Wrestling’s “forbidden door” would cease to exist without Kenny Omega.
Omega generated a wave of interest during his run in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, especially as leader of Bullet Club. That popularity reached its zenith after Omega won the IWGP heavyweight championship from Kazuchika Okada in June 2018, with the momentum carrying into the launch of AEW in 2019.
While Omega was making magic as AEW champion, speculation still circulated of another rematch against Okada—yet this time, with the AEW belt on the line. The thought of a match against Kota Ibushi or Will Ospreay, or any other diverse array of matchups, caused all kinds of debate as to what would happen if that forbidden door ever burst open.
Later tonight, those questions will start to be answered as AEW and New Japan join forces for the Forbidden Door pay-per-view. The card features wrestling mainstays like Okada, Jon Moxley, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Chris Jericho, as well as a host of other stars looking to steal the show. There is even an opening for a surprise return from Omega, who could slide into the injured Bryan Danielson’s spot in a match against Zack Sabre Jr.—though Omega was adamant that will not be the case.
“I can safely say there is zero chance it will be me,” Omega said. “But the replacement is going to leave people very happy. I can’t see people being disappointed by this legitimately handpicked replacement by Bryan Danielson.”
Despite the excitement surrounding Forbidden Door, there is a palpable sadness that Omega will not be part of the card. He has been away from AEW programming since dropping the world title to Hangman Page last November, recovering steadily from a wide assortment of injuries, which have included serious issues with his knees, shoulder, and stomach.
“So far, five procedures have taken place to attempt to make me a better, healthier athlete,” Omega said. “These are injuries that have compiled over years. They’re ones I can’t neglect, and I’ve needed this time to start to heal. That’s what I’ve been doing during this time off—I’m trying to buy time back onto my wrestling clock. I would like to have a longer career, so I’ve looked at this time after losing the belt as an opportunity to start to fix what’s hurting me.
The primary issues, Omega confirmed, were with his knees and shoulder, but there were a host of other problems.
“I spoke a little too candidly on one of my internet videos about a hernia issue I had dealt with in my neck, and I also had an athletic hernia in my stomach, which was causing me very sharp pain,” Omega said. “There were days when it hurt with every step. It got mentally exhausting to pretend these injuries weren’t there.”
Omega, who is also an AEW executive vice president, briefly returned to the company this spring to help produce matches in the Owen Hart Foundation tournament. As much as he enjoyed being a backstage presence, the 38-year-old Omega was also wise enough to understand that he was halting his recovery.
“It was a little too much, too soon for me because I was missing so much of my rehab,” Omega said. “It was cool to be backstage two or three times, but I really need this time at home.”
It is cruel that so much of Omega’s brilliance in America took place while crowds were limited during the pandemic. He crafted an outstanding run as champion in AEW that featured classics on the mat, a deathmatch, and compelling segments on a weekly basis, as well as brought a new energy to Impact Wrestling when he won their title. His final program elevated Hangman Page to bona fide main-event status, culminating in their title bout last November at Full Gear. Even while injured, that stretch illustrated a commitment to the craft and company—and to Page—from Omega.
Since November, the bulk of Omega’s executive responsibilities have centered around the launch of AEW’s new Fight Forever video game. A devoted gamer, Omega is leaving no stone unturned as the game’s creative director, unrelentingly pursuing the best video game possible before its release this fall.
“The game has to be fun,” Omega said. “I also want the game to have its own feel. A match with Kenny Omega should feel like a Kenny Omega match. The same with Darby Allin or Nyla Rose. There can be universal counters, but the characters need their unique signature moves. So you’re not going to see Sting do a springboard top rope frankensteiner. Sting will feel like Sting. My hope is that whoever you like, you’ll get to enjoy playing like them in the game.
“There is also some real cool stuff with the game modes. There will be a couple surprises, too. The plan is to show new material as soon as possible. We’re getting very close.”
Omega and his team are working to capture the excitement currently enveloping AEW, as well as pay tribute to the intrigue that existed when the company was first created. An important part of that is paying tribute to those who helped bring AEW to prominence, which includes former EVP and current WWE star Cody Rhodes.
“This may come as a surprise to people, but Cody is still in the game,” Omega said. “I was very passionate about making sure his legacy and position within the company were preserved.
“We’ve built this game from the ground up, starting everything from scratch. That’s why I thought this game could coincide with the birth of this company. You get to experience AEW from the beginning, from day one. The game is going to reflect a lot of that, even though our locker room is ever-changing.”
Omega’s future is full of great anticipation. That includes improved health, the release of the video game, and his return to the ring. And even though he is not on tonight’s Forbidden Door card, Omega has paid close attention to its development. He is particularly interested to see which New Japan stars connect with the AEW audience.
“It’s been a while since myself and the Young Bucks left New Japan, and the hierarchy in the company has shifted,” Omega said. “I’ve really liked seeing the landscape in New Japan develop to where it is now. It’s interesting to see who’s assumed more responsibility or who hasn’t taken time off and is still helping carry the company.
“This is a card I couldn’t have predicted, but it’s cool that it includes a lot of people I always imagined would be on it. I am very disappointed I can’t be there, even just to see my old friends, but I’m really excited to watch.”
The Forbidden Door card represents an opportunity for different talent to resonate with the audience, as well as allows the chance to work in front of an extremely passionate, energetic crowd.
“I love the air of mystery surrounding Forbidden Door,” Omega said. “Some major belts could change hands. It’s exciting to see these two worlds collide, and this vision of pro wrestling—and this relationship with New Japan—is finally coming to fruition. That’s what I always wanted in AEW. We now have a relationship with New Japan, AAA, DDT, and Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling. These are entities that otherwise wouldn’t have all worked together, and we’ll get a taste of that at Forbidden Door.
“And who will make the biggest impression? I know Tanahashi said that it will be him, and that’s possible. We don’t know who people will gravitate towards. Will it be Okada? He’s one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. Or will they fall in love with Tanahashi? Or Shingo [Takagi]? Or Jay White or Will Ospreay? That’s what makes this so cool.”
Since Omega’s departure from New Japan in January 2019, new faces have emerged on the top of the card. Those have featured reigning IWGP world heavyweight champion “Switchblade” Jay White and former champ Shingo Takagi, as well as Will Ospreay, who has also played a significant role on the NJPW roster.
“I had a feeling Jay and Ospreay would be in a position where they would have to step up, and I felt like people in New Japan didn’t realize the talent they had in Shingo,” Omega said. “His singles matches in Dragon Gate were outstanding. The man is a beast of a wrestler. I’d lobbied really hard for him to break out of the juniors, and when he did, he took his opportunity and ran with it.
“Jay White emerged into this very unique wrestler. There isn’t anyone like Switchblade, anywhere, except for Switchblade. And I’ve said this a million times before, but no one has a better tool chest than Will Ospreay. He can do it all. He sort of embodies this current-day movement of doing cool moves and then stringing them together while adding a little bit of personality to them.”
Few have higher standards for wrestling than Omega. When asked to critique the work of White and Ospreay, he did not hold back.
“Perhaps this is throwing a bit of shade, but when comparing the two, it’s Jay that evolved into the box office guy New Japan needed,” Omega said. “He might not have that same flash, but he has the substance. You always want to know more about him psychologically and watch what he’s going to do next. Will Ospreay’s matches are more of a spectacle. He’ll do whatever the current-day definition is of a five-star match. So Will is what the new five-star match is these days, and Jay is the star that New Japan needed. It’s cool to see them both in high-profile matches at Forbidden Door.”
Omega’s return will not coincide with Forbidden Door, but the potential of seeing him work with members of the New Japan roster is a real possibility when he does reappear.
“There is still a lot left I want to accomplish,” Omega said. “My body has been responding more harmoniously, and that’s putting me in a position to be better than I was before.”
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