This is an unexpected yet welcome addition to the series “Clearing the rainy skies” series covering the Omega-Okada rivalry. Check out more here.
The date is 5th January 2023 and the event is New Year’s Dash in Ota City General Gymnasium of Tokyo, Japan. Jeff Cobb and Aaron Henane of the United Empire faction make their way to the ring for the main event not knowing who their opponents are.
To everyone’s surprise, Devil’s Sky, the theme of IWGP US Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega starts playing. No one knew what the match was supposed to be. No one expected it to be him after the gruelling war he went through at Wrestle Kingdom the previous night. The English commentary even mentions “no way, it can’t be! He flew home!” It indeed is him. Albeit banged up with his right eye bruised blue and black, he’s still cheerful. Kenny saunters down to the ring, gleefully looking forward to the upcoming match against the United Empire. Neither he nor anyone else knows who his tag partner is going to be.
The coin drops, much to everyone’s surprise and delight, including Kenny’s who is shocked at hearing the theme of his greatest rival. The same man he had those historic, boundary pushing matches against, every single one of which was incredibly taxing and probably took years off of both their careers. The matches most people laud as the greatest rivalry in modern pro wrestling and one of the greatest of all times. The series that pushed the boundaries of what pro wrestling could be and forced it to evolve.
Kenny is repeatedly seen questioning the referee about his tag partner. His surprise doesn’t lessen when the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada starts making his way down the ring.
Okada is his usual calm composed self for the most part but he can be seen trying to stifle a smile, visibly as excited about the upcoming match as everyone else. As iconic as their rivalry is, the two of them have only ever wrestled against each other. This is the first, perhaps the only time they will ever be on the same team. That fact makes it all the more special.
The moment Okada steps in the ring, he ignores Kenny for the time being, going off to the corner instead, striking a pose for the crowd. He has a kingdom to attend to first and foremost. After that, his eyes meet Kenny’s eyes for the first time that night. Kenny can be seen saying “Kazuchika” while smiling, not the only time he does it that night. Okada gets off the rope and goes to stand next to Kenny.
While the two of them are standing together on the same team for the first time, they have the sweetest of smiles on their faces. Both look gleeful, like kids on Christmas morning. If you were to mention to someone that they’ve repeatedly put each other through the most physical and painful of battles, the matches where they demolished each other to nothing, forcing each other to build anew and rise from the ashes, they probably wouldn’t believe you. This also makes a striking contrast with the Omega we saw the night before. A man demanding vengeance for his love, possessed with bloodlust, literally covered in blood of the man he was hell bent on destroying. On night of Wrestlekingdom, he looked like a war God demanding sacrifice paid in blood and flesh. A vengeful lover tearing and shredding for hurt that was caused onto his beloved, simultaneously magnificent, enthralling, and utterly terrifying. As opposed to the lovely, charming, warm man we see today smiling sweetly.
Kenny eyes the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship for a minute and then they bump both of their belts to everyone’s delight. The audience breaks the clap-only rule, one of the many times they would do it for this match. Perhaps still trying to come to terms with the surreal reality of everything.
Kenny and Cobb begin the match. When Kenny finds himself overwhelmed by Cobb, Okada helpfully points out to the referee that Kenny’s back is touching the ropes so he can get a break. When Kenny’s unsuccessful in his offence against Cobb, he rolls back into their corner and offers his palm to Okada for a tag never once having to look him in the eyes. Putting blind trust in the man he’s never tagged with before, his eyes stay on Cobb as he offers his hand. Okada tags in, the audience yet again breaking the clap-only rule, gasping in response to both Kenny making the tag and to Okada answering it. Cobb tags in Henare across the ring.
Not soon afterwards, Kenny is cheering Okada on from the apron, hyping up the audience, yelling and stomping across the apron as Okada wrestles. He can even very distinctly be heard screaming “keep going baby!“. The loudest reaction of the night from the audience comes when Kenny yells “Kazuchika!” as Okada hits the padded turnbuckle after Henare ducks out of the way. The commentary is stunned at such an intimate address of Okada’s first name, though it barely fazes Okada himself. This isn’t the first time he’s been called that by him. There’s something just so endearing about the God Emperor of pro-wrestling allowing someone to address him by his first name publicly. Speaks volumes about the relationship he and Kenny share.
The United Empire keep their focus on attacking Okada and are successful in preventing him from making a tag. Kenny shouts at the referee when Henare is using closed fist shots on Okada. At one point, Cobb stands on top of Okada, who can be heard crying out in pain. Cobb is also simultaneously taunting Omega who responds by coming in to the ring to shove Cobb off, urging Okada on to get up and make a tag. Soon after that, he comes back in again while Okada is the legal man to kick Henare a couple of times when he has Okada in a submission hold.
Okada eventually manages to get the upper hand. As both Okada and his opponent are lying in the ring, Kenny is pounding on the turnbuckle for Okada to make a tag. The English commentary makes note of what a surreal sight it is. Okada successfully tags in Omega and Henare tags in Cobb. Omega fares better against Cobb this time than he did earlier in the night.
Some time later, when Henare kicks out of a pin attempted by Kenny after his fireman carry roll moonsault combination, it’s Okada who has his hand outstretched for Kenny to make a tag, eagerly nodding his head at Kenny who gladly does so. The United Empire again get the upper hand targeting Okada. As Henare attempts to pin him, Okada lies there not bothering to kick out despite being very capable of doing so, keeping his eyes peeled on Kenny who successfully breaks up the pin. This again speaks volumes about the trust these men have in each other. How they know with surety that the other won’t let them down.
During the last moments of the match, they do some coordination moves. Henare ducks a rainmaker only to eat a v-trigger from Kenny. Jeff Cobb is hit with a dropkick from Okada, which is immediately followed by a suplex by Kenny. They then hit Henare with a rainmaker and a v-trigger at the same time, which is followed by one final rainmaker after which Okada pins him for the win.
They’re not perfectly in sync the way Kenny is with his golden Lover Kota Ibushi, but its their first time tagging together. Their cooperation is tentative, a tiny bit awkward but also warm, gentle, and endlessly charming.
Kenny grabs both of their belts and hands over Okada’s to its rightful owner, who thanks him in return. Referee ‘red shoes’ Unno raises both their hands in victory, in what is now an iconic image for the ages. It’s no less dreamlike now than it has been all night. Kenny has a brief confrontation with Cobb and then proceeds to leave. While he’s doing so, he turns around and waves Okada goodbye, a cheery smile playing on his lips. Okada responds, nodding his head and clapping. Milano calls it a “one night dream”. It’s sad watching him leave, watching Okada watch him leave, so soon after briefly sharing the ring again for the first time in years. Their last match together was in the year 2018.
Okada thanks Kenny in his promo afterwards, makes a note of it being the first time they teamed with each other, something he deems might be worth doing again. He says he thinks of it as a New Year’s Gift for everyone, even though it may be a few days late.
Their team up was soft, supportive and free of arrogance, strife or chest thumping of any kind. They both have changed for the better since their first singles match at Wrestle Kingdom, the match that changed everything forever. There is no ego, not between the two of them anyway. They’re intimately acquainted with each other and have long ago stripped each other of it.
Now, Okada doesn’t have his identity wrapped around title or accolades as was the case during his once in a lifetime title reign that lasted 720 days. He strives to be at the top but doesn’t have an existential crisis when he isn’t. He isn’t just his accolades and material successes. He knows who he is even when separated from everything that comes with being the ace of a company.
Kenny did not have all the accolades that someone of his talent deserved back when he started chasing Okada for the belt back in 2017. As of now he’s won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Okada himself, AEW world tag team championship, AEW World Trios championship, AEW World Heavyweight Championship, Impact World Championship and AAA Mega Championship; even going as far as holding the last three belts at the same time. He’s won all the world titles in men’s division in AEW, becoming the first and so far the only man to do so. He’s found all the conventional success a wrestler could wish for and then some.
Will they ever team up again? It would undoubtedly be a delightful time if it ever happens again. Were they to wrestle against each other in a singles match for the fifth time, I do not doubt it’ll be as physical a war as their past four matches have been so far. They respect each other far too much to give anything less than their absolute best and they still are driven by the desire to be the best. If the stars align again and it happens, it will no doubt be as mesmerising and magical as four of the previous matches. And even if it doesn’t, for now, we’ve still got this ephemeral dream of a match. An intricately crafted love letter they both wrote for their spellbinding series of matches.