If you’ve had a pulse for the last week, then you know that the hottest property in professional wrestling today is Kenny Omega.
Following his legendary match against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4, his stock went from scorching to nuclear. Although he’s been putting on match of the year quality performances for the past year in the title picture for New Japan Pro Wrestling, it was the main event at the Tokyo Dome against “The Rainmaker” that propelled him into focus for not only the hardcore fans, but the entire wrestling world.
From an Instagram post by John Cena, to Tweets from Mick Foley, Cesaro, Sasha Banks and many more within the company, Omega went from a wanted man internally at WWE to practically being begged to come by anyone who saw the match in the promotion.
The question now becomes this: where CAN and where DOES Omega go from here? We’ll play both sides of the coin and look at his potential whether he stays or leaves New Japan.
Our own Mike Johnson has reported that Omega's current NJPW contract would be up on January 31. If it is, that means a slot in the Royal Rumble is not a possibility. However, even if it were up before then, would the main roster necessarily be his destination? The rare exception for this rule in the last decade would be AJ Styles. After he debuted at the Royal Rumble last year, it seemed like WWE had become open to the possibility of letting someone who established themselves outside of their sphere come directly to the main roster without having to go through NXT. He has been the exception. Names like Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode and many more have had to ply their trade in Orlando, despite having a decade plus of experience and seemingly being ready for the main roster from day one.
So where would Omega fall on that scale?
Like Styles a year ago, Omega is coming off a game changing performance. Not only that, but he is six years younger than Styles and is in his athletic prime. Plus, he has more charisma and is better on the microphone than Styles. Also, interest in this year’s Wrestle Kingdom show is much higher than last year, with an estimated 5,500 people signing up for a New Japan World subscription the week of the show. There were way more eyeballs on Omega, making him a much more in-demand commodity. That leaves him in an excellent bargaining position to earn himself a spot on RAW or Smackdown Live as opposed to having to work his way through NXT.
Given that Omega has been outspoken in regards to wanting to become a legend and not needing WWE to do so, I believe it would take an outstanding money and roster offer to get him to go. If he gets both, a new question arrives: where does he fit in the WWE Universe?
For anyone watching the product since last year, all signs point to Omega thriving on Smackdown Live. With their knack for having consistent storylines, more of a long-term vision and allowing talents to develop more naturally, Omega would be a perfect fit for that roster. While he is talented enough to work as either a babyface or a heel, his best bet for becoming an instant superstar would be a feud with Styles. Playing up their history in Japan, as well as their freakish athleticism and working ability, a feud with “The Phenomenal One” would be a surefire way to make sure Omega becomes a main event player right off the bat.
If he were to go to RAW, he would risk getting sucked up into the comedy-based, 50/50 booking policy that ends up getting no one over and creates stars but not superstars. While a feud with Seth Rollins or Kevin Owens could showcase his ability to work, it would be bogged down in bad scripted comedy segments that would potentially make him look like a goof as opposed to how he looked on January 4.
In NXT, Omega could simply show up and be the biggest star on the roster. The problem there is that he risks ending up like Nakamura or Joe: a main event, ready for prime time talent who is wasted on a lower level and is quickly made to seem less important than they truly are. If “The Cleaner” leaves for Stamford, then hopefully he isn’t immediately optioned to Full Sail University.
Maybe it’s all just a work. Maybe Omega, being a very intelligent person and worker, is just toying with the internet and keeping his name in the public eye to help build the New Japan brand. If he is, there is only one word to describe it: bravo. It proves that not only is he valuable from an in-ring and bilingual standpoint (given that he speaks fluent Japanese), but it also shows he knows how to generate interest outside of the ring.
From a creative standpoint in New Japan, he only has one realistic destination: the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, he could come about that title in two different directions. Whenever he chooses to return, whether it be for The New Beginning shows in early February or the New Japan Cup in March, it becomes an issue of whether he comes back as a babyface or a heel. Since his debut as a full-time member of the roster in November 2014, he has been a heel. Despite his ability to speak Japanese, he has avoided it with rare exception to frustrate and annoy Japanese fans and further cement his rule breaker status.
After January 4, though, that all could change. Despite his working as a heel, his performances in the G1 Finals and Wrestle Kingdom 11 have carried him into the same category that Styles found himself in at the end of his New Japan run: even though he worked as a heel, he was so tremendous in the ring that the fans couldn’t help but respect him and cheer for him, anyway. That was obvious for Omega at New Year’s Dash on January 5 when the Korakuen Hall audience gave him a loud, and very positive reaction. That doesn’t automatically mean he would come back as a babyface. Routinely in Japan, heels and babyfaces are way less defined, sometimes to the point of being a completely gray area. That has shifted slightly in the last few years as New Japan has implemented a slightly more Western style of professional wrestling in regards to characters. So despite the audiences getting more and more behind him, he could always return as the evil heel he’s always been and never skip a beat.
Things could be a lot more interesting if he were to return and become a fan favorite. His status as the leader of the Bullet Club ensures that one of two things could happen. By turning babyface, he could either get kicked out of or flat out leave the group, perhaps taking The Young Bucks with him to make The Elite more of a full-time group. If he’s kicked out, that could lead to an interesting storyline with either Tama Tonga or Adam Cole feuding with him down the line (if Cole re-signs with Ring of Honor) as the new defacto leader of the group. If he simply leaves, maybe the entire group turns with him. With the Minoru Suzuki-led Suzuki Gun being reintroduced on January 5 as obvious heels, perhaps it’s time to freshen up the Bullet Club as a group the fans could rally around. It may be a tough ask of some of the talents in the group since they are such natural heels, but Bullet Club has been pushed to the backdrop by groups like CHAOS and Los Ingobernables de Japon. A fresh reboot with a white hot Omega at the helm could be just what they need to revitalize them.
Another reason to push Omega upon his return as a babyface is the obvious sign of intent from New Japan President Takaaki Kidani to push into the US market on their own. On July 1 & 2, New Japan runs two “G1 Preview” shows at the Long Beach Convention Center in California. Previously, they have run joint shows with Ring of Honor which makes things very easy on their end in regards to workload. Running your own shows in a foreign market, however, makes things extremely difficult and piles on the pressure in regards to logistics and promotion. Part of relieving that pressure is having a star that can help promote and bring people to the venue.
While Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetusya Naito and Katsuyori Shibata have become cult stars in the United States, they lack the power to be true drawing cards in the States due to the language barrier. Omega, meanwhile, can shatter that barrier. Not simply because he speaks the language, but because of the charisma that comes with it. Even though being a heel or a babyface doesn’t mean what it did twenty years ago in regards to drawing power, with Omega’s potential as a good guy in Japan, it would suit all involved if he entered Long Beach as a monster babyface, especially considering you don’t need the heel/face dynamic to fuel a feud with Okada, Tanahashi, Shibata or any other major New Japan star.
No matter where he ends up and no matter what he ends up doing, it’s obvious that Omega has his finger on the pulse of professional wrestling. Whether he can keep it there or not could end up being the most interesting tale of his career. If it’s anything like the last year, it’s going to be a pulse pounding ride that no one will ever forget.
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