Since helping Kenny Omega capture the AEW World Championship, Don Callis has been a pivotal piece of weekly wrestling television.
As an executive vice president and occasional commentator for Impact Wrestling, ‘The Invisible Hand’ has played a crucial role in developing AEW’s working relationship with the former TNA.
Speaking with Chris Van Vliet Callis says his and Kenny’s mindsets are similar in that they don’t view the wrestling industry as a traditional business.
“I think Kenny and I have been unique in the business in the sense that we don’t tend to look at the business through the lens of corporate structure or the traditional old carny rules of pro wrestling,” Callis said. “To me, Impact, AEW, they’re just people. Kenny Omega is a God among insects. Comparing Kenny Omega to anyone else in the wrestling business is frankly ridiculous. So, we’re just different and whether we were playing this out in pro wrestling or some other industrial platform, I don’t think it wouldn’t really matter. Frankly, we’d still be successful in what we’re trying to do.”
Before assuming his executive role with Impact and joining AEW as Omega’s manager, Callis worked with New Japan Pro Wrestling as a commentator. Callis recalled his time with NJPW, noting that while many saw him as a strong announcer, he had no interest in remaining in the broadcast booth.
“People thought that I got back into the business to be a color commentator with New Japan,” Callis said. “They thought that was a great story. ‘Oh look, he’s been under the business for a long time’. New Japan was the hot promotion back then. As you recall, everyone talked about it. I had never watched the product. For all I knew, Antonio Inoki was still the champion.
“I had not paid any attention. Didn’t know any of the names, any of the talent. Within two months, many people thought I was the top color commentator in wrestling. People thought I was very happy about that. I really didn’t care. I didn’t get back in the business to be a commentator on a wrestling show. It was, ‘Okay, this is a company that’s growing exponentially internationally. I need to look after Kenny’s interest and if it fits the overall plan. So, what we had with New Japan was the correct platform. What we needed was a plan to execute.”
That plan began at Wrestle Kingdom 12, when Callis orchestrated the very match that Tony Khan said inspired the creation of AEW.
“So, I called my best friend in the wrestling business of 30 years, Chris Jericho, and asked him if he would break every rule he had about never working anywhere other than for Vince McMahon. I asked him if he would break that rule to wrestle someone who was my family,” Callis said. “Yes, I pitted my best friend against a family member, if you want to call it that. Thinking way outside the box and then, being able to convince Chris of that and to be able to work to facilitate that match. What we had was the correct platform, which was the Tokyo Dome. Then, we got to show people things can change and look at what just happened. New Japan Pro Wrestling made millions of dollars off that match.
“You will never hear a thank you or an acknowledgment of what I did for them and people say, ‘You must be upset.’ I say, ‘I’m not upset at all because I didn’t do it for them. I did it for Kenny and I helped Chris as well and for everyone in the wrestling business, who got raises. Because of AEW, because of Chris Jericho going to AEW.’
“Chris Jericho probably becomes a bigger rock star than he already is. The reality is I think the thank you’s are actually owed to Kenny and me by the universe that follows pro wrestling. Not by a particular company that made money. That’s small thinking.”
While Omega and Callis have only recently began their on-screen partnership, the duo have known each other for just about as long as The Cleaner has been alive. Callis detailed his first experience meeting Omega, saying he knew from the jump that the young Kenny wanted to be a pro wrestler.
“Kenny’s uncle was a guy named The Golden Sheik. He was a wrestler in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was my trainer,” Callis said. “After he had trained me, he was my manager and he introduced me to his nephew, who was a cute little 10-year-old kid. The nephew kind of attached himself to us. He followed us around and wanted to be a wrestler.
“The Sheik looked after me very much in a way that is not typical in the wrestling business. I tried to mentor Kenny in various areas of his life, including his pro wrestling career. I’ve been there for him and he’s been there for me ever since after The Sheik died in ’07. Really, what we had was each other.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Chris Van Vliet with an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.