Kenny Omega Explains The IWGP Championship Scene And Why Tetsuya Naito Isn’t An International Star


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…