New Japan Pro Wrestling star Kenny Omega recently joined Ring Rust Radio to promote Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4th. You can check out the highlights here:
On January 4 at Wrestle Kingdom 11, you challenge Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. After winning the G1 Climax tournament and becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to ever earn that honor, what is the pressure like for you to perform at an elite level and what would winning the title mean to you?
“It’s strange because I don’t feel a lot of pressure. Tokyo Dome is a strange place to say the least. From the outside looking in, it would seem like this is our biggest show and guys will feel like it’s time to turn it up and give it your all because it’s that one and only time of year where everyone’s watching and this is why. You have to show why New Japan Pro Wrestling is one of the best and biggest promotions on the planet. I look at the Tokyo Dome as more of a celebration. We work hard all year and it’s kind of like a reward for that year of long and hard work leading up to the Tokyo Dome. It’s a beautiful building, huge capacity, we have the pyro, the light show and special attractions galore. It’s just a fun experience. A lot of guys bring their families out and that’s a rare opportunity for a lot of our families who live in Canada, the US or different countries to come out and watch us live. It really is just a fun time to do what we love to do in front of the largest audience we have all year. To be in the main event, I should feel pressure and there are a lot of people that are expecting a lot from me, my company included. I expect a lot from myself. You’re going to have people that want you to fail, people that doubt you should be in that position, and I just want to shut those guys up. I do feel confident that if I just bring the package that I’ve been bringing all year, the match should be fine and the fans should be going home happy, so looking I am forward to it.”
One interesting aspect of Wrestle Kingdom 11 is that it will not only be available to English-speaking fans through New Japan World, but also on AXS TV a few days later. With more international fans than ever watching the product, how has that impacted your approach to your championship match and your performances in general?
“In general, I try to make the company appeal to a broader audience. There once was this idea that we really had to protect old school, strong-style wrestling and the company didn’t really want to change up the style that made them famous since the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80s. They really wanted to be New Japan: King of Sports. This is where we do strong style, but as of late, they’ve really taken this more hybrid entertainment approach. I think they recognize that as a performer, I really do take pride in being an all-around performer and I can do whatever style is required for the match and whatever style is required for the crowd. Really, what I’ve been trying to do all year is I’ve been trying to have matches that the live house is going to appreciate, but also whoever’s tuning in around the world won’t get lost in translation. Whatever they are watching on TV, they are going to be able to find entertaining. It’s hard to find the balance, but I’ve had a degree of success more or less pleasing more people than disappointing.”
Being the leader of the Bullet Club is something that served as a launching pad for both Finn Balor and AJ Styles, as they’re two of the top stars in WWE currently. Obviously there’s plenty left for you to accomplish in New Japan, including winning the IWGP Heavyweight title, but how does seeing those guys enjoying success in WWE influence your desire to potentially follow in their footsteps at some point?
“The way they’ve carved their own path is really original to their own character. Finn Balor has a very unique appearance and the way that he goes about his business shouldn’t be mimicked. If I showed up to NXT for example and started to play Mr. dress up, I’ll just look like a cheaper copy, right? AJ Styles had the great debut at the Royal Rumble and segued that into pretty much main event status. That is great and I’m really happy and proud of those guys, but I’ve always placed my priority on building a legacy in Japan first and foremost. AJ did a lot in a short time a New Japan. Finn Balor was one of the mainstays of the junior division, but I do think if he stayed he probably would have been a heavyweight draw as well. I feel like I don’t want to leave something incomplete in Japan if I do decide to move on. I love the country, I love the people and I do feel a sense of loyalty and I do feel like the best years and the best ideas I have in my brain should be given to accomplishing the dreams that I have had for New Japan. Doing what I did as a junior, doing what I did in the G1, main eventing in the Tokyo Dome, these are all things that neither AJ nor Finn did in their time in New Japan, so I like to think that all three of us are etching our very different path in pro wrestling. As happy and proud as I am for them, I don’t ever want to mimic or follow in their footsteps. If I do something I want it to be something completely original or an industry first or something that’s never been done before.”
You’ve interacted often with the New Day on social media, especially Xavier Woods, and expressed your desire for yourself and the Young Bucks to face them at some point. Obviously it’s unlikely in the here and now with you guys in different companies, but in your dream scenario how would a Bullet Club vs. New Day match go down in terms of venue, stipulation and everything else that goes along with it?
“In a fantasy situation, it would be great for not only us to go there to have a match, but I would love for it to go both ways. I would love to have New Day come to New Japan as well so that both types of fans would be able to see the differences in product and wrestler. I really do feel like surprising people. I wouldn’t want to be built up through video packages. I would love for it to just be really spur of the moment and take people off guard and make it just something they would never see coming. People understand that this is an unlikely scenario and people that are contracted can’t just waltz in the company and issue challenges. There’s so much more that goes behind the business of pro wrestling and the politics you can’t do it. For it to work that way would be such a treat for the fans and that’s the only reason why we were ever so serious about doing it to begin with. We didn’t care about contracts, who’s going to win, who’s going to lose, what day it is going to be, which days is this guy going to miss; we just wanted it to happen. The fans wanted it to happen and even the fans that didn’t know about our social media rivalry wanted it to happen. I do think if they saw it, people would enjoy it and they would love it. This is something that would cause pro wrestling to grow even more so as a whole. Not WWE, not New Japan; just pro wrestling. Cool stuff like that just doesn’t happen anymore. Everything is more predictable, in my opinion.”
You made headlines in the gaming world with Xavier Woods during the summer when you beat him in Street Fighter. What was that experience like and as a gamer, what is it like to be in Japan? Have you been able to visit any studios or attend other special events that have been memorable for you as a fan?
“Going to CEO in Florida was one of the highlights of my year actually. It didn’t involve any actual physical wrestling, but it did kind of add a layer to the New Day versus Elite feud and the rivalry I have with Xavier Woods. To meet him in person and to come together to work together to do this angle and this story was up to us to manage and tell for the world through video games was really cool. There are no contracts involved, there’s no writers, no agents, just us. A WWE mind versus a guy working in Japan mind and were able to create something vocal and special for the fans. Neither of us got in any sort of trouble from our respective companies. To cross over into the pro gaming community was really cool and gave me the itch to do more events, to hone my skills more in gaming so I can hang out with these guys more and do more events and possibly do more stuff with Xavier in the future. In terms of games and stuff in Japan, I try at least once a year to get up to some kind of gaming expo in Japan. We are doing stuff almost every day and our series are long and they’re all over the map. I will always try to manipulate my schedule so I can get out to Tokyo Game show or something. I love the gaming culture in Japan and it’s never hard to find a retro game shop. I love retro games. To be able to do just take a trip down memory lane at almost any point in time and it makes me appreciate Japan in a completely different level.”
You can check out the full interview here: