It has been a few weeks since I wrote an AEW column and coming back it felt fitting that I should tackle the most divisive topic within the AEW fanbase right now: what is or isn’t happening with the company’s most important original pillar and the man who I think should be the next AEW Champion, Kenny Omega.
Even though The Young Bucks independent hustle and Cody’s grand vision are important to in the history of All Elite Wrestling, Kenny Omega is the wrestler most singly responsible for the creation of an alternative to the WWE. While Japanese and American indy wrestling has always enjoyed a healthy niche fanbase, it was Omega’s ratings busting series of matches with Kazuchika Okada that truly brought The Elite into the mainstream of western wrestling culture. However, since Kenny was signed by AEW the responses to his performance has divided the wrestling community. Depending who you listen to, Kenny Omega either hasn’t lost a step since leaving Japan or has been robbed of all his mystique and star power by poor booking and character development. Of course, as with most wrestling debates, the truth lies well and truly in the middle of the two extremes.
To start with, there is no denying that in AEW, Kenny Omega has been presented and booked differently to how he was in New Japan. Instead of wrestling as one of the top singles wrestlers in the company, except for his program with Jon Moxley, Omega has largely been concentrated on the AEW tag team division. This was done to help build up Adam Page and seemingly to set up a singles program with Hangman when the pair split up.
While well-intentioned, successful in its goal at elevating Page as a star and unexpectedly stretched out by COVID-19 restrictions, this change in division has affected Omega’s perception in a number of ways. Firstly, decades of the WWE neglecting their tag-team division has meant that the majority of wrestling fans don’t see tag teams as important as singles wrestlers. That is not how AEW structure their roster but, like it or not, that is the perception many fans have coming to AEW. Secondly, Omega’s move to the tag division has meant he has largely wrestled in the middle of cards rather than the main event scene he was most known for working in New Japan, which also reduces the perception of him as a top star of the company.
Beyond booking and roster positioning, the other major aspect of AEW’s production that has let down Omega and led to this perception is the company’s cinematography and production style. This isn’t an aspect of wrestling as obvious or as regularly discussed as booking, so it hasn’t been part of the current debate around Omega but has had a huge effect on his presentation. If you are someone who feels like New Japan Omega and his high impact moveset felt like an assassin, yet in AEW that moveset feels a little flat, then I would argue this is the reason why.
The traditional western style of shooting wrestling relies heavily on a ring facing hard cam and uses quick cuts on the connection of moves to help create a feeling of impact. This is the style that the WWE has used for decades and that AEW has largely adopted. It is good at capturing the majority of the action and helps the wrestlers mask the connection of the moves. It is also more simple to produce, which is particularly important when you are using newer production crews, as it standardises production across all wrestlers.
In comparison, the New Japan style of cinematography largely eschews the hardcam and favours long shots that emphasize the physicality of the wrestling and it does not cut to a different shot to mask move impact. Perhaps the difference is best shown in the following clips of Omega’s signature V-Trigger in AEW and then in New Japan.
The AEW clip is pretty standard, it shows the move clearly enough but you don’t get a great sense of the impact even with the cut to the closeup of Moxley selling. On the other hand, the New Japan shot places the camera right next to the point of impact, showcasing Omega’s speed as he leaps towards his target and power as he almost blasts the camera with his knee.
Here is another comparison that actually ends on a similar camera angle but cuts at a different point to better see the connection.
For a wrestler like Kenny Omega, who specialises in high impact strikes and slams, this change in cinematography has had a far more profound effect than him not wearing his old leather jacket and aviators. These are not cherry-picked examples either, just the most obvious ones; New Japan’s cinematography and staging emphasised what made Omega exciting and unique, whereas the way AEW shoots wrestling gives the impression Omega is just a slightly more fancy version of many other wrestlers.
Beyond the pure camera setup, the restrictions of a weekly wrestling TV show on TNT has meant Omega is no longer able to cut his traditional end of night promos that helped display both his character and connection to the crowd.
It should be noted that I am not stating facts but speaking about perception. It has been proven objectively that Kenny is spending as much time in the ring and wrestling to the same level that he was in New Japan, at least based on match ratings by Wrestling Observer, Cagematch, Grappl, etc, but even so, there is a dedicated group of fans who legitimately feel that Omega is not on the same level he previously was. Since ‘star value’ is not an objective measure and is inherently about perception, these opinions must be taken into consideration when discussing where Omega currently sits and actually there are good reasons for them.
However, despite this current perception existing, I believe that Kenny Omega should be the next AEW Champion. When AEW launched, it promised to present an alternative to the wrestling status quo and while I have loved what they have done so far, having singles champions like Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley and Cody Rhodes has meant it feels more like ‘WWE done right’ than a genuine different flavour of pro wrestling. Jericho, Moxley and Cody are all great wrestlers but Omega is on another level athletically when it comes to his in-ring output, crowning him as champion will definitively set AEW apart from its competition. As I stated above, Omega has not lost a step when it comes to his in-ring output, and while AEW isn’t able to offer him quite the level of production putting the main event spotlight on his skills is the best way to generate a buzz within the wrestling community, it is how The Elite generated a buzz in the first place after all.
AEW also have the perfect opportunity to get the wheels in motion in the coming weeks to make this happen before the end of the year. With tension growing in Omega’s team with Adam Page and five to six weeks to go before All Out, now is the perfect time to break the two singles wrestlers up and then at the PPV launch both men as singles.
Win or lose Omega can then work his way through other contenders and face Moxley in the return match of their 2019 Full Gear unsanctioned match, but this time fully sanctioned and for the AEW Title. AEW even has the likes of PAC, Pentagon and Rey Fenix on the roster who could match Kenny’s workrate in huge main event matches after Kenny takes the title. Once Omega is able to take that position at the top of AEW, I am confident he will be able to win back over those people who have been put off by seeing him pushed down the card.
Kenny Omega is a once in a generation talent and in New Japan the company was able to perfectly present that to be the case. So far in AEW he has worked very hard and done many great things for the talent around him but hasn’t been able to earn the same near-universal praise. Before the end of the year I hope to see that AEW has rectified this and put him in a place deserving of one of their most important pillars and greatest wrestlers.
That wraps up things for me this week, what do you think of Kenny Omega in AEW? Has he lived up to your expectations for him? Do you think he can still be their top guy or has his star been ruined? You can also chat to me further on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or in the AEW section on the LOP Forums.
If you would like to see to more about New Japan’s way of shooting pro wrestling then I would highly suggest this video by Showbuckle: NJPW’s Sublime Video Production Style.
Missed my last AEW column? Check it out here.
The Top 10 Moments of AEW’s First Year (Part 2: 5-1)