The Omega Sanction by WH Park
On Monday, October 8, 2018, New Japan Pro Wrestling will put on their 7th annual King of Pro Wrestling event emanating from Ryogoku Sumo Hall. Along with Wrestle Kingdom, the G1 Climax Finals, Sakura Genesis and Dominion this is one of the highlights of the New Japan calendar.
All six previous branded shows featured matches that saw the IWGP Heavyweight title being defended in the main event. This year is no exception except that instead of a 1-on-1 match we will see a three-way match between the champion, Kenny Omega and his challengers Kota Ibushi and surprise entrant, Cody (Rhodes).
This was set up at the Fighting Spirit Unleashed show on September 30th from The Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California. After the main event with The Golden Lovers (Omega & Ibushi) defeating the Chaos team of Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii, Omega talked about how he wanted to fulfill his pact with Ibushi by having their fabled singles match (not counting their G1 Climax match from Budokan Hall on August 11) when Cody, fresh off winning the IWGP U.S. Title from Juice Robinson earlier in the evening, interjected himself into the conversation. Cody suggested that they include him in the KOPW title match to make it more interesting. Omega was all for this idea and after a convoluted acceptance of Cody’s idea declared that the 3-way will take place for his title.
In the backstage interview following this angle, Omega fielded questions about the reasoning behind a three-way. He unconvincingly trotted out his usual spiel of wanting to “change the wrestling world” and make things more interesting in New Japan by doing a match that has only been done twice in the history of the company and only once in Japan. In the same interview, he also outlined what actually happened and that his reluctance to squander his singles match with Ibushi on KOPW led to him politicking to add Cody to the match. He has made no secret that New Japan booker, Gedo, begged him and Ibushi to do the match for the G1 to bolster attendance at one of the three Budokan shows. In agreeing to do that match, the Golden Lovers had leverage over when they would do their next big money match. And make no mistake, Kota Ibushi vs. Kenny Omega is a big money match if promoted and booked correctly. I can’t fault either man for not wanting to have another singles match two- months after their last one with a one-week build. It is a complete waste of the money-making potential of that match but atypical of the current state of New Japan booking of their big shows. Post G1, we see major cards not being announced until the conclusion of tours that have already been announced – Destruction >> Fighting Spirit Unleashed >> KOPW. This arguably hurt the box office of the FSU show in Long Beach and has the potential to have affected the Ryogoku ticket sales in a negative way.
Omega has stated that Omega/Ibushi needs a bigger venue than Budokan and the only options in the upcoming New Japan calendar would be either Wrestle Kingdom 13 or the co-promoted Ring of Honor/New Japan G1 Supershow staged at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 6, 2019, during what is commonly known as WrestleMania Weekend. We can safely rule out Wrestle Kingdom this coming January 4th for that match as the most likely main event will be Omega defending his title against 2018 G1 winner, Hiroshi Tanahashi. So that leaves the MSG show. The only problem I can see with that is if Kenny Omega, whose contract is up in January, is going to possibly sign with WWE along with his close friends and business partners, The Young Bucks.
There is a great deal of speculation that the WWE would like to acquire The Elite (and Cody) when their respective contracts with ROH and New Japan are up for a variety of reasons.
1) They would make fine additions to either RAW or Smackdown and boost interest and ratings in those shows which have seen declines. Considering the lucrative new TV deals that they have signed in the last several months there will be some pressure to bolster their ratings when those deals go into effect.
2) WWE doesn’t like competition and that is how they viewed the Bucks/Cody produced “All In” show which was a rousing success creatively and financially. WWE will likely do anything to prevent a second event like that from happening including hiring its key architects.
3) WWE also sees the upcoming MSG show as an embarrassment since that building has been so synonymous with the McMahon family for decades. It is also in direct competition to their NXT Takeover show that same night. WWE failed to stop ROH from booking the building in the first place so their only option for hurting the show would be to sign away as many of the key talents as they can, most notably Omega, the Young Bucks and Cody.
All these factors have given Kenny Omega unprecedented influence in the company to the point where he vetoed the proposed KOPW singles match and placed Cody in there as a replacement.
The potential problem with this is that Cody has never been a draw for New Japan in Japan. He’s looked at as a part-timer by the Japanese fans who helps propel storylines forward but isn’t necessarily key to them. He doesn’t generate enough interest that sells tickets and is not likely to send the attendance of the show past the 9,000 mark. If the box office doesn’t at least match last year’s KOPW show, New Japan has to consider the value of keeping Omega happy to further their “global expansion” going forward. Is the Golden Lovers pact more important than the financial success of one of their key shows? Is Omega enough of a box office draw in Japan or the U.S. to warrant being able to say yes or no to matches that the company wants him to do? Would New Japan start to look at him as more of a liability for not being enough of a “company man”?
One of the most important things to consider is that in all this Kota Ibushi is not a contracted New Japan wrestler. If he was I can say with certainty that the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13 would be Omega facing Ibushi for the IWGP title and that the G1 would not have had them in the same block.
If Omega goes to WWE there is nothing to prevent them from offering a one-off deal to Ibushi to have that match at WrestleMania or any other big show on their calendar. This could also mean a network special coming from MSG or even a sold Dome show in Tokyo. It would be ironic if all the groundwork laid out by New Japan in the last 2 to 3 years for this match was paid off in another company’s ring.
Look at the pushes that non-Japanese talent like Jay White and even Will Ospreay have been given lately. I would argue New Japan sees these two as key players to their worldwide plans if Omega is no longer with the company.
All in all, the results of King of Pro Wrestling in the ring and at the box office will be very interesting. Many eyes will also be on what news comes out about the status of various contracts in January. 2019 will be a very interesting year for New Japan to say the least.
Based in Japan, WH Park is a contributor to POST Wrestling and co-hosts the monthly POST PURORESU program covering the Japanese wrestling industry.