Kenny Omega Explains His Plan for a Gradual Rise to AEW Stardom

The Week in Wrestling: Kenny Omega on why he didn’t immediately try to become AEW’s top star, WWE’s curious Roman Reigns erasure and more.
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Kenny Omega: ‘I want to be a true, all-around, real best in the world performer’

Two weeks ago on Dynamite, AEW star Kenny Omega defeated Alan Angels.

Omega emerged victorious following a second V-trigger, ending a match that clocked in at a tidy six minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Angels is not a household name in wrestling, though his performance against Omega showed that he certainly has the potential to be a player for AEW. The match was textbook Omega, who always wants his opponents to shine.

That mindset is not on display by Omega because he is one of AEW’s Executive Vice Presidents. It is simply Omega’s nature, another example of the manner in which he is bringing his own unique psychology to mainstream pro wrestling.

“Not everyone who watches AEW is familiar with my work in Japan,” said Omega who teams with “Broken” Matt Hardy on Wednesday night’s Dynamite to wrestle Chris Jericho and Sammy Guevara in a street fight. “I’m not sure everyone knows ‘The Best Bout Machine.’ So the question was asked, is the best way to introduce this character by giving him the world right off the bat? Maybe that could have worked.

“To me, I would rather take more unknown names, guys that don’t have that big reputation yet, and show there is something special about them. I want to be a force to help introduce new stars to the world and magnify the work of those around me.”

In an era where stories are told in an instant, Omega envisions his rise in AEW as a novel full of different chapters. Like any engaging story, his goal is to keep the attention of viewers, just like he did with or without the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

“A lot of people watched my work in New Japan, and they think there is this mysterious figure, this booker, Gedo, and he controls and oversees all and writes all the stories,” explained Omega. “No. I wrote my own stories. That was me.”

Omega finds himself in unfamiliar territory in AEW as the favorite. During his tenure in New Japan, Omega fought to elevate himself from the junior heavyweight division to heavyweight, which is incredibly hard to do, and then had to convince the company that he could add value to the main event scene.

Omega’s rise from an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 against Ryusuke Taguchi—who is a fantastic talent but still remains in the junior heavyweight division—to headlining Wrestle Kingdom 13 against wrestling legend Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2019 was a process full of toil, tears, and, ultimately, triumph.

Omega’s goal now is to show different sides of his personality and continue to spark interest, keeping people watching every single week.

“One of the last things I said when I was leaving New Japan after my match with Tanahashi was to Will Ospreay,” said Omega. “I told him there is no one with a larger tool box and set of tools than him, and it was just a matter of getting his s--- together and figuring out how to use those tools properly instead of just doing s--- just to show people you can. And to his credit, Will’s figured it out. He’s regarded by a large chunk of people as the best in the world. But the thing is, as soon as you’re injured or people decide you’re not the best in the world, then what? How do you keep that passionate fan base with you?

“For me, through the way I tell my stories and the way I value my fans from around the world, who mean the world to me, people have stuck with me even though I’m not in the main event picture. And it doesn’t matter if I’m not in the main event picture, I am performing my ass off to deliver main event level performances. I understand that you can’t just be a dude that has long singles matches with the same people over and over. You have to challenge yourself in all match types, including TV matches. Guys that think they’re great in the Wild West where they can do whatever the f--- they want, sure, they’re great. Not to sound egotistical, but putting on great matches, that’s the easiest part for me. Try to do it when you have to hit a hard eight minutes, and still blow the fans’ socks off.”

Challenging himself to become a multi-faceted performer is the top priority for Omega.

“I want to be a true, all-around, real ‘best in the world’ performer,” said Omega. “That means singles matches, tag matches, mixed tags, battle royals, you have to be able to do it all. With AEW, I’ve been allowed the creative freedom to develop myself as more of an all-around performer.

“I had incredible chemistry tagging with Ibushi. I asked myself, can I do it again with Hangman? I believe I can. Can I do mixed tags with Riho? How about a hardcore death match with Mox? That’s the type of wrestler I want to be. And no, people have not got my absolutely strong suit yet, my forte, the main-event style singles match. It’s not that I’ve lost it, it’s that I am building a tool chest from the ground up for a new audience. I want to do the hard work, setting the table for everyone to accept new faces.”

Omega is a confident performer that truly believes in his work. Whether he is wrestling against a less-heralded opponent, or headlining a pay-per-view, Omega knows no one can capture the audience’s attention quite like he can.

“When it’s time, which is sooner than people think, I’ll remind people why I’m the best in the world,” said Omega. “And it’s coming. It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.”

Where is Roman Reigns?

WWE’s video production team made an odd decision this past Monday night while airing highlights of Seth Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania 31, leaving Roman Reigns out of the footage.

Reigns, who Rollins pinned for the surprise victory, played a pivotal part in that match.

This begs an obvious question: Why would Vince McMahon not want footage of Reigns appearing on his television program?

A two-time leukemia survivor, Reigns made the decision to pull out of the WrestleMania tapings in late March. Of course, he was already advertised for a main-event-caliber match against Bill Goldberg, but that “Spear vs. Spear” encounter for the Universal Championship was scrapped when Reigns decided against traveling to the WWE Performance Center amid the pandemic.

When speaking with Sports Illustrated before WrestleMania, Stephanie McMahon said, “We want our talent to perform at WrestleMania, but only if they’re comfortable.”

Clearly, Reigns was not comfortable performing.

Reigns’ decision made sense, but WWE’s handling of the situation has not. This is not a complicated situation. Reigns has a history of serious health issues, so he chose not to work, even though it was the biggest show of the year. Even if there were complaints that he was off the show, the vast majority of WWE’s fans would have understood the situation.

Could Vince McMahon be upset that Reigns missed his biggest show of the year? If that is the case, it is incredibly short-sighted.

Both SmackDown and Raw could use a boost, especially Raw, which marked a new record low in viewership on Monday. Instead of editing him out of highlight reels, why not have a two-part interview with Reigns that airs on both shows? From the comfort of home, he could discuss his health, the difficult decision to miss WrestleMania, and even congratulate longtime rival Braun Strowman on winning the Universal Championship.

WWE should publicly applaud the fact that its biggest star is a real human being, highlighting how he took necessary precautions to keep himself and his family safe.

Tama Tonga teaming with Ross Berman to create Tama’s Island

This past Monday marked the launch of the new “Tama’s Island” podcast, with New Japan star Tama Tonga and co-host Ross Berman.

Listeners are in good hands with Berman steering the conversation, as he is a reporter who has spent the majority of his career providing standout coverage of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

The first episode features a special guest in “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson, who joins Tonga and Berman for a behind-the-scenes discussion of the creation of Bullet Club.

“You’ll hear Tama and Karl discuss the behind-the-scenes relationship that led to Bullet Club becoming a thing in the first place,” said Berman. “All these guys were already hanging out before they were put into a group.”

Bullet Club first started in May 2013, and the first iteration of the group included Tonga, Anderson, Bad Luck Fale and Prince Devitt, who now stars as Finn Balor.

“You’ll get to hear the road stories,” said Berman. “The in-ring parts are fascinating, too, but Tama really highlights those places in Japan that make Bullet Club what it is. Not just the arenas, but the sushi places, the bars, and the coffee shops where the story took shape with him, Devitt, Fale, and Karl.

“There is no faction like Bullet Club. It’s its own separate business while still existing within New Japan Pro Wrestling. It’s a fascinating group, just like New Japan. And we’ll look into the ‘Us’ mindset from Japanese wrestling, instead of the dog-eat-dog world of American mindset.”

Originally a folk singer from Chicago, the 29-year-old Berman is excited for the opportunity to make a new kind of music with Tonga.

There is so much potential for the show. Compelling topics include New Japan’s Madison Square Garden show from 2019 with Ring of Honor where the introduction of Enzo and Big Cass spoiled the Tonga and Tanga Loa title victory, Tonga’s insight from the industry-changing matches between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega, road stories from the grueling G1 Climax tournament, and even the backstage story from the G1 Special that took place two summers ago in San Francisco when Tonga ousted Omega, the Young Bucks, and Cody Rhodes from Bullet Club.

“This is Tama’s Island, so it’s up to him what’s on and off the table, but he wants to talk about everything,” said Berman. “You’re going to hear his thoughts on ‘The Elite,’ Bullet Club, and everything else in wrestling, so it’s going to be some real interesting audio. He’s the son of Haku, held pretty much every tag team title possible, and he’s lived a fascinating life.

“There are very few people who look at wrestling the way Tama does, and we’re going to talk about comic books, art, and the mafia. He’s got a fascinating mind and I’m happy to pick at it for the fans’ interest.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • AJ Styles’ return on Monday was done perfectly. It brought much-needed energy to a long, empty arena gauntlet match, and Styles walked away victorious, which adds another element of excitement to the Money in the Bank ladder match on Sunday. His post-match promo acknowledging WrestleMania was also extremely well executed. 
  • Even amidst a pandemic, John Cena remains active with Make-A-Wish. The boy who Cena visited, seven-year-old David Castle, celebrates his eighth birthday on May 10, but something tells me he’ll still be thinking about the visit from Cena that day. Castle is fighting a cruel cancer, stage four diffuse anaplastic Wilms tumor, which starts in the kidneys but has already spread. For those looking to contribute, he has a GoFund Me page.
  • Becky Lynch is capitalizing on her WWE fame, with her appearance on Showtime’s Billions… with more on the way.
  • AEW continues to develop new stars, with Dr. Britt Baker emerging as a likely candidate to be the company’s next breakout superstar. 
  • Cody Rhodes defeated Darby Allin in their match on Dynamite last week, which advanced the Rhodes-Lance Archer story, but also showed how far Allin has come as a television performer for AEW. 
  • AEW’s videos offering a deeper look at Scorpio Sky are incredibly well done, and show his potential as a singles star for the company. 
  • Ring of Honor, which has canceled all live events throughout June, is still creating new content—and its video on Flip Gordon is another way of connecting with the audience.
  • The Rock celebrating his 48th birthday last week and receiving well-wishes from a number of people from throughout his life made me think of his famed “This Is Your Life” video. It’s amazing to think this aired 21 years ago. 
  • Bray Wyatt’s exchange on Twitter with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was outstanding. 

Conrad Thompson previews this week’s edition of ’Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard’

A new episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is set for this Friday, as Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson explore the legendary career of Tito Santana.

“We’re going to start right at the beginning of his career,” said Thompson. “Bruce knew Tito from their time together in Houston and they grew up together in the business. He’s a WWE Hall of Famer and one of WWE’s most identifiable wrestlers of the 1980s.

Santana’s first WWE run started in 1979, most notable for winning the tag titles with Ivan Putski from The Valiant Brothers that October at Madison Square Garden. He had another tag title reign that started in October 1987, as he and Rick Martel teamed up as Strike Force to defeat the Hart Foundation. That run finished at WrestleMania IV with an assist from Mr. Fuji’s cane.

Santana is also a former two-time Intercontinental Champion, and he even helped the Intercontinental Championship develop its reputation as the belt that was held by the company’s best in-ring performers.

“Tito helped make that belt the ‘worker’s belt,’” said Thompson. “Later on, the IC belt would be held by Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. And we’ll talk about the rumor and innuendo that the office was speculating about whether their next world champ would be Bret Hart or Tito Santana in 1992.”

“We see multiple phases of Tito in WWE, from tag team champion, a run with the IC belt, and even as ‘El Matador,’” said Thompson. “But no matter where he was on the card, it felt like Vince McMahon didn’t want to go with Tito as his main star on top. Maybe Vince just wanted to make a play in the Latino market. But no matter who he was working, you knew you were going to get a great match out of Tito.”

Prichard’s spot-on imitation of McMahon will also be on display, as Thompson wants listeners to hear what a pitch from McMahon to Santana on becoming “El Matador” would sound like.

“You can count on that for sure,” said Thompson. “Tito has a great story, and we look forward to honoring his career this Friday.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.