Just three days after their biggest show of 2019 saw a slew of departures, New Japan Pro-Wrestling saw the biggest shoe drop thanks to Kenny Omega.
In an interview with Tokyo Sport Omega, the former IWGP heavyweight champion, announced that he is leaving NJPW. He lost the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi on January 4 at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 13.
The departure has been speculated for months because of Omega being part of The Elite faction with the Young Bucks (brothers Matt & Nick Jackson), Cody Rhodes, Adam ‘Hangman’ Page, and Marty Scurll. The group had made it known that they would make a decision of their 2019 future together. On the early hours of New Year’s Day The Elite with the exceptions of Omega and Scurll posted a YouTube video as part of their ‘Being The Elite’ series announcing the launch of their All Elite Wrestling promotion along with the name of their first major show, ‘Double or Nothing’, a follow up to their successful 2018 ‘All In’ event.
According to Wade Keller of PWTorch the deals that AEW is offering to wrestlers currently are ‘holding contracts’. These deals, which are not full contracts, would commit the talent to AEW and prevent them from signing deals with other major promotions like WWE, NJPW, Ring of Honor, and Impact Wrestling among others. The contracts would become fully guaranteed once AEW secures television rights. One of the trademarks that AEW filed for before their launch was for a TV show called ‘Tuesday Night Dynamite’.
All roads seem to lead to AEW but it has been reported recently by Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that World Wrestling Entertainment has been making a strong push to sign Omega & has offered a financially lucrative contract.
While it is likely that Omega will join his Elite brethren in AEW there are circumstances that gives the WWE leverage.
AEW currently has no working partnerships with other promotions and their deals prevent such arrangements at this time. Without some type of partial financial guarantee that can hurt independent wrestlers who depend on bookings to make a living. This get amplified immensely when it comes to Omega.
Asking Omega, who is among the best if not the best wrestler on the planet, to sit out for as long as possibly nine months without taking other bookings is foolish at best. Unless AEW can quickly forge the necessary partnerships the financial stability that WWE provides may become very enticing.
On the other hand the issues that plague WWE like Vince McMahon’s micromanaging, the lack of creative control given to talent, and the overall underutilization of said talent can be deterrents. Omega has experienced this first hand from 2005 to 2006 when he worked in Deep South Wrestling, at the time a WWE developmental territory.
There does exist a third option and it’s one fans are used to. Over the last two years Omega has been signed to NJPW on a series of one-year contracts, all expiring near the end of January. This has raised speculation during that time that he would go to the WWE as a surprise entrant of the Royal Rumble similar to how AJ Styles debuted for the company in 2016. Some of Omega’s quotes in the Tokyo Sport interview, particularly a line about wanting to face Tanahashi again, and his well known love of Japanese culture may hint at him deciding to once again stay with NJPW.
All three promotions have a vested interest in signing Omega.
NJPW would have continuity in their main event scene and retaining Omega gives the company a ready made top match in their upcoming G1 Supercard collaboration event with ROH at Madison Square Garden on April 6.
With Roman Reigns battling leukemia for the second time and with their failure to develop multiple credible top stars to take his place WWE would have an established one in Omega that can carry the company.
Out of all three AEW has the most to gain and lose. Rhodes and the Young Bucks may be the brains behind the promotion but Omega is the draw. His matches, especially since 2017, have been of such high quality that he has earned the moniker ‘Best Bout Machine’. Having Omega under contract would not only attract fans but also TV networks. Losing him to NJPW, even if a partnership between the promotions can be worked out, means not having him as a constant presence.
Losing him to WWE may be even more damaging. AEW is said to be going after WWE wrestlers with expiring contracts aggressively using creative control and six figure salaries as a sales pitch. Omega signing with WWE could signal to those very wrestlers that the company may be ready to give them more control, which could be enough for them to reject AEW’s advances. It can also make Tony Khan, AEW’s president and main financial backer, to reconsider the extent of said backing, which is reported currently to be $100 million to help launch the promotion.
Once again Omega has the wrestling world captivated with his game of musical chairs, and that world is paying close attention to what chair he sits when the music stops.