While we are already officially on the road to WrestleMania, this week’s buzz in the wrestling world seemed to be all about New Japan Pro Wrestling’s historic Wrestle Kingdom 11. In what is being heralded by some critics as one of the greatest matches of all time, the main event between IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega is a must-watch for any wrestling fan. In this 46-minute epic, Okada retained his title. However, in the aftermath, Omega seems to be the one making headlines.
While Kenny Omega may have just had the match of a lifetime, he announced via Twitter that he will be taking a step back from wrestling, supposedly for a brief hiatus. The timing is odd, for a rising star in Japan to not capitalize on his momentum in a new global market for NJPW. And more notably, many are comparing this to A.J. Styles’ departure from New Japan last year, and subsequent debut at the Royal Rumble. With the Rumble just three weeks away, this may just be some history repeating for yet another Bullet Club member to jump to WWE as a surprise Rumble entrant.
Rumble time is always teeming with speculation as to who will return, debut, or something stupid happening, like Michael Cole entering. But suddenly we’re met with a brand new speculation in Omega. For these geeky matters, I turn to some of my comedy acquaintances and fellow wrestling fans on facebook. So, I’m bound by my ethics to give credit where credit is due to my comedy/smark brethren. Boston area Comic, Ryan Staples, posted an article from SI.com, interviewing Omega, where he seems to shut down this speculation. Omega outright bashes the WWE Championship, stating:
“This IWGP title means more with me than any WWE championship...The WWE belt means nothing, it means absolutely nothing. They pass around that belt like a hot potato. I probably have a neighbor on my block who held that belt at one point. There is no prestige to that belt whatsoever.”
A bold statement, but frankly...I can’t argue with that. Though I’ve had a similar criticism before, it carries a lot of weight coming from such a highly respected performer. Considering Finn Balor, A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows all left New Japan to seek fortune in WWE, it would be interesting to hear their thoughts on Omega’s comments. The WWE Championship does change hands all too frequently and has certainly diluted any prestige it once had. Title matches aren’t taken as seriously anymore, and really isn’t considered to be a very big deal. Booking weekly title opportunities really came about during the Monday Night Wars, where it was an easy, albeit short-term, tool to garner ratings. The fact that this practice is still used in an age with no direct competition just seems irresponsible.
If you look at the list of people who have held the WWE Championship, it seems endless and sometimes arbitrary, especially when compared to the celebrated handful of wrestlers who have held the IWGP Championship. Being New Japan’s champion is a legitimate honor.
Comedian, and former winner of the equally illustrious Boston Comedy Festival, Peter Martin, then pointed out an image of the nameplates on the side of the IWGP Championship. A short list of New Japan legends. Not only does this uphold the significance of a title match, the belt even has a design! Remember designs? WWE did away with designs for their belts when they figured an iphone app icon looked more reputable around their Champion’s waist. But I do still love my WWE, don’t get me wrong. And they’re certainly taking notice of the high caliber talent that New Japan produces.
This also leaves some to speculate if Kenny Omega is simply creating heat to build an inevitable feud with WWE talent. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this was done. Let’s not forget Ric Flair’s WWF run as the NWA “Real World’s Champion.” After all, Omega is a heel. And if he were to jump over to WWE to be the controversial outsider, he might just bring some more of Bullet Club over in the form of the Young Bucks.
I know this is a lot of non-WWE talk for WWE Talk. So, how did the face of the WWE, John Cena, respond? Well, as yet another facebook wrestling fan and millennial comedian, Andrew Durso pointed out to me, Cena had taken to instagram for a little teasin’ and a trollin’.
Last year, Cena had posted a picture of A.J. Styles on his Instagram just before the Rumble. This time, he posted Kenny Omega. Submitted without comment. Suddenly, everyone thought this was a sign that Omega would most definitely be at the Rumble, unless of course this was a joking backlash to Omega’s comments. Cena then posted yet another photo, this time of the character, Kenny, from South Park. Also, without an explanation. But if one thing is clear, it’s that the WWE and John Cena have taken notice.
It’s a cryptic game we play as wrestling marks, and it will be exciting to see how this all unfolds. Either way, social media will be humming with reckless speculation until WrestleMania. While so many New Japan fans would hate to see yet another one of their children taken away from them; at this point, it might be par for the course.