OSAKA, Japan – Fans have been waiting a long time, and they finally got it. After almost 3 years, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) finally hands Kenny Omega their top accolade, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
We’re just fresh off what is possibly the greatest (and longest) main event of pro wrestling in 2018. Omega has been chasing after the title current ace Kazuchika Okada’s been holding for around two years now, going through two different heartbreaks. In a ridiculous two out of 3 falls match with no time limit, both men took each other to what has to be the absolute limits of the human body. Dropkicks, Rainmaker lariats, and V-Trigger knees were flying everywhere, enough to defeat an ordinary man many times over; but if there are people in the world who epitomize the larger-than-life bombast of old pro wrestling, it’s these two men.
Omega’s only been able to beat Okada once—in a non-title match, so there’s been added pressure on him to finally win. He’s a hell of an athlete, but his opponent seemed to be the savvier wrestler, so it came down to who had more fighting spirit within them. (The fighting spirit is an important concept in the Japanese puroresu style of pro wrestling, allowing wrestlers to rise above and beyond the normal limitations of the human body.) Okada has a penchant for handily winning big matches like these, so it was normal for everyone to come in afraid that he’s going to come out victorious yet again.
The truth is, it’s been high time Omega won the title. NJPW tells stories on a broader scope than what most fans are used to with the WWE, whose high-octane, perpetual-motion weekly machine means things move fast. So because WWE’s conditioned fans to want things now, NJPW’s sense of time is almost geological in nature. Omega was always going to win the title; it’s just a matter of when NJPW wants it to happen.
But just because fans were impatient, doesn’t mean they were wrong about it. Dominion has to be, at this point, NJPW’s biggest play to western fans: along with Omega, former WWE stars Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio are on the show too. After the show, all but two championships are held by gaijin (foreigners). If it wasn’t clear before that they were trying to hook in non-Japanese fans, they’re smacking us across the face with it now.
So because they’re trying to be marketable to the West, I think it was long time for them to compromise a little and double down on the western style. Okada has been champion for quite a while now, and people have been clamoring for that elusive first title win for Omega for the longest time. While it’s admirable that NJPW’s creative team insists on the story they’re telling on their own time, a smarter promoter may have adjusted the story to the crowd—especially when everyone was already ready for an Omega title run. The company’s lucky they’ve entrusted their biggest championship to arguably the top two wrestlers in the world right now.
That said, don’t expect this rivalry to be over just yet. Okada gets his obligatory rematch, and I have a feeling they’ll be taking this up a notch further. I mean, how else can you top a two out of three falls match? With just about anything else, if we’re talking about Okada and Omega.
Chris Jericho is here to stay
And because NJPW is investing heavily on their gaijin talent to presumably draw the western crowd even further, it was both surprising and unsurprising that Chris Jericho actually beat IWGP Intercontinental Champion Testuya Naito for his title.
Jericho revives his cruel, inspired heel work just for NJPW—just because he can, by his own admission, bring out that edge that he can’t really show in the WWE. Their match is the only bout that ended in western-style shenanigans, with a low blow to Naito and a well-placed Codebreaker, and it worked. It wasn’t the classic that was his match with Omega at Wrestle Kingdom, but it was enough to stand out from the formulaic NJPW style.
I had a feeling this would happen right before the match, especially considering 1) Jericho already lost to Omega at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom show, and 2) NJPW’s heading back to the US in July for a special to kick off their annual G1 Climax tournament. The company could definitely use the cred boost that comes from a Jericho title win, even more so when it means he’ll be sticking around for a while. (Even if he does just hold the title for a month.)
All in all, this company-wide shakeup is going to make for a really interesting second half of 2018. I actually hope Rey Mysterio stays around to feud with some heels, but even then it’s looking to be some really good fun. Tune in next week when I discuss my predictions for this year’s Money in the Bank PPV.
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On this week’s episode, PWR’s Council of Trabajadores step out of the shadows and discuss their epic storyline! Listen to it here! – Rappler.com