Three performers have dominated wrestling in 2017, and not one of them has been in WWE. Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, and Kazuchika Okada have been titans of the industry not just in New Japan Pro Wrestling but across the world, and all three have very, very good claims to being the Wrestler of the Year in 2017.
But there can only be one winner. Here is why it should be Kenny Omega.
The global reach of Omega
For years New Japan has been happy with conquering Japanese wrestling. They have positioned local heroes atop the card and used the evil foreigner gimmick just as much as WWE used to. However that all started to change in the recent past, as wrestlers came to Japan with impressive talents and charming personas. While Bullet Club was originally a heel faction of gaijin established by Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor), the personalities, abilities, and overwhelming talent of recent incarnations of Bullet Club have turned them from a minor faction into a major power. It started when AJ Styles took over. As a heavyweight he could challenge for the top belts that Devitt, a junior, was barred from. He won the IWGP heavyweight title twice and helped propel Bullet Club into the global consciousness.
When AJ left, Kenny Omega took over and once again Bullet Club was on tenuous footing. Kenny was making the transition from junior to heavyweight, a very tricky thing to make convincing, but oh boy has he managed it. Kenny quickly established himself as a force, and in 2017 he has truly made Bullet Club a worldwide phenomenon.
Bullet Club shirts outnumber anything else at WWE shows and independent promotions around Europe. Kenny Omega’s performance and victory in the 2016 G1 gave him the Tokyo Dome main event with Kazuchika Okada on January 4 2017, and it was that match which truly made him a global icon.
Omega was spectacular but eventually lost. However his popularity shot through the roof. He and the Young Bucks became the hottest thing in wrestling. Their “Being The Elite” YouTube show exploded, and suddenly New Japan had a westerner that was bigger in the eyes of their growing global audience than their champion.
Omega’s popularity allowed them to run a two-night show focused around him in America for the first time and it sold out in minutes. The 2018 Tokyo Dome show has sold faster, with more foreigners buying tickets, than any Dome show in 25 years due to Omega’s power to draw. Oh yea, and he has a match against Chris Jericho lined up for the show. He is truly a powerhouse.
The in-ring argument
Kenny Omega’s in-ring talents are truly ridiculous. He can work the heavyweight style of strikes, but is still capable of using his junior moveset with standing hurricanranas and breathtaking dives. He somehow manages to throw vicious high knees without actually decapitating people, and his missile dropkick to the back of the head is hugely dangerous but masterfully executed.
There is not a more impressive finisher than the One-Winged Angel except perhaps for the avalanche version he busted out against Juice Robinson. However, Kenny isn’t just a video game character that got a power-up. His character work is incredible. You only have to look at the fear he sold in his G1 match against Minoru Suzuki. However, it is perhaps the range and versatility that really stands out with Omega.
He can have epic main event matches but also insanely funny comedy matches. The six-man tag matches he main events with on the indies stand out for being low-impact and yet vastly entertaining. His chemistry with the Young Bucks and ability to play to a crowd means he can have them eating out of the palm of his hand for something as simple as a lock up.
Omega’s two nights of matches in Long Beach on his way to the new IWGP US title were spectacular. He opened the show with a great match against Michael Elgin and closed it out with a war against Tomohiro Ishii. His trilogy with Okada and the G1 final against Naito obviously stand out, but every time he gets in the ring there is magic in the air.
Why he won’t win it
Kenny Omega didn’t get to dethrone Okada, and since then his star has faded somewhat. The IWGP US title feels like something of a cop-out from New Japan, who are perhaps reluctant to go all the way with a non-Japanese wrestler. His match with Jericho is a special attraction at Wrestle Kingdom, but he isn’t one of the big two title matches, and that hurts.
Omega is tough to place as a wrestler because he isn’t really a heel anymore, though Bullet Club are nominally heels in the western sense. He is a special performer, but something about his in-ring presence is lacking when put next to Okada, and his character is lacking next to Naito. He is undoubtedly talented, and in another year he would have done enough to easily walk away with Wrestler of the Year, but in 2017 with such stiff competition he just doesn’t seem to be the complete package.
Do you think Omega deserves to be Wrestler of the Year? Let us know in the comments below!