Before this year, the last time Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay were in the ring together was on December 15, 2018, in a Korakuen Hall Road To match featuring Omega teaming with fellow Golden Lover Kota Ibushi against Ospreay & Hiroshi Tanahashi. It was a match that blew away all expectations, garnering a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer and 28th placement in the Voices of Wrestling match of the year poll. It was a symbolic match—on the surface, it was simply to build two Wrestle Kingdom matches—Omega vs. Tanahashi and Ibushi vs. Ospreay. However, if one were to look deeper, it was the last time that the foreign ace at the time, Omega, would get in the ring with one of the men tasked with succeeding him in Ospreay.
We all know what happened next.
Omega left NJPW to form AEW and be a world champion there, and Ospreay went on to rise the ranks in New Japan and eventually win the IWGP title in 2021. Ever since the two’s paths separated, shots have been exchanged from both men via social media and interview comments, leading fans to clamor for a singles match between these two men who were arguably the best wrestlers in their respective promotions. Was this the intended effect of the social media sparring, or simply an unintended positive consequence of two wrestlers who simply didn’t like each other accidentally building heat towards a future match? The truth likely lies in the middle somewhere.
The intensity of the barbs picked up greatly in the earlier half of this year, as Omega grew closer and closer to returning to AEW after his multi-month-long injury recovery process. In an interview with Fightful in the weeks leading up to Forbidden Door, Omega took many shots at Ospreay. Omega stated that he believed that NJPW made the right choice by going with Jay White as their foreign ace over Ospreay, and that Ospreay cared too much about having five-star matches. A very interesting point came from the man who had a literal gimmick about having five-star matches, but I digress. It is also worth stating that Omega, perhaps more than any wrestler out there, loves involving the media and doing worked shoot stuff like this in build-ups to his matches, so it is very possible that he was greatly exaggerating his true opinions on Ospreay.
It is unclear whether Ospreay thought that to be the case or not. Ospreay was quick to respond to Omega’s comments, accusing Omega of harboring a grudge from when Ospreay knocked out Ibushi, and also accusing Omega of keeping him out of AEW when he was meant to work a program there. All of this led up to August 2021, when Ospreay and his United Empire stable-mates entered the inaugural AEW Trios Championship tournament, where “fate” had them meeting up with the returning Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks. After years of sparring, Omega & Ospreay would finally be in the same ring at the same time nearly three and a half years after the last time they crossed paths. The match was electric. In the fabled halls of the Sears Centre NOW Arena, those six men put on an incredible match that left the fans who made the trek to Hoffman Estates feeling like their trip was more than worthwhile. The day after the match, Ospreay tweeted out that he was done with AEW, as Omega had politicked Tony Khan not to bring him back. There were also backstage rumors that Omega had buried the locker room by saying he wouldn’t have hired the majority of them, reportedly while staring directly at Ospreay. To me, this all screams work, but the probability of the meaning behind those words being genuine remains high. One thing was for certain though – the desire from the wrestling world at large to see these two men square off one vs. one was now at a fever pitch.
Cut to last week, as Omega made his challenge for Ospreay’s IWGP United States Championship with a match at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17, in a great and also hilarious promo where over-the-top heel Omega accused Ospreay of being the virus that prevented New Japan crowds from cheering since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Great stuff. I also would like to note that Kenny Omega & Will Ospreay are two of my favorite wrestlers of the last decade. Despite that and the fact that the build, intentional or not, has been phenomenal so far, my excitement levels for the match at Wrestle Kingdom struggle to get above a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Why is that, exactly?
I think it is a massive waste to have arguably one of the hottest wrestling matches of the last few years in front of a crowd that still can’t cheer audibly.
I could write many thousands of words on why clap crowds have killed puro for me. Hearing the noise of a hot crowd is one of my favorite parts of a great wrestling match, with Japanese crowds, in particular being excellent for this. Since the pandemic started, cheering has been banned mostly in Japan, with exceptions coming to light more and more as of late, with the government beginning to ease restrictions at a glacial pace. Fans’ inability to cheer, combined with a few other factors, has drastically decreased interest in puro in the West. New Japan used to be the hot promotion amongst the wrestling fans in this circle, but now, it is a promotion often forgotten, or even worse, buried for its lackluster storylines and confusing choices over the past two years.
Simply put, clap crowds killed my interest in watching puro, which had previously been my favorite way to pass the time, and without doing a full survey, I’d be willing to be that I am far from the only one who feels this way. Picture in your head what have been hailed as the best matches of the clap crowd era of puro. Do any of them even come close to the highs reached in the cheering days, be it ’90s AJPW, ’00s NOAH, or ’10s NJPW? I certainly would argue that they are not even in the same stratosphere.
The factors stated above are why I believe that despite the match being molten hot, doing Omega vs. Ospreay in Japan in a clap crowd Tokyo Dome (a venue already notorious for being horrible with acoustics) is a mistake business-wise for both companies.
For AEW, there is nothing to gain other than pleasing Canada’s biggest Japanophile by letting him go back to the promotion he once called home and have what is likely to be an incredible match.
For New Japan, it is a big match to get on their home turf after letting AEW use multiple of their major stars and branding on the wildly successful Forbidden Door show in June. Optically for them, it makes sense, and they get to advertise this international dream match in an attempt to sell more tickets for the biggest building they will run all year.
Despite all of that, however, I would argue that having the match in NJPW instead of on an AEW show in America is a massive mistake. AEW is the hotter promotion right now, regardless of what anyone will try to argue. I’m not going to try to argue that AEW is hotter in Japan than New Japan, as that is arguably not the case, but I’d be willing to bet that if AEW went to Japan for a show, it would sell incredibly well.
Putting the match in a cavernous building with fans who are only allowed to clap kills a lot of the buzz the match will get amongst people who don’t watch every New Japan show, fans who perhaps aren’t even aware of the restrictions still in place in Japan. Those who decide to watch anyways will bear witness to a crowd atmosphere that seems more depressing than fun, putting a damper on what is sure to be an incredible match. Will fans who are giving NJPW a shot for the first time since Omega left be tempted to stay and watch a promotion where the fans still can’t cheer, causing the atmosphere to struggle greatly as a result? It’s a question that I feel enough people aren’t talking about, which was the impetus for my decision to make this argument in the written form. I truly believe that if this match were in AEW or even a NJPW show in the USA instead of in Japan, the buzz created would translate to more people watching NJPW than there will be with the match being in Japan. It would be in front of a molten hot American crowd, a crowd filled with people who likely spent hundreds or even thousands traveling to see a dream match between two of the best wrestlers in the last decade. Said crowd atmosphere would almost definitely help the motivation of both competitors, and likely drive the match to be even better than it would be otherwise, which would, in turn, you guessed it, create even more buzz for both promotions involved.
AEW and NJPW are not seeing the true benefits of what they could gain from this match if it were in front of the right atmosphere. Having this match in the Tokyo Dome in front of a non-audible crowd may seem like the right choice for short-term business, but in the long run, I think that it is a waste of what is the hottest match of the last couple of years, which disappoints me greatly as a fan of both men, and is a true shame that the companies involved do not realize the downside of their choices.
Powered by RedCircle