By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
I say this in the utmost complimentary way possible: On Saturday night, Kenny Omega looked old.
Settle down, Kenny die-hards. I meant it when I said that’s intended to be a compliment of the highest order. It’s not often we get to see Omega on AEW TV anymore – and it’s even rarer that we see him wrestle a singles match. But when he took the stage against MJF for the AEW World Championship, it kind of/sort of felt like something special was in order. Such is why I cleared the decks and made sure I had an hour or two to spare Saturday night. I wanted to be sure to see whatever happened live and in real time.
Neither guy disappointed. MJF continues to throw in an extra flashy move or two each time he gets a chance to perform in a Big Time Match anymore, and Saturday was no exception (he also makes them look about 95 percent smooth while not entirely perfectly hitting the landing, but that’s another story for another day). Omega, though? Omega stole the show in my eyes. We don’t get Tokyo Dome Omega anymore – there are simply too many miles on that body to ever fully revisit those days, even if he came closer than ever at Forbidden Door 2 against Will Ospreay.
Even so, it continues to be a treat to see Kenny Omega step forth in his transition from Sprightly Young Man to Grizzled Kind-Of Old Vet (40 is the new 20 in pro wrestling years … or at least the new 30). He isn’t quite as quick as he once was, but his ability (or inability) to slow down is something that many critics have harped on through the years. Now that he’s forced to slow down, even if it’s by a millisecond, it’s not hard to wonder if those critics might have been correct. There is a certain richness to the way he carries himself these days and he’s completely leaned into the humble wiseman that he can be to younger talent.
Gone is the infancy of AEW, when Omega came in as The Best Wrestler The U.S. Mainstream Didn’t Know, and for some unspoken reason, it felt like he was tasked with being the guy to turn hungry young talent into the next Best Bout Machine (times that by at least 100 when it came to the women’s division). In that new company’s place is a more realized brand with agents and producers and backstage personalities devoted to helping younger talent develop. In the meantime, Omega has floated to the back of the room, pulled up a chair, said all the right things, healed his body a little bit, and can still pop up to remind people like he did on Saturday that by God, he is Kenny Omega.
Watching the years and miles catch up with him always makes me wonder about what could have been. And it especially made me go through that thought process as I took in Collision’s main event on Saturday and considered three names that embody such a question in today’s pro wrestling landscape. The first was, of course, Omega. The other two? Jay White and Will Ospreay.
We’ll start with the latter. Lost in the shuffle of the Halloween weekend madness were quiet reports that Ospreay is leaning heavily toward signing with AEW once his New Japan deal expires, which it’s reportedly set to do in February. That came after other reports earlier in the week stated that WWE was interested in Ospreay and Ospreay, naturally, was interested in WWE. It reminded me of when Jay White was set to hit the market after having the run of his life in New Japan and there were rumblings that White might take his talents to Stamford as well.
Or, um, that was, at least until he showed up in AEW.
I can’t help but wonder what could be with Ospreay in WWE. Much like I felt with White – a guy whose work I adore and have all the respect in the world for – it feels like the bigger challenge for both guys would actually be to try the WWE system out. Sure, White can’t use the f-word as liberally as he did in New Japan, and yeah, you wouldn’t be wrong to speculate how watered down the company could make him, but don’t you think it would have been fascinating to see how both sides would have adjusted? Instead, we simply got another extension of the Bullet Club, raising this tricky now-valid question: Is it possible for Jay White to maintain upper-card status without the backing of at least some Bullet Club insignia behind him? For now, we don’t know.
Ospreay, on the other hand, is an even more intriguing possibility – and the only one out of the three who isn’t locked down for years with a company. At 30 years old, not only is he the youngest of the three (to be fair, by only one year – White is 31), but he’s also on a hell of a roll, kicked off by his match with Omega at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom. The guy beat Chris Jericho in Wembley Stadium, constantly has Match Of The Year candidates, and somehow just made Impact/TNA produce a pay-per-view that felt impossible to miss if only because he was on it, wrestling Mike Bailey. Ospreay has been everywhere this year, racking up wins and turning more heads than he’s ever turned, even though he’s made a career thus far out of turning heads all around the world.
But how would he work in the WWE system? I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us know. The lazy response is to immediately claim they’d change him so much, he’d lose everything that’s cool about his presentation and move set. But let’s not forget that Vince McMahon isn’t calling the shots creatively anymore. Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor – two New Japan alumni – were presented as absolute badasses on NXT, when Paul Levesque was running the show. Now that Levesque is at the helm of the main roster, who’s to say he wouldn’t be able to figure out something meaningful for Ospreay on the industry’s biggest stage?
Instead, if the weekend reports end up being true, and Ospreay ultimately signs on the dotted line with AEW, the guy will be locked away in Don Callis’s Heenan Family ripoff, destined to spin his wheels as he becomes another great wrestler who doesn’t seem to wrestle all that much on a loaded AEW roster. OK, so that was perhaps a tiny bit too negative, but I stand by the spirit of that thought: Don’t you think it’d just be more interesting if Ospreay actually throws himself at the WWE machine? He’d either be teaming with Cody and Jey Uso in the 59th installment of a six-man Raw main event against Judgment Day … or hell, he could be the reason Paul Heyman turns his back on the Bloodline.
Roman Reigns vs. Will Ospreay. Imagine that clash of styles.
Why bring this up now? Saturday night. While I’ve kind of fallen in love with this weathered version of Kenny Omega, there’s no denying that he’s going to have to go down as one of the biggest what if’s when it comes to this era of pro wrestling. For as much flak as WWE rightfully takes for breaking things that don’t need broken, there have been notable success stories as well. AJ Styles comes to mind. The aforementioned Balor and Nakamura NXT runs were really good, and even now, Nakamura has never looked better on the main roster while Balor continues to reinvent himself with the Judgment Day. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn would have made a lot of sense in AEW, but they got their feet underneath them before the company existed and have now excelled to laudable heights in WWE. Even Samoa Joe had a working spotlight on him for a moment before WWE fired him.
My point is that it’s not impossible – and nor is it out of the realm of possibility – that Kenny Omega could have taken some of his prime years to give WWE a shot and that shot could have worked out for everyone involved. Now that he’s on the other side of those prime years, we’ll never know what that could have looked like. White and Ospreay, though? There’s still time, with Ospreay’s situation standing front and center in the immediate future. AEW, for lack of a better term, just feels like it’d be too easy for him. Much like White, Ospreay has wrestled on the company’s shows as a member of New Japan’s roster. He’d be working with a lot of people he’s already worked with. And frankly, he wouldn’t feel fresh in the world of AEW. Just look at what happened with Jade Cargill. She hasn’t stepped foot in a WWE ring yet, but she feels like an entirely new character – and that’s without her seemingly changing all that much about her presentation.
Is it fear of failure? Are there deep moral reasons why someone like Omega, Ospreay or White don’t want to give WWE a try? Do things merely feel simpler in AEW, where the backstage is more comfortable and they won’t have scriptwriters up their ass telling them how to cut a promo? Is it a combination of these things? Is it none of these things?
For now, we know no answers to any of those questions. What we do know, though, is that no matter what the future holds for Kenny Omega, we’ll never be sure of what he could have done on the industry’s biggest stage before he put his body through hell and back – and then hell and back again. It doesn’t have to be that way for Switchblade and the Billy GOAT, though.
But will it?