In less than two days, New Japan Pro Wrestling will present its annual Wrestle Kingdom event, the promotion’s biggest show of the year. As I’ve written before, the resurgence of New Japan, and in many ways, Japanese business as a whole, is remarkable. The upswing and expansion of NJPW continued in 2017 with distribution of the product through the New Japan World streaming service with more shows available in English, and two sold out shows in Long Beach, CA last year. While the organization has rebuilt much of its legendary status within its native country, expansion into the North American market is ultimately the key to a global product. Granted, there are some logistical hurdles with the language barrier and time zones, but even those “obstacles” are a part of what make the Japanese product an alternative to the American wrestling landscape. In many ways, New Japan isn’t necessarily competition to the WWE, but rather compliments it as a way to give fans move variety, which benefits the entire industry.
However, it’s very possible that the Toyko Dome event will get more foreign exposure this year than any other time in the history of the Wrestle Kingdom events. Last November, the legendary Chris Jericho made a surprise challenge via a video package to Kenny Omega, the leader of the Bullet Club that had one of the best years in the history of the business last year with several stellar matches, including thrilling bouts against the IWGP champion, Kazuchika Okada. Omega is undoubtedly the most popular gaijin athlete on the NJPW roster and was arguably the best wrestler of the year in 2017. The Jericho announcement created a tremendous buzz around the Tokyo Dome show, but the angle was taken to the next level when Jericho appeared live in New Japan last month to attack Omega as a way to continue to build toward the legitimate dream match.
First, it must be said that it speaks volumes to the greatness of Chris Jericho that he continues to stay cutting edge and a head of the curve after a nearly three decade career. Jericho could’ve retired long ago with an impressive resume and been considered a legend. He could’ve used his past accomplishments for a nostalgia run in the WWE just for an easy paycheck. But, the former Undisputed champion always finds a way to reinvent himself and puts in the work to continue to evolve as a performer. You will never see Jericho “mail it in,” and his desire to keep his character fresh in a variety of ways puts him in a league of his own in many ways.
It’s remarkable that Jericho is still able to surprise the wrestling world, considering that almost everything is exposed in the current era. Again, this speaks to his incredible career, as he goes the extra mile to make his appearances a surprise for the fans.
Kenny Omega, the Winnipeg native, actually signed a WWE deal over a decade ago, but had a negative experience during his time in Deep South Wrestling, particularly because of former DSW trainer, Bill Demott, who was fired from the WWE for misconduct a few years ago. Eventually, Omega made a name for himself on the independent scene and found himself as a performer in Japan for the DDT promotion in 2008. While DDT is known for being somewhat bizarre for various gimmick matches, it’s viewed differently within the Japanese culture than the way it might be perceived in the United States. Regardless, Omega made a name for himself in DDT, and that led to an offer from New Japan.
After sporadic appearances in NJPW during his formative years in Japan, Omega was offered a full-time deal in late-2014 when he became “The Cleaner” as an addition to The Bullet Club, one of the most popular stables in the world. When AJ Styles signed a WWE deal in 2016, Omega was elevated to the leader of the group and achieved main event status the following year. Make no mistake about it, Omega earned his status, as his matches with Okada were incredible. The trilogy of matches with epic sagas of athleticism that cemented them both as two of the top talents in the world and their series of matches in pro wrestling history.
Nobody would’ve even thought it was possible that Jericho would make a surprise appearance for New Japan and to work such a major match. It’s extremely rare that legitimate dream matches happen and that’s what will take place at the Tokyo Dome. The showdown of “Alpha vs. Omega” should be a great match and considering the surprise of the set up, who knows what’s next for Jericho in New Japan? It’s very possible this might be more than just a one-off match for Jericho. The challenge for the contest with the video package would’ve been enough to create anticipation for it, but the attack and press conference added more depth to the feud. Aside from that, NJPW commentator, Don Callis originally suggested the match to Jericho, and both grapplers are from Winnipeg so that’s another aspect of the bout. The most important aspect of the Jericho vs. Omega match is probably that it could bring more North American exposure to the product than any other match in the history of the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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