When the formation of AEW was announced nearly two years ago, one of the things that had a large portion of wrestling fans most excited was the idea of Kenny Omega “coming home.” Not home home, as we’re not all moving to Manitoba, but back to North American shores full-time. Omega had wrestled sporadically with Ring of Honor in between New Japan commitments, but this was going to be his full unveiling, in a sense. He would no longer be only a creature of the night, whose matches took place in the wee hours of the morning or on tape delay. He would be live for everyone to see.
For the previous few years, Omega had been something of a mythical being to wrestling fans. He was the ultimate cult band. Sticking with the Canadian theme, he was Rush. You had to work to find his matches, he was breathlessly worshiped on Reddit or comments sections. You heard more about him than you could actually see him.
Omega was, and could still be, the best wrestler in the world. Even though his four-match saga with Kazuchika Okada all took place in the dead of night in Japan, accessible to those on these shores only by an app and a lot of caffeine, the buzz from them matched that of any storyline in WWE. Fans across the globe shared feeds of it or talked about it in hushed tones the same way people did when they first saw Reservoir Dogs. They simply defined the medium and changed it in ways forever. They were that good. Whenever Omega took to the ring, it was an event, and the very real possibility you would see something you’d remember forever. Omega’s athleticism, mastery of multiple styles, and sense of story is simply unmatched anywhere.
Omega was, and might still be, capable of more than just the epic tale. He has wrestled a match with a 9-year-old girl. He had a tag team with Kota Ibushi, that although never explicitly stated, was the most prominent kayfabe-gay tag team in wrestling history.
Adding to Omega’s charm and following was that he seemed a champion of the truly weird. He’s a huge videogame dork, and a true Malorkus all-around. As evidenced by his partnership and story with Ibushi, he has strived to make wrestling all-welcoming for everyone. Quite simply, Omega represented all of what people who love wrestling outside of WWE love it for. The different styles of storytelling, performing, personas, and inclusiveness. He is the independent scene crashing the mainstream party, all in one.
With the formation of AEW, it felt like Omega was going to bring all this to American television on a week-in, week-out basis and truly demonstrate what the industry could be when not in the deathgrip of Vince McMahon.
It didn’t work out like that. While Cody Rhodes has had no problem being in the boardroom of the company and then front and center of the television show every week (with varying levels of success), it was clear that other executives Omega and The Young Bucks were a little more hesitant to vault themselves to the top of the card immediately. The very first AEW Dynamite on TNT saw the Bucks lose to Private Party in the first round of a tournament to crown the company’s first tag-team champs. Omega, by the time AEW got onto TNT, had already receded into the background of the main event scene, having lost to Chris Jericho for a chance to become the first AEW champion the previous May. Omega would go on to a program with the newly arriving Jon Moxley, and then team up with Adam Page for a run in the tag division.
While Omega’s and Page’s run as tag-team champs saw them put on the match of the year with the Bucks in February, and then perhaps the most memorable match of all time in the Stadium Stampede in May, fans kept wondering when they would get to see the Omega who was revered and worshipped in Japan.
It appears that time is now. Omega has split from Page, and this past weekend on AEW’s last PPV of the year “Full Gear,” he won the tournament to choose Moxley’s next challenger. He defeated Page in what was arguably the match of the night, after previously besting Penta El Zero M in another high-quality match the previous week.
A second Omega-Moxley match already has fans salivating. The question is: Can Omega bring the kind of quality epics that he routinely churned out in Japan to a weekly show here? NJPW doesn’t have a weekly TV show, and Omega could save his best work for PPVs 6-8 times a year. He clearly can’t wrestle 35-minute classics every week, or every two weeks. And yet he needs to be a presence.
Secondly, AEW probably wanted to wait until it could be in front of live crowds again before unleashing the full Omega experience. That doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon. Does the full Kenny Omega performance work in front of no or partial audiences?
One of the things that AEW hasn’t created yet is a true, must-see rivalry. It has had a bevy of great matches and PPVs, but both Jericho and Moxley have seen a variety of challengers without anyone really wanting to see them run it back again. In the company’s first year, it made sense to highlight a bunch of wrestlers that the mainstream wasn’t as familiar with.
But Omega-Moxley, or even the Omega-Page one that has already started, those are ones AEW could run multiple times and get people talking. It would be another separation from WWE, which takes any good rivalry it has and runs them into the ground within weeks. As good as he is, Omega still needed Okada to really vault to the top of everyone’s mind. Hogan needed Andre. Shawn needed Bret. Sting needed everybody.
Omega is the one who can take AEW to the next step, to give it a story that makes casual fans notice instead of just performers. It looks like, finally, they’re going to let him.