Kenny Omega Has Conquered Japan, Now He Wants the New Day
In January, when news broke that four wrestlers – including top stars A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura – would be leaving New Japan Pro-Wrestling, many wondered how the promotion could possibly replace them. Would longtime stars Okada and Tanahashi fill the void, or would NJPW turn to someone new to shoulder the load? So far, it’s been the latter – and that someone new is Kenny Omega.
Omega, of course, isn’t new at all; a 15-year veteran of North America and Japan, he’s worked for companies like Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Jersey All Pro Wrestling and even spent time in WWE’s developmental system at Deep South Wrestling. But Omega truly came into his own with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where he joined the iconic Bullet Club, became a mainstay in the Junior Heavyweight division and put on fantastic matches with the likes of Ryusuke Taguchi and Kushida.
But when A.J. Styles, fellow Bullet Club members Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows and Shinsuke Nakamura left, Omega seized the spotlight. The day after Wrestle Kingdom 10, Omega – along with the Young Bucks – attacked Styles, putting Omega at the head of the Bullet Club. He also declared that he was going after Nakamura’s vacated Intercontinental title, which he would later win by beating Tanahashi, the longtime face of New Japan. Since then, he and the Young Bucks, now known as “The Elite,” also won the NEVER Openweight 6-Man tag titles. Simply put, 2016 has been the year of Kenny Omega.
And from the sound of things, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. Just after retuning from Japan, Rolling Stone spoke to the man known as “the Cleaner” about his incredible rise, putting the Bullet Club to bed and his latest targets – Xavier Woods and the New Day.
So, what have the past two months been like for you?
I don’t want to sound clichéd, but it has been a roller-coaster ride. We, as in myself and the Young Bucks, always get together before the big shows and grab a bite to eat, and this news hit that our friends and co-workers were suddenly leaving the company. It was going to pretty much change the entire of face of New Japan Pro-Wrestling going forward. I had been stuck in the junior division, and I had been wanting more than that since I had joined NJPW. Suddenly, here was an opportunity not only to seize that, but to have a little bit more say in everything. For the longest time, there was a hierarchy. They were taking the advice from the top guys, and had been doing a real old-guard style of booking. I thought maybe with all these guys leaving, they would be open to new ideas. The Young Bucks and myself are always full of ideas. So even though it was sad that our friends were leaving, we looked at it as a great opportunity to make 2016 our year.
But you didn’t hear anything official about the departures until the news broke?
I had heard some rumors on my last match of 2015. It was in America, and the Bucks and I were doing a show for a [now-defunct] promotion called 2CW. They had said, “Hey, we just heard a rumor that there’s a possibility that the guys are leaving.” I didn’t want to regard it right away, because there’s always rumors…it was kind of shocking to us that we didn’t hear it from the horse’s mouth. We had suspected there was something going on, then when we arrived in Tokyo after the New Year, everything was confirmed. We just became flies on the wall, watching everything go crazy all around us. Even though we had prepared ourselves for it, there was no way that the Japanese office was prepared for it. It was a sight to behold. Everyone was panicking, and they were trying to make the best of a bad situation.
What was the locker room and front office like at that point?
Before the Tokyo Dome show, which is basically our WrestleMania, we have to do a lot of PR work. There’s a lot of press conferences, we have to face the public, there are meet and greets. So we’re always all around each other, at all hours of the day. Not only are we doing our part, but the staff, the guys in the office, the guys working behind the scenes, they’re all around us too. We were able to see a myriad of emotions. Some people were angry, some people were sad, some looked like they were going to cry. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and I think I saw almost all of it.
At that point it hadn’t set in for me, because I was just trying to figure out ways to turn this huge negative into a positive. We’re watching it all erupt in front of us, and we were just trying to analyze how to turn this around. We’re figuring out how they are going to fill the gap. Gallows and Anderson, they were the foreign heavyweight tag team. How were they going to fill that void? A.J. Styles is one of the best in the world, how are they going to fill that void? And how are we going to make that transition? The Bucks and I were in a proverbial think tank at all times, to the point where we weren’t really even focusing on our matches at the biggest show of the year. We were constantly focusing on how we were going to deal with this fallout.
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