There are two stories being told in the case of Kenny Omega and Hiroshi Tanahashi; the one they believe they are telling, and the reality both stars have become too blinded by pride to realize.
On the surface this is the age-old, almost quixotic tale of an aging icon throwing everything he has into one last run at the main event. One last championship reign. One last chance to prove that his style, his psychology, and the back-breaking work that he dedicated to the business for neigh two decades, will stand the test of time.
Opposing him is the face of New Japan’s future — or, at least he might be, but we’ll come to that soon enough. The younger, stronger, faster visionary with a whole new set of ideals. An idea in his head and a fire in his heart; an undying belief that his particular brand of puroresu can not only change the business, but in time, change the world.
Their war is a clash of styles. A battle of ideologies.
Omega attempts to paint himself as some kind of biblical David figure; a rags-to-riches underdog, beloved by the masses and destined to lead a great nation into the future, if only he can topple the last remnants of a jealous, antiquated King Saul and his oppressive regime.
Tanahashi, to his credit, really did carry New Japan Pro-Wrestling on his back through the so-called dark ages, like a metaphorical covered wagon in the world’s most difficult game of The Oregon Trail, desperately trying not to drown in a river or get mauled by a bear.
Were there bears in The Oregon Trail? I don’t know — something about dysentery, I guess. It’s not my best work, but the point remains that Hiroshi Tanahashi really did all those things he’s become famous for. New Japan really was at Death’s door after some very poor decision-making and a storm of other circumstances we don’t have time to break down here today.
The thing is, every year fans are getting further and further away from remembering those “bad times”. The company more or less stabilized a decade ago, giving way to the slow rise of stars like Kazuchika Okada, whose record-breaking 720-day reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion presided over the largest period of growth New Japan has seen in more than a generation.
Tanahashi’s bitterness towards Omega, which has only escalated over the last few months as we’ve drawn closer to their bout at the Tokyo Dome, can oftentimes come across covered in the stench of generationalism. Everyone knows that middle-aged, blue-collar crow who irrationally hates all millennials and can never seem to give them any credit even if they’re out there, in this case, literally breaking their backs for their art form.
Tanahashi is dangerously close to becoming that curmudgeonly old man, and Omega brings it out of him more than anyone. To claim that Kenny has no style, or that his style lacks heart and soul — to question his dedication, or imply that he is a foreigner polluting the pure, “traditional” Japanese product, is based more in his own pride, his own need to prove sustained relevance, than in any form of reality.
As I said before, there are two stories in play at Wrestle Kingdom 13. There is this story — the tale of two men who both need to win so badly that they’ve turned the other into a villain in their own minds. Neither man can see the forest through the trees. All that’s left, in this version of the story, is for the “old school” to clash with the “new school” on the biggest stage, on the most important night, under the belief that winning a wrestling match will somehow make either one of them “right”.
And then there’s the story that will only reveal itself in the end. The one where Hiroshi Tanahashi, the two-decade Ace of New Japan Pro-Wrestling is not so very different from the work horse veteran Kenny Omega, who has poured his blood, sweet and tears into Japanese professional wrestling for more than ten years.
When you really strip away all the ego, Tanahashi is just a proud man who accomplished extraordinary things, and will literally die to ensure that the company he saved has a long-lasting and profitable future. So much so, that he would put his scarred and damaged body through hell to win one last G1 Climax tournament, scrapping and clawing his way to the Dome, because he can’t let go. Not yet.
When you really strip away all the ego, Omega is just a passionate artist who fell in love with Japanese wrestling, and has given everything he has to bring it to the forefront of modern culture. He fervently believes he can change the world through the beauty of puroresu, and has dedicated himself to that one goal so much so that he has turned down outside offers to stay and continue growing New Japan.
At Wrestle Kingdom 13 the past and present collide in a match that, on paper, is supposed to determine a superior fighting style and creative approach to the pro wrestling business. But in reality, this whole thing has really all been about one thing — respect.
The Tanahsahi willing to die in the ring to preserve his legacy will collide with the Omega who will perform the single greatest wrestling match in the history of the business just to become champion. They are the same, and only bringing each other to the point of complete physical decimation will reveal to them that ultimate truth.
There exists a potential foil that cannot be forgotten.
Kenny Omega’s contract with New Japan Pro-Wrestling expires at the end of this month. In the past many have questioned whether he would jump ship to WWE like others have done, and each January seems to bring about a fresh round of Royal Rumble speculation. And yet he has remained.
The difference is, now all his friends have their own wrestling promotion. Just three days before his championship defense, Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks officially announced the existence of All Elite Wrestling, giving the “Best Bout Machine” yet another option.
Will he stay? Will he meet with WWE? Will he become the biggest free agent in professional wrestling, and create a bidding war the likes the business has never seen before? Or will he end up with all of his friends, who have now set out on a journey to do what Omega has always believed he could do — change the world.
Only time will tell and tonight… time is up.
The Tokyo Dome is calling.