Tom Beasley previews the massive wrestling bout between New Japan Pro Wrestling standout Kenny Omega and WWE legend Chris Jericho at this week’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 event…
It’s a match nobody would thought would happen, even right up until the moment it was announced.
Chris Jericho, six-time WWE world champion and wrestling legend, had been engaged in a war of words on Twitter for several weeks with Kenny Omega, who had been on a red hot streak in New Japan Pro Wrestling throughout 2017. Few believed this would come to anything, until Jericho appeared on the big screen at NJPW’s Power Struggle event in November, challenging Omega to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 12 – the biggest show of the Japanese wrestling calendar. This Thursday, the two will finally step into the ring.
This is a truly unique prospect in the world of professional wrestling. Jericho has not competed in a Japanese ring for two decades and he hasn’t had a match outside WWE since 1999. The notion of these two Winnipeg natives meeting inside the squared circle is one guaranteed to create a Pavlovian drool among wrestling fans, particularly those who have watched Omega’s remarkable run of form over the last 12 months.
Jericho is a seasoned veteran at 47 years of age, while 34-year-old Omega is a comparatively young buck in the prime of his career. This will create a compelling dynamic in the ring, particularly as Omega has produced some of the most athletic matches in wrestling history. His trilogy of wars with Kazuchika Okada in 2017 were named among the best bouts of all time by wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who rejigged his entire star ratings system to hand the original Omega vs. Okada bout six stars. Jericho, meanwhile, is coming off perhaps his best WWE run in a decade, capped off with a hugely entertaining series of matches with Kevin Owens.
The ‘Alpha vs. Omega’ match was already a mouth-watering prospect, but what followed that November announcement was one of the most interesting wrestling builds in years – the perfect fusion of eastern and western wrestling ideas.
In Japan, professional wrestling is treated almost as a legitimate sport and with utmost respect, lacking the carnivalesque silliness that one would expect to see on any episode of WWE Raw or Smackdown Live. The build-up to the match between Jericho and Omega has merged those two styles to produce something unusual and gripping.
Jericho invaded NJPW at the final of the company’s World Tag League event last month and promptly delivered a brutal attack on Omega. The legend punished his younger opponent and left him bloodied after smashing Omega’s IWGP United States Championship belt into his face. It’s rare to see blood at a NJPW event and the sight of Jericho standing over his bleeding rival evoked the intensity and violence of WWE’s celebrated Attitude Era.
The attack was countered the next day when Omega leaped over a table to tackle Jericho to the floor at a press conference where Y2J was discussing the Wrestle Kingdom 12 match with journalists. Omega was escorted out of the building by security and a bedraggled Jericho delivered a vicious, profane promo to the assembled reporters. He said the match was “not about five stars” and told Omega that “you are gonna get the shit kicked out of you”. After a decade of Jericho working for WWE during its family-friendly era, it was a shock to see him cursing like a drunken sailor who has stubbed his toe.
NJPW officials responded to the twin attacks by adding a ‘no disqualification’ stipulation to the match. Bouts of this kind are incredibly rare in Japan and the prospect of sanctioned violence with weaponry is seemingly antithetical to the meritocracy of skill that powers the ethos of NJPW. The introduction of a stipulation, on paper, benefits Jericho, who has been in hundreds of these matches over the course of his career.
It is this injection of violence that has made the build to Jericho vs. Omega so interesting. While the match will take place at the Tokyo Dome in Japan and will feature one of NJPW’s premier stars, the build has been reminiscent of WWE’s edgier days. It’s the perfect combination of eastern reverence towards the wrestling craft and the violent pantomime of western sports entertainment. As if the match wasn’t unique enough already.
There are huge expectations going into the match on Thursday and it seems somewhat inevitable that the actual in-ring product will be slightly disappointing. This is incredibly unlikely to be a six-star classic of wrestling workrate. It is, however, certainly going to be a contest boasting the epitome of a big fight feel and, with these two men involved, it could be a classic of in-ring storytelling.
Based on what we have seen so far, the one thing guaranteed is that it’s going to be something completely unique and, therefore, one of the most memorable wrestling moments of 2018.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.