Front Burner31:12Wrestler Kenny Omega’s Winnipeg arena homecoming
Within the early 2000s, you would possibly have been one in every of the few to see Kenny Omega wrestling in a hoop arrange in a Winnipeg bar, to an audience of dozens.
Fast forward to this Wednesday night, and he’ll be headlining AEW: Dynamite, the flagship show of U.S.-based All Elite Wrestling, in front of 1000’s of fans there in his hometown.
“It’s cool to have a televised wrestling product come back to Winnipeg, and have folks that are about to observe what we do live, and on a grand scale, at the world. So I’m very excited. It is very cool,” he told Front Burner’s Jayme Poisson.
Omega was one in every of AEW’s foundational performers when it was formed in 2019 with the backing of American billionaire Tony Khan.
This will likely be the primary time he wrestles at Dynamite in front of a Canadian crowd. But when asked about this homecoming, Omega is quick to praise other Winnipeggers who made a reputation for themselves within the ring, which include one in every of his opponents tonight, Chris Jericho.
“Winnipeg is definitely a really deep and wealthy wrestling culture. There’s plenty of great stars which might be from Winnipeg … which might be going to go down within the history books as legends within the business,” he said.
“I believe it’s really necessary for us to embrace our Winnipeg wrestling culture. We love our hockey. We love our curling. Let’s love our wrestling, too.”
Beyond a brief stint in its developmental sub-leagues, Omega — real name Tyson Smith — has never competed for World Wrestling Entertainment, the undisputed champion of professional wrestling in North America.
He built his repute in untelevised shows in smaller U.S.-based wrestling shows and later becoming a megastar in Japan, he was virtually unknown in Canada until recently.
“I believe a generation of fans missed out on seeing Kenny Omega,” said Steve Arginteau, a wrestling reporter, photographer and occasional announcer based in Toronto.
While fans of the WWE have long known performers from Canada including Jericho, Bret and Owen Hart and more recently Sami Zayn, “we might have been talking in the identical vein about Kenny Omega,” he said.
Like many Canadians, Omega grew up loving hockey, and played in minor local leagues as a young teen. But he also grew up loving pro wrestling, watching tapes that his father recorded on VHS since it aired past his bedtime.
Eventually, he said he fell more in love with the “amalgamation” of athletics and performative theatre that skilled wrestling offered, over purely competitive sports.
His own ‘master and commander’
After working the independent circuits in Winnipeg and the encircling area, Omega got a tryout for one in every of World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) developmental leagues. But he left inside a 12 months, never appearing on WWE television.
The WWE’s production style, which employs a big author’s room and uses storylines which might be often criticized for being formulaic and familiar, didn’t suit Omega on the time, he said.
As an alternative he was drawn to the various sorts of wrestling offered world wide: the acrobatic, high-flying lucha libre kind of Mexico, and the hard-hitting “strong style” in Japan.
“I just desired to be my very own master and commander,” he said. “What I desired to do was I desired to make my stories more relatable. I desired to tell human stories.”
His most storied run was with the Tokyo-based Latest Japan Pro-Wrestling within the 2010s, where he won multiple championships and have become one in every of the corporate’s hottest Western stars ever.
“His resumé in Japan is actually the best of any foreigner within the last 20 years and among the many best of all time,” said longtime wrestling reporter Dave Meltzer.
Meltzer, who gives star rankings to matches at nearly every major wrestling show, awarded Omega’s June 2018 match with Kazuchika Okada his highest rating ever — seven stars, out of a scale that typically tops out at five. That puts it, in response to Meltzer, within the conversation for the very best wrestling matches of all time.
“It’s the very best match I’ve ever seen. Yeah, I’d say that,” Meltzer said of the gruelling physical contest that lasted greater than 64 minutes.
“I’ve seen a bunch of 60-minute matches. I do not understand how many wrestlers could be able to cutting that type of pace for 60 minutes that he does,” Trevor Dame, wrestling columnist and podcaster, said from Kelowna, B.C.
At the identical time, Omega became known for his versatility, competing in so-called “death matches” stuffed with steel chairs, barbed wire and blood; but in addition comedy matches against a blow-up doll in a single instance, and a nine-year-old girl in one other.
That very same versatility shines through in his characters’ many story arcs, whether he’s a cackling super villain or a sympathetic hero fighting against higher sense through nagging injuries.
“He’s one in every of these guys that basically has a really definite artistic vision for what he does,” said Dame.
Perhaps his most-praised saga took place over several years, along with his rival-turned-partner, Japanese wrestler Kota Ibushi. As rivals, they brutalized one another within the ring with bodyslams and forearm shots to the throat.
Eventually they reconciled with an in-ring embrace, and wrestled together as a tag team with the name the Golden Lovers.
It is a far cry from other stories about gay or gay-presenting wrestlers who were treated as “a punchline” or “bad comedy,” said Omega.
“I desired to tell a story that whether you were straight, whether you are gay, whether you might be, you realize, X, Y or Z didn’t matter. You might take a look at this story and you would appreciate the love between two individuals, the hardships of being in a competitive business, struggling together, struggling apart, [and] the facility that they’ve after they’re focused together as a team.”
Rumours of move to WWE
As for the weeks and months ahead, speculation has been running wild in some online circles that Omega’s contract with AEW could be nearing its end in the subsequent 12 months or so. Some commentators have pondered whether he might consider jumping to the WWE.
For now, he’s a linchpin of the upstart AEW company, which owes its very existence partly to a 2017 match in Japan between Omega and Jericho.
“If it was not for Kenny Omega, there could be no All Elite Wrestling,” Meltzer stated definitively.
Omega hasn’t directly answered the many questions on his wrestling future; but neither has he closed any doors.
“I all the time type of try to seek out my very own way, or not less than attempt to lean within the direction of where my heart is pulling me,” he said.
“I have not had that kind of epiphany yet.”