Recently, NJPW star Kenny Omega had an interview with Sports Illustrated's Justin Barrasso, as a lead-up to his amazing match with Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11. During the interview, Omega detailed his problems with what he perceives as WWE's attempt to create a wrestling monopoly and why he does not believe that is right. You can read the statement uninterrupted here for context, but I wanted to break down the statement into a few key parts and see if that will make it a little easier to understand.
Let's start with a big chunk of the first paragraph:
That's not to say everything is bad, but a lot of wrestlers in a position on television—or guys thrust into a main spot—shouldn't be...
There is a place for everyone, but if you are in a main position with a main company, you have to make those sacrifices to show people you are the man.
This statement seems to be a pretty clear shot at the main event scene of Monday Night RAW, most specifically at Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens. Being in the position that he's in, Omega is likely just as mystified as the rest of us as to why Reigns continues to be the main event of RAW television shows and RAW pay-per-views, all while audiences are largely booing his character and his booking. Additionally, Omega can probably tell that Owens has not been performing at the level that almost everyone knows he could be, and is wondering why Owens hasn't been performing at the level that he could (and should) be.
I have no problem with Omega taking shots at Reigns, since it's clear that he's not wanted in the main event right now and that his booking is doing more harm than good for RAW. However, I think Omega should take a look in the mirror when it comes to his jabs at Owens. Omega, like many other current and former NJPW main eventers and upper-mid-carders, has a tendency to phone matches in when he's not in a major spotlight like Wrestle Kingdom or the G1 Climax. The man is certainly a highly talented wrestler, but he doesn't put that talent on full display unless he deems it worth his while. And while it may not be as bad as Owens' constant reaching for cheap pops and doing five-minute rest holds, Omega's work on the more menial shows could still use improvement. If he ever wants to be considered the ace of NJPW, he'll need to show that he's willing to work hard to get that, and that kind of improvement is the first step on that road.
Omega's next statement is a bit of a head-scratcher, but I kind of see his point:
I know there is a lot of younger talent floating around their roster—I'm wondering, "Why in the hell are these guys not rising up? Why are they not doing what it takes to be better? Are they so happy to be a cog in the WWE machine that they're just happy to be where they are? Are they just satisfied to see WWE as the name on their paycheck every week?"
I'm curious to know who Kenny is thinking of when he refers to "younger talent", because that makes a big difference in terms of the intent of his words. My assumption is that he's talking about guys like Apollo Crews and Kalisto, who were brought in from the independent circuit with all the potential in the world, but have floundered in the mid-card since they arrived. If that is the case, I don't think Omega has the complete picture. I'm certain those mid-card guys would tell Omega they are putting on the best matches they possibly can with the time limits they are given, but the material they are forced to use for molding a character is not connecting with audiences, preventing them from really pushing to the next level. Yes, some of that is on the performers themselves, but what can you expect these guys to do when they're being told things like "Be the second coming of Rey Mysterio" or "Smile a lot at the crowd after you do any of your really impressive moves"? Workrate will only get people so far in WWE -- if that were any different, John Cena never would have been a 15-time world champion and AJ Styles would have been signed as a main event player a decade ago.
This is where I think it's important to note the distinct differences between WWE and NJPW, and really between American and Japanese wrestling as a whole. Omega is making a lot of comparisons on a one-to-one basis, but that's not how things actually stack up. Compare Wrestle Kingdom 11 to WWE's most recent PPV, Roadblock: End of the Line, for starters. At Roadblock, how many in-ring promos and backstage segments were there during the show proper that were designed to build characters and stories? A half-dozen? A dozen? Maybe even more? Meanwhile, there was only one such segment at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and it took place at the very end of the show. Top that all off with the fact that Roadblock was a four-hour show and Wrestle Kingdom 11 lasted nearly six hours, and you get a small picture of the disparity between WWE and NJPW with regards to the importance of talking and character building versus actual in-ring performance.
Finally, let's look at Omega's summary closing statement and just how misguided it is:
And yes, I'm saying controversial things, but I'm not purposely saying them just to be controversial. I'm just one of the only guys to be speaking my true feelings.
My belief has been and will remain that WWE is not an environment that tolerates workers stepping off the company line. I'm certain that most of their performers not named John Cena are micro-managed and scripted into oblivion, both during performances and during public appearances (obviously there are some exceptions, but the majority of the roster is likely in this position). It's even to the point that WWE has people in charge of their wrestlers' social media accounts. Given this, how likely do you think they are to be okay with any of their wrestlers -- much less a main event player -- going to the media and saying the way things are run in the company is problematic? If Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, or Sami Zayn ever went to the media and said that they were dissatisfied with their booking, their character, or the style of wrestling they were forced to execute, how quickly do you think they'd be shunted out of their spot and either fired or severely penalized? It may not be ethical or reasonable for WWE to do that, but that's never stopped them before. With a roster of at least 70 performers, it's not as if they have any shortage of talent to take the place of a malcontent who is being shuffled down the card or even let go permanently. Omega may be one of the only guys speaking his mind, but a big part of that is likely because he's one of the only people that's free to speak his mind.
Kenny Omega's motivations may be in the right place, but his statements could stand to be either reworded or tempered with some self-awareness. Yes, he is one of the best in the world as an all-around package, but that does not mean he can't be wrong. And a lot of what he's said here is either wrong or incomplete.