Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kenny Omega
February 14, 2016
Aore Nagaoka in Niigata, Japan
NJPW New Beginning in Niigata
IWGP Intercontinental Championship (vacated by Shinsuke Nakamura)
Phenomenal, iconic match that was successful in its attempt to create a new main event star in Kenny Omega. We all know how great Tanahashi is, but this match should’ve opened everyone’s eyes as to how incredible Omega is as a performer. If he were just a little taller and thicker, he’d be roughly the equivalent of Seth Rollins in the role he’s in as the WWE’s workhorse. And he still might be one day.
The story told here was perfect. AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson had just left. Tanahashi just lost the IWGP World title to Kazuchika Okada, but was still the top star in New Japan. Omega got the nod to wrestle Tanahashi for the IWGP IC title that Nakamura vacated. The Bullet Club tried to interfere early in the match, but Omega sent them back, telling them he wanted to win clean or else the “smart marks” (he even used that term) wouldn’t buy his title win as legit. Also, Tanahashi had a legit dislocated shoulder that Omega worked throughout the match, and Omega was selling his knee to perfection. He even did a one-legged moonsault that really added to the drama of the match.
The Bullet Club did interfere later in the match, including the Young Bucks coming up from under the ring. The ref was knocked out by a garbage can throw that missed, but Michael Elgin came in to clean house and put an end to the outside interference. The last few minutes were awesome. Omega even used both Nakamara’s and AJ’s finishing moves, but could not put Tanahashi away. But he used his own finisher and that did the trick.
Excellent psychology, selling, athleticism and storytelling. Aside from the silly outside interference, this was exactly what pro wrestling looks like at its best. Omega did a funny promo after the match in English, singing a Katy Perry tune and declaring himself the new champ whether anyone liked it or not.
This is what you call a star-making performance. This has to be in the top 5 matches of 2016 unless we see some friggin’ awesome matches in the latter part of the year.