The future Mr. WrestleMania: Kenny Omega on New Japan, WWE, New Day
Sitting inside a wrestling ring, resting comfortably atop the top turnbuckle, Kenny Omega addressed whether he will ever headline a WrestleMania.
“I had it in my mind that I would be headlining WrestleMania 30 because it’s a nice, big round number,” said Omega. “But I don’t even know what WrestleMania we are on. What WrestleMania are we on?”
When informed that WrestleMania 32 was the most recent, all Omega could do was slap his hands together and laugh.
“Sh--,” Omega exclaimed. “Then I’ve missed my opportunity. But I’ll headline WrestleMania 40 or 50–I just want it to be a nice, big round number.”
Tyson Smith–better known in wrestling circles as “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega–is the most talented man in wrestling not currently employed by the WWE.
“The best wrestler in the world is me,” confirmed Omega. “I am invading homes everywhere, all over the internet and on TV–all you have to do is search the name and you can find me anywhere, from New Japan World to Ring of Honor.”
Omega, who will turn 33 this October, discusses his love for wrestling both naturally and effectively. He is overflowing with confidence–and it is not because of cockiness. Omega has dreamed of becoming a wrestler for the past twenty-five years–and he is doing everything he possibly can to revolutionize the business now that he has a global platform with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
A product of Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, Omega is refreshingly outspoken and honest. As a wrestling fan cultivated on a steady diet of the “Attitude Era” and Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling, he is not shy about revealing his end game–creating change in wrestling. He constantly challenges the corporate structure, and he and the Young Bucks’ Matt and Nick Jackson–the trio refers to themselves as The Elite–have tantalized wrestling fans for months by calling out the WWE tag team champions The New Day.
“New Day rocks,” admitted Omega. “I can’t lie. What would it do and what would it prove if they sucked? We’re The Elite, so we have to challenge the top act on the planet. You don’t see us challenging some other three man unit–we’re trying to make history, and we’re challenging the best–New Day rocks.”
If bypassing wrestling’s standard operating procedure seems like a passion for the 6’0”, 200-pound Omega–who is currently sporting his signature black hair with elongated blonde streaks–that is because pro wrestling is his passion, and he is willing to pay the price for his beliefs.
“The New Day can respond to us–everyone can respond,” said Omega. “But can they respond without getting in trouble? Could we have issued that challenge and not gotten in trouble? No, of course not. We got in trouble–but we don’t care. We’re trying to change the business. Everyone [in the WWE] is walking on eggshells, they’re so scared. They’re afraid to live their lives and be themselves. Of course they want to respond–I know they want to. The fans want them to respond and they want the company to let them respond. They want the match too–and I know that whether they say it or not–but it’s the corporate forces behind it stopping them.”
Omega has been offered the chance to bring his talents to NXT, but revealed there are no plans to leave New Japan in 2016.
“I have spoken with the heads at NXT, and they’ve all said, ‘If you want to come down, let us know–the second your visa is in place, you’re on TV the next week,’” said Omega, who has a rocky history with WWE developmental territories from his time a decade ago in Deep South Wrestling. “I thought that was really cool of them to say and I appreciate they recognize that I’d add some value to their product, so I always kept that in my mind as an option. But this is going back to my Deep South days–I still haven’t quite shown them what I can do on my own, and that’s what I think this year is going to do for me.”
Omega praised the NXT roster, yet firmly believes that WWE’s decision to debut Shinsuke Nakamura at the NXT on WrestleMania weekend–instead of at WrestleMania 32–was a massive insult.
“I certainly think it is,” said Omega. “A lot of people heard the reaction that AJ received when he came out of nowhere at the Royal Rumble–if Nakamura debuted at WrestleMania, knowing that fans in that crowd travel from around the globe for that weekend, Nakamura’s reaction would have dwarfed AJ’s. That’s not saying Nakamura is better than AJ, but that atmosphere is built for someone who eats it up like Nakamura.”
Omega was so genuinely frustrated by the decision to have Nakamura fight on the NXT card because he felt Nakamura deserved the chance to debut at WrestleMania.
“It’s not like you can say, ‘We’ll hold off until next year’s WrestleMania,’” explained Omega. “It’s a shame that they have decided it was on an NXT show. As someone who knows what he’s capable of and seen his character develop, I just think it’s a missed opportunity. Perhaps it’s a trust issue, not knowing if he can handle the big stage right off the bat or whether the fans will appreciate the kind of character he brings to the table.”
Omega knows exactly what he would bring to the table if given the opportunity to debut in the WWE. Much to the delight of his fans, he would not be coming alone.
“Going to WWE with the Bucks would be revolutionary,” said Omega. “I want to go with the Bucks, and it’s not because I’m scared to go in alone, but it would double up on our impact. The general reaction, in my mind, to AJ [Styles] and [Luke] Gallows and [Karl] Anderson forming the Bullet Club is, ‘That’s cool, but where the f--- are the Young Bucks and Kenny?’ We have something special to show, and we’re more than just an extra three numbers in the Bullet Club. That’s why we thought it was time we tag another name–The Elite–and be individuals in this three-man unit.”
Omega revealed that he has never met or interacted with Vince McMahon or Paul “Triple H” Levesque, but he holds both in high regard.
“I actually really like Triple H,” said Omega. “Especially now, but this is coming from me, the guy that thinks that Vince McMahon is a top three-to-five performer in all of WWE history. I like the evil corporate guy that is huge and jacked and can actually beat their top superstars. I really like Triple H in that role.”
Both McMahon and Triple H have evolved over time in wrestling, transforming their characters to the point where people are glued to the television whenever they are performing. That type of talent, Omega noted, is achieved by a singular focus and dedication to the business–and he is applying that type of hard work into his character in Japan. A run with the IWGP title–the most prestigious title in Japan–and a victory in the upcoming G1 Climax would open up an entirely new avenue of success for Omega.
“Titles, especially in Japan, mean something,” explained Omega. “It doesn’t change my contract, but it adds legitimacy to your character. If you’re holding a championship that means something in the landscape of Japanese wrestling, you’re guaranteed to get a huge feature in almost every magazine–you might even be guaranteed a front page. That’s big. Other entertainment mediums like television shows, comedies, dramas–they’re not looking for some shmuck to be some guest on their show, they’re looking for guys who are well-known, and those are champions. It’s also cool to feel that moment of anticipation building in the crowds for the championship matches. I don’t want a trip to Japan and just have matches that mean nothing–I like being in the thick of things, with that meaning attached to it, and having all that meaning attached to my shoulders.”
The oldest of two children (Omega has a younger sister, but “she’s not a wrestling fan at all,” he noted), Omega was raised in Winnipeg by his mother, who works in family services, and father, who works for the government as a transport officer. While the women in the family were not enamored by the squared circle, Omega’s father helped encourage his son’s love for wrestling by taping one of Vince McMahon’s most cutting-edge creations: Saturday Night’s Main Event.
“When they had Saturday Night’s Main Event, it was my favorite show,” said Omega. “It was on too late for me, so my dad would always tape them and it would be ready for me to watch at six in the morning. It might still be my favorite, actually, from WWE. It felt so different and special, and the whole format of the show was incredible. Till this day, I can re-watch episodes back-to-back-to-back.”
Omega rattled off memories of Saturday Night’s Main Event like it was 1989.
“Earthquake squashing Damien–that was crazy,” recalled Omega. “When the ‘Tugster’ betrayed Hogan and formed the Natural Disasters with Earthquake, that was insane. Undertaker and Jake ‘The Snake’ turning heel against the Warrior with all those snakes in that room–so scary.
“One of my favorite episodes of all time was an Oktoberfest special where they had a huge food fight. They were doing a sausage building contest between the Hart Foundation and Mr. Fuji–and Mr. Fuji cheated, so the Hart Foundation won, which started a huge food fight. Lord Alfred Hayes took the pie in the face at the end–that was great television.”
Like so many children from the Great White North, Omega also grew up in love with hockey.
“I loved following hockey when I was younger and thought I would be a professional hockey player,” revealed Omega. “I was always flipping back and forth between pro wrestling and hockey. Once I was in high school, I sort of knew that I was definitely going to go the way of professional wrestling.”
The ultra-competitive Omega graduated high school from Transcona Collegiate Institute, but played hockey for teams outside of school with older players from the top local levels. Naturally, of course, the eccentric Omega was a goaltender–which actually helped his pro wrestling.
“I’ve heard the goalies are always strange upstairs, but that really helped me build a strong base for pro wrestling,” said Omega. “We never had amateur wrestling, and a lot of great pro wrestlers had an amateur wrestling background–and the reason for that is they understand how the human body works. And when you understand how the human body works and how it moves, you can control the way your body moves. You can control the way your opponent moves and, if something goes wrong, you can make adjustments so you don’t get hurt and they don’t get hurt. For me, in hockey as a goaltender, I was always in a permanent squat position, so I built a lot of that lower end core strength. Even though I never stuck with hockey, it built a lot of good fundamentals for pro wrestling.”
Even while playing hockey–and basketball and soccer–Omega was also teaching himself to wrestle.
“I was trying to promote my own backyard federation,” said Omega. “We never had tickets or a real professional looking ring, but we would try to put on events and put together storylines. We’d edit it and put together our own episode of Monday Night Raw. That was during the ‘Attitude Era’ and when ECW was coming into prominence, so we were doing crazy things just to do crazy things because that was the cool thing to do.”
In addition to ECW transforming the entire wrestling industry, it also affected many of its young viewers–Omega in particular.
“ECW blew my mind,” said Omega. “My first favorite Japanese wrestler was Taka Michinoku. I didn’t know anything about Japanese pro wrestling until I saw Taka appear at Canadian Stampede for WWF when they ran an event in Calgary. Once he left, the next time I saw him was on ECW wrestling Super Crazy. Right then, they had me hooked–I loved seeing guys like Rob Van Dam for the first time, Jerry Lynn, and Canadians like Lance Storm and Chris Jericho. In our backyard wrestling, we’d come to terms that WWE is WWE–we shouldn’t be ripping off their characters or taking their names or storylines. We decided that we should make our own characters and our moves–so instead of stealing from WWE, we started stealing moves from ECW.”
Omega wisely planned out his future. He would attend the University of Manitoba, but continue wrestling independently and locally while working toward a degree. Just like everything else in wrestling, Omega’s plan, of course, was subject to change.
“Even though school was the smart and sensible thing to do, wrestling was where my heart really was,” said Omega. “The time outside of school was the time I felt I should be putting into wrestling.”
Omega finished the school year in 2005 and then dove head-first into wrestling. He started by finding a wrestling camp in Eldon, Missouri that would change the course of his entire wrestling career.
“This wrestling camp was set up as a competition where the winner would get a dojo spot at Pro Wrestling NOAH–which, at that time, was the largest promotion in all of Japan,” said Omega, who actually roomed with Ring of Honor’s Bobby Fish at the camp. “On day two, they announced there was a special prize and a special guest. It was Johnny Ace [John Laurinaitis] and he was offering a WWE contract to the person that he thought stood out the most.”
Omega had his sights set on the opportunity with Pro Wrestling NOAH, so Laurinaitis’ talk of the WWE did nothing for him.
“I didn’t care,” said Omega. “I was gunning for the spot at NOAH. I’d sort of outgrown WWE and I was all about Japanese wrestling–I was trading tapes and DVDs to stay on top of that wrestling culture.”
In the end, Laurinaitis chose Omega for the exclusive spot with WWE–while Bobby Fish was selected for Pro Wrestling NOAH.
In order to succeed in wrestling, Omega disclosed that a wrestler first must learn who he does not want to be as well as what he will not stand for in the business. After Laurinaitis selected him, Omega learned these lessons at WWE’s Deep South Wrestling.
“People generally had the choice between Ohio Valley Wrestling and Deep South Wrestling,” explained Omega. “But Johnny Ace told me, ‘I saw what you did in the ring. You are an athletic phenomenon. I think you would be awesome for Deep South Wrestling because they’re the more physical promotion–they’re doing a lot of callisthenic drilling. We’re trying to make that the place where athletes can be molded into superstars, whereas OVW is where we go to foster the minds and help people find their inner-charismatic being. But I know you could cut a two-minute promo on the spot if you wanted to right now–so go to Deep South, develop as an athlete and performer, learn how to adjust to our style, and see you on TV.’”
It was not, however, all it was cracked up to be.
“I very much disliked the experience,” said Omega, “but it was mandatory. It was a crucial time in my life to understand what it was like to go through that.”
The dysfunctional history of Deep South Wrestling is well-documented, as trainer Bill DeMott’s methods led to multiple injuries among the wrestlers.
“Every now and again, Johnny would stop by and check on everyone’s morale,” said Omega. “He’d heard rumors that it wasn’t so hot. The last time I met him in person, he said–‘If ever there are people who want to quit, there might be a fix to the problem,’ and he was referring to Bill. ‘So don’t just quit because there might be something we can do for you, and talk to me–we care about you guys as performers and people.’
“So I called John and said I didn’t mind the degree of physicality. I said I didn’t mind being the scapegoat if I helped the morale that was piss-poor. But I said, ‘My heart isn’t here. Any sort of creativity and freedom that I had was taken away from me. I don’t feel like I can flourish as the robot you guys have programmed me to be. I want to prove to you, elsewhere, that I don’t need your programming. I don’t need some guy in the back to tell me what to do, how to do it, what moves make sense, what comments I should say, the way I should dress, the way I should look–I want to show you that the way I have pictured myself, in my brain, is as a superstar. I’m not doing this to spite you, I’m doing this to increase my own value. Where you may look at me as contender in your light heavyweight division, I’m telling you I can be more than that. You may not believe me right now because, when you found me, I was a nobody. But I know, in my mind, I can be somebody. That’s what I want to show you to increase my value for your company.’ That’s what I told him.”
The Nostradamus-like Omega believed he could be the guy to make WWE millions and millions of dollars, and he has lived up to his end of the promise. He realized there was no way he could accomplish this goal while toiling away at Deep South Wrestling.
“So I said to Johnny, ‘The best thing is for me to be released and I’ll show it to you on my own terms,’ and that’s where we left off. I still have a lot of respect for Laurinaitis. He once said to me, ‘I see a little bit of my old friend Brian Pillman in you, and I see a lot of Chris Jericho in you. I don’t know how anyone would deny the fact that, if you add those two forces together, how that doesn’t equal money. Maybe other people don’t see it, but I know it–and I want to be the guy who gets credit for signing you.’ But he understood that this was the way I wanted to go about proving him right and proving myself right, and he didn’t want to hold me back.”
New Japan Pro Wrestling has allowed Omega the chance to flourish, and “The Cleaner” has made the most of his opportunities.
“This is the best place for my name to be heard–while still being at a disadvantage,” said Omega. “It’s easy to be in WWE, or the top dog company, and to do something decent. But because you’re part of that huge company, that instantly makes headlines–you’re in the top company, and you can always lean on that. So to make headlines from something that is considered below that or something that shouldn’t even be newsworthy in your country–for example, wrestling writers aren’t going to want to write about something on the other side of the planet. It’s not applicable. But if I’m making so many waves out there that they feel they have to write about it, and then that story seems more relevant to the public than what’s happening in WWE, that’s a victory. That’s the situation I want to put myself in, and New Japan gave me that platform.”
New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 pay per view at the Tokyo Dome in January of 2015 served as Omega’s coming out party. With the Young Bucks in his corner, Omega defeated Ryusuke Taguchi for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship.
“A lot of that goes to timing,” said Omega. “I was really happy to sort of make my debut there. I had this new character no one had seen in action yet, so to see it on their largest stage–and I mean, it’s right up there with WWE’s bigger events and it helped to have Jim Ross broadcasting–at New Japan’s first global pay per view, that certainly helped a lot. And that was a product of good booking for me–it was good that the image I created for myself got over with the fans, it was a title match that I won, there were so many good factors.”
A genuine five-tool wrestler, Omega’s wrestling is enhanced by the creativity in his character.
“The whole idea of ‘The Cleaner’ was to be a very cold and calculating silent assassin character,” said Omega. “That’s what the office had wanted from me, almost how Steve Austin had ‘Stone Cold’ in him but they made him be the Ringmaster.”
Omega then realized that he could look the part of the assassin while playing the role of “The Cleaner”.
“When you hear ‘The Cleaner,’ and when Japanese fans hear it, you don’t think, ‘Oh, this guy is an assassin,’” said Omega. “They think I clean up stuff. I started to realize there was a little bit of a disconnect, and it was beginning to become difficult to say, ‘Don’t you get it? We’re the Bullet Club–there are ‘guns’ and ‘The Cleaner’ cleans up the crime scene afterward.’ I had to explain that so often, I felt it was easier just to take the literal form of it. Sure, I can look the part of the assassin, but what if instead of a sniper rifle, I’m carrying this huge broom? Every venue has a broom, so I don’t need to put a broom in my gear bag.
“The first time I used the broom, I was about to make my entrance and we had this huge, long ramp. I hate the boring long walk, and I wasn’t going to do the Ultimate Warrior sprint, but I wanted to make the entrance more interesting. I asked myself, ‘How am I going to make that element of Kenny Omega stand out?’ So I added the broom. There are so many things you can do with a broom–I’ve used it as a sweeper, a microphone, a guitar, I’ve put it on a headset. Those are just things I think of on the spot. Sometimes I’ll even sweep away [Kazuchika] Okada’s ‘Rainmaker’ money because, if we’re going to be honest, I had seen Matt [Jackson] almost slip on the money–so I thought I should clean it up before someone else slipped on it.”
Omega’s best friends and closest allies in the business are the Bucks.
“We always have an open line of communication sending messages all day,” said Omega. “When we come up with something, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, we’ll wake up and get to it. We’re in different countries, different continents, but we’re always discussing how we can do something cool for ourselves or cool for wrestling or cool for the fans. Since we’ve been able to work together more often, which is an issue that we’ve really forced, being together has really sparked this creativity.”
Omega and the Bucks were having one of their renowned think-tank sessions, discussing the best wrestlers in the business, when an idea dawned on the three men–those intimate, private moments together should be shared with their fans.
“We had one day off on a tour in Japan,” said Omega. “I’d been sitting in Matt’s room and we asked, ‘How can we create some content for the public to understand more what The Elite is about and to have fun?’ At the very most, our six-man tag matches are going to be twenty minutes. But for people that can’t get enough, or can’t wait to see us–which could be months down the road–how are we going to stay connected? So we came up with the idea to come up with these videos.”
Omega also thinks extremely highly of the Bucks in the ring, calling them two of the top three wrestlers in the world.
“The top three wrestlers in the world are the Bucks, for sure, and if it isn’t AJ Styles, it’s Sami Zayn,” said Omega. “We’ve worked together all over the place, and he’s got everything.”
Omega and the Bucks are still part of New Japan’s Bullet Club, but The Elite feels far more organic considering the trio created it themselves.
“We were sort of forced into the role we were in with Bullet Club,” said Omega. “I wanted to be in New Japan, the Young Bucks wanted to be in New Japan, and we showed up and they said we were in the Bullet Club. It had already sort of been a ‘Too Sweet,’ ‘Suck it’ parody of the NWO. I’d never done anything like that, but I was written into that storyline, so I had to do it. So especially now where our ranks have been really watered down, it is now–more than ever–left up to us to make it something new. It doesn’t have to be the forced ‘Too sweet’ or the forced ‘Suck it.’
“We want to make it less about that part of the Bullet Club and more about what The Elite is doing, which is what you see in everything that we do. No matter where the other guys show up, they’re not going to do what we do. They’re not even going to be able to do what we do–there are only three people on the planet that can do what we’re doing, and it’s us. When you say the Bullet Club has been doing some really cool stuff, people ask, ‘Which ones?’ If you hear, ‘The Elite was at Ring of Honor and tore the f------ house down,’ you won’t even need to ask–you’ll know it’s me, Nick, and Matt.”
Creating change in a business where the stage has changed very little in a century is no easy task, but that is exactly what Omega lives to do. The dragon suplex is not new, nor is Omega’s one-winged angel or his German suplex, but he adds his own flavor that is rapidly changing the way the business operates.
“I love these do-or-die scenarios in the heat of the moment where you either come up with something–or you have nothing,” said Omega. “Things are firing off in my brain in the heat of those moments, and I’m thankful that my brain functions in that capacity. That’s when the craziness comes out. Most people say, ‘Why don’t we do what we always do?’ That’s when I flip the switch in the opposite direction and say, ‘Sh--, I don’t know. Is there any way I can toss a guy on his head in the ramp way?’
“We are all in charge of our own destinies, and when you look at the annals of time and history–‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, CM Punk, The Rock–all of those guys took their own destiny by the reins. I want to create my own history.”