On 4 January 2017, Kazuchika Okada retained the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the expense of Kenny Omega at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom XI.
The match was one of the greatest ever performed.
Throughout the course of a pure 45-minute epic, both champion and challenger set new standards for drama and athleticism. Dangerous and intoxicatingly dramatic, the sheer degree of content was exhausting; even before that jaw-dropping reversal-strewn finishing sequence, Omega had half-killed Okada with a top rope dragon suplex and, with no exaggeration, narrowly escaped actual death when taking a psychotic bump through the legendarily stubborn Japanese table at a misjudged angle. The match, for all of its everything, left one incredibly narrative hook dangling: the undetonated One Winged-Angel.
Many deemed the 11 June 2017 Dominion sequel something of a risk; surely, it was too soon to revisit a match of that magnitude. This match was only worth the Wrestle Kingdom stage. Omega did detonate this notion, at least, by taking Okada to his storyline limit in a one-hour draw that, somehow, was even better. He also detonated the One-Winged Angel, but subverted its impact to create yet another question. Okada could only drape his leg to the bottom rope, saved only by positioning compromised by Omega’s spent physical condition. The theme of exhaustion, the deeply authentic struggle of the selling, the timing of the comebacks calibrated perfectly to inspire hope beyond the hope: there was something unparalleled in how special that Dominion match was in its absolute obfuscation of artifice.
Yet more became concerned when New Japan announced the G1 Climax Blocks. In a monumental shocker, Okada and Omega found themselves tiered together in Block B. This felt unnecessary - even wasteful - at the time. Beyond that, the 30 minute limit imposed something other than time. The magic of the Okada and Omega pairing was in its sheer physical impossibility, its exhaustive duration. They were a new version of the wrestling athlete. Surely, any result beyond a draw would diminish its aura. A draw itself would represent a literally diminished return.
Through the magic of long-term storytelling, booker Gedo, Okada and Omega wrestled a completely different match - a super-charged short-form sprint that somehow did not materialise as a spot-fest in their genius hands. With Okada rendered vulnerable as a result of a storyline neck injury, Omega took the scalp in a breathless, breathtaking battle in beautiful, coherent contrast to their wars. And still, a question remained. Omega defeated a compromised, injured version of the Ace. Could he defeat Okada, at his most powerful, with no caveat?
On 9 June 2018, Omega finally dethroned Okada in the greatest wrestling match in history.
Crucially, this was Okada at his most powerful. He entered Dominion having ammassed the greatest Heavyweight Title reign in wrestling history, the lessons learned from a succession of classic victories reinforcing his aura and informing his in-ring arsenal. In parallel, the detonation of the Bullet Club inspired Omega to become a better, more valiant version of himself - a Kenny Omega driven by love. This was a new, more gripping dynamic of pro wrestling’s best-ever pairing.
This was now a programme powered through pathos.