Once in a generation, there is a wrestling storyline so involving, so emotionally compelling, that it completely redefines the way that stories are told inside of a wrestling ring. The Mega Powers exploding, Steve Austin defying Vince McMahon and the corporation, CM Punk rattling the foundations of heaven in the Summer of Punk. Each times these stories take place, they fascinate an audience far beyond the usual ones that tune in each week because wrestling is a rare art form that has the ability to communicate to anyone who watches it. It is comprised of body language and physical chemistry, and is born of the base tropes that define every society. It’s really, really, really goddamn cool, and we never see these storylines coming, because how could we?
To tell the story of the Golden Elite in full would take me all day, and maybe sometime if you’re trapped in a plane seat next to me, you’ll be able to hear me deliver it all in one big incoherent babbling mess. But the crux of it is simply that embracing love and family is the key to happiness. That’s it. Possibly the very corniest sentiment imaginable, but I have never seen it presented in a storyline so earnestly, and so gut wrenchingly. For months we have watched a freshly babyface Kenny Omega attempt to reintroduce Kota Ibushi into his new life as the leader of the Bullet Club. His compatriots were reluctant, jealous and stubborn, but Kenny knew that without Kota by his side, he could never be complete.
They are a team in truth, and have been ever since they were making a name for themselves on the Japanese indies as a pair of goddamn weirdos. Kenny needed Kota. But he also needed the Elite, the stable INSIDE of a stable that had been formed by Kenny, the Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll and Hangman Page. The friction that was caused by trying to turn the Elite and the Bullet Club face from within tore the faction apart and left it in complete disarray. Cody turned out to be the most evil man on the planet, the Bullet Club that wasn’t part of the Elite pulled away to form their own side stable, and Kenny’s closest friends were caught in the middle. It seemed like the whole situation would com-bust at any moment.
Now here’s the genius of this. The part that shows us what the future can hold. These things weren’t all presented to us on New Japan shows. In order to follow the complete story, you had to watch the Elite’s Youtube videos, you had to follow them in Ring of Honor, you had to haunt their Twitter feed, and Tumblr fanpages. The storyline was cast out across the internet for those who wished to find it, and was conducted in such a way where the only way to follow it properly at all was to go all in on scouring all of the above sites and more to see what would happen next. In an era when we, as wrestling fans, have access to every promotion and every wrestler’s social media presence, this storyline presented us with an opportunity to follow it and embrace it even when the show wasn’t actually on. New updates were frequent and important. Fanboys and girls across the web giffed and retweeted their hearts out, spreading the word like wildfire. And soon Kenny Omega was the biggest name in wrestling outside of WWE.
For years, New Japan has looked for an inroads into the United States. But I don’t think even the wildest speculation could have imagined a scenario where this kind of piecemeal promoting would catch on like it has, to the extent that the Elite, as an organization, could very well be said to be the second biggest wrestling organization in the world. If you don’t believe me, just check out the All In show, which was crafted and promoted soley by the members of the Elite, and sold 10,000 seats out in half an hour, a feat not matched outside of WWE in this country since the Monday Night Wars.
Over the months, the tale of Kenny and the Elite was spread feverishly by its devotees, a number which grew seemingly by the hour. Hype built, and built and built, until suddenly we were presented with the endgame that had been in front of our disbelieving eyes all along: Kazuchika Okada.
To know who Kenny Omega is is to know about the 6 star matches. Twice, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada shared a ring together, and twice they delivered matches that caused Dave Meltzer to look at the ratings system he had spent 40 years carefully crafting, throw up his hands, and smash it all to pieces. They are works of art, and in each, Omega came up short. Not that this put him in poor company, as both were part of a streak of title defenses by Okada that shattered that New Japan record. It is not difficult to find New Japan fans now that have never known a world where the belt did not rest around Okada’s waist. Since having the torch passed to him demonstrably by Hiroshi Tanahashi, Okada has become more than simply a figurehead. He has become a walking icon in this industry that only the likes of John Cena can fairly be compared to. He’s a golden god dropkicking amongst the mortals down below on Earth. And he was the perfect obstacle to overcome.
Kenny Omega defeated Kazuchika Okada at New Japan Dominion. He caught him in the One Winged Angel and at last took the gold from around Okada’s waist that many had never seen leave it. And in the minutes that followed, so many things were paid off and set right that the emotional weight is almost difficult to take. The reunification of Kenny with the Young Bucks, who came back to cheer Kenny to victory despite everything that had gone on between then. Kenny being presented the title, but pushing it away to embrace the Bucks and Ibushi first. Cody appearing on the ramp, torn in his heart about whether he belonged with his former family anymore. This isn’t just the shallow emotion of your average wrestling angle. This is powerful, moving stuff, pulling from months and months of story building about forgiveness, loss, and love.
At the end, as Kenny Omega stood in the middle of the ring, surrounded by his family, having overcome an obstacle he thought he never could, I was genuinely speechless. For days afterwards, I remained speechless. It is a perfect storyline. The finish to that match had me in my feelings more than any before ever had. I cried at how beautiful it was, and how happy it made me. It was a perfect 100 out of 100.
Wrestling isn’t an easy thing to review. Hell, it’s not even an easy thing to talk about at times. It can be frustrating, dull, plodding, and so, so embarrassing. It has the power to turn you into a fervent messenger, eager to spread the good word to everyone you know, or to turn you into a closeted addict, eagerly watching but desperate not to let anyone know you do. Over the near decade that I have done wrestling reviews, many shows were much easier to review than others, but it’s the moments of greatness that stand out. For all the dick jokes and gif making, it’s the times when my enthusiasm caused someone to notice a match or a show that they never otherwise would have that is always the most rewarding. Because at the end of the day, wrestling is the fucking best, and all I have ever wanted is to share that philosophy with you. So here, in my final review, I wanted to do that one more time. To try to communicate through words on a screen all of the enthusiasm of that incoherent babbling you might get if stuck on a plane with me. If it brings just one more person into contact with this storyline, which I believe to be the very greatest in wrestling history, then goddamn that’s awesome. And if wrestling’s first show of true, actual love between men can make my gay and bi family out there feel as represented and heard as it did for me, then I will be a proud, proud man.
Either way, thank you all. For a decade this has been the best job I have ever had even though it never paid me a dime. Thank you to everyone who encouraged us all along the way, and to those who never stopped hoping for that next review. I love this industry, and I love so many of you that I’ve met along the way. This isn’t goodbye. I’ll always be here, recording podcasts and yelling about Bobby Lashley. And waiting for the next magical moment that draws me back.
Until next time, cats and kittens.