Kenny Omega becomes first IWGP U.S. champion to close out NJPW G1 Special in USA weekend

Newly crowned IWGP United States champion Kenny Omega thanked the Long Beach crowd for coming out to the G1 Special in USA shows and promised to return for much bigger New Japan shows in 2018. © New Japan Pro Wrestling / NJPW1972.com

New Japan Pro Wrestling's first major solo foray into the United States -- its G1 Special in USA shows -- officially wrapped up on Sunday night with the second of two sold-out shows at the Long Beach Convention Center. The two weekend shows were, by almost any measure, a major success; the hashtag #G1USA was the No. 1 trend on Twitter in the United States and second worldwide Saturday night, and the in-ring performances in the first IWGP United States title tournament (and throughout the weekend) were stellar across the board.

As the company turns its attentions to its upcoming G1 Climax tournament, we look back at this historic weekend of shows -- and what Kenny Omega's victory in the U.S. title tournament means for his, and New Japan's, future.

There were three title matches on Night 2 of the G1 Special in USA, along with the semifinals of the U.S. title tournament, but as is the case on every New Japan Pro Wrestling show, the rest of the card was dotted with multi-man tag team matches.

The night's action opened with a six-man effort in which Jushin "Thunder" Liger, David Finlay and KUSHIDA defeated the Tempura Boyz and Yoshitatsu. But that quick hit was just an appetizer for the anchor of Sunday's action -- the first of three IWGP United States championship tournament matches, pitting Omega against longtime Ring of Honor cornerstone Jay Lethal. It had been over six years since these two had faced off, with all three of their one-on-one matches happening in Jersey All-Pro Wrestling.

Kenny Omega defeated Jay Lethal in an action packed semifinal that showcased a lot of what each of them is capable of in a relatively short window. The story of the match was injured body parts - Lethal's busted ribs against Omega's knee, which Lethal worked over for much of the contest. Lethal's early burst featured a Lethal injection bookended by three superkicks and three suicide dives, but it was not to be. The final sequence was another nice piece of creativity -- Omega got Lethal up for the One-winged Angel, Lethal tried to flip it through to a hurricanrana and Omega flipped him back up to hit the OWA for the win and a spot in the finals.

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With Omega moving on, it was time to determine the other finalist. Zack Sabre Jr. made a valiant effort and seemingly had Tomohiro Ishii beat on several occasions, but the New Japan veteran ultimate finished off Sabre Jr. with a brainbuster.

Tomohiro Ishii beat Zack Sabre Jr. In what was likely the most emotional match of the G1 Special in USA thus far. Sabre Jr. absorbed a tremendous amount of damage throughout the match, and had Ishii locked in two different submissions that looked as though they could have ended the match. A brainbuster ultimately earned Ishii the victory in the IWGP U.S. title tournament semifinals. It sets up a final between Ishii and Kenny Omega -- their third career one-on-one showdown. They previously faced off in March and May of this year, each winning once, and both matches garnered 4.75/5 ratings from the Wrestling Observer.

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With the third Omega-Ishii match in four months set for the main event, the mood got lighter with a pair of fun, action-packed, tag team matches. Dragon Lee, Jay White, Juice Robinson, Titan and Volador Jr. defeated the Los Ingobernables de Japon squad of BUSHI, EVIL, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito. There was plenty of high-flying craziness to be had, with the long-running Dragon Lee-Takahashi rivalry producing several of the biggest highlights of this match.

The last pre-intermission contest saw the Bullet Club trio of the Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa) and Hangman Page, accompanied by the legendary Haku (the father of both G.o.D. members) and Chase Owens, against newly crowned IWGP tag champs War Machine (Hanson and Ray Rowe) and Michael Elgin. Page picked up the pinfall victory, and he, rather than G.o.D., held up the tag titles in defiance.

In a highly anticipated rematch -- their eighth such contest for the IWGP junior tag team titles -- the Young Bucks defeated Roppongi Vice in a 22-plus minute thriller. But as memorable as this match was, everything that happened afterward was just as interesting.

The Young Bucks retained their IWGP junior tag team titles by defeating Roppongi Vice in a barnburner of a match. Like every other time they've battled in the ring, all four men put their bodies on the line time and time again, and each team hit heir signature finishers at least once to no success before the Bucks finally finished it off. Post-match, Ricochet rushed the ring and attacked the Young Bucks, challenging them to a future tag title match alongside Ryusuke Taguchi. It also appears to be the end of Roppongi Vice, with Rocky Romero telling Beretta it's his time to jump to the heavyweight division and leave him (Romero) behind.

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The final tag team match of the evening saw another Bullet Club squad (Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll, Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi) defeat a CHAOS team (Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe) in a small measure of revenge for Saturday's main event. Cody picked up the pinfall with the most vicious-looking Cross-rhodes of his entire career on Ospreay. There was a certain silliness and a smirk regarding this match (including a multiple-minute sequence of tag-ins and tag-outs that was strangely riveting), but it went a long way toward repairing the apparent fissures between the members of the Bullet Club that seemed to arise on Saturday night.

The result of the IWGP Intercontinental tag team match between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Billy Gunn was as much a lock as you're ever likely to see, but this pair of veterans managed to squeeze an entertaining match out of a potential letdown.

But with this match wrapped, the crowd was champing at the bit for the main event -- and it, too, lived up to the hype built up over the course of the weekend.

Kenny Omega defeated Tomohiro Ishii in the tournament finals to win the first ever IWGP U.S. Championship. Omega had the two best matches of the weekend, and Ishii two of the three best matches -- and there's little room for debate. The intense physicality in the final match of the "G1 Special in USA" weekend was absolutely stunning, and realistic-looking; from the dragon suplex from the apron that drove both men through a table on the outside, to the sharp-edged V-trigger knees, each moment had a purpose. With Omega and Cody seemingly squashing their beef post-match, Bullet Club appears to be on solid ground heading into the summer's G1 Climax tournament.

Tim Fiorvanti, ESPN.com657d ago

In a postmatch speech, and in the ensuing news conference, Omega promised to return with New Japan Pro Wrestling as part of their announced return in 2018. He also pledged to make the United States title something special, no matter where in the world it is defended. It has seemingly put his pursuit of the IWGP heavyweight title on hold for the time being, but with another shot at Okada during the upcoming G1 Climax tournament in a non-title setting, Omega might still be on the path to the world title in the months to come.