If you asked a wrestling fan who they think of when you mention All Elite Wrestling, one of the most common responses is going to be Kenny Omega.
The former AEW and IWGP heavyweight champion is, arguably, one of the most popular wrestlers in the world, and he managed to get to that point without ever appearing on WWE television.
As one of the founders and figureheads of AEW, Omega wears many hats. He is heavily involved behind the scenes, but his main focus remains on being The Best Bout Machine and adding to his already impressive legacy in the ring.
AEW is preparing for its annual Full Gear pay-per-view on Saturday when the 40-year-old will team with Chris Jericho to take on two of his closest friends, Nick and Matt Jackson.
We had a chance to speak with Omega about working with Jericho, facing The Young Bucks, MJF as the world champion, what Will Ospreay brings out of him and much more.
The Physical Toll of Pro Wrestling
Omega's memorable matches over the years have earned him the nickname Best Bout Machine, but performing at a high level is always going to take its toll on the body.
From the end of 2021 through August 2022, Omega was on a hiatus to deal with a handful of injuries he had accrued over the years, including surgeries on his knee and for a hernia.
Since returning, the former world champion has continued to add to his list of Match of the Year candidates, but he is feeling the miles on his body these days.
"I'm getting to the age where I'll feel great and then I'll spontaneously slip and fall on a banana peel and then the next thing you know I've got a broken hip," Omega said. "I'm starting to get brittle like that.
"You can feel great one day and then the next day it's like, 'Wow, I don't know if I can do anything physical.' When you get to around that time, you just go day-by-day and you try to commit as best you can to injury prevention and injury management."
Omega also said he is feeling good these days and doesn't foresee needing to take any time off for anything, but he is still diligent in ensuring he remains uninjured and keeps up with his training.
The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho
Omega and The Young Bucks have a storied history going back many years. Even if you have only been watching them since the formation of AEW, you know how tight-knit The Elite is.
Somehow, though, these close friends keep ending up across the ring from one another. Omega has teamed up with the likes of Adam Page and Kota Ibushi to battle the Jackson brothers before, but he will be fighting alongside Chris Jericho at Full Gear.
For Omega, finding himself across the ring from his friends is rarely about animosity and more about their desire to be the best.
"I find that anytime I get mixed up in a tag team, somewhere down the line I end up fighting The Young Bucks," he said. "Sometimes there are the deepest of meanings and other times it's just 'Hey, let's find out who's better.' I guess it's the spirit of competition.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: I want to prove myself as one of the best in-ring performers of our time and that can't just be limited to singles matches. I want to be a jack of all trades."
Teaming with Jericho comes after years of being adversaries in both New Japan Pro-Wrestling and AEW, but The Demo God has been discussing the idea of being a tag team since before AEW was even in existence.
"That was Chris," Omega said of the Golden Jets name. "He's been kind of joking around about that name for quite a while. It's got a little bit of a ring to it, and here we are, years and years and years later, and it's actually become a thing."
The Evolution of AEW
AEW is nearing its five-year anniversary in January. In that time, the company has grown and changed in many ways. It went from one weekly two-hour show to having three AEW-branded shows and a streaming Ring of Honor program acting as a developmental system.
Omega spoke about the changes he has witnessed in the promotion and how it has evolved since its inception.
"Everything changes and it's hard to really predict with 100 percent accuracy how something is going to end up," he said. "There was a lot of new promotion energy back then. There was a lot of excitement, and people were willing to give us the benefit of the doubt and give us a shot.
"We had a locker room and a team of real go-getters. Every week was something new, something exciting. We were just trying to get our footing. Now we have a much larger roster, and we have a lot of our bases covered."
As one of the founders and EVPs of AEW, Omega has been there through every change the company has made. While it may look a little different than it did at launch, he is still focused on the original goal of giving the fans an enjoyable product.
"Is it different now than it was on day one? Absolutely it's different," he said. "Do I still feel that I have an identity within this company? Yeah, it's still AEW. From 2019 until now, every single year has been completely different from one another. I didn't even realize it until you asked me the question just now how different year one was from year two and year three.
"It's all about making the fans happy. You strip back everything from the original mission statement, it was really all about making fans happy. At the end of the day, if the fans are happy with the product, if the networks are happy, if everyone is happy who consumes our product, then I'm happy too."
MJF as World Champion
Omega has been one of the top stars in AEW for its entire existence, but he knows there are a lot of hungry young stars looking to take his place. One such name is the current AEW world champion, Maxwell Jacob Friedman.
Surprisingly, the two men had never been in a match together until they stepped into the ring on the October 28 episode of Collision to fight for the World Heavyweight Championship.
"Our career trajectories were a lot different," Omega said. "I sort of thought with the path that he was taking and the path that I was on as well, there was really no chance for us to ever meet in a ring. It just happened that we were able to find a way to make it work out.
"The next thing I knew, I was being told that this was a possibility in the very near future and I thought 'Why the frick not?' He has the task and the responsibility of being the champion, and I understand that it's a daunting task. It's not easy to be in the position to be expected to carry a company."
As a former world champion himself, The Cleaner knows all about the responsibility and pressure MJF is dealing with to be the face of the company.
"It's never been fair," Omega said. "Trust me when I say it's not one person who ever makes a promotion, especially in the year 2023. I don't think any promotion has built its entire existence off the back of one performer. Some of those old tropes of who has the belt, that's the person who needs to shoulder the responsibility.
"It's definitely unfair if numbers are down, and if numbers are up, he certainly deserves some of the credit. I think he's done a great job with that responsibility, and he hasn't let the critics get to him. He has done his best to be on a rapid path of growth to being the kind of leader that the promotion needs him to be.
"I was able to wrestle with him firsthand in the ring, and it was an enjoyable experience. He's really good. I'm still blown away that I can have matches that fans enjoy and appreciate. Of course, I didn't come out as champ on that particular occasion, but I think we've got a great champion in MJF, so all is well in my book."
The AEW PPV Schedule
When AEW initially launched, the company had four main pay-per-views: All Out, Full Gear, Double or Nothing and Revolution. For the first couple of years, they were the four core events.
Over the past couple of years, we have seen All In, WrestleDream and Forbidden Door added to the schedule, with the upcoming Worlds End set to join the lineup on December 30.
When asked about the ideal number of PPVs, Omega said AEW's strategy has always been to listen to the demand from the audience.
"I'm a believer of, not necessarily less is more, but I just really think that everything needs time in the oven to be baked right," he said. "When there is something that is tagged as a big show, I think the feeling that goes with a big show should be one of excitement. It should be an event that you set aside time for.
"If we can recreate that feeling, then let's do it every week. We have wrestlers on our roster who could wrestle 365 days a year, and they want to because they love this business. Does that mean that we should wrestle every day of the year? Absolutely not. I don't think so. That is sort of the same feeling I have toward PPVs.
"I think they should feel special. I think that when you're building toward a PPV, there should be enough time to build stories and emotions to a fever pitch. You are either going to be satisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the outcome, but you're going to want to watch the show the week after on Dynamite.
"I really do think when it comes to big-match PPVs for in-ring quality, I think AEW still has the best product on the planet. What's the magic number for PPVs? I don't know, but I think it's best to baby-crawl up than to just toss out a ridiculously high number and have people burned out from the get-go.
"It's not just about having oodles of content. It's about having oodles of satisfied fans."
Omega has faced a lot of big names in this business, but one of the people fans are always the most excited to see him wrestle is Will Ospreay.
Their first encounter took place at a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla show in 2015 when Ospreay was just 22 years old. In the eight years since then, their paths have crossed dozens of times. They have done battle in numerous tag team matches, but it's their singles bouts that always get the most attention.
This year saw them square off at Wrestle Kingdom 17 in January and again at Forbidden Door in June. Omega scored the victory in their first match to win the IWGP United States Championship, but Ospreay got it back in the rematch six months later.
Both bouts have been lauded as some of the best work the two have done. We asked Omega what it is about Ospreay that brings out the best in him.
"Will is Will," he said. "He is one of the rare individuals in wrestling who has not only incredible natural athletic ability, but he also has a very natural ability to pick up the art of professional wrestling.
"There are some people who can naturally tumble or flip. There are some people who can naturally take bumps without getting injured. And there are some people who can naturally do a lot of moves and make them look good right from the get-go.
"There are not many people, and we're talking very freaking rare, but there are not many people who have the instinct in a ring to know how to carry yourself between all that stuff. Will is just one of those guys.
"So, when I have a chance to wrestle with a guy like Will at my age, and I'm able to do it in a promotion that holds a special place in my heart, and I feel how passionate he is and how hungry he is, it's moments like that and people like that who awaken something that is half-dead or dormant inside me.
"It kind of leads to this magic state where suddenly, I can bring that old guy back a bit. The old Kenny Omega. The guy who made the run from 2016 to 2018. I feel like some of the injuries and some of the pain disappear. I feel a type of mental clarity where I am just in sync with professional wrestling.
"Will is one of those guys who can unlock that ability in me right now. As years go by, it gets harder and harder to get to that place because your body doesn't want to allow you to. Someone like Will, who is on the cusp of taking a big step and becoming a power player in the industry, I want to test myself against this guy and give him my best."
For the past couple of years, whenever Omega has been on AEW television, Don Callis is never far away. For a long time, they were allies, but a betrayal by Callis on the May 10 episode of Dynamite turned them into bitter enemies.
Since then, the 60-year-old has been amassing a stable of talent that now includes Konosuke Takeshita, Sammy Guevara, Powerhouse Hobbs and Kyle Fletcher. Their main goal has been to make life hell for Omega and his Elite allies.
When asked what kind of person Callis is behind the scenes, Omega said he is not much different from the man we see on TV.
"He's pretty much the guy on camera," he said. "He's the same guy but his one redeeming quality is that he's an animal lover like I am. I think that is why I was able to put up with him as long as I have.
"A lot of friends that I made in the wrestling business when I was coming up in Winnipeg ended up being students of his. So, I had grown up and made real relationships with people over the years and they always had stories about how Don is as a trainer and a person."
Omega also spoke about how the two of them didn't start working together until much later despite knowing a lot of the same people.
"My development in wrestling wasn't standard fare," he said. "I could easily say I wasn't trained the right way in the beginning. That's neither here nor there. As I got started, I would run into people who had trained elsewhere and people who had trained under Don. That was during the time when I knew that he had a relationship with my uncle [Larry "The Golden Sheik" Dubesky] when he was an active wrestler.
"It's strange that there's all this history and these connections between Don and I and we never really got in touch or started to do any work together until late into my career in New Japan."
We always end our AEW interviews with a movie review to give wrestlers a chance to talk about something other than wrestling.
When asked what he wanted to talk about, Omega chose the most recent entry in the Saw franchise.
"I'm a big fan of the [Saw] franchise," he said. "I'm a big fan of horror movies in general. To me, it was a great return to form. For a lot of people, it was kind of like overexposure to the traditional Saw playbook. A lot of people felt desensitized to it because they started to come out every single year. Then they gave it a bit of a break and here we are back again and Tobin Bell is back again as the voice of Jigsaw, which to me is kind of a big thing.
"Everyone wants to hear the music and everyone wants to hear the voice. To have Jigsaw come back for another film, without any spoilers, it's hard to identify with him as a bad guy in this film. For a standalone movie that follows the traditional Saw formula to a T, it's enjoyable. You feel for the protagonists and you absolutely hate the villain in the movie, and it's real fun. It's almost what made Saw so much fun to begin with.
"I can say if you saw Saw 1 and 2 and enjoyed it and then kind of checked out afterwards, this one should bring it back for you. If you're a fan of horror movies, yeah, this is a great Saw."
We also asked Omega if he'd had a chance to check out Five Nights at Freddy's since he is a fan of the horror genre.
"I'm a big fan of horror movies but I'm not a big fan of PG-13 horror movies," he said. "As soon as I see the PG-13 rating, I get very worried because generally speaking, the reason why the filmmakers decided to go the PG-13 route is because they want to appeal to as many people as possible and sell as many tickets as possible, and thus, probably something that would have represented their vision more accurately got left on the cutting-room floor.
"Knowing that it was a Blumhouse film, I was thinking that these guys do such great work and knowing that it was PG-13, I was able to put aside those feelings of disappointment and know going into it that we're not going to get any super terrifying scenes because of the rating, but I want to put myself in this world and enjoy it for the story. I can say that I very much enjoyed the story.
"I wanted to analyze it for the story and watch it and enjoy it for the story. If they wanted to, they could do a Saw-style franchise for this story, too. You can have all types of people go into that place for all types of reasons and have the dolls run amok. It does set up a sequel. I don't want to say it's like family horror, but it could be, maybe. There are funny moments and there are sort of like wholesome moments."
Quotes for this interview were edited for clarity and conciseness. For Omega's full thoughts, you can listen to each answer in the embedded videos.
Omega can be seen this Saturday alongside Jericho fighting The Young Bucks at Full Gear in Los Angeles. Click here to purchase the event. You can follow him on Twitter/X @KennyOmegamanX, and you can follow Chris Mueller on Twitter/X @BR_Doctor.