Ahead of Kenny Omega challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11, Alan Counihan has been chronicling the journey that led Omega to the biggest match of his career. This is the final installment in that series. Here are parts one, two, three, and four.
As much as DDT had progressed as a promotion and as solid a footing as it's gained for itself within the Japanese wrestling industry, there were two things that couldn't be denied. Kota Ibushi had outgrown DDT, and Kenny Omega had outgrown DDT.
Unlike Ibushi, who didn't want to completely unchain himself from the company he loved (signing a duel contract to allow him to stay working DDT), Omega went all in on New Japan. His goal was simple -- he wanted to become the biggest star in Japanese wrestling. To do that, he needed to work for the biggest company in Japanese wrestling.
In classic Omega fashion. his next move caught people off guard. In late 2014, Kenny debuted as a New Japan contracted wrestler but he did so as a member of heel unit The Bullet Club. In doing so, he also debuted a brand new look and character as "The Cleaner" -- akin to an over the top comic book super villain.
One of the assets that many felt was his key to success as a major star was cast aside as he refused to speak Japanese (which he can fluently) and would only communicate in his native tongue. But this was all part of Omega and Gedo's master plan. Omega was brought in as a junior heavyweight but it was neither his intention, nor the intention of the New Japan booker, for that to be his ultimate destiny.
Subtle hints were dropped along the way that big things were planned down the road with The Cleaner, but they were just biding their time. The strongest of these was at the April 2015 Invasion Attack show when Omega was cornering Bullet Club leader AJ Styles as he defended his IWGP title against Omega's best friend from another life, Ibushi. Omega displayed some subtle conflicted mannerisms at key moments towards the finish which were out of sync with his ultra-assured character. After AJ won and stood over Ibushi, Omega was glaring a hole through the unaware champion.
It was clear that an Omega vs. Styles altercation was coming but we may never know when it was planned for. Perhaps January 5th, 2016 was the night it would go down, but it ended up being the night it had to go down as Styles unexpectedly gave NJPW his notice at the previous day's Tokyo Dome show.
Omega, having relinquished his junior title to KUSHIDA at the Dome, was free to move to the heavyweight ranks and he did so in stunning fashion. On the 5th at Korakuen Hall, he cleanly pinned Intercontinental champ Shinsuke Nakamura, and in an incredibly well done angle, he attacked his partner Styles in the post-match. In the process, Kenny usurped the Bullet Club leadership and rebuilt it with himself and The Young Bucks at the front as "The Elite."
2016 ended up being a story of one breakout after another by Kenny. Following the events of January, his next major move was to steal the show at New Beginning in February where he defeated long-time ace Hiroshi Tanahashi for the vacant IC title. From entrance to exit, it was one of the strongest performances by any wrestler all year. He was a superstar that night in Niigata, and even teased the fans with a little Japanese in his celebratory promo.
In July at Dominion, Kenny's title-losing effort against Michael Elgin in the first ever New Japan ladder match was off the charts performance wise. His work in this match was eerily similar to Shawn Michaels in his big ladder matches.
With the title gone from around his waist, a keen eye would have picked Omega for big things in his first ever G1. However, nobody was looking in his direction. The look in his eyes and the tone of his voice at the pre-tournament press conference should have been a dead giveaway for everyone. When he stepped up on finals weekend and won the tournament with two Match of the Year caliber performances against Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto, the name Kenny Omega was on the lips of the wrestling world.
Right now, heading into Wrestle Kingdom 11 at The Tokyo Dome and the most exciting first time main event New Japan could possibly produce, Omega is arguably the best performer in the industry and definitely the most driven. If you don't think Kenny Omega is going to try to have the greatest match in wrestling history on January 4th, then you haven't been paying attention to Kenny Omega's career.
And as he likes to always keep us guessing...there's no shortage of hints being dropped about a certain man in a tiger mask who's working the opener at the Dome. Will Wrestle Kingdom end with Omega and the man behind that mask face-to-face? With Kenny, you never know.