rather than going in with a glib, dour attitude looking to find flaws via comparison, I’ll be tuned in to enjoy it for what it is, invested as I am in both men as characters, as wrestlers, as performers, and as people.
So which was better? Omega vs Okada I or II? Wrestle Kingdom 11 or Dominion?
Does it matter?
– Steve R // @stevetendo