I hate Kenny Omega.
I remember the exact moment he earned my hate. For a time, if someone asked me why I didn’t watch as much wrestling as I used to, I could point to a single image:
Omega, making his ROH debut with his tight curls and basic trunks, standing in the middle of the ring, screaming “SSSSSSTTTTTOOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPP!” at a charging Delirious, who listened and came to a dead stop in front of Omega. While this made a mockery of even the pretence that wrestling had semblance of reality to it, that wasn’t my real issue. My real problem was that a guy so clearly talented, who clearly had most if not all the tools to be at least VERY good, felt the need to do such outright stupid things in the ring. He blew straight through my willing suspension of disbelief, and landed firmly in the ‘would be ok to never see again’ bin.
It’s not solely Omega’s fault that my fandom took a near fatal blow that day. Had it been healthy and robust, the stupidity of that spot would have barely made a dent. But ROH had been the promotion that, in 2004, had saved my waning fandom and reignited a love of wrestling in me that I thought WWE had been on the verge of killing outright.
By 2008 when I saw Omega for the first time, ROH was falling on hard times and taking my enjoyment with it.
For anyone under the age 25 or so, it is probably just a “back in my day” story to say that access to promotions not on your regular TV was difficult 10-15 years ago. ROH was the first promotion I could follow online relatively easily, but it was still a month plus wait if I could afford a DVD of an event, and downloading a torrent of a show might—literally—take a week with the internet package my apartment had access to at the time.
ROH (usually) presented wrestling as the quasi-sport I most enjoyed, and the wait was not only worth it, but made getting the shows even better. I always found wrestling at its best when it tells slightly exaggerated sport based stories, telling the kind of stories real sports cross their fingers and hope develops. I didn’t need to see weird necrophilia angles – I could watch the best wrestler in the world succeeding, getting cocky, and eventually falling. That worked for me.
By 2008, the bloom was off the ROH rose as the company seemed creatively spent after the loss of much of its core top end talent. And, into that atmosphere walked Kenny Omega, yelling at me to “SSSSSSTTTTTTTOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPP!” watching.
And I listened.
I love Kazuchika Okada.
He is the existential opposite of Omega as far as my fandom goes.
After falling off the ROH train in 2008, I was still a wrestling fan, but compared to previously, just barely. I was not the target audience for what WWE was up to, nothing on the indies was either easily consumable or something I could get emotionally invested in. I wanted to be a fan, but I wanted to be a fan of something I couldn’t find anymore.
While I didn’t have a promotion I was willing to go steady with for a long time, I still paid attention to the field and sometimes had one night stands, and starting in 2010 friends start telling me about the pretty new girl on the block. “Hiroshi Tanahashi in New Japan has gotten REALLY good”, they said. “Sounds great, I’ll have to give it a look,” I’d say, knowing I’d probably end doing other things..
And then, into my semi-dormant fandom, strolled the god of modern technological convenience to wake me up. While falling into a black hole of random YouTubing one day in the winter of 2013, I stumbled onto the full PPV of King of Pro-Wrestling 2012. With a full show staring me in the face, without requiring any effort at all, and to be honest, with nothing better to do, I gave into nostalgia and gave the show a watch.
It’s over four years later, and I haven’t stopped watching yet.
Just like ROH did in 2004, New Japan scratches my itch for wrestling presented as close to a real sport atmosphere. From the exciting juniors, to Shinsuke Nakamura being the Shinsuke Nakamura we now all long for, to Hiroshi Tanahashi putting on dramatic, athletic contests, New Japan was putting on the kind of shows I have always loved. But, above all the other great aspects of the show, one performer stood out beyond all others: The Rainmaker.
For whatever reason, beyond all the others, Okada was the performer I connected with for New Japan right off the bat. Others may have been better, others may have been tougher, others may have been cooler – but Okada was instantly my favourite. Just as watching Bryan Danielson confirm his spot as the best wrestler in the world made mid-2000 ROH such a joy to watch, Okada’s growth from upstart to arguably the best in the world has been the icing on the cake that has been New Japan’s run through the last five years.
January 4, 2017
On January 4th, Okada and Omega broke through several bubbles and put on a match that has, in the six months since, become legendary. It sounds silly and lacking perspective to say that about such a recent match, but it’s true.
Objectively, just look at the facts. A wrestling match that happened in Japan at about 6am eastern between two men who have never been on WWE television ended up being covered by ESPN, FoxSports, and Sports Illustrated online.
Artistically, it may not have been your bag, but if the modern New Japan style floats your boat, then you had a hovercraft watching that match.
Sunday morning, I once again get to bask in wrestling at its best. My favourite wrestler in the world will step in the ring with a wrestler who I can never quite forgive for nearly killing my love of wrestling.
Since January 4th, Okada and Omega have been on divergent paths. Okada has been on a legendary run of incredible title matches, somehow just managing to survive with his title reign intact in a war with Minoru Suzuki, and again in a legendary and tragic battle with Katsuyori Shibata.
Okada’s 2017 run has taken its toll on him, as he takes longer and longer to persevere over his opponents, using his stamina as his best and – save the Rainmaker itself – seemingly his only weapon at the end of some matches.
Like an NHL or NBA team trying to defend a championship for a second or third consecutive season, the grind of constantly facing his opponents at their very best as they try to topple the king is taking its toll on Okada. The fall is inevitable as champions rarely retire—they lose first.
Right Man, Right Place
Omega looks to be the right man, in the right place, at the right time to take advantage of a champion who, as great as he is, is at the end of his rope.
Following his WrestleKingdom loss, Omega disappeared for a few weeks, needing to recover not only physically but seemingly emotionally from losing not only one of the best matches in history, but from missing out on what he considered his destiny.
His run in the New Japan Cup ended in shocking fashion when Tomohiro Ishii beat him in the opening round. Omega worried that Okada had given Ishii the secret to beating him. Falling further down the contender list, Omega rebuilt himself. In order to gain a shot at vengeance against Okada, he first had to get revenge on Ishii.
He obtained that at Wrestling Dontaku on May 3rd. In his third classic singles match of 2017 in a New Japan ring, Omega put Okada’s CHAOS lieutenant away with a One Winged Angel and set up Sunday’s showdown.
I might hate Kenny Omega but Sunday morning, he might just stand on top of the wrestling world with its most prestigious championship held high.