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31 Days of Wrestling (12/3/19): Still the Ace (Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kenny Omega, Wrestle Kingdom 13)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2019 produced for us.

What happens when the man you've built for years to be your top gaijin decides to leave for their friends' party?

While no one yet knew what then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega was going to do with his friends' new All Elite Wrestling at the time of Wrestle Kingdom 13, rampant speculation went that he was going to join them. That likely meant dropping the title to the man that won last year's G1 Climax, aging NJPW yet eternally fabulous ace Hiroshi Tanahashi.

If you went by the onscreen story, it was about Tanahashi's quest for the title was him proving whether he still had what it took—and the upstart Omega questioning how great the Ace really was. There was a question of whose wrestling style was better (hint: they're actually not that different from each other, and they're both great in their own ways).

There's no question Tanahashi is still one of the all-time greats Japan and the rest of the world's ever seen. No, the real question everyone couldn't shake off was whether Omega really was leaving NJPW after this show.



By now, everyone knows the answerWrestle Kingdom 13 would be the last time anyone would see Omega in New Japan for the time being. He would wait for a month before officially announcing his jump to AEW (fueling some Royal Rumble rumors along the way).

For NJPW, it served as a soft reset for their year. Next-in-line gaijin Jay White would win the title from Tanahashi at New Beginning in Osaka and have his first heavyweight title reign be a sort of transitional period for Kazuchika Okada, furthering the Rainmaker's legend. 

If Omega was an experiment, it's safe to say it didn't work that well, somehow proving that gaijin wouldn't—or couldn't—stick around long enough to be a pillar of the company the same way the native Japanese do. There was always going to be something holding them back.

With the two-day Wrestle Kingdom 14 featuring the winner-take-all title match on Day 2, that notion is now for Jay White to disprove. 2020 is as good a year as any for him to do that, and for NJPW to add and commit to their next build-around star.

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31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2019.

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