AEW World Champion Kenny Omega was announced as the number one wrestler on the PWI 500 list. Omega recently sat down with PWI Editor-in-Chief Kevin McElvaney on the PWI Podcast to discuss being ranked number one on the PWI 500 for the second time. Omega recalled his reaction to being ranked number one the first time in 2018.
“It’s night and day and/or apples and oranges. To find out that I was ranked number one the first time, it really caught me off guard because, forgive me for sounding perhaps a little out of hand, I didn’t think that someone from New Japan, especially a foreigner from New Japan at that time, and someone like me could ever reach number one status,” Omega admitted. “I’d always thought that the biggest stars in the planet were the guys from WWE, and they were the ones that would be recognized, of course, in a magazine that was primarily read by North American viewers.
“To hear and to see that not only was my work in Japan being recognized but being recognized at such a large scale, it was an incredible feeling. And of course, I felt it in on social media, and I had felt it in the very few times that I was able to perform in the United States, or in the UK, or in Canada. Fans would go up to me and they would tell me that they’ve seen my New Japan performances, but then to see that it had reached a point where people would say and and feel comfortable saying that I was PWI number one? Wow, it left me feeling very shocked and very humbled.”
Omega continued as he reflected on his NJPW run. He explained why 2018 was “strongest in-ring year of my career.”
“I’m, to this day, just incredibly appreciative to have accomplished so much with that company, with such an incredible cast of talent and crews,” Omega said. “As much as I’ve really tried to step up my game while I was there and be the best player that I could be for that company, I certainly had every tool that I could possibly have to work with to make that happen. And in that year, which I still feel is probably one of my strongest in-ring years of my career, it probably was the strongest in-ring year of my career.
“I was able to stay healthy, which is the hardest part actually, staying healthy for that full year but also push your limit and push past your limit because there’s so many wrestlers all around the world performing at such a high level that as soon as you ease up, someone’s already waiting to surpass you. And for me to have the luck, to have such a succession of high stakes matches in that company with all the greatest performers that the company has to offer. Not only domestically in New Japan, but some of the best foreign athletes as well. I was extremely lucky.
“And as much as you could say that I was number one that year, I definitely feel like I share that honor with each and every one of my opponents that I wrestled with that year, because if it weren’t for [Kazuchika] Okada, if it weren’t for [Tomohiro] Ishii, if it weren’t for [Tetsuya] Naito, if it weren’t for [Kota] Ibushi, if it weren’t for [Hiroshi] Tanahashi, all those guys that I worked with that were able to bring the best out of me – and maybe I was able to bring the best out of them too – then there was no way for me to appear to be number one.”
Omega then reflected on this past year. He talked about the new challenges he had to face in his career, and he talked about the drive he has for every match he has.
“Now fast forwarding the clock and we’re at current day, it’s a whole new cast of characters and the name of the game has changed. The rules of the game have changed,” Omega pointed out. “Now it’s American television wrestling, and to me, I wasn’t able to play to my strengths at all this year. And so, that’s what made it the biggest challenge for me in my entire career. I always wanted to, of course, try my best. I’m always trying to learn. I’m always trying to challenge myself and become the best. I’m very competitive in nature, but also, I don’t like to say that I’m the best.
“I’m able to accept if I’m not, and I’d rather someone else be. But when people bestow this name upon me, or they have this expectation of me, I never want to let people down. If I’m put in a position where I’m a champion, or I’m in a main event, or people need a certain kind of match out of me that maybe I’m not comfortable with or don’t have much experience with, I’m still gonna push myself to do the best I can be because there are a lot of fans watching in that arena or around the world that have paid good money. Or even more so than money, they’re giving up their valuable time expecting a main event level performance.”
Omega spoke on the many different kinds of matches he had this past year. He noted how different the landscape of wrestling was for him.
“And again, I just feel so lucky that throughout this year, I’ve had a number of fantastic opponents that come from all corners of the globe. And, in some of these cases, there are people that I’m not even really that familiar with,” Omega noted. “And in a lot of these cases, too, I’m working with restrictions of time, having to work with commercials, having to work with hard TV times, working within the COVID era where we’re wrestling in front of no fans.
“I’m very much used to wrestling very sort of long and physical, one-on-one matches, and some of these matches aren’t going to be your one vs. one, conventional singles matches. They’re going to be, perhaps, a Lights Out match, or it’s going to be an exploding barbed wire deathmatch. Or maybe I’m wrestling in Mexico and it’s going to be in a six-sided ring featuring luchador rules. Or maybe I’m in a tag match, for example.
“The whole landscape was so different this year for me, and it could have blown up in my face real bad. All I tried to do was do the best that I could with what I had in front of me, and again, much like how it was in New Japan, we have a great collection of talent here in AEW, a great collection of talent in Impact that needs more recognition, and also a lot of talent in AAA that some people don’t know about.
“And I’m glad they kind of know a little bit about them because of you Fenix and Penta, but again, they’re wonderful professional wrestling talents all around the world and I was able to mix it up with them and do what I can do best, but also challenge myself in ways that I haven’t been challenged before. And again, whether it be due to preparation or just being in the right mindset or creatively being on point, things worked out.”
Omega looked back on his 2018 and noted how it was different to this past year. He also explained why he didn’t “run away” with the number one ranking.
“For me, as difficult as it was to reach the number one spot in 2018, I played to my strengths completely in that year,” Omega said. “All of those matches, those were in my wheelhouse. That’s what I do best. I do New Japan style main event matches best. That’s easy for me. Physically demanding, taxing, yeah. Grueling, yes, but if I were to choose one style that I truly excel at, it was that, and in this year, I really stepped outside of my box.
“I’ve really stepped outside of my own comfort zone, and not only that, but everyone else stepped up their game too. It’s fantastic that I don’t feel like, no matter how I look at it, I didn’t run away with it. I don’t think I was number one by far. I think the best part about this year, especially, is you could have went in multiple directions and no one would be disappointed. I feel that, up until his unfortunate injury, number one could have been Will Ospreay. Number one could have easily been Shingo Takagi. Number one could have easily been Roman Reigns.
“Everyone had such a strong year. So I feel, depending on who you are and what you like in professional wrestling, you know, maybe that’s your number one. But I’m not gonna lie, for you guys to select me as number one, I’m happy with it. I’m cool with it, but it was a tough one this year and tough one, great learning experience, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Omega was later asked if his story with Kota Ibushi is over. The last time Omega and Ibushi tagged together was back in Dec. 2018 against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Will Ospreay, and the last time Omega and Ibushi faced off in a match was in Oct. 2018 in a three-way watch that also featured Cody Rhodes.
“I doubt it. I doubt it,” Omega stated. “If I were a betting man, I would say it’s safe to say that — when real life is involved, when it’s more than just the wrestling in the ring, and now, as time goes by, promotions and fans are listening more and responding more to what they want to see in professional wrestling. We talk about ‘the forbidden door’ or this concept that if you wrestle for one promotion, there’s no way you could intermingle with another.
“Slowly but surely, those borders are disintegrating. They’re evaporating. We’ve seen Impact talent on AEW. We’ve seen New Japan talent in AEW. We’ve seen our talent go elsewhere as well, and who knows where the future lies? There may be more special guests and surprises in the future, and for me, I am a storyteller. Way more than I like professionally wrestling, I enjoy telling stories, physical stories in the ring, and for me, I love stories that have an ending.
“I love stories that have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I have a lot of stories that have yet to have a final chapter. That story is yet to close, and I would love, with however long on my health allows me to, I would love for that book to have its final chapter written. And that goes not only for that but for quite a few other stories in my career as well.
“I would love to be able to close the book and just, sort of, at the end of it, all look back and be proud that these stories that I pictured in my wacky little brain. They had a beginning, a middle and an end and that I was able to close that book happily. And for someone who as influential as Ibushi was to my career inside and outside of it, I feel that it would just be an injustice to for it to die. So who knows?”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit PWI Podcast with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.