Our Most Valuable Player Award is a new one this year for the Top Rope Press yearly awards. Different from our Wrestler of the Year Award, the MVP is designed to recognize the man or woman who was most important to their respective company’s success. In other words, taking this person away from the company that they wrestle for would cause the most negative impact.
For 2016, there was nobody more critical to a wrestling promotion’s success than “The Cleaner” himself, Kenny Omega. New Japan Pro Wrestling took a huge hit early in 2016 when a massive exodus swept through the promotion. Two of NJPW’s biggest stars, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, left the company for the WWE. Right after them, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows followed suit. It can’t be emphasized enough just how big of a blow this was for NJPW and how it could have doomed the rest of the year (and more) for the promotion. Styles, Anderson and Gallows were the three biggest stars of the Bullet Club, arguably the best stable in the world and the hottest act in NJPW.
Kenny Omega didn’t hesitate in embracing the challenge and rising to the top. He kicked AJ Styles out of the Club the night after WrestleKingdom 10 and became the new leader of the group. With The Cleaner in charge, the Bullet Club didn’t skip a beat throughout 2016.
Besides becoming the face of NJPW’s most important faction in 2016, Omega also took over as NJPW’s top foreign star. With NJPW trying to globalize their product moving forward, the person who occupies this position is going to be critical to their success. Omega has everything a person in that role should have. He’s charismatic, he’s got a great look, and he’s an unbelievably innovative performer. The Canada native is the perfect person to lead the company’s first solo tour of North America this Summer, which has lead many to speculate he may become IWGP Champion prior to that American tour, possibly by defeating Okada at June’s Osaka show. Time will tell.
Last year also saw Omega undergo a transformation from a junior heavyweight to a heavyweight star. Going into WrestleKingdom 10, he was the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Following his loss of that title at the Tokyo Dome to Kushida, Omega declared himself a heavyweight. It helped lighten the blow following the exit of Nakamura and Styles. The Summer of 2016 ended up being Omega’s coming out party as a main eventer, with Omega going on to win the G-1 Climax Tournament. The G-1 winner receives a guaranteed championship shot at WrestleKingdom. Omega put that shot on the line throughout the Fall, and he hung on all the way to the Tokyo Dome this past week where he put on a match of the decade candidate with Kazuchika Okada.
When looking at Omega’s body of work throughout 2016, it’s hard to pick just one best match. He had unbelievable matches throughout the year with Naito (G-1, Day 18), Goto (King of Pro Wrestling and G-1 Final), Elgin (Dominion), Tanahashi (New Beginning), and more. To me, the Naito match stands out above and beyond as his best performance of 2016, though. That was a legitimate five star match and a preview for the kind of bout Omega would have with Okada this week.
The reason we gave the nod to Omega for MVP over, say, AJ Styles is, once again, his importance to NJPW’s success this year. If you take AJ Styles away from WWE, the company would have still thrived. However, if you take Omega away from New Japan, I’m not sure you could say the same. He carried the company as the top foreign star throughout the year. An MVP case could be made for Tetsuya Naito, who picked up the slack as one of NJPW’s top native stars with the departure of Nakamura. However, Tanahashi and Okada were still there to carry the torch as the top native sons; Styles’ departure left a much more apparent void in the company. Omega filled that void without skipping a beat, making him our 2016 Pro Wrestling MVP.
Runner-Ups For 2016 Pro Wrestling MVP
- Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
- AJ Styles (WWE)