Some wrestlers are just a really good fit within the confines of a given promotion. I don’t think this is a particularly hot take to have, and I think recent history would tell us that I’m not off base in feeling that way. Cody fits AEW like a glove, he fits the promotion so well it’s sometimes hard to remember how mediocre his runs were in ROH, NJPW, and in WWE. I don’t say that with ill-will either, I think Cody is one of the two redeeming things about the entire AEW product, and he’s genuinely entertaining there in a way I never really thought he could be. Cody comes across like a star, and his matches fit the style of wrestling AEW is attempting to present at large probably in part due to the fact that Cody has a bigger hand in orchestrating them. This level of control for Cody was a good thing and anyone with an IQ north of six will acknowledge that.
One could easily juxtapose this with Shinsuke Nakamura, and see that the opposite holds true.
Nakamura isn’t a fit for the WWE, the style plays against his greatest strengths and allows for him to coast by and get lazy. I truly believe the lack of creative freedom and lack of need for innovation has driven Shinsuke into becoming the wrestler he is today, which is to say a shell of a shell that makes real tears flow down my man face every time I tune in to whichever main roster brand he’s on. Nakamura is so beyond irrelevant in the WWE that I couldn’t even tell you which bad unwatchable brand he performs mediocre wrestling on. One could almost forget that for nearly ten years, Nakamura was one of the top stars in Japan doing entrances with fire and exotic dancers, before beating people’s brains into mush. It’s sad to think about that when seeing where he is today, but Nakamura isn’t the only wrestler to make this mistake.
Kenny Omega is the biggest international star wrestling has had in a long time. I know many of you don’t care about the gamer geek crowd, but as someone deeply involved in that scene I can tell you that there are new wrestling fans that Kenny Omega brought into the fold, that love everything he represents and will probably stick with what he does regardless of whether or not it stacks up to his work in Japan. They like their fun-happy gamer man, and if I’m being totally honest I did too. Kenny put on spectacular matches, no one can dispute that every major singles match Kenny Omega had after 2016 was at minimum an athletic spectacle that took your breath away. Some of his classics with Okada, Naito, and Tanahashi will be etched into my mind forever, and I will undoubtedly be explaining the key spots from these matches in 20 years to my apathetic kids, as they shrug me off to watch the newest episode of Man Versus Cyborg. (Spoiler alert for those interested, the cyborg always wins.
Kenny was impactful, he put on some of the greatest matches of my lifetime and yet for some reason I don’t miss him in New Japan.
I don’t clamor for him to reemerge and take control of BULLET CLUB, I don’t hope that he comes back to feud with Okada in the first-ever 24 hour Iron Man match, I don’t even want him to come back and work comedy matches with Yano! Stranger still is the fact that I know Kenny Omega can still go, he’s still a spectacular wrestler at the peak of his powers but I’m simply not interested, and until recently I couldn’t put a finger on why. Why wouldn’t I want to watch six-star classics with Kenny and Naito? Why wouldn’t I want to see the culmination of the Golden Lovers feud at the Tokyo Dome? The answer to this question is simple, and that answer is Jay White.
Now, in the spirit of transparency, I have to inform the reader that I am a mega-mark for good heel wrestlers, and wrestling psychology is enough to make my pants drop if it’s done correctly. I am in fact that guy, and my opinion could undoubtedly be skewed by that fact. With all that being said, I have been a huge fan of the Switchblade over the course of the last two years. For me, he brings everything to New Japan that Kenny Omega didn’t. Jay White isn’t the athlete Kenny Omega is, he doesn’t put on the mega matches Kenny did, but that is in fact the genius of the character. In setting himself apart from Kenny, Jay White set himself apart from the entire New Japan roster.
Kenny Omega’s most redeeming quality in New Japan was that he put on great matches. This was literally the premise of his entire wrestling character, which would’ve worked a lot better in hindsight if he wasn’t in a promotion that included Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, amongst others. Having great matches is something all the aforementioned wrestlers do in their sleep, and the first three, in particular, did well to develop their characters within the company separate from that point, but did Kenny? Nothing truly set Kenny apart from these top guys, and the only long-lasting character work he established between any of them was the fact that they put on really great matches.
When you think of Kenny Omega’s feud with Okada, what exactly is the story? Unless you’re some deep in the weeds Kenny fan who likes lying to himself, the story was “these matches are really great, and boy howdy would we love to watch these two do moves for an excruciatingly long time.” When you think of Jay White’s feud with Okada you think of the betrayal by Gedo, you think of the young upstart punk betraying Chaos to join BULLET CLUB, you think of Jay trying to overthrow Okada within Chaos prior to that, and you think about the bastard heel trying to overthrow the Ace of Japan. These long fulfilling character arcs and stories take place between the top stars in New Japan to add depth to their matches, but if you put a lot of thought into it you’d be hard-pressed to think of any real stories involving Kenny that don’t involve Kota Ibushi, whereas Jay White has compelling stories involved with each and every one of them, and has me salivating at the thought of future matches with any of the major players within New Japan.
With that some of you probably think I’m going to give the galaxy brain take that Kenny Omega is a bad fit for New Japan, and Jay White is a great fit. You’re half right if you made that assumption, Jay White is in my estimation a great fit for New Japan, but that doesn’t mean Kenny was a bad fit. Kenny was obviously a good fit, but I think there were more factors to his success in Japan then simply saying he fit the promotion. I think Kenny was almost a strange example of the promotion working for the wrestler rather than the vice versa being true. I think Kenny thrived within structure, even if he wasn’t under normal circumstances a natural fit for that specific structure.
There is hypocrisy in where I’m going with this article.
I hate the parallels between these two wrestlers, and I really just wish they would cease. They are two completely different wrestlers who bring completely different things to the table. Jay White is a masterclass of character work and story-telling by this point in his career, and will only continue to improve in this respect as his career advances. He was molded by and for the New Japan system, and if he chooses to spend his career there I have no doubt he’ll have a long and fruitful career at the top of the company. Kenny Omega brought something different, he brought spectacle at a time the sport was sorely lacking it. He brought eye-popping athleticism to the Western audience and a style of match that they had long since been denied, but with the introduction of Will Ospreay and the general talent level of New Japan as a promotion, that isn’t what they needed going forward.
What New Japan needed was someone to stir the pot, and to provide a unique challenge to those at the top of the card. A juxtaposition for the athletic classic matches they were putting on ad nauseum, something fresh and exciting. New Japan fans will be breathing with the Switchblade for the next ten years or better if all things go as they should. People will still whine that he isn’t putting on mad dash sprints in the main events for the next ten years, but they’re missing the point.
Variety is the spice of life, and for New Japan in 2020 Jay White has a lot to offer the New Japan product moving forward, and I’m not sure I’d say the same for Kenny.