The WWE’s reputation will be on the line when six-time world champion Chris Jericho heads to the Tokyo Dome on January 4 to face New Japan Pro Wrestling star Kenny Omega. The Wrestle Kingdom showdown will pit the man voted the greatest WWE champion of all time against the performer considered the best wrestler outside the WWE. It will be Jericho’s first ever bout outside of WWE since 1999, and takes place at Japan’s equivalent of Wrestlemania on the biggest night of the year for NJPW.
Omega is one of the most hyped stars in world wrestling and was crowned the first ever IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion when he beat Tomohiro Ishii in Long Beach, California, earlier this year. After successfully defending his title against Trent Barreta this weekend, he picked up the microphone to revel in his victory and commentators declared that he had conquered all and there was no one left for him to beat. Cue Jericho appearing on the screen to say: “What a dynamic performer. What a fantastic, tremendous performer. But he’s not the best in the world – I am. So many have claimed to be the best, from Shawn Michaels, to Edge, to CM Punk, but they’re all gone and I’m still here. Because I am the best in the world. I am the greatest of all time. I am the alpha of this business. And I’m going to prove it, because I’m challenging you, Kenny. Alpha versus Omega, to see who is really the best. I want to meet you, January 4 at Wrestle Kingdom 12, in the Tokyo Dome. Let’s see who is really the best.”
Alpha versus Omega will be a huge event and a selection of betting sites will offer odds, as is the case with WrestleMania. Jericho has not been seen on WWE since SmackDown Live in the summer, where he lost a triple threat match against AJ Styles and Kevin Owens. He had previously said he would never wrestle anywhere else, and Vince McMahon always leaves the door open for him, so his switch to NJPW could be interpreted as a blow for the WWE.
NJPW has already taken place in California and has announced plans to return to Long Beach in 2018. Jericho joins Cody Rhodes and Juice Robinson as stars that have made the switch, and the latter duo is thriving there. Challengers to WWE’s throne have come and gone over the years, from Impact Wrestling to Ring of Honour, but a genuine challenger could be emerging in NJPW. It has a talented roster of stars, many of whom are young and dynamic and – unlike the case with WWE – full-time. Throw some crowd pleasers like Jericho into the mix and you have a compelling prospect. NJPW is opening a US office and American dojos and being ambitious in its bid to expand outside of Japan.
The real winners should be WWE fans, as anything that keeps WWE on its toes can only be a good thing. If anyone monopolises a market they can get complacent, but the impetus will now be on McMahon and co to deliver world-leading matches to keep fans loyal and see off the threat of NJPW. Keeping hold of Daniel Bryan, whose contract with WWE ends next year, could prove crucial, while ushering in a new generation of young stars will also be key. Brock Lesnar and John Cena are flying the flag with aplomb, but it will be interesting to see how the likes of Enzo Amore, The Miz and Shinsuke Nakamura develop as these are the sorts of stars that can emerge as the future of WWE.
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