134. Will Ospreay (c) vs Kenny Omega (IWGP US Championship, NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17)

Wrestle Kingdom 17 has been and gone…and the only match people are talking about is Will Ospreay vs Kenny Omega for the IWGP US Championship. Of course, this dream match was the bout to put bums on seats. Forget White vs Okada; that was old hat with an obvious outcome. Every wrestling fan I talked to suddenly had an interest in NJPW. It’s a bout that would bring in every type of wrestling fan. Could they live up to the lofty expectations? Almost…almost…

A dream match comes with unreal expectations, doesn’t it? I can think of only a few dream matches that lived up to their billing. Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 is one of my favourite matches of all time, a match I’d hoped for when HBK returned to the WWE in 2002. How many dream matches can you name that have lived up to their hype? I admit to getting wrapped up in the hype for Ospreay vs Omega, although I am very aware of their  (very similar) flaws.

Both wrestlers tend to give in to their excesses, leaving selling and in-ring psychology at the door in favour of fancy flips and big moves. And while it’s undeniably thrilling to watch in the moment, on repeat viewing (and even shortly after the first viewing) it is hard to recall what happened. They need someone who can tone down their excesses. Would the two of them together indulge in their excesses? Or would they, somehow, tone down their excesses?

For the first ten minutes of the bout, the weight of expectation held heavy over the match. Neither wrestler seemed to know what to do; the action looked disjointed. Omega himself, in his first singles match in under a year (thanks to various injuries and surgeries), looked a little rusty…out of his depth, even. Slowly but surely, the two notched up the action, and I feared they were pacing themselves for a lengthy bout. Not every great bout has to reach the 45 minute mark, does it?

Underwhelming is the word I’d describe the first half of the bout. Even Omega introducing a table into the bout only increased the excitement a little. However, after Omega hit a sickening DDT off the top rope on to the exposed top turnbuckle, the match started to properly reach for those lofty expectations. The DDT left Ospreay bleeding from the top of the head, and he sold the injury beautifully. This could perhaps be the best overall performance I’ve seen fomr Ospreay. The injury led to Omega dominating much of the second half of the bout, building perfectly to Ospreay’s minimal comebacks.

Not only was Ospreay bleeding profusely, but Omega had targeted his back and kidneys…and Ospreay actually sold his injuries! Typically, he’d ignore selling later on the match in favour of running about the ring at 100 mph and flipping around. Here, he toned down his excesses to highlight the story of the match: Ospreay trying to overcome the better wrestler, Omega. Ospreay wanted to prove he could beat one of the best in the world…arrogantly, he thought he was better than Omega. This bout needed Ospreay to sell properly, to look like the underdog with little spurts of offence.

Like I said, Omega is guilty of the same excesses. Unfortunately, he did give in to those a little during this bout. Omega could have slowed down, emphasising the fact that his injuries have put him out of action for almost a year. He obviously still isn’t at 100%…and maybe that should have been a bigger part of the match? But as his domination of the bout increased, the drama proprtionately increased as well.

The second half of the bout almost reached those unreal expectations. I rallied for Ospreay, as his comebacks continued to be put down by a cocky Omega. The drama only increased as each wrestler hit big move after big move…but ample time was given between each big move to savour and (for the wrestler) to sell it. Even Omega seem to take a page out of Ospreay’s new book and sell a little more realistically. The last ten minutes will be some of the best wrestling you’ll see all year.

So, unfortunately, as a whole the match didn’t reach those lofty expectations. The weight of hype seemed to weigh heavy on each wrestlers’ shoulders early on in the bout. Perhaps Omega’s ring rust played a role in the slow start as well. Even as they picked up the pace, the two failed to show great chemistry. However, after Ospreay suffered a large gash to his head, the high flyer began to temper his excesses and sell his injuries properly. This added to the drama and story of the bout, increasing my engagement with the bout.

From that point on, it almost grasped those unreal expectations. There’ll only be a few bouts that attain these levels of drama, action and excitement this year…and we are only at the start of it! No doubt Meltzer will give this ten stars out of five. It will break his rating system. But I found my mind wandering for the first half of the bout, with the two wrestlers giving into their excesses, and at the same time, failing to provide any real chemistry. But as soon as Ospreay slowed things down and began to sell with aplomb, it became a Match of the Year contender. 4* match? Easily. 5* bout? Maybe after a rewatch…

Hammy’s Rating: **** (out of 5)

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