Okada v. Kiyomiya: The “Match” that became the SHOOT



In my short few years that I have been able to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling matches, some of the most interesting matches that has ever occurred over the years has been the inter-promotional events, and when Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom 17 at Yokohama Arena was announced, there was a level of intrigues amongst the announced matches in the cards, including Pro Wrestling NOAH’s faction KONGO faced off New Japan’s Los Ingobernables de Japon in a best-of-five inter-promotional singles matches, Bullet Club members El Phantasmo, Kenta, and Gedo teamed with Naomichi Marufuji took on the combination of Hiroshi Tanahashi, Takeshi Sugiura, and Satoshi Kojima; however, it was a tag-team match between the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Togi Makabe faced off against Yoshiki Inamura and GHC Heavyweight Champion Kaito Kiyomiya that ended up grabbing the most attention in the online wrestling community, perhaps though, all for the wrong reason as what was supposed to be a normal tag team match that not only was reduced into one of the wildest brawl in recent memory, the two champions of respective promotions will face each other in a non-title match next month. So what in the blue hell just happened?

In terms of the matchup itself, their physical attributes seemed to be even up while Okada-Makabe had its edge with experience, after all, both the latter duo’s combined heavyweight championships gave Kiyomiya a run of their money. However, Kiyomiya seemed to be more motivated than Okada in this match, as if someone seemed to be more annoyed by it than Kiyomiya, to the point that it seemed that Okada has thought little or none of him since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when Kiyomiya made his feelings known in Japanese social media. Indeed, Okada was in his ascendency when Kiyomiya made his debut in 2015, although Kiyomiya has cited the founder of NOAH, the late Mitsuharu Mishawa, as his inspiration to become a pro wrestler, it was Okada who he desired to become. Yet, the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual as Okada felt that Kiyomiya still have a long way to go before reaching his status. As such, Kiyomiya has made its mission to make Okada to acknowledge him as equal, even if it meant that stirring up resentment with blatant disregard for competitive play.

While there’s no secret that a level of bad blood with certain members of both promotions, nothing compared to what was about to occur in this match. For a comparison, when Randy Orton had a legendary rivalry with the WWE Hall of Famer The Undertaker back in 2005, a mistake by a youthful Orton involved with the use of a steel chair led to Taker having a field day later in the same year, although Taker had a major issue with former Head of Talent Relations John Laurinatus for hiding medical report of Bob Orton Jr., due to the latter contracted with hepatitis C some years ago. However, during the course of this matchup, what Taker did to Orton was dwarfed by a country mile in terms of level of fury. After the introduction of both sides, Kiyomiya proactively tried to start the match with Okada, to no avail, as Okada had little interests in interacting with him, whether beginning or ending, which meant that Makabe and Inamura began the match with two behemoths with a test of strength and endurance. Once Makabe had an upper hand, Okada tagged himself in and began picking him off with a few moves that led to the rear chin lock. At this point in time, Kiyomiya made its intentions know to break up the moves, except the referee of the match instructed Kiyomiya to stay in his corner. What came next, though, became apparent when Kiyomiya sneaked in against the referee’s order.

At first, Okada refused to sell Kiyomiya’s stomp on his back once, then no-sell the stomp again twice more, only to have latter to made a round house kick with his left and hooked into Okada’s face, knocking him out to the mat. When the NOAH referee who was assigned to this match saw what happened, he admonished Kiyomiya and demanded him to stay in his corner; meanwhile, Okada touched his face and upon realizing that he was busted open with Kiyomiya’s kick, just like the Malice at the Palace incident in 2004, all hell broke loose as Okada bull-rushed into Kiyomiya and sent him to the guardrails, and Okada went berserk with his punches that resembled a bar fight, to the point that Chris Charlton and Kevin Kelly knew Okada was delivering a “receipt” to Kiyomiya as a retaliation for intentionally bladed his forehead with his boot.

Despite the decision was made, the brawl continued between the two men, resulting into having Inamura, who soon realized what Kiyomiya had done, tried his hardest to hold his cohort back with little success, Okada was beyond incensed by Kiyomiya’s refusal to take his receipt and walked away, charged towards him once more (by the way, I’m aware that Okada also received a German duplex on the floor, but there’s so many to catch up during the brawl, so it is what it is.), and further infuriated his “senpai” by challenging him for a one-on-one match. While some semblance of civility finally restored, the damage was done and this incident didn’t take long for both promotions to book a match between them to a non-title match for February 21, 2023 at the Tokyo Dome as a semi-main event to Keiji Mutoh’s retirement match against the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito.

So what do I think of this confrontation? While it’s true that imitation is a sincere form of flattery, it also comes with a baggage of jealousy. Regardless of your opinions on whether it was a work or work-shoot, one cannot dismiss the negative impact and image that Kiyomiya had made with that round house kick on Okada’s face – when he least expected it. How that NOAH referee couldn’t foresee the ensuing brawl with such intensity was inexcusable, especially when the English announcers had been screaming at him to stop the chaos earlier. Although I would be looking forward to this match, I sincerely hope that this match won’t be reduced to yet another brawl with no warnings whatsoever. On the other hand, there have been some concerns raised by the domestic wrestlers that most of the attentions have been centering around their “gaijins” (wrestlers from outside of Japan), rather than those from the heydays with the “Three Musketeers” of Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, and the late Shinya Hashimoto, as such, the event in Yokohama and the upcoming matches between NOAH and NJPW could well be a revival of domestic talents that would elevate their statuses above the gaijins. We shall see what the future holds, however, one word of advice, don’t stress about the results and enjoy the show.


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