IWGP US challenger speaks
In a double main event at Wrestle Kingdom 17, it’s hard not to draw parallels to five years ago. At Wrestle Kingdom 12, anticipation for Kazuchika Okada versus Tetsuya Naito was paralleled or even outmatched by that of the veteran Chris Jericho challenging the brash and dynamic IWGP United States Champion Kenny Omega. In 2023, it’s Omega that returns to New Japan to challenge a Will Ospreay hungry to build his own legacy, creating a dream match that may be even more anticipated than Okada vs Jay White in the top spot. Days before Wrestle Kingdom, Omega gave his thoughts on his return and the match at hand January 4 in this Q and A.
–It’s been three years since you left NJPW. What was your mindset after Wrestle Kingdom 13 and your last match with Hiroshi Tanahashi?
Omega: It was hard for me to look at myself in the mirror after Wrestle Kingdom 13, after making this company worldwide, really bringing it to the forefront, and not recognizing who was looking back.
Here I was thinking that I was the hero. I was the one who saved this company, I was the one who was going to take us to the promised land. I was going to main event in Madison Square Garden and show everyone in the world, the magic, the prestige, of Strong Style pro-wrestling.
It wasn’t meant to be, was it? And I think the part that hurt the most was that after I lost, I could see tears in the eyes of everyone in attendance. And I thought, ‘I know how you feel. This hurts for me too, this is painful’. But when I looked hard, they were tears of joy. They were happy to see me lose. They were happy to see the belt move on to Tanahashi.
That’s when I realized that they didn’t really understand the vision. Maybe they just weren’t ready. So I thought ‘yeah. Now is a good time to disappear. Now is a good time for this company to know the true meaning of loss’.
–Can you sum up what the last three years have meant for your career and place in the wrestling world?
Omega: You know, we always hear like ‘you’re the best in the world,’ ‘greatest matches of all time’. But maybe somebody else is the best in the world to somebody else. But to me, to truly the best, you have to be the best in all styles. And to me, I’d never truly challenged North American professional wrestling. Not whole heartedly. I thought ‘for all the people that think I’m the best now, all the people that think I’m talented now, just you wait, because I’m going to kill it in America.
I’m going to show everyone exactly why they call me the Best Bout Machine. I’m going to show you exactly why I was able to take small promotions and make them global. I’m going to take an upstart promotion that nobody knows existed, and turn it into the greatest competition to the greatest pro-wrestling promotion that anyone has seen in America for the past 50, 60, 70 years’.
–What are your thoughts of NJPW in your absence?
Omega: I mean, it’s hard, man. It’s… I don’t know if anyone here watching has children, or pets, but when you raise a child, or a pet, sometimes they’ll do something that you’re not proud of. They’ll do something that you get angry at. Maybe a dog, he, he takes a poopie on your floor. Maybe your child gets detention at school, or gets suspended for fighting. Maybe he says something a little uncouth.
For me, New Japan kinda became that child that I was ashamed of. I didn’t want to talk about New Japan to other people. I wanted to go back to those days where New Japan was in those infantile stages of creeping over to the West. Under my help of course! With me as the captain, it was sure to succeed.
But after seeing the way that Will has led the ship, I started to become disgusted. And I didn’t understand why ‘why are you backing him, New Japan?’ And I get it. It’s just because you had no-one else. Until now.
–What were your first thoughts on Ospreay when he came into NJPW in 2016, and how have those impressions changed?
Omega: I man, you know, how did I feel about Will Ospreay when he first arrived in New Japan? He was just like anybody else. There are so many guys like him, who can do a bunch of flips and tricks. And it’s fun to watch them practice, and it’s fun to watch their matches. But did I ever feel anything from Will Ospreay? Hmm, not so much.
And then when I placed the responsibility of filling my shoes on his shoulders, I started to see him take things a little more seriously. It wasn’t about him having fun in the ring, it was about him getting the job done. For that- I’m proud of you, Will.
But the thing is, filling my shoes isn’t something that just anyone can do. Just because I tasked you with filling them, doesn’t mean that you can. Just because you have every tool ever in a tool chest of wrestling, doesn’t mean that you can ever do what I did.
There are so many moving parts, so many things. The secret to what Kenny Omega does is something that Will can’t understand, it’s what no-one understands. So in a way, I feel, I feel bad. I feel like I owe Will an apology, because I tasked him with the impossible.
So how do I feel about Will now? I pity him. I pity him for going off on a fool’s errand, and trying to convince every body that he is me.
Wait, let me, let me take that back. He isn’t trying to convince people that he is me, he is trying to convince people that he’s better than me, and um, well, I’ll let the viewers decide how well he’s done.
–Ospreay has pursued Kazuchika Okada in much the same way you did through 2017 and 2018. Why do you think it is that you succeeded where he has not?
I’m starting to hear all these stories about people that want to do what Kenny did, live the lifestyle that Kenny lived. I first heard that with Mox, when AEW first started. He said ‘I want to live a month in Kenny’s shoes, I want to try the G1. I want to see how tough it is’.
And how did that go for you, pal? He didn’t even make the top four. He certainly didn’t make the finals, and he certainly didn’t win the tournament on his first effort like I did.
Will of course, thinking that this was a good approach, he was thinking that maybe he could be the exception to the rule, that he could do it the way Mox could not. That he could do it the way Jay could not. That he could do it the way that I did. Now this year’s G1 was a miss, Okada didn’t go so well either.
So why is it that no-one can do what I can do? Well, there’s so many reasons, but the big one, Will, is up here (taps head). It’s what you don’t got upstairs. I’m not going to credit it to your athletic ability, you’ve got oodles of that. Experience? Yeah, experience plays a factor, but when you have so much ability, you can push past that. What you lack, Will, is your mind.
You’re unstable, you’re unintelligent, and that’s why you fail.
–In your video message you talked about ‘showing what separates Kenny Omega from a Will Ospreay’. Can you put into words what exactly that is?
Omega: Sure, I mean, what separates Kenny Omega from anybody? It’s a ‘je ne sais quoi’, I can’t even put it into my own words what it is that makes me so much different to anybody else. I think what it is though is that I’m not ever trying to emulate anybody. I’m not trying to be the next anybody, I’m trying to be the first me. I feel like Will Ospreay has been kinda shoehorned into a, an area, into a position where he feels like he needs to be me. He feels like he needs to make the merchandise sales like I did. He feels like he needs to sell tickets like I did, he feels like he needs to move sponsorships like I did, to break out worldwide, like I did. He could never do it, so he went about it in a different way, and it’s the only way he knew how, by doing death defying stunts on very small scale independent wrestling shows.
But on the grand scale, that doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help you, Will, it doesn’t help New Japan, it doesn’t help the world of professional wrestling. All it helps is your friends in the UK, that run small operations with small crowds and wrestlers that aren’t ready to make the big time. And sure, it’s great for them, I am… look, I’ve wrestled for these guys too, I’m happy for them too. So, in a way I’m, I’m proud of you, Will. Proud of your accomplishments, proud of what you’ve done.
Because we can confuse that a little bit, about you being a nice guy and not forgetting where you came from, but that’s not what it is. That was you, Will, realizing that on the big stage, you lack something that I have- raw star power. A body, chiseled from granite. The ability to talk to people around the world, not just the people in North America, not just to the UK, but to your crowd in Japan. Something you’ve never done, something that you’ll never do. And if it weren’t for Google translate, it would be something that none of you foreigners will ever do. And you don’t feel any shame for that do you? You’ll own that technology and you’ll let somebody else do all that for you every step of the way.
What makes us so different Will? I carved my own path through my own hard work. You took the easy way out, and you always leant on other people to bail you out when you couldn’t make a mark.
–What would you do with the IWGP United States Championship should you win?
Omega: So, a lot of people don’t understand what exactly that belt means to me. They think maybe it’s just another prize, in the list of accomplishments for Kenny Omega. No, no no!
I am the first ever US champion. The matches that I had on American soil for New Japan Pro-Wrestling will be revered as some of the greatest of all time. And what you have to remember, Will, is though you carry that belt, and though you defended it around the world and done a great job as a champion, what you’re carrying is essentially something that was never meant for you.
That belt, that gold was forged for me. There was never a thought of Will Ospreay. Not one ounce of Will Ospreay went into the care, the passion and the artistry of that belt. Every bit about that belt was meant for me. Every defence I had was memorable. The time that I won that belt, unforgettable.
What have you done that people haven’t forgotten? What have you done that was legendary? As far as I’m concerned, that belt’s on loan. I’ve lent you my property and now it’s time to give it back to its rightful owner.
That belt, sure it isn’t the AEW Heavyweight Championship, not the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, not the trios belts that I’m trying to win back. But rest assured, Will, a belt that the most prestigious wrestling company in the world made just for me? Yeah, that means a lot to me. And um, if you’re not just going to mail it back, be a nice old bloke, then I’m just going to have to take it back by force.
–What do you want your return in the Tokyo Dome to mean for NJPW, AEW, and for yourself?
Omega: I think I’ve already made a big enough statement. My return to the Tokyo Dome is supposed to be astronomical. This is supposed to be a celebration, a real homecoming. For all of you fans, wrestlers that have struggled for so long through this difficult time. And I understand that you guys have struggled with this for years now.
I know what you’re thinking- that I mean the struggle with the pandemic, no, no, no. The struggle that I’m talking about is the struggle that you guys have had to incur without me running the ship! Without Kenny Omega running the show, there’s been an absolute lack of charisma, an absolute lack of magic, an absolute lack of eyeballs watching the product. We need people watching, talking, discussing. We need New Japan parties again, guys!
After years of hardship, what these people need is a resolution. They need a reason to cheer and be happy again, they need reason to buy tickets and come to a show. They need something to really, really look forward to. Kenny Omega holding the US title belt, now that is a reason to buy a ticket. That is a reason to buy the magazines, that is a reason to buy the PPVs. Hell, that’s a reason to watch AEW television! You can watch it every Wednesday on FITE or even watch it on NJPW World.
But there’s a shift coming, and unfortunately for you Will, we’re shifting away from this experimental project that was Will Ospreay. And you gave it your best shot, congratulations. I don’t know what else you want from me, I’ll give you a pat on the back, a fruit basket, you did great. But it just wasn’t good enough, and it was nothing compared to the real deal. I’m sorry, Will, but you’re going to have to move on. The king is coming back for the keys to the castle.
–What final message do you have for Will Ospreay, and what final message do you have for NJPW fans?
Omega: NJPW fans, I understand that you’re worried. You’re worried about what might happen if I lose, that this 3 year nightmare will never be over. But don’t worry. That golden age you loved, with Kenny as champion is coming back.
So, Will, until next time, I must bid you adieu. It’s coming up real soon, so until then, goodbye and good night- BANG!