New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s Kenny Omega has had a huge 2018 so far, and it looks like he’ll only continue to change the wrestling world. He defeated Kazuchika Okada in an epic match at Dominion to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the first time, reunited with his former tag team partner Kota Ibushi, will perform at All In in September, and will have the highly-anticipated final blowoff match in his feud with Cody at the G1 Special In San Francisco. (He also appeared on the With Spandex podcast back in April!)
Omega spoke to the press on a conference call hosted by AXS TV about his upcoming title defense, his role in NJPW’s expansion, the Golden Lovers, and more. Excerpts from the press conference are below, and have been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: Hi Kenny, I’m asking questions about the things you’ve said in promos since you became champion. Right after you won, you took some shots at Naito and his attitude, and also said the Japanese talent is not trying as hard as the foreign talent that comes over… I was wondering if you have any concerns about how that will be received, or if you want to talk more about those statements?
Kenny Omega: Sounds like some very negative questions… Naito is in a way sort of a pseudo-Stone Cold Steve Austin, anti-hero-esque character, and I really don’t appreciate his message, and I think it really only works in Japan. In Japan people work twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen hour days, and a lot of them… live very rough lives, and it’s easier to fit in rather than to rock the boat. And Naito’s message is simply rather than trying to follow your dreams, rather than trying to try to strive for something more than that, just calm down, just don’t worry about it, just don’t care. And I think that that message in general really only has life in Japan.
When you’re trying to be a worldwide company, you can’t make this guy the face of your company because not many people on a worldwide scale are going to get behind that. It’s not really a positive message. I don’t like it; I think it’s stupid, and, I mean, even as a general act, L.I.J. is just rinse, wash, and repeat… Sure, they’re talented. Sure, they’re great. Sure, they have a certain type of charisma, but they’re very, very local. And it’s not the worldwide image that I think New Japan is looking for. Sure, they’re assets. We can use them… They’re very niche, rather than… a group that has a huge outreach.
And as for my comments at the press conference, I’ve heard people overreact. You know, “Oh Kenny, you’re racist.” How so, exactly? And what’s funny about that is the general feedback from the Japanese community is, “Kenny, you’re right.” So it’s so strange that I’m hearing all these English-speaking people, people from foreign countries, tell me that I’m being a racist individual when all I’m doing is speaking the truth.
And in a way, those comments were sort of kayfabe, if you will. I mean, you don’t know how hard anyone’s working, but I do. And I see it every day. I see that every time I go to the gym. The gym is myself, Michael Elgin, Juice. It’s all the foreigners. You never see the Japanese talent at the gym, with the exception of a couple guys. And when you look at guys who are eating food and dieting, it’s always the foreigners trying harder. When you get guys that are thinking outside the box to create something new and exciting for the brand, most of the time it’s the foreigners because they’re hungrier. They want it, and the Japanese talent is mostly just waiting for their turn. And I’m not saying that this is a racial thing whatsoever. It just is what it is. And I couldn’t help but notice that the guys that are absolutely killing it right now are mostly foreign talent. Why is that? I want everyone to do well. I want New Japan as a whole to do well. I want our team to be the best team in all of professional wrestling. I don’t want to be a turn-waiter. I don’t want anyone to do that; I want everyone to want it. So according to why I said those comments, that’s why.
Kenny Omega on promoting New Japan as IWGP Heavyweight Champion: I don’t want it to be limited to strictly America. I would love for New Japan to have a presence in multiple countries. I will see to it, hopefully, that I can be the forerunner in bringing our brand to places all over the world that haven’t had the chance to see us live yet…
In terms of what I’d like to accomplish as champion, it’s a lot like [Chris Jericho branching out his brand.] E3 was the first big step, not only working and collaborating with WWE, but just having a presence there at something that wasn’t strictly wrestling related. That’s exactly what I’m looking to do. It’s not just carrying the belt out for every single house show and wrestling-related show that New Japan has to offer. I don’t think, as a champion, especially as a world champion, that that should be my first and foremost concern. We have such a deep and talented roster; I think the house shows will be fine with those guys. I think it’s my job to bring more eyes to the product, and with the skill set that I have, I do believe I’m well equipped to do not just what’s required in the ring, but outside of the ring as well….
Believe it or not, I think that the matches are really the easy part. Our talent pool is so good that having highly rated matches is not very difficult for me at this stage. It kind of comes naturally. I mean, yes, breaking the scale and doing six, seven star matches is very taxing both mentally and physically, but the wrestling element I really feel is only just the surface. I think that as wrestlers we have to show ourselves as kind of multi-layered. We have to show that we are more than just meat heads in the ring killing each other. That’s why I really want to have my voice heard in multiple forms, and be seen and heard in various types of media. My greatest hobby right now is video games, so I like to use that as a platform whenever I can…
Last month was the first time I’d ever done any sort of commercial work, but in one month we hammered out four commercials and they all went fantastically… I really think you’re going to see a lot more of the New Japan brand and my brand in various forms of media all over the world, hopefully, and I think that as a whole is going to grow our value. You’re going to hear a lot more of New Japan just based upon that. And not many of our guys, when they have a mic in front of their face or when they have a camera in front of their face, have the courage or have the confidence to perform. But I’m one of those guys that can. And I think it just brings eyes to watch us wrestle, which is our strong suit, of course. That’s what I’m going to do, and that’s what I’m going to prioritize because it’s one of my strong suits.
On what other talent he’d like to see work in New Japan: He’s already going to be coming into New Japan and doing a little bit of work, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Jeff Cobb does. I know that due to complications he wasn’t able to make a debut, but I feel that someone like Matt Riddle could have a very successful career in New Japan. He embodies sort of the new strong style that we are searching for in New Japan, that not really foreigners are using. So it’s sort of cool for him to be like the foreign Shibata or whatever you’re looking for in comparison.
On his upcoming G1 match with Kota Ibushi: I feel that every instance where I am placed in a big match scenario that I am set up to fail, or at least set up in many of my detractors’ eyes to fail. That was always the case with every Okada match. That was always the case when I main evented anywhere in America. That was the case when I was about to main event [with] Chris Jericho. That was a case where the pressure was really mostly on me. If I had a great match, well, that’s because of Chris Jericho. If I had a terrible match, well, that’s because I suck. You know what I mean? I’m always in that scenario. That’s what people always want to say about me, and I’ve gotten so used to it that I just trust in myself and my ability and the people that give me love and support on a daily basis or, you know, watch my matches and have positive things to say. I just try to keep a positive mind and attitude and really trust that this style that I’ve developed and this way of thinking that I’ve developed isn’t going to betray me, so I really feel that regardless if I’m beat up or injured at the end of the G1… I’ll still be able to bring something forward in that match with Kota Ibushi that will very much show the best of what we are at that point in time. Keep in mind it’s at the end of the G1 though, and both of us are going to be really beat up.
On the popularity of the Golden Lovers: I’m really proud of it… I can’t lie, that story was created for us, you know, for myself and Ibushi. The way that things work in Japan is if you’re not aligned with a person you can’t interact with them in public. You can’t interact with them in the arenas. Ibushi being someone very important to me in real life, we built to that for years and years and years, and it was never given the green light, so for it to finally culminate to that evening in February and then to actually hear such positive feedback and actually have the support from all the people of the Golden Lovers being a tag team and a new thing, it was really overwhelming because we hadn’t teamed in years, and when we did team, it was primarily in DDT. And a lot of the New Japan fans are very new to wrestling, so to see that kind of support for something that was brand new and people hadn’t seen yet, it really blew me away.
On the Golden Elite motto “Change the World”: We are lucky enough that as wrestlers we have a fanbase, we have people that follow our careers, we can become inspirations to our fans. And I think some of the time that we don’t fully realize the responsibility of that. I think we sort of only take a very wrestler-ish approach of how to deal with that responsibility of being an inspiration to people. When it comes to “change the world,” there’s sort of a surface layer to it, which is “change the wrestling world,” you know? Change the way that you see wrestling, the way that you watch wrestling, that you feel when you watch wrestling, and that’s sort of based around the style that I’ve developed… the deeper part of that is to change the world by means of how we as wrestlers act after the match, before the match, outside of the ring. Everyone in their own way is trying really hard these days to do the best that they can…
I think that our efforts shouldn’t stop in the ring, and we should really take our position in the world as potential inspirations for young people, old, people of all shapes, colors, sizes, walks of life, and just really put forward the message of positivity and just be the best person you can be, and display that through our actions where we can, and our words as well. And I guess by means of all that, I’m hoping that as pro wresters we’ll be able to have more of an avenue in the future to have our voices heard and to be seen…
On his upcoming match with Cody: The stakes are a lot higher [than the first match with Cody], with the belt on the line, but generally speaking the winner can pretty much claim ownership and leadership of the Bullet Club… You are safe to assume that because sort of the Japanese representation of Bullet Club are going to be in the house, there aren’t going to be any run-ins from the Cody side of things. We’re not going to see anything from Marty or Page, and if it happened you would imagine that would be stomped out immediately. So it’s going to be a battle of two men where the rightful winner will emerge as champion and as leader of the Bullet Club. So I think visually the match will be a lot different… It’s a battle of two alphas who can’t stand being second bananas, so just based on that alone you’re going to see both parties pulling all the stops because they can’t accept the L on this particular occasion.