SK Exclusive Interview: Kenny Omega talks about strong style, other wrestlers using his signature moves and more
We had the pleasure of asking The Cleaner about his plans for 2017 and the perils of strong style.
Sportskeeda had the pleasure of talking to none other than 2016 G1 Climax winner and all-around wrestling genius Kenny Omega, who is fresh off a huge win against Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2017. That show ended with IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada challenging ‘The Cleaner’ to a rematch following their six-star main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11. That match has been confirmed for NJPW Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall, and the wrestling world simply cannot wait until June 11.
We spoke to Omega about working different styles of wrestling, the transition from junior heavyweight to heavyweight and New Japan’s forthcoming shows in the USA, along with his thoughts on his moves being used in WWE and his plans for the rest of 2017.
Sportskeeda: Good afternoon Kenny, how are you doing? You just wrestled Tomohiro Ishii at NJPW Wrestling Dontaku; we can’t imagine that leaves one feeling particularly fresh in the morning?
Kenny Omega: Not particularly! The match ended up more physical than I could have imagined, but it was my choice to fight in Ishii’s style, so I can’t complain about cuts and bruises after the fact.
Sportskeeda: Did you have much experience of wrestling the Ishii-style of matches before you arrived in New Japan?
Omega: Not at all. It’s a style often mimicked on the indies these days, but there isn’t anything quite like the real thing. I wouldn’t say it’s classical strong style, but maybe the current, more modern representation of it.
Sportskeeda: Modern strong style has exploded in popularity over the last couple of years; did you have any difficulty adjusting your style when first faced with it?
Omega: Not at all. My strong suit has always been utilising my opponent’s strengths to get the best out of a particular match and/or situation. That’s part of what makes ‘Kenny Omega style’, which in itself is its own beast.
Sportskeeda: With the serious injury to Katsuyori Shibata major news at the moment, what are your thoughts on headbutts in wrestling?
Omega: People need to understand the nature of what we do and the lifestyles that we live. There’s this strange assumption that in between our big shows we’re resting comfortably and entering every big match situation at 100%. The truth is that we’re working every day, and our ‘off’ days are only absent of matches because the travel between destinations is too long. One headbutt didn’t instantaneously end the career of a healthy, super athlete. I have no doubt that it contributed, (and is a move we should probably avoid as daily performers), but to place blame solely on that one manoeuvre is unfair.
I could go on forever about the topic, but I’ll leave on this note; a healthy Shibata could shrug off ten headbutts and wrestle 60+ minutes. In our sport, there are always risks in everything we do. Heck, ten years ago I tore my meniscus on my entrance, resulting in surgery. As we take more punishment and fatigue of the schedule starts to set in, the percentage of injury naturally increases and the body’s limit drops considerably.
Shibata was the kind of guy who would always give 110% and had been on a nonstop tear since before the G1 2016. He pushed past his own boundaries to keep his pace for the fans of NJPW, and the fatigue of being overworked for a year combined with the exhaustion of a 38-minute match is the true culprit.
Sportskeeda: Earlier in the year, you singled out Ishii as someone you wanted to take on in singles competition. Now that he is behind you, who is next on The Cleaner’s wish list?
Omega: Okada has challenged me at Osaka Jo to a rematch. Truthfully, I felt it a little too soon to revisit that story... I’m still in the process of finding myself and rounding out my strengths and weaknesses. If that’s what the company decides, I’m not gonna say no!
Sportskeeda: When you arrived in New Japan in late 2014, you were immediately positioned as a junior heavyweight, but you made no secret of your desire to move up to the heavyweight division. Was that first year a frustrating one for you?
Omega: No, I was glad to have had the experience and challenge of working with the junior heavyweights of NJPW. In a way, I think the slightly quicker style of the juniors helped me hone my condition for when I put on more size to make the eventual jump. I might have been lost in the shuffle if I’d jumped right into the heavyweight scene first.
Sportskeeda: Were there any matches in the junior division that you wanted to have but didn’t happen? The return of Hiromu Takahashi has given the division a significant energy boost, do you ever look back and think of how the division would have looked if Kenny Omega had stuck around?
Omega: There are certainly a number of talents I’d have loved to have tested myself against. Ospreay came after I’d left, Ricochet and I never tangoed in singles competition. Hiromu is a bright young talent with a very odd and energetic style. It could have been fun, but I’ve never once considered dropping bak down to Jr. class.
Sportskeeda: It is almost G1 Climax time again. How do you top the 2016 edition? Winning the tournament and putting on arguably the best wrestling match of the year (vs. Tetsuya Naito) has to be pretty difficult to top?
Omega: I'm not going into it with the expectation of topping my past performances. My hope is that I can tell new and interesting stories that stand apart from 2016 and can be appreciated for what they are.
Sportskeeda: Your prize for winning the 2016 G1 Climax was a Tokyo Dome main event against Kazuchika Okada. We’re now four months removed from that instant classic – what are your thoughts on the match?
Omega: Since becoming disenchanted with wrestling, I’ve always had a vision of what it could/should be at the highest level. Something that transcends what we’ve typically come to expect from a normal wrestling match. I hoped to create a performance that when recalled, evokes a series of emotion within the moments rather than just imagery of cool moves in fancy sequences.
Sportskeeda: You were unable to hit the One-Winged Angel during that match, with many feeling that the result would have been very different had you been able to hit the move. Do you think Okada is aware of how lucky he was to escape the Tokyo Dome as champion on January 4?
Omega: I’m sure he knows. I’d hit it twice before both resulting in an easy 3-count. The OWA may, in fact, be the most destructive finisher in all of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Sportskeeda: Dave Meltzer gave the match a six-star rating, which has led to something of a backlash from some fans. Does any of this matter to the wrestlers? Do you guys care about the bickering and arguments over perceived match quality, or is it all just background noise?
Omega: I’m always performing to satisfy fans or to fulfil my duties in my designated spot on the card. Had Dave given my match a 1-star rating, I wouldn’t have sweat it because the response as a whole was overwhelmingly positive. It is great, however, that the match was a critical success. Dave has seen more than his fair share of wrestling, and his opinion is one of the most respected in our community. To receive honours like that from a man whose job is to watch and rate wrestling is really cool.
As for bickering... well, fans will be fans, and some take too much pride in their favourites being left out of the discussion. But again, what matters most is whether you are having fun and enjoying the show.
Sportskeeda: New Japan Pro Wrestling is headed to the United States this summer for a number of major shows – what is the aim for these shows? What would be considered a success, and what would be regarded as a failure?
Omega: I think the aim should be to make a great first impression and to introduce ourselves to a new market with a kick ass show. I suppose a failure would be if everyone on the roster had a bad night and we all dropped the ball? Can’t see it happening, to be honest.
Sportskeeda: Many critics have stated that Kenny Omega is essential to any hope NJPW has with regards to international expansion, and it is easy to see why. Do you feel that extra pressure at all? Is that an atmosphere under which you thrive?
Omega: I know that I’m the key and accept all responsibility that comes with being in that position. My vision extends way beyond the bounds of what anyone else on the roster or office are thinking, and I absolutely always have the fans’ best interest in mind. Every performance since I’ve gotten the ball has been an example of the excitement I want to bring as the company’s focus.
Sportskeeda: What is the current status of Bullet Club? Hulk Hogan recently expressed a desire to join BC, and The Elite have made no secret of your interest in the Hulkster coming on board. Many fans dismissed this all as pure fantasy – but could we see Hogan throwing up the Too Sweet sometime soon?
Omega: No comment.
Sportskeeda: We’re almost at the halfway point of 2017, a year you started in the most spectacular of ways – what would be a satisfying conclusion to 2017 for Kenny Omega?
Omega: To close out the show in America and to show that with me as the leader, the sky is the limit.
Sportskeeda: How do you feel about Big Damo using the One-Winged Angel in NXT and Seth Rollins using the Rain Trigger in WWE?
Omega: I’m cool with it. Examining their execution, it hardly appears like the same move anyway.
Now in 2017, almost every move has been created. To make something ‘new’, sometimes the only way is to add your own spin to a pre-existing move. I have a fairly original move set, but I do have a dragon suplex in my arsenal. I make that look fresh by adding a snap and keeping it low to the ground. It looks original, but at the end of the day, it is just a dragon suplex.
Sportskeeda: Was there ever any real chance of you signing with WWE after Wrestle Kingdom 11?
Omega: No comment.
Sportskeeda: Thank you for your time, Mr Omega.
The summer of 2017 could well end up being the most important in the recent history of New Japan Pro Wrestling. The company has momentum like never before, and with Okada/Omega II, the US shows and the G1 Climax right around the corner, professional wrestling may well see the bar raised even higher before the year is done. Kenny Omega is one of the most valuable professional wrestlers in the world today.
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