By Will Pruett
Falling in Love with Kenny Omega
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
I’m late to the party on this one. I am acutely aware that wrestling fandom passed me by at some point and I’ve been left to catch up. I have been reluctant to do so, wondering if something so popular can actually be good, wondering if a wrestler as beloved by so many really deserves it. I don’t know how to express how wrong I was to doubt, but I was very wrong. Friends, I am here today to declare my love for Kenny Omega, as an artist, a pro wrestler, and a human being.
Let’s get the really easy part out of the way first. Kenny Omega is an amazingly talented and skilled professional wrestler. He does things in the ring many have only imagined. His ability might be unparalleled in wrestling today. Omega can have brilliant comedy matches (see his match with Toru Yano from this year’s G1), spotfest tags (see any match he’s had teaming up with The Young Bucks), and epic championship encounters that leave the viewer breathless (see the NJPW US Championship tournament or either of his matches with Kazuchika Okada). Kenny Omega is freaking great.
I read last year all about how great Omega was, but never jumped on board. It’s not that I didn’t want to watch him, I just didn’t find the time in the deluge of wrestling we all live with pouring over our heads.
What called out to me during NJPW’s G1 Special in the US weekend and has stayed in my mind for the past month is Kenny Omega as an artist.I can’t stop thinking about something Kenny Omega said while talking with the press (including me) in the upstairs office area of a Japanese supermarket: “I try to tell stories that humans can relate to, because I’m just a human being, just a guy, and it helps being just a guy… I wrestle with emotion. I’m not a technical mastermind. Because of the stories that I tell using my heart, and the stories that I’ve cooked up in this crazy brain of mine, they become memorable. And I think they become stories that people have interest in… We’re trying to tell stories that are just as easy to understand as an episode of Seinfeld or The Simpsons…”
Omega doesn’t just try to do this, he succeeds. He wrestles with his heart on his sleeve and it shows, especially in his major matches. While I tend to watch NJPW with commentary I have no hope of understanding, I feel the emotion of Omega’s efforts and the resonate. Whether it is his pure exhaustion as he tries to summon the strength to knee Okada in the head or the pure joy he has shown in major winning moments, Omega brings heart to wrestling I rarely see.
This, in so many ways, describes what I love in wrestling. I can appreciate a technically awesome match, but I’d much rather be taken on an emotional journey. My favorite matches and moments in wrestling have done just this.
Omega also brings something unique to wrestling as far as representation goes. He’s openly bisexual and willing to discuss being so in interviews. Since wrestling is the closest thing we have to real life superhero stories, I have to celebrate a real life superhero breaking the norm in this way. I always say representation matters and having one of the best wrestlers in the world represent a slice of the LGBT community is tremendously cool.
Kenny Omega has gone from a wrestler I openly acknowledge the greatness of, yet didn’t connect to, to a wrestler I’ll openly cheer for. He’s invested emotion in his matches and I feel more able to do so because of it. Kenny Omega is a wrestler I’ll take joy in seeing win and I’ll feel the heartache of loss with. I can say I’ve fallen in love with Kenny Omega, but I’ve also fallen more in love with professional wrestling because of Kenny Omega.
Last month’s essential viewing:
So, it’s been a while I have lots of things you should watch or should have watched. Let’s
I seriously haven’t watched any WWE shows this week. It’s been hectic. Let’s talk NJPW. Warning: Some of these matches listed are spoilers of sorts, but the art is worth it friends.
From NJPW’s G1 Special in the US weekend:
Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin (July 1, 2017 – NJPW G1 Special in the USA Night 1) – This looked like it would be a standout match from Night 1 of this tournament from the time it was announced, and it delivered. Omega claimed this would be his tournament and he wasn’t wrong. He was greeted as a hero as he marches into Long Beach. Elgin gave Omega a great challenge and they produced something really great. The booking of this tournament was also interesting with it reinforcing the story of Elgin being in a slump. I’m a big fan of the storytelling all around.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito (July 1, 2017 – NJPW G1 Special in the USA Night 1) – This was the closest thing to classic New Japan on Night 1 and it was really enjoyable. Ishii was the MVP of the NJPW US Championship tournament with three absolutely epic performances. Watch all of them.
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Tomohiro Ishii (July 2, 2017 – NJPW G1 Special in the USA Night 2) – The style clash this match presented on paper had me so excited, I didn’t run around to take a single photo of this match. I sat in my seat and watched the entire thing start to finish and thoroughly enjoyed it. Ishii and Sabre Jr. brought us something we rarely see in the United States. They had me enthralled until the very end.
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii (July 2, 2017 – NJPW G1 Special in the USA Night 2) – This was stunning. Ishii and Omega took the audience on an emotional journey. One notable thing about NJPW: there wasn’t really a traditional heel in this match, but more than once, Ishii played the antagonist. He isn’t bad and he didn’t resort to underhanded tactics (in fact, Omega, the match’s protagonist cheated more often), but Ishii was definitely standing in the way of Omega achieving his dream. When people say the heel/face dynamic in wrestling is dead, they are ignoring the far richer storytelling dynamics we can be given. This match was an example of a better way to present professional wrestling.
From NJPW’s G1 Climax 27 Tournament:
Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 1) – It just feels right to have Kota Ibushi back in NJPW and this was a fun display of what he can do. When Ibushi left, Naito was a level below being a top star. Ibushi had just broken out, but was put on the shelf with an injury. This was a great clash between two fun wrestlers. Ibushi was the highlight performer here for me, but both men stood out.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 1) – How do you make a star in one night? have them force the (absurdly beautiful) “Ace” of the promotion to submit in their first meeting together. This is how Zack Sabre Jr. became a made man in NJPW. Hiroshi Tanahashi went into this year’s G1 with an arm injury and his story played into this perfectly. Tanahashi vs. Sabre Jr. should be remembered for a long time.
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 3) – The WWE Cruiserweight Classic final we all dreamt of for months finally happened, just not in WWE. Everything Ibushi is touching in this tournament is wonderful. Sabre Jr. is more than holding his own against challenging competition. Wrestling is the best and this match helps prove this point.
Kuzuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 4) – Michael Elgin is an odd dude. Beyond his attempts at playing baseball and overall odd public persona, he’s a really good professional wrestler. Of course, no wrestler in NJPW has been good enough to beat Kazuchika Okada in a long time. Okada continued doing that thing where he’s the best in the world and Elgin lived up to being a worthy foe.
Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 5) – This was one of the most intriguing matches the G1 had to offer when the blocks were announced this year and it delivered. Ishii never fails to deliver in big matches (see my writing about the IWGP United States Championship tournament) and Ibushi is definitely a standout star in NJPW again. These men brought one of the more interesting stylistic mashups to this tournament. Could Ibushi hit hard enough? Would Ishii be fast enough? This is a must-watch from a tournament of great matches all around.
Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 8) – Originally I left this match off of my list, fearing the awkwardness of two Elgin vs. Omega matches appearing. When I thought about the tournament though, I was really into what these two did and the way their two matches played off of each other. I had to praise Omega vs. Elgin from this show. They pulled everything they could out of their collective bag of tricks to have a great match. Add a very surprising finish and you have one of the classics of this tournament.
Kota Ibushi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW G1 Climax 27 Night 11) – Look at the participants in this match and try to figure out how it could be anything but great. What makes this notable is the great heel work from Hiroshi Tanahashi, the stalwart babyface of New Japan. The crowd is more in Kota Ibushi here and Tanahashi plays into it. This might have been the best match yet in the G1.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman in an Ambulance Match (WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017) – Ambulance Matches are dumb. Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman are great. Combine dumb and great and, in this case, you still get great! Sure, Reigns is likely wanted for attempted murder for his post match actions. And yeah, Strowman still isn’t finished with anyone. This was a delightful match from two men who can do no wrong together.
John Cena vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (WWE Smackdown, August 1, 2017) – Two ships passing. Two men meeting at the moment of a journey… Nakamura and Cena was a dream match for so many of us and we got it (complete with a conclusive end) on Smackdown. Color me delighted and surprised. This was as close as we’ve seen to peak Nakamura on the WWE main roster. It was gritty. It was dynamic. It was what I would hope a match between the superpowers of wrestling can be. More than anything, I was left wanting more. Please don’t let this be the only Nakamura vs. Cena match, wrestling deities hear my prayer.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this month:
I got to photograph the NJPW G1 Special in the US shows as a member of the press and it was awesome. Here are a few of my favorites:
What I absolutely positively love in the world this month:
Last Week Tonight on the Sinclair Broadcast Group – I often wonder why all major wrestling companies seem to be run by less than great humans. This piece from John Oliver on the Sinclair Broadcast Group made me ponder this question all over again. It has nothing to do with wrestling and wrestling isn’t mentioned, but this should frighten all of us. Comedic commentary on the garbage fire that we’re living through will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Peterson – If you’re looking for a great Summer read mixing the real things in life with pop culture, look no further than Anne Helen Peterson’s great examination of “unruly” women. Peterson’s writing always expertly blends our collective culture together and this is no exception. It’s a great analysis of 10 women who are bravely breaking the molds they’re placed in and how they’re doing so.
Heisenberg at the Mark Taper Forum – It’s rare to see a piece of theatre completely stripped of all spectacle and containing just two actors and to be completely engrossed all the same. The performances of Mary-Louise Parker and Denis Arndt in the production of Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg at Mark Taper Forum create this. While initially jarring, it rounds into form in a delightful way and the relationship between the two characters is defined and redefined beautifully. This is a wonderful work of theatre you should totes see if you’re in the Los Angeles area.
Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at email@example.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!
Since it has been a while, I’ll just leave this blank and start anew next week. Let’s have some interesting discourse here!
SSMGOTM (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Month):
It’s a two for one situation this time!
This month’s wrestling reading:
From time to time, I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.
I want to point you to this list of great wrestling content creators. I had nothing to do with the creation of it, but I know I’ll be using it to broaden my wrestling reading!
We’re Done Here:
I’m back and probably about the same as I ever was (imagine if those were the lyrics to Eric Bischoff’s WWE theme). It’s been an insane last month and I want to thank everyone who missed reading my pieces on the site or trolling me pointlessly. You’re the real heroes here (Side note: you’re not heroes).
As always, thanks to everyone who reads this, interacts with me, and makes this weird wrestling gig worth doing. Have the best week and draw some inspiration from Leslie Knope letting you know…
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.