Kyle O’Reilly was once a Canadian kid who dreamed of wrestling for Ring of Honor. Now, after achieving everything there is to do there, what’s next for him on his wrestling journey?
O’Reilly has been a mainstay in ROH since 2010. After a year of working low-level matches he joined with another newcomer, Adam Cole, someone who would become pivotal in his career. They were dubbed Future Shock, and some viewed them as two key pieces in the future of the company. Eventually, Future Shock would dissolve, though it was only to move elsewhere within the tag ranks, as O’Reilly joined then-ROH champ Davey Richards. Both teams were successful, but neither were able to reach the top of the tag ranks in ROH. Working with Richards in particular, he started to become known for his aggressive MMA-style inside the ring.
It wasn’t until he started his third team with veteran Bobby Fish, dubbed reDRagon, that O’Reilly finally reached one of his goals and earned ROH gold. The team became three-time tag champs, and even had international success, going on to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag titles in New Japan. As the team continued to succeed, O’Reilly would continue his growth, and started to compete in singles match from time to time.
Finally, just last month, the 29-year old reached the pinnacle of his wrestling journey to this point when he beat his old partner Cole for the ROH title at arguably the company’s biggest show of the year, Final Battle. His reign wouldn’t last long: only a month before dropping the title back to Cole as part of New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11. Shortly after that match, rumors started to crop up that O’Reilly’s contract had run out, and he was planning on leaving Ring of Honor.
Rolling Stone had a chance to talk to O’Reilly just a couple of weeks after Wrestle Kingdom. We discussed his title win, what his status is with Ring of Honor, WWE, New Japan and much more.
You won the ROH title last month, beating Adam Cole at Final Battle. What did that moment mean to you?
It was a huge moment for me. It was my seven years in Ring of Honor finally reaching that moment that I worked so hard for. When I first broke into wrestling, I was a huge fan of Ring of Honor. The guys I was watching, like Joe, Punk, Bryan Danielson, those were the guys who I looked up to, even more than mainstream wrestlers at that time. It was always my goal to get into Ring of Honor. After about four years wrestling locally I decided to make that move specifically to get my foot in the door to wrestle ROH. So I did the secret illegal alien move to the United States and after a year of working dark matches for ROH, just trying to get an opportunity, I finally got signed. That was September 2010. Six years after that I finally win the title. It was such a huge moment for me. Especially to happen in New York, in that building [the Hammerstein Ballroom], it was very special. Even to have it happen with that opponent, I couldn’t ask for a better story.
It seemed like ROH had been building to this for quite a while. You first started seriously challenging about a year and a half before winning. Did you ever wonder if that moment would ever happen for you?
You know, it seemed like I would always take one step forward, and then two steps back. That’s just the nature of the beast. Everybody has a plan of how they envision storylines going, or the direction of the company, and sometimes you just have to be patient. You have to know that if you keep working hard and keep trying to put on the best matches that I can do, and be the best entertainer or wrestler that I can be, that things will eventually pay off. And they did. Sometimes you just have to put faith in the company that eventually it will be the payoff, and it worked out this time.
When did you find out you were going to be winning the title?
It was literally the day before. We were doing pre-tapes and they told me they needed a promo of me with the belt, saying how great it was that I finally won the title. How am I supposed to channel the emotion a day before it even happens? It’s hard to put yourself in that mindset. I’ve found that I always can do a better promo in the moment when I am Kyle O’Reilly, the character. In Japan, after every match, you get to the back and they stick a camera in your face in the press booth and you just start talking. It feels so real because you’re still in that moment. It’s so much easier to translate what you’re feeling as a character, rather than just being told what sort of promo to cut the day before. I probably should have had wounds on my head, and instead I’m standing there unscathed telling you how good it feels to finally become the champion. It’s just hard to channel that. But going back to the question. I knew it was me and Cole at Final Battle and I knew that storyline-wise, it was safe to assume that it might happen. You never know for sure, but overall storyline-wise it was the best to pull the trigger at Final Battle, even if it was a short title run.
You mentioned that it was a short title run, as you lost a title just a month later at Wrestle Kingdom in Japan
It was huge, but honestly I really missed Bobby. The last two Wrestle Kingdoms we did the tag team thing and it was really special. It meant so much to me to be there with one of my best friends. I was sitting behind the entrance waiting for my music to hit, and I just really wished Bobby was there. He had been with me for some of my biggest moments in my career. Not to take anything away from how special it still was, it was just different.
No disappointment. My whole philosophy was that if I could beat Adam Cole on Ring of Honor’s biggest stage, and be Ring of Honor champion for one day, that’s all I ever wanted. I can go down in history books as a Ring of Honor champion. The length of the run doesn’t have much to do with that. I was happy with that.
So we get to the question that everyone has been asking: What is your Ring of Honor status right now?
As of right now, we don’t really have anything confirmed. To be honest, I don’t know what the future for Kyle O’Reilly holds. I’m looking at taking a bit of time away and re-evaluating things. 2017 will mark 12 years in the business for me. It has taken its toll. Traveling, plus being a Type-One diabetic, it’s taken a toll on my health. I’m kind of just needing a bit of a break to reassess my future and weigh my options. Never say never though, I’m certainly not definitely done with Ring of Honor, but I’m just going to see what comes my way and remain optimistic.
Was this break something that you always had planned, or did it just feel right as your contract came up?
It kind of just worked out this way. I’m sure if ROH would have come to me sooner with a contract that made sense, then maybe I would have stuck around. But we just really couldn’t come to an agreement on terms, so I just felt that if that’s how it was going to go, then maybe I’ll take a little bit of time away.
Obviously any time lately that a high-profile wrestler steps away from the company that they’re at, the first thought is WWE and NXT. Is there any thoughts about that from you?
There isn’t anyone who gets into this business without dreams and visions of having that Wrestlemania moment. That’s what’s driven me to pursue wrestling to this degree, overall. It’s naive to think anything else. Of course if that opportunity was to come around, then I would strongly, strongly, consider it. That being said, I don’t have any concrete plans moving forward. But never say never. Ideally I would love that if it worked out. All I ever wanted was to create art and be the best pro wrestler that I can be. So I need to find an environment that is conducive to that and that will allow me to be that performer. You never know what could happen in WWE. I could be slapped with a gimmick that I’m a nanny for all I know. It is nice to see that they’ve started to recognize past achievements in wrestling. It puts you above where a lot of other people are starting. It’s a nice perk. But I just want to go where I’m appreciated, and whether that’s WWE, Japan or the independents, that remains to be seen.
As you take this break, and you start looking ahead, do you think that you’d be looking more towards signing a contract to wrestle for one company, or would you try to do more of an independent tour?
I do really cherish some concrete stability. It’s been awesome wrestling exclusively for ROH and working just the one indy in PWG and then Japan. It’s been enough for me. That’s a lot on my plate as it is. Hustling indies? That’s tough. It really is. I don’t know that I’m necessarily going to go after. Since all this has happened, I’ve been getting a lot of offers and some of them are hard to turn down. So I may be showing up at some indies here and there, but I’m going to be very selective with my bookings.
Would there be any specific indies that you’d be looking to work for?
There’s some companies that I’ve worked for in the past that I had a really good time with. AAW in Chicago is a really great group. There’s some companies over in the UK that I’d love to work for like Progress Wrestling and Revolution Pro. In the states, EVOLVE of course is one I’d love to do. The very first match on the very first show of EVOLVE was Kyle O’Reilly against Bobby Fish, so that would be a cool full-circle thing to come back to. With Wrestlemania weekend coming up, there’s so many options for independent wrestling there, and a guy like me could do really well being a free agent around that. Those are all things to consider.
You keep mentioning Bobby, and obviously the two of you are very close. Did that make it harder for you to step away from ROH, knowing that you guys might have to take separate paths in the future?
There’s no way that the team will be done, there will always be reDRagon in some way. Bobby is one of my best friends. He’s a guy who has helped take me to the next level as far as being a performer. He’s helped get me out of my shell and develop more of a character. Traveling together, he’s such a wealth of experience and knowledge. He had been on 50 tours of Japan before I did my first one with him. He was a guide and a friend to have there that would show me the ropes everywhere. Despite having a ten-year age difference between us, we couldn’t be closer friends. We have the same personality and the same sense of humor. For the time-being, we may not be working together, but I think fans of reDRagon are going to be pleasantly surprised in the future.
You’re a guy who has succeeded at a high level both in singles competition, and in tag wrestling, whether it’s with Bobby, or Adam Cole, or Davey Richards. Do you have a preference between the two styles?
There’s definitely a lot less pressure in tag wrestling. You have another guy you can rely on there. And it’s great being able to soak in big moments, like at Wrestle Kingdom, with a friend. But, also, I love the pressure. I love a big singles match. I feel like that’s a great moment for me to shine as a pro wrestler and as a storyteller. I love both for very different reasons. I’m hoping I can continue doing both further in my career.
Obviously things are up in the air right now, but if your ROH time is done, are there any regrets?
I 100% accomplished everything I wanted there. I had some really special moments. I held the tag titles, I held the ROH World Title. I main-evented some of their biggest shows. I’ve worked as a face, I’ve worked as a heel. I’ve worked as both a tag and a singles wrestler. My time in Ring of Honor, I’ll always cherish because I was able to grow so much as a professional and as a performer. There are so many talented people there, and they’re also so passionate about what they do. There’s a reason that it has gotten so popular over the year, the passion. It translates across the screen and you can see that. Say what you want about storylines or angles, but the boys, they make it worth the watch because they guys go above and beyond to make the best in-ring product that they can.
Have you noticed a change in atmosphere, whether it’s ROH or on the indies, since the rise of NXT and the increase in established wrestlers signed?
I think wrestling overall on the indies has gotten hotter. I don’t know if that is due to the NXT revolution or not. It does seem like NXT has become WWE’s version of an independent company. They see how successful the independent market can be, and they’re trying to capitalize on it. There’s trends in wrestling. I feel like Japan has always kind of set the tone for the rest of the world as far as style and the way wrestling is presented. Over the last few years New Japan has been a huge influence on the indies and even on WWE. You can see it on the martial arts style in wrestling that’s becoming more popular over here, New Japan was ahead of the curve. So whether it’s coming from NXT or Japan or whatever, things have been changing.
You speak very highly of Japan. Is that a place that you could see yourself ending up full-time?
Oh, absolutely. No matter what happens moving forward with my career, I want to end my career in Japan. They’ve treated me so well. It’s such a magical, beautiful, country. I learn so much just as a human being from going there, let alone what I learned as a pro wrestler. Whatever happens, I ideally would like to go back and end my career there.
What makes Japan so special?
Just their appreciation for pro wrestling. Pro wrestlers are revered, and respected. In the newspapers, there’s baseball results, and then there’s the wrestling results. It’s treated so much differently than it is in the United States. Not to say that American fans aren’t absolute amazing. They’re great, and wrestling in the United States is awesome. And of course there’s great money wrestling in the States. It’s just that there’s something different about wrestling in Japan. I’m not sure that everyone would attest to that, maybe it’s just having the martial-arts based style makes it easier for me. It just seems magical. You watch the old tapes of Japanese wrestling, and something about it feels different.
New Japan announced that they were doing part of the G1 in the United States. There also have been recent reports that they may try to create an American branch of New Japan. Do you think that an American incursion from New Japan could be successful?
I think so. I think people want to see something different. The New Japan “Strong Style” wrestling is something that can translate to American fans. People always something new and something exciting, and New Japan is that new, hot, exciting, thing. Just look at their growth over the past few years. They’ve gone from running a couple shows with Ring of Honor a year to having their own subscription network that’s available in America. The growth has been exponential. Maybe they have to change some things. It may be hard getting a promotion called “New Japan” going in America, but maybe they can rebrand themselves for the American offshoot. I think they can be very successful. I know some of the people who are involved in making this happen and given their passion and their track record, I definitely think they can be successful.
As we start 2017, and you’re starting this next chapter in your career, is there any one thing you really want to accomplish this year, or is there anybody in particular you’d really like to wrestle?
You always see these guys say that they have a specific dream match in mind, or a list of guys they’d really want to wrestle. It just seems so corny to me. Whatever the big match that people want to see, that’s what I want to see. I’m not overly concerned with making a list of guys that I’m dying to work with, I think that’s kind of silly.
Things are wide-open right now, but if you had to guess, what do you think your 2017 will look like?
Hopefully it’s me getting just really healthy and relaxed, and not so burnt out. There are a couple of different directions that it could really take. The first quarter of the year looks like it could be pretty slow for me, but it could pick up in the summer. Who knows. I’ve got options coming from every direction. To be in the position that I am, and being able to hand-pick these options, that’s truly a dream come true. Forget possibly getting a job with any of these places, just knowing that these places are competing for my services really blows my mind. I’m so fortunate and I just hope that people will remain excited about my future and remain invested in me as a performer, wherever I may end up.