Leading Canadian sports network TSN recently premiered its eagerly anticipated documentary on former IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kenny Omega, entitled Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story. The documentary is part of TSN's award-winning Engraved On A Nation film series, which celebrates great Canadian sports figures.
Omega is in rarified air, joining the likes of Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey, first Canadian-born MLB MVP Larry Walker, and legendary Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve as subjects of the docuseries.
"I feel like the greatest love stories haven't always been guy gets girl, or girl gets guy, or guy gets guy, or girl gets girl, or what-have-you," Omega shared. "It is the feeling and realization of one being true to his or her own heart."
Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story is an aptly named film because it highlights Omega's love affair with professional wrestling as well as Omega's ambiguous on and off screen relationship with NJPW standout Kota Ibushi. Although the film is generally factual with respect to Omega's pro wrestling odyssey, it is nonetheless presented in kayfabe with Omega continuing to blur the lines between fantasy and reality.
The film opens with director Yung Chang discussing Omega's unique connection to the audience and the likes of Omega's mentors Don Callis and Chris Jericho talking up the 'Best Bout Machine' as being a revolutionary and this genre's version of Elvis Presley. Callis then set the stage saying that Omega's story is the unlikely scenario of a small-town Canadian kid standing at the apex of the professional wrestling industry and no one is talking about it.
Even though Omega doubted whether he would ever leave Canada to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, Omega did not toil in the Canadian indies for long before signing with WWE and entering the promotion's developmental system. According to Omega, WWE tried to break recruits down only to build them back up in WWE's image. Soon, Omega would realize he was not going to be successful in WWE.
Following Omega's WWE departure, he seemed to have lost some of his passion for professional wrestling. A match in Omega's hometown of Winnipeg, Canada against pro wrestling veteran and former indie darling AJ Styles seemed to reinvigorate Omega.
"Hell, you've done two things right, Kenny," Styles said after the bout. "Obviously, you stuck one on me, that's one. And two, is quitting that crap of a promotion called WWE, and to have one of the best matches of my career."
The documentary then delves into Omega's interest in Japanese culture and the Japanese style of professional wrestling. Omega would catch on with the DDT promotion in Japan where his creativity was allowed to flourish and he was free to push the envelope.
Enter Kota Ibushi.
Omega admired Ibushi from afar and believed that the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion shared the same philosophies about professional wrestling.
"For over 20 years, we grew up in totally different cultures, totally different places, totally different environments, and yet there is one brain for two people," Ibushi said.
The two would share an epic match and the idea to team would come soon thereafter.
"There's a beauty to us being in sync with each other," Omega explained. "When I stand side-by-side with Ibushi, it's the exact same height that we jump, exact same spin speed, the exact same timing. The image, visually, appears very similar. And upon discovering that, we thought, 'the sky's the limit.'"
From there, the documentary would explore the Golden Lovers storyline. The film very much mirrors the pro wrestling story with the audience never being let in on the true nature of Omega's relationship with Ibushi. While fans and critics called the Golden Lovers storyline a success for an industry wrought with homophobia, Lance Smith, Omega's father, indicated that it is possible for men to love each other without being a gay couple.
"it's about a relationship they have where he can come out and say I love him," Smith said. "And [Omega] has, if you read in between the lines, he's not coming out with what their relationship actually is. What's wrong with another guy saying, 'because we're so close, I love him'?"
According to Omega, he and Ibushi grew apart as 'The Golden Star''s star would rise and Omega would make his way to NJPW. The two would reconnect when Ibushi would return to NJPW for the G1 Climax.
"I made a story that I was challenging Ibushi in the finals of the G1," Omega said. "I kind of told the story of me versus Ibushi all for the hope that by at least making him a rival, that we could work together again."
At The New Beginning at Sapporo 2018, Ibushi memorably saved Omega from a Bullet Club beat down. The Golden Lovers embraced in the ring and the tears that flowed were real.
"I remember we were both in the ring and we were crying for real." Omega added, "The actual overcoming of emotion, was due to the fact that kayfabe had been so protected in Japan, but I do think it helped bring the point home that it was something that meant a lot to both of us."
With Ibushi by Omega's side, 'The Cleaner' was ready to take on Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
"The fact that Kenny was unsuccessful against Okada when he was in an estranged situation with Ibushi," Callis said, "that fed a great narrative that once they got back on track together as a team, that all-of-a-sudden, Kenny's qi was in alignment."
The film closes with a look at ALL IN and the formation of AEW. Omega talks about his future goals and what he would like his legacy to be.
"I chose a path through the Japanese indies and it took 10 years to do it, but it's a style that could be considered beautiful and a style that could catch on to all different types of fans with all different types of walks of life." Omega continued, "and the person I started that journey with me 10 years ago is still with me today and we're trying to change the [pro] wrestling world together."
If you were hoping for a documentary like Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, where two-time WWE Hall Of Famer Bret Hart was chronicled by a film crew in his final days with WWE before leaving for WCW in 1997, you will be disappointed by Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story to the extent that there is little behind-the-scenes footage of Omega's NJPW exit. Moreover, there is no mention in the film of Omega's loss to Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
As alluded to above, the only real talk of Omega's legendary trilogy against Okada is through the funnel of the Golden Lovers reunion and how that helped Omega pick up the victory in the final match of the series. Any fulsome account of Omega's professional wrestling career absolutely must include discussion of these important matches; however, such discourse may be outside the scope of this film.
All in all, this a strong film and an excellent introduction to Kenny Omega for new or casual fans. The Golden Lovers storyline is a unique and revolutionary storyline, not just in its serious depiction of a relationship that would have been treated as comedy in other promotions, but also in the fact that the story has transcended any single promotion and will continue to travel with the performers who made it. Now, the Golden Lovers story has even transcended genres with Omega bringing a kayfabe presentation to a documentary film that greatly reflects his passion, meticulous attention to detail, and creativity.
If you use any of the quotations from this article, please credit Omega Man: A Wrestling Love Story with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.