The professional wrestling industry is at a very interesting place in 2019, perhaps more exciting for sports entertainment than any other time since the Monday Night Wars (1995-2001) pitted Vince McMahon’s WWE (then WWF) against Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. It’s this year that was founded by Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan, with a mission of offering wrestling fans a true alternative to WWE–and doing it on the biggest stage it possibly can.
AEW will debut a weekly show on TNT–former home of WCW–this fall and has some of the most popular and talented wrestlers from around the world signed to perform and help build the company. From former WWE stars Cody Rhodes and Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose) to independent luminaries like The Young Bucks and Christopher Daniels, AEW’s roster of talent is one of the most impressive in modern professional wrestling industry.
The most exciting member of the roster, though, is likely none other than Kenny Omega. At 35 years old, Kenny Omega has earned a reputation as one of the–if not the–best wrestlers performing today. His long stint in Japan earned him the nickname “Best Bout Machine” due to the high quality of his matches and now, as part of AEW, he’s ready to make his mark on an even bigger stage as both a performer and one of the company’s Executive Vice Presidents.
Omega stopped by the GameSpot Base Station at E3 2019, which you can see in the latest episode of Being the Elite below, and took some time to speak with us about a number of topics, including his upcoming match against Moxley at AEW’s All Out on August 31. “The problem is, is that he’s kind of coming into my world,” Omega said of the former WWE Champion. “And, I don’t want him to think that it’s going to be easy for him. I don’t want him to think that he’s going to get a free ride. You can talk the best game in the world. You can. You can brawl like the best of them. But the fact of the matter is, I made my name by being the best.”
Keep reading for Omega’s take on how AEW plans to be different from WWE, the link between gamers and wrestling fans, and the challenges of taking on a role on the business side of the wrestling industry.
GameSpot: You’re now on the other side of the first AEW show. What lessons did you take away from that as you’re going forward to now looking at launching a weekly program and a full company?
Kenny Omega: I mean, you really have to take a look at the good and the bad, the positives and negatives, and you have to be very constructively critical about your own performance. Now that we’re essentially running the show, we have to be critical about what we can improve moving forward. So for me, I’m a real tough critic of myself. And, so, I unfortunately always look at what can we improve moving forward. So, for me, some production issues. We can clean up some of the camera work. Some of the audio issues. I didn’t like that I could barely hear my theme music. You know what I mean?
But these are things that are such an easy fix. The things that we got right, were actually the hardest things on the show to get it right. We gave a full show, from start to finish, that looked completely different from start to finish. No one match appeared similar to one another. And especially the last three, four matches, they were all so visually different from one another. Different in feeling, different in atmosphere. And that’s something really tough to do in wrestling because when you really dumb down the idea of wrestling, and when you think of it at the bare-bones level, it’s… People think, “Okay, it’s two guys, and they’re oiled up, and they’re wearing Speedos, and they’re grappling with each other, rolling around.”
Wrestling has evolved to a point where it could literally be anything, and that’s kind of what the whole idea of AEW was founded on, was that wrestling can be anything, and we can expand those ideas. We can expand the entire universe of wrestling beyond what people have come to expect and beyond what people are used to seeing, even. So, in America especially, people associate professional wrestling with one company. And that’s fine. That’s totally cool. We want to be an alternative to that, and we want to expand on that entire idea.
So if you like what they’re doing, that is great. I’m happy you love it. But, if you come over and watch what we’re doing, we’re going to give you not only what they’re doing, but we’re going to give you a bunch of flavors and types of wrestling that are much different than that. And I think, based on the first show, we’re on the right track.
Over in Japan, you were heavily just wrestling.
Kenny Omega: Right.
You’re now all diving into the business side, from putting the shows together to scouting arenas. What has surprised you about that side of the business?
Kenny Omega: Right. So what people don’t understand is that a lot of us, actually, that came from New Japan, that came from Ring Of Honor, we assumed a lot of responsibility there as well. I was kind of the driving force behind a lot of my storylines, behind a lot of my creative ideas. It’s the stuff that you don’t really see. I mean the tech stuff. Some of the set design. Those are things that are new to me, and even agenting matches or working on foreign visas, things like that, these are all things that are very new in my world, and these are the things that keep me awake at night. So, I mean, when we’re thinking about how to plan the show, what order things should go in, how to produce a show, timing-wise and all that, working on sponsorships, selecting the arenas, working on the advertising aspect of it.
And then, you know for me, kind of being the sole Japanese liaison right now, not only am I having to do that during the day, during normal North American hours, I have to be awake for the Japanese time zone. And I have to work with our ladies and men up there to get their visas sorted out, to make sure that they’re feeling comfortable, make sure their flights and their travel’s squared up, hotels, et cetera, et cetera.
So it’s very mentally draining, and I’ve been very under-rested. And then on top of that, when you strip all that away, I was in the first main event, so I got to still worry about my own performance. It’s really tough, and I think when you burn the candle on both ends, eventually it’s going to start to show. My big worry was not that, “Can I do it or can I not do it?” Of course I can. But for how long? Because everyone has their limit. So, right now, we are understaffed. But every week that goes by, we’re finding new talented people. We’re configuring this team and building a team that really wants to join this project and be successful with us. So the first show, to get it all out, was a bit of a struggle. We did it. Next we’ve got Fyter Fest coming up. Already, we’re teamed up with CEO, so we have a lot of people in the [fighting game community], people from the 10-0 crew there that do hard work there, helping us put that together.
So, as time goes by, we’re getting help from the usual suspects but also unusual sources as well. And moving forward, before we hit TV, I think we’ll have our core crew assembled, and we’ll be ready to just hit it home.
Speaking of Fyter Fest, the crossover between wrestling fans and video game fans is insane. You have been able to actually use that as sort of building your character through your attire and your move set. What is it that makes both these two fairly different things appeal to the same exact people? Because I’m always surprised.
Yeah, you know what? It’s funny because I was really surprised myself. When I actually first contact Jebailey, who runs CEO, I said, “Hey, man. Look, I know you’re a wrestling fan, and I just want to know, is there space for me to join your tournament? Could I just come down and hang out? Could I compete in Street Fighter?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, sure. Of course, you can.”
And I just wanted to be a dude. You know what I mean? I want to try my hand to competing. We don’t have any locals, really, where I’m from in Winnipeg. No majors, especially. No premiers or majors. So I just wanted to go to what people would consider one of the more fun events. And when I showed up, thinking I was just going to be a guy, you know, I had people come to me telling me, “You know, I saw your match. I loved it. I saw this match. I loved it. You’re doing great stuff in Japan.” I was blown away. For this whole new community, this group of people that I’d never met before, they were so inviting and so kind. I just really felt like I found kind of a new family, in a way.
So that’s what sort of inspired Fyter Fest, and even the first CEO-cross-New Japan show. As a gamer, I can play at a decent level, but it’s not like I can offer groundbreaking tech. You know what I mean? I can’t offer things that are going to help people improve their game. I can’t offer new software. I can’t offer new hardware. So I thought, if there’s anything I can give back to the community, it’s my wrestling. So we planned the first ever crossover event last year. It was successful. And then this year, we just want to build on that and groove on it. And, hopefully, whether people are competing or non-competing or whatever, we can give them something to do at night, just to kind of relax and have fun and not worry about, you know, where their standings are or if they drown in pools or whatever. Yeah.
Looking at what you guys have coming up, you have, I believe at current, you have three upcoming shows already in the books and on the go. And you have the weekly TV show.
Kenny Omega: We do.
You mentioned something that stuck out to me about Double Or Nothing. That there was no match was like any other match on that card. How important is that, as you sort of move forward, and you have to move into? Because the other company has five hours of TV, every single week. That can get repetitive. How important is it to keep changing things up to stay fresh?
Kenny Omega: Absolutely. I appreciate all the genres of movie or television show or whatever. Sometimes I’m in a specific mood. Sometimes I want to be scared. Sometimes I want to laugh, sometimes I want to cry. But a lot of times, I would love to feel a broad spectrum of emotion with you. And I feel that when you achieve that, you can engage a larger audience, and you can keep them engaged. When I look at what makes a Marvel film entertaining… What makes them so popular? Why does everyone like them? Why do kids like them? Why do adults like them? Why is it the go-to film anytime a Marvel film is released? Well, it’s because there’s drama, there’s comedy, there are serious moments that make you angry. there’s serious moments that make you want to cry. It has all of those things, but at the end of it, it’s a story of good versus evil, much like professional wrestling.
I think that’s very intriguing. This past show was the first time I’ve ever been exposed to the Joshi girls, and that was such an insanely different thing than anything I had experienced.
Kenny Omega: So, for me, there was a time when I was just disenchanted with professional wrestling. Nothing was doing it for me. I felt like I’d seen it all, and what people were giving me wasn’t what I wanted to watch, and it just didn’t seem interesting to me. It wasn’t until I discovered the Joshi, how the style differs, how you can feel the passion resonate in every match in their performance. That’s what brought me back into wrestling, and in a way, it almost kind of made me appreciate everything else as well. So what people don’t realize a lot of times is that there are so much different variety in professional wrestling, in the art of what we do.
People think that wrestling is one way and it has to be that way. A lot of promotions around the world condition you to believe that too. And that’s how they kind of build a fan base and make you believe that what they’re doing is the best out there. And I get that. But for me, I would love… Even if I’m a hot dog company, I still want you to have a burrito, I still want you to have a hamburger, I still want you to have a pirozhki or something. You know what I mean? All of the various cuisines of the world, I want that in my restaurant, so that when you look at the menu and say, “Okay. Well, I can have a hot dog with mustard, a hot dog with ketchup, hot dog with both,” but at the end of that, you’re just getting a hot dog. You know what I mean?
So I want to allow the world to sample the various cuisines of pro wrestling and enjoy them. And if you like one more than others, that’s fine, but guess what? You have all this other stuff, and I’m finding and scouring the earth for the best representatives of said talent. And for a lot of people, you know, they don’t really understand what true Joshi wrestling is like. I mean, sure, they’ve seen some talent from Japan in [inaudible] League. And they’ve got some of the best representatives on the planet, some of my favorites, some of my personal friends.
However, you don’t necessarily see them in their element. You don’t necessarily see them excel to the degree that they can excel in, which is why I brought out six very different Joshi stars, legendary stars, up-and-coming stars, you know, special interest stars. And we threw them all in one match and it was just, “Do your thing. Show us what you’re all about,” and that’s really the only guideline I gave them. It was just, “I want you guys to show what you’re all about and give the world a taste of what Joshi pro wrestling is.”
Of course, I care about my own performance and when people tell me that I had a great match, but for people to tell me that, “Hey, I didn’t know who those girls were when they came out. I didn’t know what they were doing when they started the match. By the end of the match, I can say that it was really interesting and I respected it,” or, you know, “I want to see more of them,” that’s the greatest compliment that I can receive because that’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. And for people to kind of accept that as well, is the best news I can hear.
And lastly, it was announced that you’re fighting Moxley at All Out, which is very exciting. And he’s been someone who’s been very vocal the past few weeks about how this is his chance to sort of spread his wings and actually get to do the thing that he loves to do. What are your thoughts on this match, and how important it is, not even just for him and you but for the company as it’s moving forward?
Kenny Omega: Yeah, it’s crazy because I remember seeing him on TV. I saw something there. I knew that there was something magnetic about him, something special about him. WWE never showed it. And then when I see him nowadays, when I see these backstage promos, when I see the stuff that he’s done in Japan, when I see the stuff that he’s doing around the world, I see this new enthusiasm. I see the spark. I even see the physical condition that he’s in. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is not the Moxley that came from that other place. This is a Jon Moxley that’s reborn. I have to assume that this is a new entity, that this is a new person, and he has a type of enthusiasm and that sort of never-say-die attitude. And, with the skillset that he has, that magnetic charisma, with that ability to sell a match with this promo skills, with that ability to be incredibly physical, he’s kind of like a new-age Terry Funk. You know what I mean? He brings something very new to the table that people clearly enjoy.
But the problem is, is that he’s kind of coming into my world. And, I don’t want him to think that it’s going to be easy for him. I don’t want him to think that he’s going to get a free ride. You can talk the best game in the world. You can. You can brawl like the best of them. But the fact of the matter is, I made my name by being the best. I made my name by having the greatest 20-minute matches, 30-minute matches, 60-minute matches, and I’ve shown that I can do it in all styles of professional wrestling. Now, finally, he has the platform to show if he can be that multifaceted tool. So this is going to be the grandest stage for him, and this is going to be the biggest test for him as well. Yes, he can brawl. Yes, he can talk. But now, can he wrestle? Now, can he win? Now, can he fight? Now, can he have the type of performances that AEW is going to command from him? This is the real test.
AEW’s next show, Fyter Fest airs June 29 on Bleacher Report Live. The event will stream for free.