Kenny Omega might’ve had the best 2016 of anyone in pro wrestling, except maybe the man he replaced as the head of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)’s Bullet Club stable. Since “ousting” AJ Styles, Kenny Omega’s become the first gaijin (non-Japanese) to win New Japan’s prestigious G1 Climax tournament, and next week will headline the biggest event on their calendar, the Jan. 4 Tokyo Dome show, Wrestle Kingdom 11.
As such, Omega is someone who’s undoubtedly on WWE’s radar. But in a great new interview with Uproxx, the man who will try to take the IWGP Heavyweight title from Kazuchika Okada next Wednesday spoke about the importance of having options - for wrestlers and fans. He seems intent on being one of those options, and helping NJPW be an alternative to what he sees as the latest efforts by Vince McMahon & company to corner the wrestling market:
It seems as though we’re headed towards a monopoly, if I were to speak honestly. WWE is hiring people just to hire them. That’s fine, and I’m happy for whoever’s happy to collect a paycheck from them. A lot of my good friends are now receiving work and receiving money. But sadly, a lot of those people are signing with WWE just to ride the pine. You can’t put all these guys on TV. On one end, you have these mom-and-pop indy superstars getting TV time, and people all around the world are able to see the art of what they do. And in a lot of cases, they’re enjoying it, which is fantastic. I’m really happy about that.
But as everyone gets picked up, as all these independent promotions have to shut down and close their doors because of WWE scooping everyone up, everyone’s going to lose an option. And that guy you saw for that one tournament, you’re not going to see him anymore. You can’t put him on TV, there’s only so much time. So eventually, people are going to run out of options.
WWE voices from Triple H to William Regal will tell you they’re not trying to shut anyone down. Trips was just talking about how the increased content for WWE Network is exposing more fans to more wrestlers, and Regal was adamant there have been no restrictions placed on the 16 men signed for the upcoming United Kingdom Championship Tournament.
And it’s hard to look at the FloSlam Wrestling line-up or our own ReverendKain’s independent wrestling coverage and say there’s much risk of WWE becoming the only game in town any time soon. Omega, and his stable mates the Young Bucks, are living proof you don’t have to sign a McMahon contract to succeed in the business.
But Vince & company are clearly trying to cut off competitors from becoming big enough to become a real threat to their dominance of the business, and stockpiling talent is one way to do that. It’s not just the famous McMahon ego, either; maintaining that advantage is something their stockholders expect from them in exchange for their investment.
Omega has called out one of WWE’s strategies, but I think he’s overstating the threat. In the short-term, WWE will remain synonymous with wrestling for most people. But his own bosses at NJPW think there are opportunities for a major player to emerge on the global wrestling scene, and Kenny will be front and center in their efforts to expand. He’s likely promoting himself as a front man for an “us versus them” marketing campaign as much as anything else.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Are we in danger of WWE becoming the only place to turn when you want to see some pro graps?