By R.W. Andrews
Now this is the ultimate in self-service ball washing. KUSHIDA vs. Kenny Omega. How could I possibly pass this one up? Seriously, there’s really no other way to travel in the Junior Heavyweight Division. When I first got into New Japan, I took to KUSHIDA immediately after AXS had a replay of his match with Kyle O’ Reilly in the Best of the Super Juniors XXII Finals. Man, this guy came equipped with the in-ring style I love most – picking apart a limb to foreshadow a submission while also being able to grapple his ass off. Or so I thought that was the style I loved most. Enter Kenny Omega. The first time I saw him was in a six-man tag, but damn if he didn’t steal the show. His is a style unlike any other – a mutated strain that is half And 1 mixtape/half psycho crushed tiger knees. Sprinkle in a mythical strength that could seemingly noodle Ogopogo out of hiding and you’ve got yourself the world’s darling. And it’s well deserved. Just take a peek at his two bouts with Kazuchika Okada this year and the two tour de force performances against Tomohiro Ishii. Pay homage.
As stated in my long-winded preamble last month, I jumped into New Japan a few months before Wrestle Kingdom 11. Because of the build-up, I had an inkling to the end of Omega’s run in the Junior Heavyweight division. What I didn’t know was how it came to be and how did it all end. So in order to answer the first question, we have to go back to October of 2014. It was then that Omega came back to New Japan, shrouded in mystery as a potential Bullet Club member, though he denounced the idea. Surprise, surprise, he was lying. Omega joined the Bullet Club, became The Cleaner, and set his sights on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The champion, Ryusuke Taguchi, took notice and granted the request. And boom, just like that we can chart our course through what I’m hoping will be a spectacular feud to rival Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki.
Part I: The Demise of Dodon
Match 1 – Ryusuke Taguchi (c) vs Kenny Omega
January 4, 2015 at Wrestle Kingdom 9 at the Tokyo Dome
The Tokyo Dome’s 2015 layout is a slick Decepticon Tron configuration where three massive screens transform into a mega-tron, the combined light blinding anyone foolish enough to stare directly at it for too long. It’s so massive that when Omega makes his appearance the director switches to satellite cam, impressively shrinking him to a mere gnat on the screen. When the rampway hand-held comes in for closer inspection, we find Omega draped in a black duster and gnawing on a toothpick. The Young Bucks are at his side, a welcomed addition, as I find their ringside Cobra Kai commentary the perfect puff-piece for Omega.
Taguchi comes out to “The music has been altered” as his tron flick maximizes the setup. The three large trons strobe in an epileptic fit before katakana symbols parachute into place like an old-style slot machine. As he sashays down the long entrance ramp, his hair a blown-out mop remaining surprisingly still, his war dance is backed by a f—ing whammy bar! Your stock is rising, Ryusuke Taguchi. Marty Asami, who is getting far more play in this series than I ever would have imagined, asserts his dominance early with a little frisk and tickle before ordering Omega to nix the toothpick. Omega obliges, flicking it at his face in the ultimate show of disrespect for the stripes. Welp, looks like Taguchi is getting the home cooking for this one.
They start slowly when the bell rings, both men fidgeting for position at the ropes until Marty orders a break. Omega adheres to command, doing so by patting Taguchi on the chest and paint-brushing him verrrry slooowly across the face. It was awesome. A moment later, Taguchi gets Omega in a similar spot, opting for a much cleaner break retorted by a wad of spit to the cheek. His response is to run the ropes, leaping over and rolling under various traps before countering with…dammit, butt stuff. This is going to be a long one.
Omega flips over Taguchi’s rush in the corner, but the champion is quick to counter a Frankensteiner with an ankle lock! Whoa, forget what I just typed a moment ago. Omega escapes, but is hustled up and over the top rope with a clothesline. The Young Bucks leap into action, distracting Marty on the apron so Omega can fish out a can of cold spray from the stash spot and mace Taguchi. He celebrates this very minor victory by turning to the crowd, peeling open the front of his trunks, and dousing down his curls. The world’s darling, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Back in the ring, Omega hits the Fale Special, switching to a chop to the chest that elicits an “Oooooh” from the crowd. He scores with a running back elbow off the whip, his body achieving the type of takeoff found in flight simulators. I love his Forward-Forward Dash motion in the ring. Just another wrinkle that separates him from the pack. He covers for two, which gets a “Come on, Marty!” from Nick Jackson. A wonderful rake to the eyes drops Taguchi in the corner for Omega to stand on him. Fale strikes again.
Omega shows off his heavyweight power, going for a vertical suplex that Taguchi blocks, but amazingly able to hold him mid-air and liiiiift that lanky bastard up to stick the landing. He holds his right arm out, his left used to pull on an imaginary cord as he and the Jackson Boys mimic the rev of a chainsaw as he rubs his forearm across Taguchi’s eyes. Marty leaps at Omega to pry him off, a rare display of heroism that finds him shoved forcefully to the mat. Taguchi counters a rush in the corner with a boot to the face, but can’t get rolling as both Bucks clamp down on his leg to stall him. Omega sniffs out the opportunity, sprinting forth but getting backdropped up and over to smoosh his backup to the floor. Taguchi takes off for the ropes, pinning the pedal to flip over the top rope and clear out The Elite. I had no idea he could pull something like that off.
With Omega scampering to get back in, Taguchi tags him with a missile dropkick before covering for two. He follows up with two out of three amigos, with Omega wriggling out of the third to smack the shit out of his back! He smoothly shifts into hyper drive, hitting the ropes and sliding low to cross Taguchi over and strike with a sliding kick to the shin. Still on the move, he launches skyward to leapfrog Taguchi’s back and come down with a legdrop. That freaking move, Man. Perfection twice over as sometimes you get a legdrop, sometimes you get a bulldog. He powers Taguchi up in a powerbomb position, muff diving the champion as he charges the corner for a buckle bomb. But Taguchi counters with a hurricanranna, barely letting Omega settle his equilibrium before scoring with a Falcon Arrow! Unbelievable!
He tries to head up top, making it to the second rope before Omega recovers and climbs up after him for a suplex. Taguchi punches him off, but Omega gets back before Taguchi can take the plunge. Taguchi pushes him off again, his eyes set on a cross body that gets snuffed out by a counter dropkick. Omega gut-wrenches Taguchi, twirling him in a circle as Matt gushes, “Look how strong you are. My God!” before spiking Taguchi to the mat with a powerbomb. The champion manages to slither away from a One Winged Angel attempt, only to find his hopes for a Dodon’s Throne dashed by a roll-up and a close two. He hits an all-shinbone enzuigiri before packaging up Omega’s arms and popping him into the air to hit Dodon’s Throne! Omega escapes the pinfall with a second to spare, but is immediately caught in an ankle lock! He crawls for the ropes, watching as his outstretched hand slides away from salvation as Taguchi pulls him to the center of the ring. Nick Jackson grabs Taguchi’s attention, who decides to completely bail on the hold to scurry him off the apron. Matt Jackson pops onto the apron, holding Taguchi’s arms back as Omega rushes in. Taguchi ducks, leaving Matt’s face to take the brunt of a sick flying knee. Taguchi goes for Dodon’s…never the f— mind! He pops Omega in the air, his body inverting backwards with knees up to catch Omega in the dangles! He covers, but Omega escapes at two and change!
Taguchi calls for rain! I have no idea why! Omega fights out of a torture rack before catching Taguchi’s hip attack mid-air and dumping him on the back of his skull with a vicious snap Dragon suplex! He just rag dolled him! With Taguchi crawling for the ropes, Omega hunts him down with a V-Trigger to the side of the head! Taguchi’s body woozily searches for stability, unable to defend against a One Winged Angel that crunches him in half as Marty dives down to count the pinfall win!
Winner: Kenny Omega to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion
Impressions: Damn, I’ve missed covering Kenny Omega. He was such a badass in this match – his moveset just an absolute pleasure to witness. Taguchi, to his credit, was more than just comedy nonsense. He wrestled a solid match, putting in a much more reserved performance for the big stage. It was a nice touch. Actually, the more I think about it, this match along with his bouts against Will Ospreay and Gedo have all been enjoyable. I’m not sure why I keep ho-humming whenever he’s on the screen. But to be honest, this wasn’t the most dramatic match in the world. It was a little flat for the first half, but it kicked into gear before the yawn dominos fell throughout the crowd. Not a must-watch, but I wanted to get a starting point before KUSHIDA comes calling.
Next Week: KUSHIDA Comes Calling
A Friendly Game of Mishegoss
Yeah, yeah. I know this is a wrestling website, but as much as I love New Japan I also love fantasy football. If you don’t give a rat’s ass about fantasy football, or football in general, the title will give you the cue to bail overboard each week. But while we’re here, let’s get into it.
Fantasy football is essentially a game of luck. Think about all of the time you’ve invested pre-draft and in-season – parsing over stat lines and having your eardrums bleed from experts dolling out information – yet your odds of winning remain paper thin. You can’t tell me that luck isn’t at the heart of it. But there is a small sliver of space where cost and opportunity meet to make us feel smart. Drafting Donte Moncrief may very well give you that feeling.
After posting 6-64-1 in the first game of 2016, the injury bug infested his season. A Week 2 kill shot sent him to Sickbay for five weeks. Add in a hamstring issue on the back end and you’ve got yourself a guy who could never live up to the hopes heaped upon him. But even with all of that – a body beaten to shit and not able to go at top speed for all but one game – he still managed to catch 7 touchdowns in 9 games.
At his current ADP – which is round 6 in PPR according to FantasyPros (great source by the way) – he could very well still be a tremendous value. At 6’2’’ 220 with 4.4 speed, Moncrief is built like a prototypical WR1. Take a look at his metrics on PlayerProfiler.com – another handy tool – for a deeper look into what he’s bringing to the field. Hell, while you’re at it, check out his best comparable. Now I will say, don’t put all of your eggs in the “best comparable” basket, but it is nice to know. By the way, check out Derrick Henry’s best comparable and tell me that it doesn’t inspire images of greatness. Moncrief is the unquestioned No. 2 option in a high-powered offense forced to throw a ton in order to hang with teams lighting up their defense. And as ugly as it is to type this, let’s be honest. He’s one injury on the other side of the field away from hogging a voluminous target share.
All that aside, there are some red flags on the horizon. Will his quarterback round into form after not throwing a pass since January? I don’t know about you, but two seasons ago when Andrew Luck went down that offense could barely move the chains. Is Donte Moncrief injury prone? Well, besides a toe sprain in 2015 – in week 14 mind you – his first few seasons were relatively worry free. Let’s just chalk 2016 up to sacrificing a season to the football gods in order for them to rain down good fortune. Is he just a touchdown dependent player who is unlikely to repeat the feat? I’ll spin this motherf—er a different way. Maybe he’s talented enough that as the injuries mounted he morphed from game-breaker to red-zone threat in order to keep contributing on the field. Pretty gutty shit for a dude the same age, if not younger, than the top wide receivers in last year’s rookie class.
It’s a new season. A clean slate, damn it. Fantasy wise, Donte Moncrief has the opportunity to post incredible numbers if all falls into place with his and Andrew Luck’s health. Reality wise, he’s in a contract year in a sport where the shelf life is as long as most fads – a situation that requires maximum effort in order to reap maximum reward. I’m willing to bet on both intersecting to get everyone handsomely paid.
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