New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Kenny Omega discussed his return to Ring of Honor for a show on Sunday and his intractable desire to win the IWGP heavyweight championship. Omega also addressed his relationship with Seth Rollins and New Japan’s upcoming shows in California.
The eyes of the wrestling world will be closely fixated on Ring of Honor this Sunday during the War of the Worlds tour in Toronto.
For the first time in nearly 15 months, New Japan’s Kenny Omega makes his triumphant return to Ring of Honor. Omega will reunite with ROH tag team champions Matt and Nick Jackson, who together are known as The Young Bucks. Collectively, the trio–who are also the three integral members of New Japan’s Bullet Club–form the most exclusive group in wrestling known, fittingly, as The Elite.
The Elite’s opponents in Toronto are ROH world champion Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and New Japan “Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi. Notwithstanding the respect he holds for his opponents, Omega noted that they fail to perform in the same league as The Elite.
“Absolutely not, but no one is as a trio,” cautioned Omega. “Their strengths lie in being fantastic, and even legendary, singles wrestlers. Heck, even The Addiction [Daniels and Kazarian] is a proven force as a regular tag team, so there is no shortage of multi-talented dudes with star power. They were a great choice for a rowdy crowd and we are looking forward to the match.”
During a six-man tag featuring The Elite in the U.K.-based Over The Top promotion’s ScrapperMania on April 15 in Ireland, Omega took the microphone and broadcasted his own match, a la The Rock. Omega shared that he and the Bucks have surprises in store for the Ring of Honor faithful in Toronto.
“We’re always driven by our mindset and feeling on a particular show day, so you’ll never know what you’ll get until you see it happen in the ring,” said Omega. “We do plan to have the clear-cut match of the night, though that goes without saying.”
Omega’s return to Ring of Honor is possibly the most significant story this month in wrestling. “The Cleaner”, who is fresh off an enormous victory over Tomohiro Ishii at Wednesday’s Wrestling Dontaku show in Japan, was asked if there is a difference in psychology and action between wrestling in New Japan and ROH, as well as whether becoming ROH world champion is on his list of goals to accomplish in 2017.
“There certainly is a difference in psychology, but that clear difference makes it even more exciting to return after all these months,” said Omega. “In terms of being ROH champion, it’s never been a viable goal since I’ve only ever been in title contention once in my career. If I were ever in a position to appear more for ROH, I would accept nothing less than to be recognized as the best – which would mean having to challenge the top dogs/champions.”
Omega had anticipated settling some Bullet Club business and addressing the mounting friction with fellow member Adam Cole, but claims that will not occur in Toronto.
“I had planned to,” admitted Omega. “But for reasons unknown to me, Adam Cole is not on the show.”
Omega’s One-Winged Angel is the most effective finishing maneuver in wrestling. Had he been successful in hitting the One-Winged Angel on Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in January, Omega is fully confident that he would be wearing the IWGP heavyweight championship.
“I have no doubt in my mind that is the case,” said Omega. “I’m going to take great satisfaction when I can finally pin Okada in a singles match with it.”
On the subject of finishers, Omega playfully noted on Twitter that Seth Rollins is using a nearly identical version of his Rain Trigger. Omega was asked if it is a compliment if Rollins chose to perform the move after seeing Omega use it.
“If he was inspired by my match to add that to his arsenal, it’s a great compliment,” said Omega. “A finishing move is an important part of one’s character–and sometimes success. So for him, being a top guy in WWE, it’s cool that he chose something that I’d used earlier in the year during my match with Okada.
“As for the tweet, a lot of guys don’t know that I used to travel with Rollins all of the time in ROH. We never became the closest of friends, but we’re definitely cool with each other and the mutual respect has always been there. If I was legitimately angry, I’d just flat out say so. I’m not one to shy away from speaking my mind.”
Omega’s humble dreams to succeed in Japan begin with a trip to the DDT promotion in 2008. His epiphany occurred after finishing his tour, believing he was capable of accomplishing more in Japan. Perusing Omega’s career in Japan is parallel to analyzing his psychehis hunger to set a goal, meet it, then continue to want accomplish more is prevalent in all of his work. Winning a title or earning “Match of the Year” honors were never enough. Omega is never satisfied, and the next goal on his bullet-list is the IWGP championship.
Omega chose to return to NJPW in January after it appeared WWE – and John Cena’s Instagram – preferred to see him in the Royal Rumble. Omega also mentioned in a Sports Illustrated interview in late December that WWE plays hot potato with its world title. Since the beginning of 2017, there have been four WWE champions, plus three different Universal champions, while only one IWGP heavyweight champion. Omega fielded a question as to whether that sample size shows that it is much more exclusive to wear the IWGP championship belt.
“That’s a tough question,” explained Omega. “Both companies approach the business a little differently, and thus you’re going to get different types of treatment towards their respective titles.
“Generally speaking, WWE is show business and there will be times when the belt is nothing but a prop to advance TV storylines. NJPW likes to use its heavyweight belt to feature its style pro wrestling at the highest level. Matches in New Japan are generally longer and theatrics kept to a minimum. Also, the idea of having a single strong champion goes back years and years and years, and NJPW is very tradition-heavy.”
Follow SI Wrestling on Facebook
Former New Japan legend Shinsuke Nakamura chose to leave New Japan to wrestle for WWE. Omega, however, is still working to forever cement his legacy in Japanese wrestling lore.
Omega revealed that, no matter the time difference in Tokyo, he plans on watching Shinsuke Nakamura’s WWE debut match at Backlash later this month.
“Of course,” said Omega. “I don’t watch much wrestling in my spare time unless it’s for studying purposes, but I always keep up with old friends to cheer them on from afar.”
Despite Omega’s singular focus on winning the IWGP championship, he will also be part of the 27th annual G1 Climax this summer.
“To be honest, I’d love to sit it out but I’m entered automatically as last year’s champion,” said Omega, whose mind, body, and soul were equally battered and bruised after last summer’s historic triumph. “I’ll give it my all. Not trying to match my previous performances but tell different, and hopefully, interesting stories.”
Coming soon for New Japan is the expansion into the United States. Omega plans to plant the New Japan–and Bullet Club–flags at the sold-out July shows in Long Beach, California and take one small step for New Japan and one giant leap for North American professional wrestling.
“It’s what I’m most excited for,” said Omega. “It’s going to be a process and take time to develop, but making the U.S. a frequent stop for us is at the top of my priority list. Whatever role I have on those shows, I’ll do my best to show the uniqueness of our product and the true next level of pro wrestling that is The Elite.”
News of the Week: Adam Cole’s Future Starts in NYC
For the past year, Adam Cole has been questioned, repeatedly, about his future.
It begins on May 12 against New Japan’s Hiroshi Tanahashi at Ring of Honor’s War of the Worlds in New York.
“It’s a match I’ll always remember, it’s one I’ve wanted for years, and I have a lot I’m going to prove against Tanahashi,” said Cole. “It’s special that it will take place in front of a bunch of fans who appreciate and acknowledge the history behind this match.”
The 27-year-old Cole, who is the first and only three-time Ring of Honor world champion, saw his ROH contract expire on Monday and he is currently a free agent expected to field offers from WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and ROH.
“This is the most exciting time of my career,” said Cole. “When I look back at my career, pretty much since 2010, I have been a contracted Ring of Honor professional wrestler and I’ve had the absolute time of my life. If it were not for Ring of Honor, I wouldn’t be in a position now where some people are referring to me as the ‘hottest free agent in pro wrestling.’
“It’s exciting, at 27 years old, to see the possibility and the landscape and potential for my career. I’m not unhappy or looking for change. Strictly from a professional standpoint, I really am curious to see the possibilities that are out there for me. If I didn’t explore or entertain the idea of different possibilities, then I’d always wonder, so the time is now to see what I want to do.”
Hulk Hogan just made news by revealing he would like to be the “OG for the Bullet Club,” and Cole–who has proudly worn the Bullet Club black and white for the past year–appreciated the words from the most well-known wrestling figure of all time.
“Hulk Hogan and the NWO were a group of guys so many of us idolized, and for Hogan to say he’d love to be involved is further confirmation that what we are doing is something that is truly influencing pro wrestling,” said Cole. “Part of me wasn’t surprised when I heard Hulk Hogan mentioned that he wanted to be in Bullet Club, because I know how influential Bullet Club has become. I saw how impactful Bullet Club was when I was watching it from afar and being in the same locker room, but now that I’ve been involved in it, I have seen that its reach is so strong. But part of me was also elated with the idea. Hogan is one of the greatest and biggest household names in professional wrestling, so it’s pretty cool to hear him say that.”
Cole and New Japan’s Kenny Omega are currently feuding over control of the vaunted Bullet Club, with the Young Bucks even siding with Omega. Cole was challenged by Omega to a fight at Sunday’s ROH show in Toronto, but claims that the challenge by Omega was deceitful.
“I am not on the Toronto event,” said Cole. “My contract with Ring of Honor expired on May 1, and the dates I committed to were New York and Philadelphia. My personal opinion is that Kenny Omega is just trying to make excuses. He knew I wasn’t going to be in Toronto, so of course he’s going to call me out and say he wants to wrestle Adam Cole in Toronto when he knows full well that I won’t be there.
“The truth of the matter is I wanted to wrestle Kenny in New York City at War of the Worlds, though that isn’t happening. I don’t know if the wrestling gods are just refusing to let us be in the same building, but I know I would love to do this match, just shut up all the doubters and prove who the true leader of the Bullet Club is. Whether it happens at War of the Worlds, or down the line, or even tomorrow, it needs to happen. Kenny has gotten in the Young Bucks’ heads way too much, and now the Young Bucks are questioning my loyalty to them. That is absurd and ridiculous. I’m absolutely ready to settle this once and for all with Kenny Omega, and hopefully sooner than later.”
Cole is set to square off against Tanahashi at War of the Worlds, which is live on pay per view from the Manhattan Center in New York on Friday, May 12. Cole plans to prove his supremacy over Tanahashi, but despite all the cockiness and arrogance behind Adam Cole, there is an underlying current of humility and respect, particularly for a legend like Tanahashi.
“The athlete and competitor in me obviously wants to prove that I am the face of Ring of Honor and defeat Tanahashi, who is the face of New Japan, and show that I am the better man,” said Cole. “Looking outside of that, to me personally, this is my dream match. Tanahashi calls himself ‘The Ace of New Japan,’ and for good reason.
“Tanahashi is a complete, bona fide rock star. He is a guy who carried New Japan Pro Wrestling on his back for a really long time, and a lot of people consider Tanahashi the foundation of New Japan Pro Wrestling. The same can be said for me–I’m the only three-time Ring of Honor champion, so a lot of people consider me the face of Ring of Honor. I consider this the ultimate dream match in a first-time ever singles match live on pay per view.”
Billy Corgan has returned to professional wrestling.
Corgan, who is best known for his transcendent run with the Smashing Pumpkins, is currently finalizing his purchase of the National Wrestling Alliance.
The most common response to the news has been: What does that mean?
“This means Billy Corgan has a brand name,” said Mike Johnson, an intrepid reporter for PWI Insider who has been in front of nearly every Corgan story since August of 2016. “He wanted to buy Impact Wrestling, but it did not happen. Now he has a chance to buy and own a brand name, use it to leverage whatever he wants–whether that’s a TV deal, creating a streaming service, or live tours–I don’t know his plan, but now he has an NWA brand name.
Corgan’s plan with Impact, who named him president last August, was to modernize the business and bring professional wrestling storytelling to the next level. The relationship ended poorly amidst deception from then-Impact chairman Dixie Carter.
“Now Corgan has a championship belt that people recognize,” said Johnson. “To the average person, the NWA still equates a lot of fond, happy memories of when they were watching wrestling growing up. I think he bought it for the brand name and he’s going to try to leverage the brand name into something.”
Johnson reported that the purchase allows Corgan the name, rights, and trademarks to the NWA, which was first created in 1948, in addition to the possession of the NWA championship belt
“What he really bought is a blank slate with a known brand name, and that might actually be a better plan than his original plan of buying Impact Wrestling,” said Johnson. “Some people are asking, ‘What is the point of him buying the NWA?’ The NWA, as it is currently configured and utilized, doesn’t really mean all that much beyond an umbrella group that is licensing out its name to other entities. If you want to take the actual NWA name itself and rebrand it and reboot it, then it could be configured into anything. Corgan basically bought a lump of clay that people have really fond memories of, and how he decides to sculpt that clay tell the tale of whether this was a good investment for him.”
In other news…
• The “House of Horrors” match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt was certainly innovative. Instead of a hardcore match, WWE produced an original. Yet the match, which included weak special effects and a room full of dangling baby dolls, reflected the lack of the company’s–specifically, Vincent McMahon’s–connection to the pulse on the modern fan.
• Cody Rhodes remains a free agent, though he did mention to Sports Illustrated that his experience with Ring of Honor has left him impressed:
“Ring of Honor continues to surprise,” said Rhodes. “Ring of Honor wanted me to ride a motorcycle to the ring at Supercard of Honor, and then raffled that motorcycle off for pediatric cancer, so they continue to surprise me, even in terms of their growth. They don’t get ahead of themselves, and they’re growing at the absolute correct rate.”
• Ricochet’s attempt to win the IWGP junior heavyweight title was thwarted this past weekend by incumbent champion Hiromu Takahasi. The match, which aired on New Japan World, serves as yet another example to the brilliance of Ricochet. The 28-year-old, who also wrestled for Lucha Underground as Prince Puma, is equally skilled at wrestling as a heavyweight but is also a step above his peers as a cruiser. Ricochet is 198 pounds, making him the perfect candidate to become the face of WWE’s 205 Live, but he has stated his goal is to wrestle on the main WWE roster and win the Intercontinental title.
• The new Andre the Giant collection by Roots of Fight pays tribute to Andre’s worldwide fame and popularity in Japan. Roots of Fight founder and president Jesse Katz shared his feelings on the exclusive line with Sports Illustrated:
“There was no other way to kick off Roots of Wrestling than with Andre the Giant,” said Katz. “He was larger than life–The Eighth Wonder of the World actually–and being able to represent his enduring legacy in sports and entertainment is an honor.
“Our highest priority is to pay homage to the athletes, performers, and icons that capture our imaginations and inspire generations after them. Andre certainly fits, or rather broke, that mold and we hope our future releases, featuring champions and luminaries from every era, will also resonate with the wrestling community that has already been so supportive of Roots of Fight.”
• The Hardys delivered a compelling match with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end against Cesaro and Sheamus, and the story between the two teams continues with the heel turn by Cesaro and Sheamus. Matt Hardy is one of the sharpest wrestling minds in the business, so it will be fascinating to watch the way he and Jeff are booked–especially in light of how the Dudleys were booked so poorly after a popular return to the company. The Hardys are fully aware that their nostalgia act has a limited shelf life, which is an integral reason Matt Hardy is still teasing a return to “Broken” Matt Hardy on Twitter.
• Comparing the Hardys’ feud in TNA with the current program between Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns is an interesting look at storytelling. The “Broken Hardy” storyline began just over a year ago when Jeff Hardy put Matt through a table on the April 19 edition of Impact. Jeff’s swantomb bomb–which is a move he continues to perform regularly–served as the catalyst to the incredible “Broken” storyline that broke Matt and eventually saw him gain control of the “Nefarious Brother Nero”, and the story lasted nearly a calendar year. In comparison, Braun Strowman, through the power of special effects, flipped an ambulance in a genuinely well-told scene on Raw–yet that monstrous moment has already been reduced to a footnote in their feud.
• Despite the rush, and the disappointment of AJ Styles remaining outside of the world title picture, WWE did a solid job of building Jinder Mahal on Smackdown with a win over Sami Zayn. The only way to ensure Mahal’s momentum continues to build is to have him defeat Randy Orton for the world title.
• WWE’s newest “Who is Roderick Strong?” series is a phenomenal way to introduce Strong to the WWE audience. Strong is versatile enough to play an antagonist or protagonist, and the fact that WWE is highlighting his story hopefully serves as an indicator that the company is invested in his success on NXT and eventually the main roster. My only wish was that these videos aired on Raw.
• Friendship the Magician was shocked and dismayed by the amount of violence in the Payback encounter between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, as well as their subsequent rematch last night on Smackdown. If given the opportunity, the celebrated Vegas magician already knows exactly how he would mend the bitterness between former best friends in Owens and Jericho:
“I think the magic of a friendship like what Chris and Kevin had is much more powerful than anything of Friendship the Magician,” explained Friendship. “I wish I could wave a wand and repair it but friendships like that are built over time and through mutual trust, and that is what I think it will take if there is any hope of repairing it.
“If given the opportunity, I would create a trick just for them. It would involve them being handcuffed to each other in a room with a hungry tiger. If they survived the trick, they’d walk out friends again.”
• Coming attractions: Triple H and Bob Costas will be featured in next Wednesday’s Week in Wrestling on SI.com.
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard return to the MLW airwaves this Friday at noon for the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast to discuss Judgment Day 2002, which was headlined by a WWE title match between Hulk Hogan and “The American Badass” Undertaker.
“Judgment Day ‘02 is one of those pay per views that people really sleep on,” said Thompson. “We’ll get to examine ‘The American Badass’ character for the first time, as well as talk about Hulk Hogan’s last title run, which was certainly a nostalgia deal. There was also Kurt Angle’s famous hair match against Edge, but this is also famous for a few other reasons. This is Steve Austin’s last pay per view before he walks out the next month, and this is the first pay per view when the WWF was the WWE. There are a lot of sidebars and stories to this, including Deacon Batista and the Reverend gimmick that D-Von Dudley had, so there is lots of fun stuff here that we’ve never talked about on the show before.”
Thompson revealed that the evolution of The Undertaker is going to be a critical component to this week’s podcast, but the entire PPV – which opened with a match between Rob Van Dam and Eddie Guerrero – will be covered in detail.
“The undercard is ridiculous,” said Thompson. “The curtain jerker is RVD and Eddie, so you’re really starting at a heck of a pace. I’m really looking forward to this week’s show.”
The Nitro Files: The Build to Slamboree '97
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff–who was the president of WCW during the company’s most successful years–also hosts his weekly “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and has also created the IRW Network, which is currently highlighting over 1,500 hours of independent wrestling. Bischoff plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the truth is out there.
On May 4, 1997, Nitro was live from the Jenkins Arena in Lakeland, Florida, which is where Ring of Honor just held Supercard of Honor featuring the Hardys’ ladder match against the Young Bucks.
The show included a WCW cruiserweight championship match as Sean “Syxx” Waltman defended his title against Rey Mysterio. Courtesy of outside interference from Scott Hall, Syxx won in only 54 seconds.
Bischoff explained that Sean Waltman–who was a cruiserweight yet capable of delivering incredible matches with cruisers and heavyweights alike–was one of the more rare talents on the WCW.
“Sean was really unique in a couple different ways,” said Bischoff. “Sean’s early, early matches–before he made it in WWE–relied a lot on a martial arts base. He did a lot of spins and kicks, and he integrated a lot of martial arts into his repertoire. That’s a really difficult style for most guys, because the guys he was working with were used to arm drags, hip tosses, and Irish whips. Sean brought a dynamic style to the ring, but it was high risk. Unlike a lot of traditional wrestling moves, when you jump and kick, you need to commit one hundred percent. When you unload the energy to deliver a kick that is going to look good, you’re throwing a lot of power out there. So the biggest challenge with Sean was finding guys who could work his style and handle his offense because it was pretty high-risk.”
Bischoff’s cruiserweight matches in WCW stood out because of the action and not the purple ropes now seen in WWE’s cruiserweight division.
“That is superfluous,” said Bischoff. “Changing the color of the ropes and changing the lighting–without changing the style–is a gimmick,” explained Bischoff. “The reason I brought the cruiserweights into WCW was to have a different style of match and a different presentation of a match. The style was much faster paced and there was much more chain wrestling, and it was more athletic than the presentation between WWF and WCW’s product at that time. I wanted to differentiate the style, but you can’t differentiate just through the color of the ring ropes. If I have one criticism of WWE’s 205 Live, it’s that they are trying to pretend they are different. If you really look at the action in the ring, it’s really not that much different than what you see with the bigger guys.”
If Nitro seemed short that night, it is because it was only an hour long due to the NBA playoffs also airing on TNT.
“The contract that Turner Broadcasting had with the NBA trumped everything that I was doing with WCW,” said Bischoff. “There was no voting, no discussion, and I didn’t get to ask why–I just had to make it work.
“Sometimes, absence does make the heart grow fonder. Giving the audience a really hot hour wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I certainly want to make it clear that I did not have a vote.”
The show was built around the build to Slamboree, which was taking place two weeks later on May 18th in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nitro ended without a main event, as outside interference prevented the scheduled bout between “Diamond” Dallas Page and The Giant against Harlem Heat. The chaos included brawling from Randy Savage, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Ric Flair. The feud between Syxx and Flair had nearly reached its climax, and the two would meet in a sanctioned match at Slamboree when Flair, Piper, and Kevin Greene would battle Hall, Kevin Nash, and Syxx.
“Let’s be clear, Kevin Greene was an All Pro linebacker in the NFL,” said Bischoff. “He was a great athlete, and Ric Flair really loved working with real sports personalities. The magic and the chemistry was there, and the buildup really wasn’t that difficult. Kevin was a great performer and intense athlete. It’s also challenging when you bring a celebrity into a storyline because you’re building energy into a short story, but working with Kevin and building toward Charlotte was really easy.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground Clip
New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to AXS TV this Friday featuring a “Tiger Mask Special” between Tiger Mask and Red Death Mask, as well as Kazuchika Okada squaring off against Naomichi Marufuji. The matches took place at this past October’s King of Pro Wrestling show.
New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku took place in Fukuoka, Japan on Wednesday, which aired with commentary from the talented Kevin Kelly on New Japan World, and saw Okada successfully defend his IWGP title against Bad Luck Fale.
Fale recently unveiled his new tombstone piledriver, which is as devastating physically as it psychologically to Okada.
“The use of the tombstone by Fale is a great way to get Okada to try and do the same move to Fale because Okada can’t do it,” explained Kelly. “Fale is too big, but Okada broke out Heavy Rain in Beppu, so look for that.”
Kelly explained that the prevailing story in Japan is Okada running out of steam due to a nonstop barrage of challengers.
“Fale was catching Okada at the right time,” said Kelly. “Okada is running out of gas as champion and it’s no surprise considering every grueling challenger he’s faced. My prediction is we’ll see Omega challenge Okada next. I think he’s the man to challenge Okada next for Dominion.”