On August 15, 1975, Peter Gabriel left Genesis. His departure came as a major shock to fans, but as a bit of a relief for his fellow band members. They believed Genesis to be a collective – a whole meal to be digested in equal parts. Unfortunately, as Genesis’ exposure increased in the early 1970s, much of the added attention was focused solely on Gabriel. His role as the band’s lead singer, his theatrically flamboyant stage persona, and the release and tour of the concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (created by Gabriel himself) caused significant tensions within the group. After all, it was supposed to be Genesis, not The Peter Gabriel Band. With both sides realizing that things were just not working out anymore, Gabriel left the band on amicable terms.
Of course, now there was a problem: Who replaces Peter Gabriel? Who replaces the man who was considered, whether or not the rest of Genesis liked it, the face of the band? Who becomes the new lead singer? Genesis looked high and low, auditioning hundreds of people, only to discover that the man they were looking for was right under their noses the entire time: Genesis’ drummer Phil Collins.
Collins became the new lead singer of Genesis starting with their 1976 album A Trick of the Tail. For the band, this was a serious gamble. No one could question Collins’ abilities as a singer. During the Gabriel-led era, Collins sang lead vocals on the songs “For Absent Friends” and “More Fool Me,” both exemplifying Collins’ rather talented voice. It was more a question of whether the fans would accept a Genesis without Peter Gabriel.
Why am I talking about Genesis and Phil Collins and the like? Well, New Japan Pro Wrestling has recently had a major departure of its own. Mere hours after the conclusion of Wrestle Kingdom 10, New Japan’s biggest show of the year, it was announced that four members of its roster – Shinsuke Nakamura, A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows – were leaving the company and joining WWE.
I don’t think I need to tell you in excruciating detail how significant the losses of Nakamura and Styles were for New Japan. Chances are you already know that these guys were two of the company’s biggest stars. And all of a sudden, they were leaving.
When Peter Gabriel left the band, Genesis looked to one of their own to fill the void that their top guy left behind. New Japan, in the very short time that Nakamura and Styles departed the company, has seemingly done the exact same thing.
In just over a month, Kenny Omega has gone from being the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion to being a heavyweight wrestler, the IWGP Intercontinental Champion, the new leader of the Bullet Club, and a man with pinfall victories over Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Kenny Omega’s sudden ascension into the role of top heavyweight heel hit like a cannon being shot into your chest. One minute the world was status quo. Then BAM! the cannon exploded, changing everything. Just a rapid succession of moments that flew by with nary a care for your consideration. Omega pins Shinsuke Nakamura at New Year Dash the night after Wrestle Kingdom. After the match he attacks Styles and fires him. Now Kenny’s the new leader of Bullet Club. Now he’s a heavyweight. Now he’s challenging Nakamura for the Intercontinental belt. There was just so much upward movement going on for Omega in such a short amount of time.
So what happens next? He beats Hiroshi Tanahashi at The New Beginning in Niigata and wins the vacant IWGP Intercontinental Championship. I’m going to repeat that so you know how monumental that series of words is – He beats Hiroshi Tanahashi at The New Beginning in Niigata and wins the vacant IWGP Intercontinental Championship. My god, it’s as if he climbed Olympus and cut off Zeus’ head, throwing his beheaded corpse down from the heavens in under a minute.
Kenny Omega is now a top star. Does his sudden and steep rise solely stem from Nakamura and Styles’ departures? I do not know for sure. But they certainly helped. New Japan needed someone to fill the void and they chose Kenny. Shinsuke Nakamura was Intercontinental Champion? Now Omega holds the belt. Styles was the heavyweight leader of Bullet Club? Now it’s Omega. He has even taken on the finishing moves of the men he replaced. Omega now has a Styles Clash and a Boma Ye (or V-Trigger, as he calls it) in his repertoire.
I would like to point out that Omega’s ascension to a heavyweight player did not affect him alone. In fact, the recent events in Kenny’s New Japan career can be felt in other divisions.
Take the junior heavyweight scene, for example. When Kenny joined New Japan has a permanent roster member, he won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship in his very first match. Omega reigned supreme over the rest of the division for almost all of 2015. With Omega now gone from the division, KUSHIDA (who beat Omega for the title at Wrestle Kingdom 10) is the new top dog among the juniors. He has ascended from the #2 role as challenger to being #1 as champion. Now KUSHIDA can be the focal point of the juniors division. And the great thing about it is that when KUSHIDA moves up, that means other wrestlers can ascend into KUSHIDA’s former role as a challenger, hence BUSHI taking on KUSHIDA for the belt at The New Beginning in Niigata. With Omega out and KUSHIDA at the top, there is now a great opportunity for fresh singles matches, something every New Japan fan can savor. Will Ospreay is coming in soon, BUSHI can challenge again, Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask are still hanging around as veterans, maybe Ricochet and KUSHIDA can have a rubber match. And I am not sure about Alex Shelley’s status with New Japan since his last match with them was in November, but that would be another great match should he return.
The ripple effect continues in the junior heavyweight tag team division. Since KUSHIDA is now focused on being a successful singles wrestler and Alex Shelley is M.I.A. (no, not the stable), that means the Time-Splitters are on an extended hiatus. Who comes in to fill that particular void? Ricochet and Matt Sydal. These two come in and in a matter of months, they ascended to the top of the division, beating The Young Bucks at The New Beginning in Osaka to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Of course, knowing how often the junior tag titles are passed around from team to team (insert your own joke here), there’s no telling how long Ricochet and Sydal’s reign will last.
Styles and Nakamura’s departures were not the only ones to have consequences. Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows leaving means that there will be a big hole in the heavyweight tag team division. Guns n’ Gallows were THE TEAM for about two years, holding the IWGP Tag Team Championship three times. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) beat Guns n’ Gallows at Wrestle Kingdom 10 for the belts, making them the new top team, a position they’ve never been in. Makabe is mostly known as a singles wrestler (hell, the guy was a two-time NEVER Openweight Champion last year) while Honma is Honma. If GBH stay together on a more permanent basis, they can give the heavyweight tag division a much needed bolster. Matches with Ten-Koji, Los Ingobernables, The Briscoe Brothers, or Tama Tonga and his as-of-yet-unknown mystery partner are just waiting to be made.
If you know you’re musical history, you know that Genesis’ gamble paid off. Fans enthusiastically accepted Collins as the new lead singer; he brought something different to the table, a more personable and down-to-earth approach compared to Gabriel’s theatricality. Genesis’ sound gradually changed, becoming more and more of a pop-oriented band while downplaying much of their progressive rock roots. This gave them massive success critically and commercially all throughout the 80s and early 90s, the likes of which the band could only dream about with Peter Gabriel at the helm. Phil Collins’ ascension to lead singer was a necessary one, and it ultimately worked.
We will see if New Japan’s gamble will pay off for them as well. The company is entering into unknown territory, a time when they must rely on Kenny Omega to help pull the cart as a top heavyweight. He’ll have help, of course: Okada, Tanahashi, Goto, Naito, Shibata, and Ibushi are right there with him. Phil Collins was not alone either, he had Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks by his side. There will be criticism too. People will mourn for the days of Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles in a New Japan ring, just as some Genesis fans wanted a return to the Peter Gabriel version of the band. They have every right to feel that way. But I personally have enough faith in Omega and the rest of New Japan that they will steer the ship past these shaky times and into calmer waters.