Who was NJPW's most valuable Superstar of the year?
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW)’s status as the #2 wrestling promotion in the world is not likely to remain the same for very long. The promotion has experienced such immense growth and has enjoyed such an impressive run in terms of product quality that intelligent people in the wrestling business are beginning to propose that NJPW is actually poised to become bigger than WWE in terms of actual wrestling.
There are many different reasons for this success: fantastic booking, a better understanding of wrestling as an art form, and above all else, a roster filled with skilled wrestlers that know what their audience wants.
NJPW’s roster is filled with spectacular talent, both foreign and native. Many wrestlers that work primarily for New Japan are lauded as being the best workers active today. But only a small handful are worthy of being considered NJPW’s MVP for 2017.
While one could make a strong argument that the award for MVP of NJPW for 2017 should go to someone like Okada, Naito, KUSHIDA, or even the Young Bucks, only one person brought NJPW more international recognition in 2017 than anyone else: Kenny Omega.
2017 was the year of “The Cleaner”, to be sure. More than any other NJPW wrestler, Kenny Omega was the one that turned heads and brought NJPW some much-needed international attention. So much so, that this year’s Wrestle Kingdom event is setting records for foreign buys compared to previous events.
This is because Kenny Omega has been such a massive draw for NJPW outside of the Japanese market. Although NJPW is a Japanese company and the core of its roster is native to that country as well, pro wrestling’s primary market is an English-speaking one.
To that end, the stars that speak to the English-speaking world, especially in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, are far more likely to connect with the audience than their Japanese counterparts.
One need only look at Omega’s track record this year to see how incredible his impact has been. Kenny Omega had four matches that went beyond the traditional 5-star match rating scale. In doing so, he set the internet wrestling community on fire with vigorous debates on both his abilities as a wrestler and the Wrestling Observer’s influence on matches and their ratings.
Even if those that follow the Observer make up a small percentage of fans, the reactions to Omega’s stellar matches were enough to bring NJPW significant returns.
Some people might point out that Omega’s partners and opponents might be more deserving than him of the distinction of NJPW’s MVP. This is especially true for the two wrestlers that New Japan has pushed to the main event match of Wrestle Kingdom 12: Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada.
You could make a strong case that either man deserves to be called NJPW’s MVP for 2017. For Naito, 2017 was a year of significant recovery. He won the 2017 G1 Climax tournament and earned himself a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. His matches throughout the year have been stellar, and his stable, Los Ignobernables de Japon, has become one of the biggest draws in the promotion.
Meanwhile, Okada has become arguably the single-greatest Japanese wrestler in NJPW history. He has now held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship longer than anyone in the belt’s near-30-year history and has likewise put on legendary matches that will be talked about for years to come. Okada has become NJPW’s ace and is going to be the man around whom the promotion builds over the coming years.
However, neither of these two men have had the same level of influence as Omega. He was the one that had such spectacular matches with both of these men, and he is the one that brought such a significant following from outside of Japan. His influence has become so profound that his match at Wrestle Kingdom – a surprise dream match against Chris Jericho – is the match that the majority of people want to see.
Much like how ‘dream matches’ at WrestleMania have often gone after World Title matches, more fans appear to be talking about and showing interest in Omega vs. Jericho than in Okada vs. Naito. Moreover, Omega and Jericho have gotten so much out of so little in terms of building up their upcoming match, with only a few brief brawls and realistic promos done to give it more hype.
Then, of course, there’s the added No Disqualification stipulation, which is also a rarity in NJPW. With all of these elements together, you have a dream match that is doing more to draw in casual fans than the main event itself, which has been four years in the making.
There’s no other way to slice it: Kenny Omega is the MVP of NJPW for 2017.