On January 4th of this year, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega set the wrestling world on fire with an all-time classic match at New Japan's Wrestle Kingdom show. Everywhere you looked, you saw people saying the match was the single greatest pro wrestling bout they had ever witnessed. Dave Meltzer reinvented his infamous star rating scale, giving the match six stars on a scale from one to five. Fans who had never seen a Japanese wrestling match in their entire lives were scrambling to watch this, whether it was on New Japan's subscription service, in the world of torrents, or on YouTube. It was a great time for the sport, and it built up such an organic level of buzz that isn't seen very often anymore.
Okada, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, was pushed to the limit like he had never been pushed before, but he was able to come out on top in that match after a hard fought 47 minutes of action. Although Omega was unsuccessful in winning the title, you just knew it wouldn't be his last shot. It's pro wrestling logic... you don't have a challenger who is that red hot and only give them one chance to win the gold. There is plenty of money to be made in rematches.
Well, that rematch took place on June 11th, at New Japan's Dominion event. To say that expectations were high would be an understatement of epic proportions. I saw many fans predicting that this would be Omega's time to become the champion. Okada, they said, had been top for too long. He would be approaching one year as champion in this latest title reign, his fourth. One of his other title reigns went over a year long, and another one came relatively close to reaching that point. Since winning his first IWGP Heavyweight Title 64 months ago, he had been champion for a total of 38 of those months. Those folks felt that Omega had done more than enough to earn a title reign.
The match at Dominion was, depending on who you ask, even better than the one at Wrestle Kingdom. I've personally seen a dozen or so social media entries from people that said they were so emotionally invested in the match that, by the end, they were in tears. When you can do that to your fans, and not just in sadness like WWE often does, you're doing something right. Okada and Omega battled for an exhausting 60 minutes... and went to a time-limit draw. Once again, Kenny Omega had pushed the IWGP Heavyweight Champion to his absolute limits, and once again, Omega had come up short.
Is that it? Does Omega move to the back of the line now?
Well, New Japan just announced their card for their upcoming show in Los Angeles, and Okada is defending his title, but not against Omega. Instead, Okada will be taking on Omega's Bullet Club teammate, Cody Rhodes (who is only going by Cody these days). Omega is facing Michael Elgin in a first round match of a tournament to crown a new IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion. Yes... a Japanese wrestling promotion looking to make waves in America, and creating an American version of their Heavyweight Title. Think of it like WWE looking to make a similar splash in the United Kingdom by creating the WWE United Kingdom Championship. Those who are for the move see New Japan trying to branch out and have almost an entirely separate "brand" in America. Those who are against the move say that Pete Dunne is the WWE United Kingdom Champion, but isn't exactly pitched as being on the same level of the Universal Champion, WWE Champion or NXT Champion by the company.
Is this a "demotion" for Omega? In a tournament with Elgin, Jay Lethal, Hangman Page, Juice Robinson (formerly known as CJ Parker), Zack Sabre Jr, Tomohiro Ishii, and Tetsuya Naito (a man who beat Okada for the Heavyweight Title last year) to crown a "United States Heavyweight Champion"? I think it is, yes, but there's no way in hell that it's a permanent thing. Cody is, quite simply, more known to the American wrestling fan than Kenny Omega is. Putting Cody in a showcase match against the company's top guy actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Cody is undefeated in singles action since debuting for New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom, and it's still Okada taking on a member of Bullet Club, so it even makes sense from a storyline aspect. Would it make sense for Cody to win the title? No, not really, especially not here. I'm of the thinking that we aren't done with seeing Okada and Omega have their battles against each other.
I think back to the trilogy of matches that Samoa Joe and CM Punk had in Ring Of Honor for the RoH World Title. The first match went to a 60-minute draw. The second match went to a 60-minute draw. Both matches saw the challenger, Punk, push the champion to limits that nobody had pushed him to before. By the time Joe had entered the first match of the trilogy, he had been the RoH World Champion for 448 days. At the time of the second match, the reign was at 574 days. When their third and final match took place, Joe's reign was at a whopping 623 days. Because of the "oh so close" nature of the first two matches, the final bout needed a stipulation that led everyone to believe the title would finally change hands, so it was made with no time limit attached. Ring Of Honor fans felt that Punk had come close on two occasions, but if he only had a couple more minutes to work with, he'd be the champion, so now that he had as much time as he wanted/needed, it was going to be his moment. Of course, if you know RoH history, you'd know that Joe won the third match in 31 minutes, basically swerving the entire crowd.
Why am I bringing that up?
This would be a great time for New Japan to try something like that. In the first match, Omega nearly won the title, but simply ran out of gas at the end. In the second match, Omega nearly won the title, but simply ran out of time at the end. Well, New Japan's big G1 Climax tournament is coming up, taking place between July 17th and August 13th. The winner of the tournament is granted a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at the next Wrestle Kingdom event. Omega won the G1 last year, becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to win it. The tournament hasn't seen anyone win in back-to-back years since Hiroyoshi Tenzan won in 2003 and then again in 2004, but is there anyone that fans want to see win it more than the "Best Bout Machine" himself?
Let's say my scenario plays out. Let's say Okada remains the champion all the way until the next Wrestle Kingdom event (always held on January 4th). That means his reign would be at 564 days on the date of the show. That would be the longest reign in the 30+ year history of the title. It would also mean that everyone watching would be expecting to see a title change. During the build for the match, it could be given no time limit. Portray the match as the biggest in New Japan history if you're looking to oversell it with hyperbole. The longest-reigning champion in company history taking on the back-to-back G1 Climax winner, with no time limit, at the biggest event of the year, in a story that has lasted for well over a year.
Then, the match happens...
...and we get a double turn, as Okada cheats to retain his title.
Too much? Yeah, probably, especially considering that scenario would mean Omega is going to be out of chances and wouldn't be able to get revenge unless we go for the really long angle of having him win G1 for the third year in a row.
With my luck, Cody wins the title in California, and then Omega turns on Cody later in the year to get a title shot, where he finally wins the belt. That just sounds cheap.
Oh, and back to the United States Heavyweight Title tournament... does anyone really care? A lot of the hardcore New Japan fans I know kind of threw their hands in the air when the announcement of the tournament was made, and then threw them in the air once more when the field of competitors was announced. Is Omega the favorite to win? Wouldn't you assume he has to be? With no concrete plans for a full New Japan expansion, it's difficult to predict the future of the title. Does the champion just stay in Japan for a while, occasionally defending the title, until the expansion takes place? It's rumored to be happening in 2018, so that's at least six months of... what, exactly? I've seen people predict that the United States Heavyweight Champion would face the "regular" Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom, but what does that mean for the G1 Climax winner? Triple Threat? There are too many questions without answers. For now, let's let Michael Elgin get the title so that he can defend it in indy promotion after indy promotion until New Japan reveals what it is they want to do in 2018.
What do you think, Reader Land? Do we get a third match between Okada and Omega? If so, when does it happen? Does Omega finally get his win? Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what you think.
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