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31 Days of Wrestling (12/24/15): Kenny Omega vs. KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship, Dominion 2015

'Tis the day before Christmas. And on this day, we continue to trek along our look at what made professional wrestling in 2015. And for the pre-Christmas edition of 31 Days of Wrestling, we look at the match that crowned the new face of a division that needed a boost.

#24: Kenny Omega (c) vs. KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship at Dominion at Osaka Castle Hall

But first, a history lesson:

Once upon a time, there was a man named Naomichi Marufuji, one of the top faces of NOAH who won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship in 2010 at Wrestle Kingdom IV against Tiger Mask IV. Marufuji held the title with an iron fist throughout his entire reign, overcoming the best of what New Japan had to offer at that time, from Jushin "Thunder" Liger to Koji Kanemoto. With no other worthy challenger, the only way to determine a new number one contender was to see who will win the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament during that year. As fate would have it, the tournament was won by a young man who had the support of the fans for years and overcame the challenge of DDT Pro Wrestling's Kota Ibushi.

That young man's name? Prince Devitt.

And then it was decided that in Dominion 2010, Marufuji would defend the title against the man who has yet to win a major singles title in Japan. The match acted as a rematch from 2009's Super J Cup, when Marufuji defeated Devitt to get that fateful title shot against Tiger Mask IV in the first place. And in a match that finally cemented his status as a megastar, Devitt overcame Marufuji to become the new IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, and would define a generation of Jr. Heavyweight wrestling.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? 

That is because New Japan went for the same formula in 2015. Kenny Omega, an all around athlete in his own right, was signed to NJPW full time, joined Bullet Club, rebranded as "The Cleaner," and won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship against Ryusuke Taguchi. hHe went on to overcome all challengers who fought him (albeit with standard Bullet Club interferences), from Alex Shelley to Mascara Dorada.

Eventually, Kenny Omega declared that his next challenger would be the winner of that year's Best of the Super Junior Tournament. And in an outstanding finals that you really have to see to believe, KUSHIDA overcame ROH's Kyle O'Reilly to not only become a first time winner of the tournament, but also get a shot for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship against Kenny Omega at, you guessed it, Dominion 2015 held at the Osaka Castle Hall, the first time in years that New Japan ran a show there.

In a match that featured a mix of complementing styles in a high pressure situation, KUSHIDA, the protege of TAJIRI and a submission dynamo in his own right, mixed it up with Omega, the high flyer who has the uncanny strength of a heavyweight and the charisma many gaijins would envy. And in a hard fought battle between the two (with KUSHIDA expertly selling his damaged knee well), wowing the Osaka audience in the process, it was KUSHIDA who valiantly fought like the hero he deserves to be, overcame all odds, and managed to make Omega submit with the Hoverboard Lock, an impressive variantion of the Kimura.

And on that night, a childhood dream was realized. Once, KUSHIDA was a young boy who wanted to be a success in the world of professional wrestling. It took a long time to get to the point of where he is, having gone through HUSTLE and SMASH before being officially signed by NJPW. New Japan's Junior Heavyweight future finally brightened up with KUSHIDA's christening as a first time Junior Heavyweight Champion, becoming the face of a division that was in dire need of a boost.

You know what's more impressive? Consider the fact that in the previous year's BoSJ, fans were fully behind Ricochet and KUSHIDA wasn't even getting any love. My, how time flies.

There's an old saying that goes: "Everything old is new again." It's really standard fare in the world of professional wrestling, and that is an accepted fact. There is no greater proof of this, especially in 2015, than the way KUSHIDA was pushed to the. And if New Japan was more than willing enough to pull off a Devitt push so that KUSHIDA can become the new face of a division, then that should be enough of an indicator of how much faith New Japan has for him.

Photos from NJPW


31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2015.

Read our previous entries:

#1: Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania
#2: Kazuchika Okada faces Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 9
#3: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Respect
#4: Fenix vs. Mil Muertes, Grave Consequences
#5: The Rise of Kevin Owens
#6: Johnny Mundo vs. Prince Puma, All Night Long
#7: Jake de Leon vs. Bombay Suarez for the PWR Championship, Wrevolution X
#8: Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Lashley for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on Impact Wrestling
#9: Jay Briscoe vs. Jay Lethal in the Battle of the Belts, Best in the World
#10: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 9
#11 Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins for the WWE World Title at Royal Rumble
#12: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn for the NXT Championship, NXT TakeOver: Rival
#13: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tomoaki Honma, The New Beginning in Sendai
#14: Seth Rollins vs. John Cena, Champion vs. Champion, SummerSlam
#15: Vampiro vs. Pentagon, Jr., Cero Miedo
#16: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, G1 Climax 25 Finals
#17: Finn Balor vs. Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship, Beast in the East
#18: Peter Versoza vs. Ralph Imabayashi Quarterfinal Match for the PHX Championship, PWR Live
#19: John Cena vs. Cesaro for the United States Championship, RAW July 6, 2015

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