endless waltz

By Manu.

This is part 2 covering the Okada-Omega series “Clearing the Rainy Skies”. Check out part one here: The First Dance

Match graphic of Kenny and Okada facing each other.
Image credit @njpw1972

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

After Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega’s match at Wrestle Kingdom set the wrestling world on fire, everyone was eagerly waiting for them to go at it again while also simultaneously wondering how it would be possible for them to follow through what may as well had been a perfect match.

The second match between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega for the IWGP Heavyweight title was set to be the main event of Dominion, the second largest event of New Japan Pro Wrestling after Wrestle Kingdom. The arena is Osaka-Jo Hall and the date, 11th June 2017. The match that took place that day was every bit as breathtaking, brutal, devastating and captivating as the first one.

While the Wrestle Kingdom match between them was about control, not just over each other but also the company as a whole, their Dominion match is about pain, punishment, and at times the teasing denial of it.

Denial

Gif from their warm-up match. Okada looks pensive.
@mitchtheficus

The first time the two of them would meet in a match after their Wrestle Kingdom bout is in a multiman tag match where Kazuchika Okada, the Briscoes and Will Ospreay face Kenny Omega, Young Bucks and Cody. They’re both visibly gleeful over the opportunity to wrestle each other again. It’s evident on their faces the moment their eyes lock inside the ring. Okada quickly hides it, doing away with his smile while Kenny, who always wears his heart out on his sleeve, refuses to. As just the two of them remain in the squared circle with their tag partners standing outside on the apron, Kenny is practically vibrating to go at it again.

Gif of the warm-up match. Kenny is standing in the ring, beckoning Okada to come to him.
@mitchtheficus

Okada, however, shakes his head. He’s refusing to wrestle Kenny just yet and asks Kenny to tag in Cody instead. Denying Kenny of something he desires so openly and is transparently irate at not getting. It doesn’t matter that Okada himself is being denied what he clearly wants, as long as he gets to see Kenny riled up. When Kenny refuses to tag in Cody, Okada tags himself out. He’s openly wanting of him yet he would deny both himself and Kenny. Kenny, the one who makes Okada feel a hundred things he’d rather not feel. Feelings are messy and distract him from what he deems important, that is his IWGP Heavyweight belt. He simultaneously wants nothing to do with this and also can’t stop craving more. He hates every second of it but he also loves it.

Gif from their warm up match of Kenny goading Okada. Okada shakes his head.
@mitchtheficus

Perhaps his denial is his way of punishing them both. Punishing Kenny for invoking those feelings and punishing himself for feeling them. This really sets the tone for how their rematch at Dominion goes. Okada dishing out pain and punishment.

So, for now he dismisses Kenny. Deeming him not worth wrestling now since Okada already had beaten him. Acting like the very electric, palpable connection they share doesn’t exist. It riles up Kenny more than anything. It’s something we see Okada do repeatedly. In an interview he says he doesn’t feel there is anything special about his match with Kenny as all his matches tend to be great. All while he is the one who is challenging Kenny for a rematch even though he has nothing to prove to anyone after having already beaten Kenny fair and square. He asks Kenny for a rematch using the excuse of doing it for people all around Japan and the world. He uses the face of a generous and benevolent king wanting to give everyone what they desire to hide the fact that he’s as helplessly enthralled by Kenny Omega as the rest of the wrestling world.

Kenny, on the other hand, is less of the ruthless winning machine that walked into Wrestle Kingdom. That night, he even was dressed as one, coming out in a Terminator-like gear. Now he’s softer, playful, more…… human for lack of a better term. While he was trying to physically break Okada to weaken him in any way possible so he could successfully take the title off of him on the way to their first singles bout, he’s not doing anything of that sort now. Though one would expect Kenny to be more vicious, more sadistic after eating a clean loss, that isn’t the case. Instead, he’s blowing kisses to Okada in the middle of matches. One such example is how he remorselessly drove Okada through a table on the road to Wrestle Kingdom show. This time, even though the Young Bucks set up a table for them and he does get Okada up on his shoulders, he lets him drop on the apron instead, refusing to go through with it. Opting to plant a kiss on Okada’s face instead. He says it’s because he wants to beat him being 100% healthy so there will not be any excuses.

It’s downright masochistic the way he constantly flirts with him and refuses to seriously hurt Okada. Especially considering he’s the only thing standing between Kenny and his dream of winning that big one.

The rematch: punishment, pain and persistence.

Image of Kenny posing before the match.
Image credit: Toru Eguchi

Kenny Omega comes out first, wearing black leather pants, seconded by his friends and fellow Bullet Club stablemates Young Bucks. Kazuchika Okada, the IWGP Heavyweight champion, comes out after, clad in his regal glitter and gold along with his manager Gedo. The bell rings and off they go. They’re evenly matched for the most part, well aware of how the other thinks. Quickly able to counter each other’s moves. Counters and reversals come quick, as a result, both of them are unable to get the upper hand in the beginning.

Omega gets an opening soon, his attempt at terminator dive is interrupted as Okada slides back into the ring. Kenny is sent outside after he eats a boot by Okada who then does a tope-con-hilo of his own. It connects successfully but Okada tweaks his left leg while landing. Kenny senses it and immediately starts attacking Okada’s legs with precision. He soon has Okada howling in pain with a figure four lock who is seen screaming in anguish. He eventually gets out of the submission by grabbing a rope but is seen clutching his leg afterwards. Kenny continues targeting the injured leg of Okada.

Omega gets carried away, starts being cocky and a little bit sadistic, visibly seen relishing the hurt he’s causing Okada. Just as he’s joyfully kicking Okada, baiting him and taunting him to get up and fight back, Okada, annoyed by it, ends up doing just that. He eats all of Kenny’s kicks unfazed, gets up on his feet and starts hitting back with ferocious strikes of his own. He follows them up with a dropkick. This is the beginning of him bearing whatever pain he’s receiving, putting it on the back of his mind and not letting it get in the way of returning the favor to Kenny. His pain doesn’t matter as long as he can inflict two-fold on Omega. He soon has Kenny in a brutal submission hold. In stark contrast to what happened a few minutes ago, this time Kenny is the one who is forced to crawl his way to the ropes to escape the unbearable pain.

Gif from the match of Okada applying a facelock on Kenny
@genderbomb

Omega might have been the one to send them both down this path of pain, but Okada is the one who has the reins now. Soon they’re both outside the ring on the floor where Kenny attempts a moonsault off the guardrail which is unsuccessful as Okada shoves him, sending him tumbling on the floor. He then follows it with a wicked running crossbody. Though Okada is seen clutching his knee after hitting the crossbody, his face refuses to give anything away.

He drags them deeper and deeper into that ocean of torment, being in control of the match and in control of the pain both he and Kenny are going through. The only way Kenny gets the upper hand, however briefly, is by thinly escaping an elbow drop by Okada. He then proceeds to go after Okada’s back and neck area, as he often does with his opponents. Softening them up for his finisher the One-Winged Angel. He’s ditching his strategy of attacking the leg when Okada just kept powering through the pain. He hits Okada with a brutal missile dropkick on the back of his neck, followed by a Dr Wily Bomb. Okada kicks out.

Kenny doesn’t stay in charge of the match for too long. Okada escapes his attempt at One-Winged angel, they exchange some ferocious strikes and Kenny is hit with a death valley driver on the apron after he unsuccessfully attempts to suplex Okada off the top turnbuckle. Okada then hits a shotgun dropkick outside the ring that sends Kenny flying into the guardrail. It’s not something he usually does but Okada gets a table from under the ring as Kenny is struggling to stand up. Okada is relentless in the way he’s wreaking havoc on Kenny’s body. Don Callis on English commentary even makes a note of it, how this isn’t a side of Okada we usually see. As said previously, this match is about pain. The sheer amount of it Okada is willing to wrestle through, in the countless dropkicks he hits on Kenny despite having his leg targeted and attacked in the beginning, as long as he’s returning it many folds to Kenny and unreal amount of pain Kenny endures and persists throughout.

Kenny barely escapes being dropped onto the table again the way he was during their Wrestle Kingdom match. He unsuccessfully tries powerbombing Okada through it. About thirty minutes have passed at this point.

Kenny and Okada, fighting on the turnbuckle
Image credit: Toru Eguchi

Kenny gets Okada seated on the top of the turnbuckle. They’re both visibly exhausted courtesy of the gruelling, physical match it has been. Kenny stands on the middle rope where they exchange a few strikes. There comes a brief moment that is pretty much tender, borderline affectionate even amidst all the brutality and pain. They both almost look like they’re embracing each other, exhausted by the torment they’re putting their bodies through. Finding solace in each other’s arms because there isn’t any other.

This eventually culminates with Kenny hitting an aoi shodo on Okada off the top rope which he somehow still kicks out of. He again hits Okada with it inside the ring, going back to his target area that is the neck and shoulders. Kenny hits him with a v trigger and attempts a One-Winged angel. Okada gets out of it and hits back with multiple high stacked German suplexes. Returning the favor by himself targeting Omega’s neck. He follows them with a rainmaker but Kenny kicks out.

Okada is powerbombed out of nowhere as he is attempting a dropkick. They exchange a few more strikes after getting back on their feet. Few minutes later Kenny is sat on turnbuckle and sent outside by a dropkick by Okada who then lays Kenny on the table he set up some time ago. Kenny is barely aware of where he is and what’s going on. Okada hits an elbow drop from top of the turnbuckle onto Kenny lying on the table. Okada himself is again seen clutching his body in pain, the move possibly hurting him as much as it did Kenny. He keeps taking them both deeper and deeper into this world of agony they’ve created. Okada rolls Omega back in before the countdown hits 20. Kenny most likely would not have made it back in time. Maybe because Okada didn’t want to take a oundown win? Or maybe because he doesn’t want it to end?

Gif from the match of Okada elbow dropping an elbow on Kenny, who is splayed on a table outside the ring.
@frentique

He hits a missile dropkick on Kenny who seems knocked out of his senses. Omega barely manages to kick out. He hits Kenny with three more dropkicks. The only reason the referee doesn’t pin all the way to three is because he notices Kenny’s hand accidentally being under the ropes. Kenny is so out of it he for sure couldn’t have kicked out here, so utterly ravaged by Okada. Forty minutes have passed. Kenny is dragged up to a sitting position by his hair by Okada. He attempts to fight back, hitting a few feeble strikes that barely faze his opponent. Even his attempts to rake Okada’s eyes are effortlessly shrugged off. He’s once again reduced to the vulnerable underdog by the very same man who undid him a few months ago at Wrestle Kingdom. It’s equal parts captivating and heartbreaking to watch. Okada grabs Kenny’s wrist and hits him with two rainmakers. He doesn’t make any attempt to make a pin. Gedo can be heard in the background, asking Okada to finish him. Okada ignores that. Is he not pinning Kenny because he believes Kenny will not stay down or is he not pinning him because he has begun enjoying himself making them both go through what he had been?

Gif from the match of Kenny on his knees, striking at a defiant Okada standing in front of him
@frentique

When he’s unable to get Omega up to a standing position, Okada asks the referee to ask Kenny if he’s able to continue the match. Whether he wants the match to be stopped. While he is single mindedly punishing Kenny and pushing him to his limits, he still is cautious enough to not break him. Soon the entirety of Bullet Club is there on the ringside. Cody attempts to throw in a towel for Omega because of the way he’s been constantly brutalized throughout the match. Bucks prevent him from doing so, trusting Kenny to know his body and its limits. It gives Kenny precious few seconds to get his senses back. Kenny blocks the rainmaker and hits back with a v-trigger followed by a reverse hurricanrana. His fellow stablemates start loudly pounding on the mat, cheering Kenny on.

Kenny picks up the towel Cody was attempting to throw in for him to wipe the sweat off his body and defiantly throws it down, refusing to give up. Okada soon picks it up and does the same. It’s a throwback to back when Okada challenged Kenny for this match after having beaten Bad Luck Fale. Kenny had a towel draped around his neck that he dropped while sharing the ring with Okada and only noticed when he was outside the ring on his way backstage. Okada was still inside the ring. He asked Okada to return it, who obliged but in his own way. Picking it up to wipe sweat off his body before giving it back to Kenny.

Kenny continues attacking the neck and shoulders of Okada and after multiple failed attempts, finally manages to hit a One-Winged angel on Okada. He still doesn’t win because Okada somehow manages to get his leg on the rope before the 3rd pin count. Kenny is in disbelief. Forty five taxing minutes have gone by. Maybe it’s settled in that he cannot beat Okada.

As Kenny attempts another v-trigger, Okada hits him with a rainmaker. There’s a bruise on Okada’s forehead, the brutality they’re both going through becoming visible. As they both manage to get themselves upright, Kenny is barely able to stand on his legs but he still continues fighting, returning strikes as good as he’s getting. He attempts to make an opening for himself with a suplex but Okada soon shuts that down with a dropkick. He’s not looking the slightest bit concerned about hitting it with the leg that was targeted. Fifty minutes have passed.

Kenny hitting Okada in the face with a knee
@njpw1972

Kenny hits back with two v-triggers and attempts another pin that Okada kicks out of. Once again we see a vulnerable man in a world of pain who has been pushed to limits he never knew existed but is still unable to put Okada away. He is heartbroken over it. Once again he attempts a One-Winged angel, getting Okada up on his shoulders. Okada again gets out of it and hits him with a tombstone for his trouble. Goes for another rainmaker but Kenny escapes it by sheer exhaustion. He drops on his knees before Okada can hit it. Exhaustion has been a strange ally for Kenny at times.

Gif from the match. Okada goes for a rainmaker and Kenny collapses to his knees.
@frentique

Not soon afterwards, Kenny resists Okada attempting a tombstone and hits back with a flurry of strikes. They’re followed by three nasty v-triggers. As soon as Okada gets back up, he again hits back with a dropkick followed by a spinning twisting tombstone. Both men lie exhausted on the map, fifty seven minutes have passed. Only three minutes remain before the time limit is over.

Kenny desperately grabs ropes to avoid the rainmaker, hits back with a suplex and eats one final dropkick followed by one final rainmaker for the night. Only 30 seconds remain now. Okada is trying to crawl his way to Kenny to make a pin but the bell announcing the end of an hour rings before he could get it done. He couldn’t make a pin and has retained the title but the match result declared was a draw.

Release?

Kenny and Okada, collapsed in the ring after a match
@njpw1972

Both of them lie exhausted on the mat after having shared the past hour being lost in each other and the world of pain they created for themselves. Kenny is still trying to reach for him, despite all the wreckage his body took from Okada. He doesn’t want it to end. He is heartbroken for having that belt being denied to him a second time.

Gif of Kenny and Okada, collapsed after match. Kenny reaches out for Okada with one hand.
@genderbomb

Okada retained the belt, as are the rules despite the match having been a draw. He’s neither eager nor enthused to have his hand raised like he was after that Wrestle Kingdom match. He addresses the crowd, not standing but sitting down in one of the corners, the match having taken so much out of him as well. Okada in the post-match conference says that he doesn’t think he’d have been able to beat Kenny even if they continued past an hour. Kenny very recently said he was glad they didn’t go overtime as he for sure would have lost and may not have been able to challenge for it again after repeatedly losing.

They kept building up the crescendo to a fevered pitch which eventually didn’t give anyone, be it the wrestlers involved or us the audience the kind of release people had hoped for. But it still is one of the best matches of the past few years, one of the best draws to ever happen. A very unique piece of art but still another chapter in their story which wasn’t over just quite yet.

Images used are from @njpw1972 on twitter or from the shared public album of Toru Eguchi on Flickr, where you can see many other great images from the same event. GIFs were used with the very kind permission of Tumblr users mitchtheficus, frentique and genderbomb. You can see many more beautiful gifs of this match and others in the series by checking out their pages.