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Chris Jericho wants you to be talking about him. Normally that would be a criticism, but in show business, the drive to have that buzz surrounding you is something that often separates the very good from the great. If you have read any of Jericho's autobiographies, he often talks about the creative process and how he has always tried to re-invent himself over time to make sure that he always stands out. To performers like Jericho, becoming passive and accepting of your current status is the worst thing a wrestler can become; Jericho is always on the hunt for finding the next breakthrough that will advance his career.
In the past, for Jericho that has always meant tweaking his character a bit; whether that was coming out wearing a scarf, tying his hair up into a maddening top-knot, or putting people down on a metaphorical (and later physical) list. The ability to constantly be working to improve has driven Jericho to incredible heights in wrestling, and even now, well into his 40s, Jericho is still trying to find ways to grab the attention of fans and avoid becoming just another stale act, coasting by on nostalgia.
According to Jericho himself, he was inspired to challenge Kenny Omega after witnessing the hype that surrounded Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor leading up to their boxing match, he was inspired to be a part of something similar. His solution was to take part in a feud that nobody would think would ever happen, similar to how nobody believed McGregor and Mayweather were actually going to box each other. To do that, Jericho would need to find an opponent that would be someone that nobody would believe he would ever actually wrestle. It couldn't be someone within WWE, like The Undertaker, AJ Styles or John Cena, that had already been done. Naturally, he had to look outside of WWE.
Enter Kenny Omega, the Canadian ex-pat who had taken the wrestling world by storm over the last 18 months thanks to his blossoming popularity and incredible matches. Omega does not have the profile among a majority of wrestling fans that a guy like Styles, not to mention Cena or The Undertaker, but Omega had achieved his own level of notoriety outside the scope of WWE. That would be crucial for the feud to work, since Omega was the most popular singles wrestler globally outside of WWE, and it also gave Jericho an obvious nerve to strike with Omega and hardcore fans, that Omega was not actually that good and all he had achieved in wrestling was nothing compared to being a WWE superstar. All things considered, Omega was the obvious choice for Jericho.
Although he has worked for numerous promotions all over the world, Jericho is about as authentic as a "WWE guy" as there is, and he has said countless times that he would never work for another promoter than Vince McMahon. For hardcore fans that crave a continued validation of Omega's success, working with a major WWE star in Jericho; having a great match, and picking up the victory, is tremendously appealing. For fans that may not know who Omega is, working with Jericho, who many non-wrestling fans know, is easily his highest profile match to date.
The reward for Jericho is that he has gone from being an afterthought to most wrestling fans (something he accepts every time he goes on hiatus from WWE) to being front and center in what might end up being the most discussed match of 2018. WWE loves to promote matches that the fans would be shocked to see, such as Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg last year at Survivor Series, or John Cena vs The Rock. WWE has been very successful with that; but the flip side is that now there are very few matches that would be genuinely shocking for the viewer to see. Omega vs Jericho? I mean who saw that coming? When they first started their little Twitter war, I figured they were just ribbing fans and having a little fun; I hardly expected it to lead to a match at the second-biggest wrestling event of the year. Two months away from their match actually taking place, Jericho has already achieved his goal of being a part of dream matchup.
The reward for Omega is potentially enormous. As big of a star as he has become, he is still relatively unknown to a majority of wrestling fans. Jericho is someone that tens of millions of fans around the world all recognize as a big star, and having him assist in promoting you is a major gain for Omega and NJPW as a whole. In Japan, Jericho vs Omega might not seem as big of a match as the real main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12, Kazuchika Okada vs Tetsuya Naito, but everywhere else it dwarfs the main event; because of Jericho's involvement. Considering Wrestle Kingdom will be available around the world for roughly $8.99 on New Japan World; it is probable that many fans will purchase the event simply because of Jericho's involvement, which naturally would lead to more eyeballs on the product and more potential NJPW fans.
Jericho facing off with Omega is a positive step for Omega and NJPW as far as their relevance outside of Japan is concerned, and the most intriguing aspect is that for Omega and NJPW; their ceiling is really unknown. Earlier this year they ran a pair of shows in the US and easily sold out a 2,500 seat venue for a two-night event. They will return in March and presumably at some other date in 2018. Selling 5,000 tickets over two nights was a great sign; but what is there actual potential in the US? Their profile in the US and around the world has been successfully growing for several years. Could they sell out an 8,000 seat arena? What about a 20,000 seat arena? Could they run a 12-city tour? Could they eventually have a separate brand running constantly in the US, land a major TV deal and be true competition to WWE? All of that is a long away from a match at Wrestle Kingdom 12, but it remains in play for NJPW if they continue to grow at a substantial rate in the US.
Getting back to the actual match; it should be an interesting engagement even if it doesn't lead to significant growth for NJPW. Athletically, Jericho is slightly passed his prime, but still moves very well and hasn't much in the ring despite just turning 47 years old. He isn't the same level worker as Okada (although nobody really is) but is talented enough to have an outstanding match. While the match may not be as spectacular as some of Omega's best work, it stands to be one of the most engaging matches from a storyline standpoint that wrestling fans have seen in some time.
Something else you read in Jericho's books is his meticulous attention to detail in his feuds. In WWE, he wasn't one to let the creative team come up with something for him to do, instead he would pitch feuds to Vince McMahon and the writers that he had thought out himself; which led to some of his greatest feuds with Shawn Michaels, CM Punk and Rey Mysterio. Jericho isn't working against Omega because he wants a big pay day, and he isn't going to do it unless he has a plan for how the feud unfolds. The Twitter feud and Jericho appearing at Power Struggle on Sunday where just the first steps in what should be a fascinating storyline leading up to their match at Wrestle Kingdom.
Omega is no slouch either when it comes to psychologically designing a match. Anyone who dismisses him as a spot wrestler or someone that doesn't understand how to tell a story clearly has never watched him perform. He has spoken at different times about his approach to different matches, and particularly the 60-minute draw he had with Okada, how he wanted the match to unfold at a certain rate that the fans were captivated for 60 minutes, something that really should be impossible in wrestling in 2017. According to Jericho, Omega and himself have been working together since August; which gives them plenty of time to show fans what two of the brightest minds in wrestling can come up with.
So who is going to win? If you believe that feud is a one-match storyline, than Omega will surely win. NJPW is very protective of its top talent and the last thing they would agree to present is to have a WWE wrestler come in and beat one of their top guys. If the feud lasts more than one match (I don't think it will but you never know) than Jericho could certainly win.
At the end of the day, I think the match is taking place because Jericho wanted to do a huge match that nobody could see coming, and that Omega and NJPW saw a great opportunity to expand their brand and jumped at the chance to work with Jericho. NJPW booker Gedo, was actually a tag team partner of Jericho's in the early-90s when they were both working in Mexico, so they know each other and a deal could be met between the two most famous wrestlers Winnipeg has ever produced rather easily. Anyone that thinks this is a precursor to Omega heading to WWE is reading too much into it; Omega may one day be headed to WWE but it will be because they offer him a huge contract with a lot of creative incentives, not because Jericho gave Vince a positive review. For now, the biggest match of 2018 exists outside WWE.
Must Watch Matches:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi: ****1/2 – NJPW Power Struggle
Trent vs Kenny Omega: ****1/4 – NJPW Power Struggle