Kenny Omega: The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and The Cleaner

“I’m here to clean up the junior division.”

Kenny Omega’s five year journey with NJPW started with his grand reveal as the newest Bullet Club member on November 8th 2014 at Power Struggle. Immediately, he stated his intentions to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Omega spent barely a full-time year in the junior heavyweight division, but in that time he ushered in a character that has become a fabled piece of his legacy. His initial 7 month character building reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion was centred on introducing the Cleaner: his grandiose displays of villainous pageantry outlining him as somebody entirely unique on the New Japan roster.

Match by match, defence by defence, the Cleaner became more evident, more dramatic, Omega leaning more into the iconic character he had created – not as the ace of the junior division, but as its villain.

Credit: NJPW

January 4th 2015
Wrestle Kingdom 9
Ryusuke Taguchi (C) vs Kenny Omega

The birth of the Cleaner and Omega’s rise through the New Japan ranks started here. His first match since becoming a full time member of NJPW, on the largest possible stage, and the chance to claim the top junior title.

The match focuses on introducing Omega’s new character and cementing him as a powerhouse of the junior division. The super-villain like Omega takes advantage of the perks afforded him underneath the Bullet Club banner, including having The Young Bucks at ringside provide interference and using a cold spray can to temporarily blind Taguchi.

Perhaps most villainous of all is the use of Omega’s signature chainsaw! “Three to four days before a match, he likes to shave his arms so ‘the stubble starts to grow’ and he can use his arm ‘like a rake or saw’.” Absolutely diabolical from the pantomime outlaw.

The match doesn’t meet the lofty expectations we associate with Omega today, but it was never meant to, time instead being prominently spent ensuring the Cleaner is brought to life. One thing made abundantly clear is Omega’s strength, catching Taguchi’s hip attack in mid-air and transitioning into a deadly dragon suplex, kicking out of Taguchi’s Dodon finisher twice, and ending things in trademark Omega fashion: a V-Trigger followed up with the omnipotent One Winged Angel. The Cleaner had begun taking out the trash.

Credit: NJPW

February 11th 2015
The New Beginning in Osaka
Kenny Omega (C) vs Ryusuke Taguchi

In their initial meeting there was a smidge of comedy, as would be expected in a Taguchi match, but in this meeting the comedy goes full Jim Carrey. Omega conspicuously decides to use the pole of a Bullet Club flag to, well to put it eloquently…poke up Taguchi’s bum. Taguchi gets his revenge by shoving the flag up Omega’s bum (don’t worry, he used the opposite end!) and then using the flag as a Matador would use a red cape. Olé!

Omega has never shied away from his love of comedic wrestling and it works in perfect tandem with the Cleaner. Who doesn’t want to see an arrogant person suffer their comeuppance?

The interference is minimal and contained to the opening segments of the match. It’s a surprise that the ringside Bullet Club members don’t get heavily involved, a small foreshadow at the direction Omega would eventually head: putting on clean matches with definitive finishes.

The finish is sudden, Omega picking Taguchi off of the top rope for the One Winged Angel and, a three count later, it’s his first successful defence of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. A showcase of his versatility, comedy at his disposal and no need for Bullet Club interruptions, Omega would proceed to add new dimensions to his character with every title defence.

Credit: NJPW

April 5th 2015
Invasion Attack
Kenny Omega (C) vs Máscara Dorada (Gran Metalik)

Dorada dominates the opening stretch with his mastery of the ropes getting the better of Omega. However, a frankensteiner attempt on the outside ends in dismay when Omega’s strength overpowers Dorada and Omega lands a shattering apron-bomb.

For the first time since winning the title, Omega is forced to fight from underneath. The only time Omega gains the advantage is when he can use his power, but Dorada seldom allows Omega the opportunity. It’s shocking just how little offence Omega has, the vast majority of the match used as a showcase of Dorada’s remarkable athleticism.

It shows a different side to Omega that we hadn’t yet see, struggling to fight from beneath. His victory highlighted the importance of his killer trio that have taken him to glory on a number of occasions; the dragon suplex, V-Trigger and One Winged Angel. That’s almost all it took for Omega to overcome Dorada and retain his title. Zero outside interference and no shenanigans, Omega took shot after shot and still walked away victorious, all it took was his inexorable finisher.

Although still the reprobate villain, it showed the resilience of Omega rather than his outward strength, making it clear that for anybody to take the title from him, they’d need to be nothing less than a superhero.

Credit: NJPW

May 3rd 2015
Wrestling Dontaku
Kenny Omega (C) vs Alex Shelley

“I’ve cleaned up Japanese garbage. I’ve cleaned up Mexican garbage. Now, there’s only one left, the worst garbage of them all. American garbage.”

Hard at work, the Cleaner had been sweeping the trash from different continents, now looking to throw Shelley in the garbage, literally. Omega uses a rubbish bin to brutalize Shelley, throwing it at Shelley as he attempts a dive, wickedly booting it directly into his face, finally putting the bin over the top of his head and then smashing it with a broom.

This is one of the hidden gems of Omega’s 2015, a scorching back-and-forth match looping from Shelley’s fiery flying feats to Omega’s dramatic character and inescapable strength. When Shelley hits Automatic Midnight, the belt looks set to change hands until the Young Bucks pull the referee out of the ring. The interference had been minimal in the previous two matches, but you’d be unwise to forget Omega’s Bullet Club allegiance and its benefits. Why lose honourably when you can win dishonourably?

Shelley lands Sliced Bread but Omega kicks out, his proven resilience in every title match thus far paying dividends, once again reminding us that he is the physical and mental powerhouse of the junior division.

A V-Trigger and One Winged Angel confirm defence number three. The Cleaner was unstoppable, and with his broom in hand, he swept Shelley out of the ring. Electing not to compete in the Best of the Super Juniors (or “Best of the Super Garbage”), Omega’s next title defence would be two months later. The junior division needed a hero, and fast.

Credit: NJPW

July 5th 2015
Kenny Omega (C) vs KUSHIDA

Batman has the Joker, and the Cleaner has KUSHIDA. Sweeping his way to the ring with a broom in hand, the stage was set for Omega’s standout performance in his first reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.

This is a perfect match of good versus evil. Omega punishes KUSHIDA, using his time to attack KUSHIDA’s knee. Omega bounces it off of the unforgiving apron, following up by dropping KUSHIDA knee first on the commentary table, using a multitude of submissions and kicks. All the while he mocks KUSHIDA, slapping him and spitting water in his face.

The final stretch is seamless. A flurry of impact moves and reversals, KUSHIDA did what no challenger had done yet – he stopped the One Winged Angel and countered it into the Hoverboard Lock, the Osaka crowd roaring. Trapped in the middle of the ring with an already weakened arm, Omega is forced to tap out, and his sordid reign of terror as champion is over.

No good villain ever accepts defeat, this would be the first of a three-match saga between the pair. The title changed hands on every occasion and inevitably ended safely in the hands of KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Omega leaving the junior division to change the world among the heavyweights the following night.

Credit: NJPW

Throughout 2015, Kenny Omega used the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship to create a character that fans clamoured for ever since, the evolution inevitably coming to life in AEW. The Cleaner would go on to have a wealth of success as a heavyweight, transforming into the Best Bout Machine and earning deserved worldwide acclaim as the best in the world.

It was a purposeful character driven reign as the Junior Heavyweight champion, with glimpses of the Best Bout Machine coming to fruition in Omega’s final two matches. It worked to introduce the Cleaner and ensured we knew that Omega was the powerhouse of the juniors, seeds that would sprout into his jump to heavyweight. For a full year, Omega was the centrepiece of the junior heavyweight division. Of the nine matches for the title in 2015, he was involved in all but one.

Kenny Omega came to New Japan to “clean up the junior division” and through his championship reign he arguably accomplished his goal, even if only temporary, in the most elaborate fashion possible.