Will Kenny Omega finally dethrone Kazuchika Okada?
A brilliant Wrestling Dontaku show ended with the prospect of Okada-Omega IV. Will Kenny be the one to end Okada’s reign?
The reign of Kazuchika Okada has been one of the greatest in wrestling history. In 12 title defenses he has averaged a match rating of 4.84 stars (excluding his as-yet unrated match vs Hiroshi Tanahashi).
The consistent excellence of Okada has been the benchmark of the wrestling industry for years, and this near-two year title reign has avoided even the remotest sniff of boredom thanks both to Okada and his wonderful opponents.
Friday’s Wrestling Dontaku show saw him break the last record that was standing, Tanahashi’s mark of 11 consecutive title defenses. With the 12th under his belt there is little left for Okada to achieve, except to pass the two year mark, which he will do on June 19.
Which brings us to Dominion. The show where he beat Tetsuya Naito in 2016 for the IWGP title. This year it falls on June 9, making Okada’s opponent the only thing standing between Okada and 730+ days as champion.
That opponent will be Kenny Omega, the man that Okada had a brilliant 60-minute draw with at last year’s Dominion show. This year the two will compete without a time limit in a two out of three falls match. It is already the most anticipated match in wrestling. After their trio of bouts in 2017 there appeared to be little they could do to up the stakes. But after beating Tanahashi, Okada called out Omega to go one more time and break their 1-1-1 tie.
So can Kenny finally claim the IWGP Heavyweight Championship? Or will Okada reign supreme again?
Why Kenny Omega should win
NJPW continue to expand into the US. Wrestle Kingdom 12 saw a huge upswing in interest and viewership in America, in part thanks to Okada’s brilliance, but also thanks to their western stars like Kenny Omega. His match with Chris Jericho was talked about throughout even WWE fan circles, and Kenny has headlined every show that NJPW have put on in America, including an incredible tag team match against the Young Bucks at the recent Strong Style Evolved show.
Kenny’s reunion with Kota Ibushi has been wildly popular, but they are too good to stay a tag team for long, especially without the belts that are currently held by EVIL and Sanada.
In the build to Wrestle Kingdom 11 Kenny spoke about taking New Japan global as a gaijin champion that could appeal to those outside of Japan. He isn’t wrong, but as Okada’s legend grows it is clear that he can do that too. Still, it has been a while now since New Japan had a gaijin champion. The company does not have a great history of promoting non-japanese stars to the top. With the likes of Big Van Vader and Scott Norton getting brief reigns in the 80’s and 90’s before the semi-disasters of Bob Sapp and Brock Lesnar in the early 2000’s.
AJ Styles’ pair of title reigns in 2014 and 2015 did a lot to establish Bullet Club as a serious faction but even more to rebuild the faith in gaijin wrestlers to be able to hold a place at the top of the card. That faith needs reaffirming, and there isn’t a more capable or popular gaijin around than Kenny Omega.
With tickets for NJPW’s next show in the US being slow to sell, the idea of putting on a show with a western champion at the helm may well be too tempting to put off any longer.
Why Kazuchika Okada should win
Long title reigns were thought to be a thing of the past, but Kazuchika Okada has proven to be more than capable of keeping it interesting.
His versatility, athletic ability, and mind for crowd manipulation has kept him at the very top of his game for a long time now.
Okada’s brilliance is knowing when to play the champion of the people and when to play the cocky, arrogant champion. Against Tanahashi last week he was very much the latter, but against Zack Sabre Jr and Sanada he was the fan favorite and played to that. While most wrestlers fall into the trap of repetitive spots and putting on the same match over and over, Okada has been able to wrestle different styles to suit every opponent.
Against the slower, older, Tanahashi he was able to create drama while moving at half-speed. Against a technical master in Sabre Jr he allowed Zack’s style to shine and found a way through it. Against Omega he was able to open the taps and go all out.
Okada may be in the most dominant run in modern history, but every defense has had the feeling that he could lose. The final five minutes of any Okada title defense is the best wrestling the world has to offer right now, and there is perhaps no greater reason to keep the belt on Okada than that.
There is some speculation that New Japan want to turn Okada into a living icon, a modern day Bruno Sammartino or Antonio Inoki, and that requires an extremely long and prolific title reign.
There is little doubt that Okada is talented enough to do it, and New Japan keep producing excellent talents for him to work with. He is yet to show any signs of slowing down. People will argue that there are many on the NJPW roster that deserve a run with the title, but the true greats in any sport play spoiler to others winning. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Tom Brady have blocked plenty of very good players from winning titles in their sport. Kazuchika Okada is every bit the master of wrestling right now, and that means he should be champion.
Regardless of the outcome on June 9, Omega-Okada IV should be one of the best bouts of all time and a new benchmark for professional wrestling. Dominion can’t come soon enough
Who do you think will win? Let us know below!