“Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”
-Edward Said, Blind Imperial Arrogance, LA Times 7/20/2003
June 9th, 2018 was the date that the west finally invaded the Japanese mainland. At the close of New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Dominion event, there were more foreign NJPW champions than seemingly ever before. Michael Elgin held the NEVER Openweight Championship, The Young Bucks were IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Jay White was the IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion, Chris Jericho was the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and Kenny Omega finally followed through on his promise to “Change The World,” by capturing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Kazuchika Okada. It’s entirely possible that all this western invasion has done is destabilize the region, while an elite few line their pockets.
From a wrestling standpoint, Omega’s victory was probably the greatest moment of the year, in any company. Here was an icon of underdogs everywhere, from nerds, to queers, and every misfit wrestling fan in between, a snot-nosed punk kid who saw tapes of Kota Ibushi and was drawn to Japan to wrestle, climbing to the top of the mountain, seemingly toppling the most dominant force the wrestling world had seen for some time, holding one of the more prestigious prizes in a wrestling world that was putting less and less stock in their championship belts. Kenny Omega did the impossible. Kenny Omega conquered Japan.
Kenny Omega is Rome. Kenny Omega is England. Kenny Omega is Alexander The Great. He currently heads into Wrestle Kingdom 13, looking at the breadth of his empire, and if his current YouTube video is any indication, there is a tear in the eye of sovereign.
He started the year on a high, retaining the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against Active WWE Superstar Chris Jericho.Kenny Omega essentially defended the honor of NJPW against the imperial forces of WWE.The next night, riding the natural vibes of victory, Kenny Omega made a grave error.
At New Year’s Dash, Kenny Omega used his platform to highlight a newcomer to New Japan Pro-Wrestling. That newcomer was Switchblade Jay White. Omega announced that White was the newest member of Bullet Club. Then White struck, dropping Omega with Blade Runner. White joined CHAOS, and was granted a match for Omega’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship.
Jay White dismantled Kenny Omega at New Beginning In Sapporo, winning the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship, and igniting a blazing debut year for the New Zealander. Jay White has been one of the most destabilizing forces in New Japan, and much of that started with the spotlight Omega shined on him.
After the New Beginning match, Hangman Page tried to challenge Jay White for the title, but Kenny wanted to let White have his moment with the title. This led to a shoving match. Then Cody Rhodes came out and attacked Omega, the first shot in a civil war that would define Omega’s year. Just as things looked dire, and Rhodes was going in for the kill, Omega was saved by the last person he’d ever expect, his former-tag partner, Kota Ibushi.
Having been betrayed by his business partners in Bullet Club, the man that drew Kenny Omega to Japan in the first place was saving Omega once again. The Golden Lovers were reunited in Sapporo. Even in loss, it felt like this might be the best year of Kenny Omega’s life.
Kenny Omega next found himself at war with Cody Rhodes for control of Bullet Club. The schism in the faction led to Omega spending much of the year fighting with those closest to him. The Golden Lovers fought a dramatic battle with Kenny Omega’s Elite partners The Young Bucks at Strong Style: Evolved. Cody pinned Kenny at Supercard of Honor. The schism lasted through Bullet Club’s Five Year Anniversary at Wrestling Dontaku on 5/3, much to the chagrin of BC founding members like Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale. Team Kenny & Team Cody might as well have been the same thing to them, Team Colonizer.
June 9th, Kenny Omega defeats Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The Young Bucks, new champions themselves, reunite with Omega. They bring Kota Ibushi into the fold, and form The Golden Elite. The west was on top of the wrestling world, mission accomplished.
Kenny Omega’s first appearance, post-Dominion, was a video game conference called CEO. Omega decided to bring the NJPW experience to the convention, running a show called CEOxNJPW. The event was an utter quagmire.
The show opened with a registered sex offender wrestling a domestic abuser, and never really recovered. While the IWGP Heavyweight Champion was there, and while there were NJPW stalwarts like Jushin Thunder Liger, Rocky Romero, Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi, it was also full of part-time and freelance talent like Michael Nakazawa, Dragon Lee & Jeff Cobb. Despite the branding, it didn’t feel like New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Kenny Omega’s first title defense was a shenanigan-filled brawl with Cody Rhodes at G1 Special In San Francisco. The match had tables, ladders, chairs, and everything else that one would expect from WWE or Ring of Honor. It didn’t feel like a New Japan main event.
The San Francisco match was overshadowed by the attack that came after. Having tired of the colonizing forces of The Elite, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Bad Luck Fale & King Haku attacked Kenny Omega, Cody, The Bucks, Hangman Page, and officially booted The Elite from Bullet Club. Kenny Omega had been champion barely a month, and already he was looking vulnerable.
While training for the G1 Climax, Kenny Omega called out Tetsuya Naito, calling him “lazy,” and generalizing about a lack of commitment on the part of the Japanese roster. Omega went on to beat Naito, en route to a winning record in the round robin portion. Omega’s only obstacle en route to the G1 Climax finals was the man that saved him at the beginning of the year, Kota Ibushi. Ibushi defeated Omega and went on to face Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals.
Hiroshi Tanahashi won the 2018 G1 Climax. The Ace of New Japan bested Kota Ibushi, and earned the right to challenge Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 13. A literal culture clash was seemingly set for Tokyo Dome.
The IWGP Heavyweight Champion took a backseat in the fall. While Kenny defended the title against Tomohiro Ishii, Jay White was leading an insurgency. The young wrestler that Kenny Omega had platformed at the beginning of the year was tearing down the very foundations of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He destroyed CHAOS from within, and caused havoc wherever he went.
Kenny Omega had another title defense at King of Pro Wrestling. It was a three way dance against Kota Ibushi & Cody Rhodes. The multi-man format led to many to once again complain that this didn’t feel like the New Japan-style that many know and love. Earlier that night, Jay White, Gedo & Jado joined Bullet Club. With Jay White & Tama Tonga united, New Japan has never been less stable.
It is up to Hiroshi Tanahashi, The Ace of New Japan, to right the ship. Tanahashi teamed with Kazuchika Okada, seemingly sheltering what remained of CHAOS within the confines of NJPW’s Main Unit. This essentially turned Tanahashi into the main general of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the leader that many feel Omega isn’t. In this role, he’s been one of Omega’s most outspoken critics. The criticism is not unfounded.
Kenny Omega is probably one of, if not the best in the world. He is absolutely deserving of every accolade he’s received over the course of his career. It’s only been his attempts to define New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s culture as a promotion that has fallen flat. All of that has to do with Kenny Omega’s future.
It’s entirely possible, that as quickly as he’s taken the top spot in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, he could be gone. Thick, clouds of rumors currently obscure Kenny Omega’s future. Come January 5th, he could be bound for WWE or the rumored-All Elite Wrestling that Cody Rhodes is cooking up. There is a very real feeling that Cody, The Bucks & even Omega could take their quest for world domination into direct competition with NJPW. If it’s true that Omega is set to leave New Japan behind, pockets-fatter than when he arrived, then it makes his promise to “Change The World,” feel a bit more like the way Dick Cheney prefaced the invasion of Iraq.
“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
-Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, 3/16/2003
As Wrestle Kingdom nears, the anti-Omega sentiment is strong from Japanese fans. While English fans are celebrating a champion that doesn’t need subtitles, Japanese fans feel that Omega, The Elite, it’s all imperialism. They’re nothing but carpetbaggers, that have come to profit off the boom created by the launch of NJPWWorld.com. The ending of Omega’s recent YouTube video all but confirmed this. At the end of the video, Omega summons power from his rich, Elite friends (and Cody’s dog), while Tanahashi summons power from the entirety of the NJPW fanbase. This is Kenny all but admitting that he is not the populist ruler that his fans would have you believe. He is an imperial force, a profiteer, a poacher, an invader, and his subjects are tired of being lorded over by a foreign monarch.
Win or lose on January 4th, Kenny Omega has been a divisive champion. In that way he is a perfect encapsulation of NJPW’s western expansion. He started the year defending NJPW against the imperial WWE, only to find himself become the same kind of corporate war raider that would fit Stamford like a glove. If he stays in New Japan, he will have to face the fact that there is not much left to accomplish. If he leaves New Japan, he leaves it in a state of disarray, its identity cracked, and its foundations under attack by forces that he himself propped up in his quest for power. For better or worse, Kenny Omega has changed the world.
Wrestle Kingdom 13 will air on 1/4, 2am EST and will be broadcast LIVE on NJPWWorld.com.