Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kenny Omega: #6 in the Top 10 Wrestlers of 2016

I am actually a bit sad that more wrestling fans aren't familiar with the impressive credentials of New Japan regular Kenny Omega. Though he makes sporadic appearances in Ring of Honor, he's mostly an NJPW stalwart. The Canadian has been a Japanese regular for a decade now, speaks the language and has become the key player in the Bullet Club in the wake of Styles, Gallows and Anderson's disappearance.

Image credit: Senor Lariato
In the process, he's done things gaijin wrestlers don't normally do. Now his sudden shot into the main event isn't necessarily abnormal. AJ Styles basically debuted to win the World title. But the shots he's received are very different. He beat ace Tanahashi to become Intercontinental champion, only to drop it to Michael Elgin. He feuded with both men for most of the summer and scored numerous victories over both, albeit without recovering the title.

But the most impressive feat of 2016 was his victory in the finals of the G1 Climax. The world's most prestigious tournament has regularly featured outside stars, but rarely do they reach the finals. In 26 previous G1 tournaments, only two non-Japanese stars ever made it to the finals: Rick Rude (in the only single elimination version of the tournament) and Karl Anderson. Neither won. Kenny Omega broke that drought, becoming the first North American star to ever win the prestigious tournament. In the process, he was also the first gaijin to ever main event a Wrestle Kingdom. While that event held earlier today falls out of the purview of the 2016 award, just his movement towards that event was impressive. He scored victory after victory over NJPW champion Kazuchika Okada in multi-man matches leading towards the event.

This is all very impressive for a wrestler that wasn't even considered a heavyweight in NJPW until January 5th of 2016. His rise has been astronomical and he backed up every ounce of it with impressive in ring work, both on his own and as a trio with the Young Bucks. The three men won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag title twice in 2016 and remain the only team to successfully defend it more than once.

Omega ended 2016 as arguably the best in ring worker in the world and the second highest man on the NJPW roster. Despite a loss today, he seems poised to make even bigger strides in 2016.

Next, we will look at a very different Japanese star, one that made major waves in two promotions this year.

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