There were few safer bets in wrestling than Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay stealing the show at Wrestle Kingdom. After all, that’s who both guys have so consistently been, especially in that setting. This was a match with almost impossibly high expectations and yet, they still felt certain to exceed them. At Wrestle Kingdom though, Omega and Ospreay didn’t just add another great match to their respective catalogues, they produced a very particular masterpiece. A timeless battle, this instant classic was built upon uniquely restrained performances.
The drama and depth on display here wasn’t a shock to me, of course, with both men sporting greatest hits that speak for themselves. With that being said, I did expect this match’s core identity to be a simple, but spectacular case of one-upmanship. Two of the most dynamic, explosive wrestlers on earth, both armed with a truly rare degree of creativity and innovation. Admittedly, I expected an offensive spectacle beyond anything else, a showcase of some of wrestling’s most awe-inspiring combinations and sequences.
Naturally, those moments still appear in breath-taking flashes but ultimately, something much more grounded was on display. For all the talent involved in this matchup, it’s most appealing feature was the perceived conflict between them. The ‘Best Bout Machine’ and his immediate successor, a younger champion simply desperate to claim the crown. There’s a natural resentment in that setup, one that played runner up to the usual ‘dream match’ excitement until their pre-match press conference. In that setting, this dynamic truly found itself.
Kenny Omega’s return to New Japan wasn’t a hero’s triumphant tale but rather, something drenched in spite. Omega wasn’t a moustache-twirling villain per se but he was willing to veer in that direction, disturbed by the matchup’s narrative. This wouldn’t be a willing passing of the torch, nor would it be a respectful endorsement of one’s apparent replacement. Instead, this almost about Omega regaining his prior spot, truly dismissive of Ospreay’s candidacy to fill the vacancy. In some form or fashion though, Omega had still been here before.
Will Ospreay wasn’t a complete newcomer to this moment either, becoming a regular show closer since Omega’s departure. In that though, lies the conflict, with Ospreay’s ascension being intrinsically tied to that slot’s sudden emptying. That’s not fair or in any other matchup, even particularly relevant but here, it’s immovable, the truth that positions Ospreay as a champion with hurdles ahead. This also felt like the biggest match of Ospreay’s career, even with a Tokyo Dome main event under his belt in 2022.
That element feels present at the first bell, with Ospreay charging across the ring as a poised Omega calmly steps aside. Immediately, it seems as though Ospreay’s emotional outburst at the press conference had followed him into the ring. A fiery, passionate wrestler, Ospreay was going to follow his instincts under the brightest lights, fighting first and thinking second. That inevitably gets the champion in trouble, undoing some early success by getting greedy on offence, briefly taking to the skies only to be sent flying into the ringside barricade.
Within minutes, this clearly distances itself from the admittedly enticing back and forth thriller. Omega is not only in control right away, he has a clear target too, immediately focusing on Ospreay’s back. Ospreay doesn’t just lay down and die in response however, offering retorts throughout but almost always being reminded of his emerging weak spot. Omega’s attacks arrive with disdain, slowly increasing his advantage with a palpable satisfaction. An early Ospreay comeback soon follows either way, even earning a Bret sell on his snappy Stunner counter.
Throughout, Ospreay’s bad back remains in attendance, with the champion visibly battling that even in his finest offensive bursts. Again, that aforementioned desperation gets in Ospreay’s way, with Omega’s avoidance of his naïve OsCutter only exacerbating the injury. Now sporting a swollen eye from Ospreay’s bruising strikes, Omega increases the violence, stomping a table onto the champion’s spine. Again though, he can’t quite take full control, instead wearing another Ospreay flurry before taking advantage of his rash rival once more.
Nonetheless, Ospreay is defiant at every turn, in pursuit of a kill shot whenever his body allows. Bad back and all, that defiance keeps Opsreay more than competitive for the first fifteen minutes or so. That changes in an instant though when in another tactical misfire, Ospreay’s intended super Spanish Fly results in a terrifying shift, allowing Omega to drop him onto the exposed buckle with a horrific DDT. Suddenly, it’s about far more than just winning and losing as covered in blood, Ospreay now finds himself fighting for tomorrow.
Omega’s a willing participant in that fight too, gleefully smashing Ospreay’s head through the already shattered table. For all the range that he’s shown throughout his career, this still felt like an extreme variant of an already rare Omega. He’s not just violent here, he’s nasty, visibly relishing the chance to teach this lesson with an especially vicious flair. It’s physical throughout but at this juncture, it becomes a truly savage display, almost jarring in its brutality as Omega goes through the gears.
There’s a wonderful break from that trend as Ospreay vengefully explodes into action, throwing absolutely everything he has at Omega for a near fall. It’s such a raw moment, futile in truth but so frantic, a desperate window into the champion’s famed capabilities. Ospreay isn’t done yet either, next putting together an extraordinary string of offense as he finally has the challenger reeling. For the first time, Omega seems rattled, suddenly without an answer to these questions as after everything, they’re almost back to square one.
It’s now a fight to the finish, or that’s how it feels at least, with the rivals trading forearms as Ospreay steadily gains an advantage. In reality though, there is no erasing what’s come before, as we’re actually watching Ospreay empty the tank. With those forearms, Ospreay’s remaining fight and fire leaves the building, unsurprisingly still offering that brash trash talk along the way. The damage was done and even with an almost shut right eye, Kenny Omega swiftly closes the show, emphatically ending the champion’s defiant night.
Though still packed with the expected excitement, this match’s raw ingredients were just as emotive. In the end, those near falls still arrive but they come with a depth, earned by the struggle that preceded them. This match is gorgeously paced, flowing fabulously without ever conceding a plot point. Every single moment and shift has time to breathe, allowing an importance that makes each minute matter. It’s an easy watch while still managing to feel gruelling, exhausted by the brutality while equally enthralled by the tale being told.
It’s an especially aggressive appearance from Kenny Omega, adding a striking edge to his more common penchant for violence. That performance positions Ospreay uniquely too, returning him to a role that he flirted with in last year’s G1 Final. Will Ospreay isn’t a hero by any means but he wrestles with such a deep affection, a passion that on the right night, allows him to be a powerful protagonist. I’m truly intrigued by this version of Ospreay, the flawed but proud protector of his promotion.
Speaking of such, this story isn’t complete yet but in my view, any sequel will be building on pure perfection. Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay can have more electric matches than this and inevitably will but along the way, I hope they maintain this grit, this spirt. An instant classic, this was not only one of the most remarkable matches that I can recall but perhaps better yet, this was a modern epic that in so many ways, emphasised and explored timeless ideas.
The creativity and innovation, it’s still there but it’s not the story, that’ll live much longer than any move ever could.