Bryan Alvarez and Dave Meltzer of F4WOnline talked to Kenny Omega for nearly an hour on a special edition on Wrestling Observer Radio last nigth to discuss his current situation as the hottest free agent in the sport and his career defining 2016 for New Japan Pro Wrestling. The full interview can be found here for F4WOnline subscribers. We’ve also transcribed most of the interview for you below.
On being a free agent and potentially signing with WWE: …”I really don’t feel like I’m at liberty to say anything because there really are no details to share. I’m a free man. I thought I would just sit around and do nothing and bide my time and exercise my option to wait and negotiate. Since then, I’ve decided to take a couple of bookings. I haven’t really decided one way or another what I’m going to do. I am leaning more so in one direction than another but that doesn’t mean things couldn’t turn around in a moments notice. It’s really what’s on the table and what I feel will make a difference for me career wise. Like I said before [on the Taz Show] this isn’t a who’s going to outbid the other kind of thing, it’s not that at all. I’m still young, still healthy and I just want to make a difference in the wrestling world.”
What are his short and long-term goals for wrestling at this stage of his career: “I feel like, as a once wrestling fan, I don’t feel like I’m a wrestling fan anymore but when I was, there were certain athletes that were highly respected and considered legends in Japan – Japanese legends. I’m talking about the foreign wrestlers….When I was a child, up until about 13 or 14, the big picture was always WrestleMania, Madison Square Garden, being a normal fixture on Monday Night RAW and then when I turned 15, 16, 17, it was more, I wanna be headlining Budokan, the Tokyo Dome; my dreams existed in Japan and I wanted to be a legend in Japan.
“I feel now, I’ve almost completed a real colorful career in Japan. And I feel very close to doing so even if there’s a sweet offer on the table to go elsewhere, regardless of where it may be, I hate to leave something behind when something incredible that not many people have ever done before is right at my fingertips. You know what I mean? So, I guess what I mean to say is, I’ve been doing this for a while and I’m over 30 now but I don’t feel like I’m much less of an athlete than I was in my 20’s. I still feel like I can go, physically. And, this isn’t a knock against the WWE, but I do feel that while I can do this physical style, while I can tell these very physical stories in Japan, you know, a real big part of me in my heart sort of feels like it should be doing that, while I still can. But then again, WWE has amassed an incredible roster now. It’s not like it was before or at a point in time when they were just desperate for guys. Now they have a lot of the best talent in the world. So, there are pros and cons to both sides.”
What led to him no longer be a fan of pro wrestling: “By not being a wrestling fan I actually think that works in my favor as a wrestler. Because now I’m taking my influences from other types of entertainment and media. I guess what I watch now, anything that’s on television, I guess maybe now especially that I am a wrestler, I’m starting to notice a lot of things that perhaps the normal fan doesn’t. And I’ll just say it right now, I think me being a wrestler also contributed to me losing the love as a fan that I once had. Because, there are in between things in matches, things between the moves…..And when you understand the magic that makes a pro wrestling match and you notice that as time goes by, people are becoming less skilled at these things. I start to feel less and less taken into the story of a pro wrestling match. Unless I’m captivated as a whole. And if I’m not entertained, whether it be someone simulating a real fight, whether it being someone even pro wrestling as a means of comedy.”
Kenny goes on to talk about folks comparing WWE to a soap opera and that being fine as long is it’s entertaining. He also says that there was a period of time when he was a teen when nothing in pro wrestling was doing it for him anymore aside from just a couple of guys. He continues:
“I guess that’s why I’m sort of on this one man mission right now to kind of just do the type of wrestling that I enjoy and that I would like to see if I was a fan still.”
On getting that feeling during or after a great match: “There are moments that I’ve had in my career and I’ve actually been feeling them a lot more lately when – and for lack of a better term – things start to feel like it’s magic. And it’s moments like that when you really feel like you have a grasp on the crowd and that the way you envisioned your story is really coming to fruition and that people are appreciating it for everything that you’d hoped for, you start to stop feeling tired. You start to start feeling the match rather than acting something that was pre-rehearsed or choreographed. I’m finding that now that I’m having to take this role, a more prominent role within the company of New Japan for the past year, I’ve been fortunate to get put into these situations where I have that time and leeway to add these moments where I can feel and gauge a crowd rather than just, ok ‘Well, my agent said I have to take two steps to the left, look to the crowd to my right, then wait for them to get up’..etc etc…
“It’s a very organic emotional response. When I really accomplish that feeling of magic I know that I have a match that not only I can be proud of but that the fans will be happy with and even my peers too. And my opponent hopefully. So, when this match is over, I’m in this somewhat euphoric state where I just love life, love everyone around me, I’m just so thankful for being a wrestler. And when I come down from it I just feel like a zombie, just dead.”
On visualizing the match with Okada before it happened: “To be honest, I never knew the direction of the company and the position I would be in for the Tokyo Dome up until October. So, at most I could’ve only really thought about this match for 2 months.”
Alvarez interrupts to ask if he thought he would lose the briefcase he won at the G1 Climax tourney. Kenny says he thought that he would and that Naito would possibly be put into the main event.
Omega continues, “I’d mentioned how I have these feelings when you think things are just really clicking in a match and it becomes more so of an emotional and a reactional match up than something that’s completely pre-planned or choreographed; I had a lot of success doing that in G1. And I’ve had a lot of success doing that at PWG, where the wrestlers are flown in on the day of the show and you’re cramped up into a tiny little locker room and next thing you know, you’ve got to go out and perform. And the standard that PWG holds is so high that if you don’t knock it out of the park you’re not coming back. So, I think it’s because of things like that, I want to rely more on my inner sense of being a pro wrestler. I didn’t want to think too hard about the match in advance. And I wanted to see how the theories and the tours played out; what kind of storyline elements I could add in there. I didn’t want to give people too much either.
“For all the fans that were following the matches and the tours, I purposely really held back a lot. And even implanted the question that maybe Okada and Kenny have absolutely zero chemistry together. And that was merely because I wanted the shock factor. And, wow this is the first time I’ve ever seen these two do this, and do that…The match really came together at the 11th hour, if I’m to be honest. I had a way that I wanted it too feel but I never thought about sequences or things like that. Not at all.”
On his United States Visa status: “I actually have not had any documentation with them. I do know that in 2016 at the tail end of the year there was an opportunity for guys to go over and wrestle for them but the company had asked me to, they had kindly asked me to not appear on anything stateside or take any other bookings aside from New Japan and I didn’t know why at the time but I guess they just wanted me to maintain my health for the Tokyo Dome. So, I assume now that that’s over and done with, if, let’s say that I go New Japan, I’m just under their guidance. If they want me to do with ROH I think that would take priority and I think for there if I have free time on my schedule I would take whatever I get permission to do. As of right now, for this January, I’m free to do whatever.”
Was he surprised by the incredible reaction from fans and critics following the Okada match: “It was incredibly humbling. All you can do is take these types of comments for face value in the moment. I thought, ok, maybe they just appreciated that we just did this long match and we tried really hard so they’re going to say that it was great and all that. When I’d returned to the back, I’d felt, like I said, I’d felt something special when I was in the ring. And I was still sort of in that trance, where, ok the match is over and I’m just happy to be alive. I’m not injured. I could hear the people, I could feel the people and I was with the Young Bucks, I was just thankful that they had my back and they were with me and then when I returned to the back and I saw the looks on people’s faces, a lot of them looked like they’d seen a ghost and I could’ve taken that one of two ways: there’s a side of me that though, ‘Oh gosh darn it Kenny, that match was way too long, what are you doing? You’re in big trouble mister.’ Or, it was what they had said it was.
“I’m a shy guy and to hear them say this was just as good as Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels, it’s like, what are you kidding me? That was a freakin’ spectacle. It made me afraid to watch the match. I’ve actually yet to watch it. I’ve seen the GIFs. I’ve seen a couple highlight packages people have put together. But I’m afraid to watch this thing from front to back because it’s received such high-praise from so many people that I respect dearly that I don’t want to disrespect their opinion if I watch it back and feel like it couldn’t live up to that high-praise that they’ve given me. It’s a strange feeling.”
Kenny says that New Japan initially didn’t want the match to go longer than 30 minutes but he convinced them to give him 40. He was worried that he’d catch some flack since they ended up going 47 but in the end no one was upset.
On Okada as a worker: “I don’t want to get it twisted whatsoever and people to misunderstand. That match, call it 5 stars, 6 stars, 4 stars, whatever you want to call it. That match couldn’t have been done with anyone else other than Okada. So, it’s a testament to how good he is. I needed Okada in that match to bring that out of me, out of him, out of the people. It was very important for that match to be with him. It just couldn’t have been anyone else. It had to be against the man. When we’re on tour and we’re doing shows everyday, you feel the fatigue and sometimes you’re not necessarily into a match and you don’t necessarily always bring your A game or your S tier game. Okada, on that particular night, he had brought his S+ tier game. He gave me everything that he had. He was there for everything. He understood, we just had a real great connection…I can’t give him enough credit for being the perfect opponent for that match. So, you can give me all the credit that you want, people out there, or say that I sucked, don’t say that Okada didn’t do his role because he was perfect.”
Meltzer asks him to compare his emotions between Budokan, G1 and the Tokyo Dome: “The Ibushi (Budokan) match, that was a very unique situation whereas I’d made a mission statement to do whatever I could to help build this small company up to something bigger than it originally was when I had gotten there. DDT would run a show every now and then at Korakuen Hall back in the day of 2008. And I had seen this small company grow and they had run Korakuen Hall monthly. Then they could finally run Ryogoku Sumo Hall. And then finally in the year 2012 they could run Budokan. Not only that but we sold it out. And the company had enough faith to put me on top against one of my best friends and someone that I had done almost all of my greatest accomplishments in Japan with, which was Ibushi. I had thought that there was really nothing bigger than that. It was, not just on a professional level but on a personal level as well, I mean, how cool is it that you can share your biggest and greatest match with one of your best friends….I thought that there would be no greater feeling in professional wrestling than that moment. I guess I was kind of wrong. Either that or that was a chapter ending, or a book closing and then another story beginning. I thought that was a really good storybook ending for my DDT career at that point. I had a match with El Genercio (Sami Zayn) that meant a lot to me as well that ended up being his last match in Japan.
“Comparing that to the G1, I had sort of put myself in a special kind of mode. You have to have a certain kind of mindset to be successful within the G1, to keep yourself healthy and to stay focused on the prize. My goal at the beginning of G1, not knowing how things would turn out, was just to have different matches every night of the tour. I never wanted to go and say, ok, well I’m going to have a 4 star plus match every night. Or I’m going to just steal the show every night. I really didn’t care about that because I knew in the G1 people generally try hard. They’re hitting all their moves, finishes are getting kicked out of – on some nights guys are going too hard – it’s just ridiculous.
“At the very least I wanted to have matches that stood out. So by the end of it I was very mentally tired because I’d really changed up every match as best I could to look different from one another and look different from the rest of the card. So at the end of the day, when I’d finally been told about the plans for the G1 and they had said it’s going to be you and Naito and you’re going to go up, it sort of went against everything that I thought the G1 was building towards. I thought for sure, it’s just going to be a cool moment to have the Bullet Club leader against the LIJ leader here and I’m just going to be cannon fodder for LIJ and then Naito will go on and he’ll main event the Tokyo Dome; I thought the writing was on the wall.
“Day before, nope that’s not what’s happening. Irregardless I sort of had the idea of, let’s keep the boys out of it. No interference. Let’s have it man to man, make it a real special athletic contest between the guy that the fans are behind and the leader of the faction that you kind of took place over. Because essentially that’s what happened. The Bullet Club was the hottest thing around, LIJ stepped in, you know, things go full circle. The new guy’s in town, they’re selling all the merchandise and it was sort of old meets new but at the same time it was new meets new because the day before they had the tried and tested company aces Okada and Tanahashi do a 30-minute draw, so my plan was just, the pressure is on, I don’t think people expect us to hold a candle to Tanahashi-Okada because they are sort of the face of this company; the heart and soul. So I said well let’s just have a match that more resembles the finals than even the finals itself. And then Naito was just like, ‘Are you sure? That’s a lot of pressure.’ I was like, ‘Come on man give me a break. You’re the hottest act out there lets just do it.’ Then he said, ‘Ok, let’s do it.’ And we just went from there.
“I should’ve felt nervous [about headlining the Tokyo Dome show], but I felt relief. Months and months and months of me staying focused and sort of trying prove myself that I could be in this role, now it’s like, wow, I’m getting rewarded now. It’s actually happening. It’s set. I can now just focus on that. And work towards that rather than go day by day wondering, what is my direction? Do I feel appreciated? Do I feel accepted by the fans and the people? When the Tokyo Dome came around I was very calm and confident that it would be a good match.”
Alvarez asks Kenny about potentially saving the ‘One-Winged Angel’ for the Okada-Omega II’: “That was the business man in me thinking. I felt that there was business in that match being done again and it could be done again a number of times. So, even though we did a lot, there were things that were left out purposely so that there’d be a different dynamic if there ever was a rematch. No one had ever said ‘there will be a rematch.’ I don’t believe there is a plan for there to be a rematch, due to my situation. That wasn’t me protecting my finisher or anything like that. It’s just that you must have elements in these new stories to create drama. So had I used the ‘One Winged Angel’ and let’s say he kicked out and then I lost. It just seemed like less interesting of a story….I think there’s more excitement to fans being able to see that possible first time I can actually hit Okada with it.”
Meltzer asks Omega about potential dream matches if he decides to stay with New Japan. The ladder match (the first in NJPW history) that was supposed to happen with Tanahashi (he’d be replaced by Elgin due to injury) comes to mind first. Ishii and of course Ibushi are also mentioned. Omega really seems to have the desire to do a special singles program with Ibushi on a major stage and for good reason.
When it comes to injuries, Omega says that 2016 was an injury free year for the most part. His knee was acting up during the G1 and the tours after but for the most part he believes that there was some other force protecting him from injury.
On thinking 2016 could be his year after AJ Styles left: “I’d really thought that it was an opportunity to raise my own stock and I was going to take it by force if necessary. The company was allowing me a lot more trust than what they had in the past due to the departures the company started to trust the foreigners that stayed behind more so. So I was given a lot more creative leeway. I was given the entire Bullet Club, hey allowed me to be the leader, they pushed me up to heavyweight which was nice. So just with those factors in place, even if within in their minds I was just an early 2016 experiment, I knew it was a no fail situation for me. I had to rise up. I had to do something special. I had to go above and beyond and just accept the bookings and accept the business of the match whether you’re over or you’re down and not just ‘Ok, this is my job I’m going to do it,’ to rise above and beyond the call of duty. I have to create a buzz. I have to have a moment. I have to be someone that’s going to look good in the papers. I have to say an interesting comment that will sound good on [New Japan] World. Something that will sound good when translated for Tokyo Sports.
“I was looking at all these various mediums, how to get my name out, how to raise my stock, The Elite stock, Bullet Club stock to a point where the company, even if they weren’t all in with me, would start to think, ‘Wait a minute this guy can create controversy. People are talking about him. We have to push him.’ That’s sort of the situation that I tried to force myself in because I know, up until the ladder match, I think that was supposed to be the end of my 2016. I’m a firm believer of that. That was sort of the end of my run, thanks for the hard work, and now go back to the 6-mans, the 8-mans and thank you for everything. Because of how the match went, the whole angle, the positive response, I suppose my effort, I guess they decided to push it even further. ‘Let’s see how he handles the big pressure of the G1. Let’s see how he handles this. Let’s see how he handles that. Ok, let’s trust him with the Tokyo Dome.’ These are all no fail situations. It’s either hit a home run or you go home. So I felt that pressure all throughout 2016 and I just takes things day by day while staying confident in myself that what I am doing is what’s best for wrestling. I can help this business, I can help New Japan.”
On New Japan expanding to the United States and protecting their borders: “That’s why I feel like 2017 would essentially be the company getting its toes wet in the market. I think they have an understanding that they can’t expect huge numbers out of the gate. They can expect ‘Oh, New Japan’s in town,‘ and suddenly 15,000 people are lined up at the door. It’s not going to be like that. Best case scenario in 2017, is that, for one they have to defend their own borders. They have to be the go to product for Japanese wrestling fans. Essentially WWE could make a move for the entire world. They could monopolize the entire global market. They have the talent to do so. They’re not low on numbers, they have their own Network. So at the drop of the that could… ‘create a Japanese title.’And here’s the roster for that. We’re going to do a tournament and we’re going to have a weekly show for these guys too.’ It’s that easy for them. So I do believe that New Japan, even though they do have to branch out, they do have to show assertiveness in that department, they also have to be wary that the WWE is trying to kind of nudge in on the Japanese market as well. They are running shows in Japan. They are trying to take Japanese talent.
“A sort of secondary goal for New Japan, which is something I really do believe they should strive for, they have to show that they are the option. Love wrestling, love watching WWE if you want, but here is the next best option. It might not be the biggest promotion but here is the alternative. At least give us a shot. And if people are aware of the alternative and word of mouth spreads that there is this alternate brand that they could get a pro wrestling fix on, people that are more into the wrestling product rather than the way the shows are written there, in WWE, they know exactly where to go – right away. I think that’s important for New Japan to establish that they are this entity that does give the highest quality, top-flight professional wrestling.”
Omega closed out the interview by saying that he should have a decision on his future after he wrestles in England later this month.
You can follow Kenny Omega on Twitter @KennyOmegaManX as he continues to change the world of professional wrestling.