On Kenny Omega, Wrestle Kingdom, and Crossing Over

I feel very, very conflicted about the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11.

I wanted Kenny Omega to win that belt for a few reasons:

1.) Look at this fucking guy. His “Cleaner” gimmick is ripped straight from Cobra, he came out to a Terminator intro, and he’s a sneering cartoon villain with a rubbery face. I’m into his whole thing.
2.) He’s one of the best wrestlers in the world, and his run in 2016 wasn’t a new development — Omega’s been wrestling like that for years, but he’s only recently begun to be taken seriously in New Japan as a contender by being put in the main event picture.
3.) Okada’s a four-time champ and I wanted someone new. Remember Naito’s glorious-but-short-lived run with the IWGP Heavyweight belt? New Japan’s has relied for years on Okada and Tanahashi as top guys, even if their reigns are occasionally punctuated by a Naito or a Styles.

But the more I’ve chewed on it, the more I’m cool with Okada retaining the title.

First of all, that match was great. Both performers went hell for leather, and even if it dragged in a few places, it was still something incredible to kick off 2017. If you’re as bummed as I was about Omega not winning, go back and watch it again now that you know how it ends. It gets better on the second viewing.

But the main reason I’m okay with Okada winning is the buildup to the match and how it positioned Omega in relation to Okada and New Japan Pro Wrestling as a whole.

First of all, Omega cutting a promo after the G1 Climax telling Okada that he was going to treat him “like a little bitch, the way they did in America” gave this feud a tone very different from the NJPW house style of “I’m better than you and I’m going to beat you in a title match.” Putting aside my love of Kenny Omega, that’s one hell of a thing to say in order to get heat from a Japanese crowd, especially coming from the leader of a stable that debuted The American Nightmare Cody the same night as the title fight. I know a lot of us love Kenny because he’s a big nerd and he wrestles like a god, but holy shit, he could not have been more of a heel in this feud. The crowd at the Tokyo Dome was ecstatic when Okada got the three-count — screaming, crying, waving enormous dollar bills with Okada’s face on them, the whole bit. The good guy won.

But Kenny is a future IWGP Heavyweight Champion, I have absolutely no doubt. And for the biggest NJPW show of the year, the one that would kick off a new year, Okada’s win felt like a mission statement within the context of the feud.

The Wrestle Kingdom video package before the main event stressed Omega’s belief that as a bilingual star, he could help make New Japan a global pro wrestling juggernaut due to increased crossover appeal, and that a Japanese star like Okada couldn’t possibly reach the same markets.

Okada retaining the title as the face of the company made a statement: New Japan Pro Wrestling can succeed on its own merits with a homegrown star like Okada as the face of the operation.

New Japan does need new stars that aren’t Okada and Tanahashi, though, and sooner rather than later. I’m worried about Kenny going back to the upper midcard and his momentum going to waste. But he’s also built up a lot of goodwill as an incredible wrestler who genuinely loves and respects New Japan Pro Wrestling, and look, would New Japan have given someone a full Terminator entrance if they didn’t want to give them a push?

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