Image: NJPW

In the Western world, fans of professional wrestling are constantly faced with the yearning for alternative content to WWE’s often intelligence insulting product. In the search for quality programming, an increasing number have turned to New Japan Pro Wrestling. At the forefront of the brand is Bullet Club leader, Kenny Omega, who over the past year has asserted himself as the the biggest wrestling phenomenon in the world.

A year ago, the WWE captured the mass signature of NJPW household names Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson – a move that put a considerable dent in the promotion’s star power. Since then, Kenny Omega has rose to superstardom, filling the void left by his Bullet Club brethren and Nakamura, thus rendering the notion that the company would struggle without WWE’s new signees to be unfounded.

In capitalising on the situation, ‘The Cleaner’ immediately declared his switch from Junior Heavyweight to Heavyweight competition and went on to capture the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and put in a marathon performance to win the 2016 G1-Climax. With this, Omega wrote his name in the history books, a feat that neither former Bullet Club leaders turned WWE Superstars Finn Bálor and AJ Styles managed to achieve throughout their New Japan tenure. The win earned Omega a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. 

The match took place at WrestleKingdom 11 in the Tokyo Dome on January 4th, when Omega faced off against the company’s number 1 Japanese star, Kazuchika Okada. In his habit of making history, the event saw Omega become the first ever non-Japanese competitor to headline NJPW’s annual flagship event. And he did so in breathtaking fashion. The gruelling main event immediately became an instant classic. Garnering widespread acclaim, it is the only match in history to be rated 6 out of 5 stars by walking wrestling encyclopedia and journalist, Dave Meltzer. 

Image: NJPW / TV Asahi

Omega vs Okada was as fine a display of pure sporting talent as you’ll find in the squared circle, or indeed in any tennis court, football pitch or boxing ring the world over. Before the bell rang, the big fight feel engulfed the Tokyo Dome and over the next 45 minutes an adoring crowd witnessed the art of puroresu (full contact) wrestling at its mind-bending, exhilarating best. The chemistry on show harked back to the famous Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat trilogy of 1989, as NJPW took its first step in its quest to become a mainstay worldwide brand.

With Kenny Omega at the forefront of the company, its mission is in safe hands. The star is a connoisseur of the nation’s customs, a bilingual speaker of fluent English and Japanese – and has reached considerable coverage in Japanese popular culture while becoming increasingly engrained in the psyche of the North American industry. His thirst to become a genuine legend in his adopted homeland before anything else is perhaps the most striking part of Omega’s rise to prominence. With WWE knocking his door at every given opportunity, Omega’s refusal to leave behind his vision in Japan for money is a testament to his unique resolve. For now it seems, the warrior code displayed in the Tokyo Dome’s and Ryogoku Kokugikan’s of the world is just as meaningful as the bright lights of WrestleMania.