Match Of The Week: Kenny Omega Vs. Tetsuya Naito

Two of NJPW's hottest stars kick off the 2018 G1 Climax with a bang.

Sound the G1 klaxon; sound it immediately.

Yes, this year's edition of the G1 Climax has begun, meaning that we're surely in for a handful of fresh 5-star matches and Match of the Year contenders. Despite the competition only being a few days old, it's already thrown up two maximum ratings courtesy of Dave Meltzer - both featuring Kenny Omega.

This week, we're going to focus on the first of these - a rematch of last year's final.

In 2017, Omega lost to Tetsuya Naito in an instant classic, a match branded by many as the best G1 Climax final of all time. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, New Japan decided to shove both men in the same block this time around, and book a re-do for the main event of Day 2.

In all honesty, this bout probably isn't as good as their last showdown - but that doesn't mean it's not worth our time; far from it. This match told an excellent (and entirely different) story, capturing both men at very different stages of their career from a year ago.

Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito
NJPW G1 Climax 28: Day 2
Ota Gymnasium - Tokyo, Japan


Background: As mentioned, Omega and Naito clashed in last year's G1 Climax final - an enthralling bout which saw the LIJ leader book his place in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom.

At the time, Naito potentially had more momentum than any other wrestler in the world, and overwhelmed Omega after a long, epic battle. Sadly, he blew his chance at toppling Okada in the Tokyo Dome, and has undergone something of a slide since. Yes, he may have won the Intercontinental Championship from Suzuki, but he lost it to Chris Jericho a few months later - perhaps the most high-profile loss of his career so far.

Omega's trajectory has been the very opposite. Challenging an invincible Okada to a 2-out-of-3 falls mach at Dominion, the Bullet Club leader did the unthinkable, finally becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the process. In his post-match promo, he defended his own frantic style of wrestling, deliberately calling out those who told him to be 'tranquilo' - the word Naito has adopted as his own personal manifesto. It therefore made sense that the pair would clash somewhere in the aftermath of Kenny's huge win.

Naito and Omega have always enjoyed a nice dichotomy. Both charismatic stable leaders with villainous tendencies, they are two of the most instantly enjoyable wrestlers on the stacked New Japan roster. However, they're also very different - both in terms of personality and ringwork. On the mic and between the ropes, Kenny crackles with energy, launching himself into vicious attacks - both verbal and physical.

Naito is very deliberately the opposite. Yes, he utilises key bursts of energy when necessary, but every moment of dominance is characterised by a very deliberate lethargy. Kenny wins matches where he pushes himself beyond his own limits, while Naito loses them - as seen in their respective title bouts with Okada.

Although there was no bona fide feud between the two in the build to this G1 bout, a lot was still on the line. The B Block can easily be seen as the stronger of this year's groups, with Naito, Omega, and Ibushi all frontrunners in direct competition. A win here would be priceless for either man - getting one over on one of their biggest tournament rivals immediately.


The Match: Predictably, from two of the most charismatic wrestlers around, we're treated to a spot of mind games to begin. Kenny knocks Naito down to one knee, sportingly helps him up, then spits in his face. It's more of a Naito move than an Omega one, perhaps showing Kenny's renewed confidence and dominance since winning the title.

Although Omega is currently the kingpin of NJPW, Naito actually starts the match brighter - perhaps retaining his own edge after defeating Kenny last year. He dumps the champ to the outside, fakes a couple of dives, and hits two crowd-popping tranquilo poses.

However, it's not long before Omega takes control - so Naito spits at him and is met with a rake to the eyes. This is clearly not a feud built on intense competition a la Okada/Tanahashi, nor a battle of toughness and honour like Shibata/Ishii. There's no grudging respect here; it's a true clash of outcasts.

Omega slams Naito on the apron and pulls up a ringside mat, but Naito cannonballs onto him hard. There's a strong sense that both are trying to win the match as quickly as possible. Rocky Romero echoes this on commentary, making the great point that no Omega vs. Naito match would ever go a full hour like the Dominion main event. They'd simply destroy each other if they tried.

The pair exchange a few more moves in the ring, but the most memorable spots so far have all been on the outside, symbolic of the match's rough edge. They return to ringside, Omega sending Naito over the barricade with a brutal missile dropkick. He then springboards to the top rope and launches himself into a huge crossbody, demolishing the LIJ leader in the front row. It's almost as if Kenny is back in the junior heavyweight division, pulling off reckless moves similar to Naito's stablemate Takahashi.

Back in the ring, the surprisingly one-sided match continues to tear along at a frightening pace. Naito is really bumping all over the place for Kenny, taking signature moves such as the snapdragon, gutwrench powerbomb, and V-trigger with aplomb. The latter comes after the bout's first electrifying exchange of counters (but certainly not its last) - and yet there's still no foothold for Naito yet.

That changes before long, as he counters a One-Winged Angel into a crunching reverse 'rana. Naito works his way back into contention, but Kenny is stronger than he's ever been in his career, and regains control despite taking a big move. He goes for another One-Winged Angel, but again Naito counters - this time with Destino - and pulls a page from Okada's playbook, maintaining wrist control.

He goes for a second Destino, but Omega powers him up into position for the One-Winged Angel. Naito tries to roll to safety, but Kenny traps his limbs and mercilessly drops him headfirst onto the canvas! Another near-fall follows, after which both head to the top rope - raising the stakes both literally and metaphorically.

Here we see perhaps the most impressive spot of the match, as Naito counters a super One-Winged Angel with a ridiculous sunset-bomb. He follows it up with Destino, and again Omega kicks out! It seems maybe a touch ridiculous, but he's the IWGP Heavyweight Champion after all. Perhaps some of Okada's invincibility has rubbed off...

Kenny counters another Destino attempt into a terrifying sit-out Tombstone, followed by a more conventional piledriver. Naito kicks out - perhaps the one truly far-fetched moment of the match - but Omega is unrelenting, and finally puts him away with another V-trigger and the One-Winged Angel.


Aftermath: At the time of writing, Omega and Naito have both gone on to have one further match in the G1. Kenny defeated Goto in another 5-star main event barn-burner, while Naito improved his record to 1-1 with a victory over Ishii.

However, the lasting effects of this match will probably be felt later on. I wouldn't at all be surprised if Naito's loss here comes back to bite him towards the end, depriving him of a chance to reach the final. With Ibushi and Omega both B Block frontrunners, this result could have ended his G1 Climax before it's even really started.

On the other hand, it's a huge win for Kenny, avenging his loss in last year's final, and knocking off one of his strongest rivals early on.

As the G1 progresses, I wouldn't be surprised to see both men put on a mini-collection of further classics. However, despite only taking place on the second night of the tournament, the pair have set an incredibly high bar. We may have already seen the best of the competition.

I wouldn't bet on it though...

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Jack G. King

Written by Jack G. King

Head of News at Cultaholic.com | [email protected]