Darkness fell on the Tokyo Dome on January 4, 2023.
Not for long, but enough for the mood to shift. One of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest stars in its long, illustrious history, their biggest soldier, came home and on a night of massive happenings, this would be the talk of the industry. Kenny Omega refused to be a memory against one of his self-proclaimed disappointments, and he vows to end his reign, and in effect, the biggest year he’s had with the IWGP U.S. Championship. This was the end of Will Ospreay’s heroic journey.
It goes deeper. This was the belt Kenny Omega adorned on his waist first, the one he made popular. The red, white, and blue was his legacy in the lion-crested company, and one that saw his stock rise as foreign eyes gathered and gazed upon the product in the East. Furthermore, someone cherished from Kenny’s past was dethroned in their own right by Ospreay in early 2022, deprived of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Kenny Omega’s Golden Lover, Kota Ibushi, was stripped of gold by the British wrestler, a further stab in the heart of Omega.
All he could do was watch, as most of 2022 saw Omega at home and back again at his new promotion, All Elite Wrestling. Through personal drama and healing up from years of injuries, Omega was left in a world made for him, in a house he built. But he had to return to the house that built him.
That’s why, at the NJPW/Stardom Historic X-Over, Kenny Omega challenged Ospreay following a successful title defense against Shota Umino for the title that rests around his waist at Wrestle Kingdom 17.
In a personal first for me, I felt the strain of time and lack of sleep dissipate as it was go-time.
Back to January 4, 2023 – a graphic lit up the arena, as Kenny Omega stood, and extended his arm. Joining it was a single, massive wing, and an orchestra of composer Nobuo Uematsu’s “One-Winged Angel” from the 1997 Square Enix game, Final Fantasy VII. Cosplayed fittingly as the game’s memorable antagonist, Sephiroth, Omega turned away from ash and cinder, as they rose to an angry flame as he burns the current state of New Japan to the ground and remind the world what he and this promotion can truly do. He did this, recreating an iconic scene from the game. It was no doubt symbolic of his journey and of this clash.
Will Ospreay emerged next, a proud champion who, despite his successes, had a rough few years. It was not in his control, of having to perform in silence, to claps and stomps instead of the roar of the crowd and the chants of the Japanese audiences. He was even forced to witness his own friend’s funeral behind the screen of a tablet. There was no way he’d go down easily when there was so much to fight for, as he entered the Dome to the tune of “Elevated” by It Lives, It Breathes, in lieu of his current theme, “Bring It Down”.
Outside of a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla match in 2015, there hadn’t been any single’s competition involvement between Omega and Ospreay, but the energy was palpable and immediately they fired off with their own war of rage and fury. These were not the same men who were acrobatic work-rate fiends of the 2010s, no. This was storytelling written in brutality and emotion.
As expected with performers of their caliber, the action did not cease in the early-goings as they traded moves and strikes, with Ospreay even landing a Phenomenal Forearm to Omega, as well as an Oscutter on the apron. Amongst the spectacle of combat, Omega kept targeting Ospreay’s kidneys as though they had owed him money.
Kenny, however, became increasingly dominant, laying Ospreay under a table and breaking through to it with a double-foot stomp, like he did in a memorable past match during his series with Okada.
However, Ospreay would nail an absolutely brutal Cheeky Nandos Kick to Omega, swelling his eye and leaving his footprints on Omega that lasted throughout the night. It truly felt it could go either man’s way, but blood must be shed on this night, once a turnbuckle pad was removed entirely.
As if the kidney shots weren’t bad enough, Omega would DDT Ospreay on the exposed metal of a nearby turnbuckle, and sent him into it some more until the Brit was pouring buckets of blood. Any normal human would have a hard time surviving that, but Ospreay stood, even when Omega kept firing off every clip in his arsenal.
Hatred was thriving in the center of the arena, and for all the damage Omega inflicted, Ospreay would keep getting up, fighting with every vestige of strength he could possibly muster. Regardless, the tank was running low, and the vision was blurry and tainted with plasma. Certainly, it didn’t help matters that Omega had bashed the already bloodied face of Ospreay into that broken table until the hole was larger and enough brain cells were obliterated. Cheekily, Omega made a sneering smirk through the gape in the wood of that table, pouring salt into the very gaping wound of Ospreay’s pride. So far gone in villainy, only lunacy and retribution lied within Kenny’s haunted mind.
Kawada Kicks, One-Winged Angel, and two Spanish Fly’s were not enough on Ospreay’s end, with the latter two getting near-falls. A Hidden Blade from Ospreay angered the bull in Omega even further, as it was the move that concussed Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 13. To speak to the absolute state of him as a performer, as damaged as he was, he managed to hit his Oscutter on the second rope, cementing how far he was pushing beyond himself to stay in this insurmountable match. He could have given up at any moment; he could have stayed down – but that’s not what a champion does. You fight and fight, until you can’t, until you die on the sword you’re impaled on, when you spit out blood in your final breath.
Thirty minutes in, and it felt like no time had passed at all, that’s how absorbing and enthralling this match was. A compelling story told through non-stop brutality and violence. After trading elbows with Omega before succumbing to a German Suplex, Will knew he was done and there was no coming back.
Welcoming his own demise, Ospreay stood on his feet for the last time, spitting in the face of Omega with as much disrespect as he could, he readied himself. Through the red that sat on his face, the resignation was clear.
Calling upon Kota Ibushi’s Kamigoye before sealing the envelope to a letter written in carnage, Omega hit his One-Winged Angel and Ospreay was finished.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has a new United States Champion, and Will Ospreay gave the performance of a lifetime against his successor.
The villain got away, victorious, but will Ospreay rise again, stronger than ever to an even bigger success? There’s no telling, and there’s no telling how much further this rivalry will be elevated. What else can happen? An Ibushi return? Ospreay kicking out of the OWA? Kenny winning with a Phoenix Splash?
This is the energy I feel when I looked back at the Omega/Okada series in 2017/18 before I finally watched it in 2021, of the “Where do we go from here?” The result of something so monumentally good in storytelling, performance, and execution told by the hearts of performers that know the quality they must put on. This is why New Japan reached such heights of popularity internationally in the late 2010s.
As someone who hadn’t stayed up to watch a New Japan pay-per-view before, I was damn glad I stayed up for this. Kenny Omega is one of the wrestlers that brought me back to watching wrestling consistently, and to see this level of performance, it reminded me why I love this art form.
Will Ospreay fought so hard, and at times I almost, almost believed he was going to make it and show the world that he could be the next Best Bout Machine, but in the end, we got just a reminder of the level of performer that Kenny Omega is.
This is the Kenny Omega that had a broken body that had to learn to wrestle around it and the limitations it should have enforced on him. This is a Kenny Omega who was healed up and ready to go. This was a Kenny Omega that Will Ospreay couldn’t beat even on his best night.
What’s interesting to note is that even at this level, both were holding back on what they could truly do. Imagine what they will unleash once they let it all loose. Imagine how we feel right now, about having expectations reaching galaxies lightyears beyond us, and having the ceiling beyond that shattered even further. I’m getting goosebumps and shivers just thinking about it.
What they’ve shown us is an illusion of their peak – what they’ll show us later is the reality of it.