Before I start this column, I want to emphasize this strongly... I WANT the angle between Kenny Omega, Don Callis, and the AEW & Impact Wrestling agreement to work out. I hope that it's a revolutionary storyline that creates a boom in the wrestling industry and helps AEW gain major ground on the WWE. I really dislike the WWE's creative direction and talent development right now.
BUT - I cannot admit that I'm a big fan of Kenny Omega.
Before 2018 started, there were reports that New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)'s Kenny Omega was going to become a free agent at the start of 2019. There were rumors that the WWE had shown interest but ultimately, Omega signed a deal with All Elite Wrestling (AEW) not just as a wrestler, but as an Executive Vice President (EVP) as well. Being an EVP would allow Omega to have a significant say in the company, freedom to book his character, benefits, and probably private ownership shares of the company. It was a good deal...
However, I would argue this... Can anybody name a GOOD to GREAT singles match that Kenny Omega had in AEW?
Notice I said the words "SINGLES match"... Yes, he has been involved with a few outstanding Tag Team matches, I'll give him that...
For the man who was repeatedly awarded 5+ stars repeatedly for matches in New Japan Pro Wrestling by the Wrestling Observer newsletter, where is that starry effort in AEW? One would figure that the hype over AEW signing potentially the "world's best worker" would be a HUGE deal and translate into millions upon millions of television viewers for AEW Dynamite on TNT... Right?!?
Seriously, between 2016 through early 2019, the Wrestling Observer awarded Kenny Omega at least 5 stars for 12 separate SINGLES matches. On top of that, we have several ratings above 5 stars with the unprecedented 6 stars awarded for the first Okada match at Wrestle Kingdom 11 but then ratings of 6.25, 5.75, and even 7 stars awarded for one match. HOLY COW. 7 stars on a 5 star rating system? This has to be the best in-ring worker of ALL TIME and All Elite Wrestling has him.
Ah, but since mid-2019 since AEW began, no singles matches from Kenny Omega has resulted in anything near 5 stars from the Wrestling Observer newsletter that just inducted him into their Hall of Fame at his tender age of 37 years old.
Why is that? Is the AEW talent roster weak or is New Japan Pro Wrestling loaded? Well, considering that Okada, Naito, Ishii, Ibushi, and Tanahashi have had GREAT matches with just about anyone, including themselves... Yeah, things are starting to become obvious. And then a very motivated Chris Jericho challenges Kenny and has a great match. Jericho has had many great matches with many people.
6 and 7 star matches... Wow... You know, you'd think that some of the WWE's amazing matches between 1998 and 2010 would get to that level. Remember that awesome Wrestlemania 21 match between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels? Or how about that amazing Wrestlemania 25 match between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker? Man, Triple H vs. Mick Foley at Royal Rumble 2000 and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam 2002 were really intense! How about that Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit match from Royal Rumble 2003? Hell, about any Chris Benoit matches from the early 2000s whether it was Angle, Austin, or Jericho. Oh, and those handfuls of Rock vs. Austin matches.
WAIT - You are meaning to tell me that the Wrestling Observer newsletter awarded NO 5-Star matches to the WWE from the Badd Blood 1997 event (Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - Hell in a Cell) to Money in the Bank 2011 (John Cena vs. CM Punk)?
Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that any of Omega's New Japan matches, which I've seen most of them, hold a candle to the excellence known as Michaels vs. Angle from WM 21 or Michaels vs. Undertaker from WM 25. I know that these ratings are all subjective, but wrestling fans remember those matches along with the other ones mentioned above. Thanks to the Observer, we've heard about the hype of these 6-7 Star matches but they didn't blow us away as "Greatest Matches of ALL TIME" as hyped.
And that translated to why Kenny Omega has not drawn in the United States.
Let's run through some facts, shall we?
(a) AEW Dynamite has been consistently under 1 million viewers and is often consistently below 900,000 for its duration. TNT Network is available to 85 million homes.
(b) Before 2020, attendance for AEW Dynamite and Pay Per View events was beginning to drop and mind you, AEW utilizes 5,000 seat arenas for its events.
(c) Pay Per View buys are 120,000 at best and have been fluctuating up and down for much of 2020.
(d) The New Japan show on AXS doesn't create ratings that are high enough to break the top 150 shows. Never has and many of the shows actually presented Omega's 5+ star matches.
(e) The G1 Special at the Cow Palace during July 2018 FAILED to sell-out a 10,000 arena despite having Kenny Omega in the main event.
(f) Prior New Japan show in California during 2017 was purposely held in a smaller venue because there just isn't strong interest in New Japan touring in the states. Omega was on this card and on second to last.
(g) New Japan World subscription app boosted subscribers thanks to Chris Jericho joining the company to fight Omega but after that match, the numbers didn't budge much. Again, that is an access device to all of these 5-star matches.
And let's look at current facts...
(a) Impact did just over 200,000 on last week's Kenny Omega appearance on AXS which did help them finally appear on the Cable Top 150 for a Tuesday... But they've consistently been between 100,000 and 200,000 before that. Congrats on the temporary 50,000 to 100,000 viewer boost but being just above 200,000 viewers is TERRIBLE for a wrestling show.
(b) AEW Dynamite had 995,000 viewers for their last show but this Omega/Impact angle cannot take full credit. Reportedly, the segment involving Shaq drew 1.2 million freakin' viewers to help skew the numbers. Shaq, a retired NBA superstar! On top of that, Sting's appearance drew just over 1 million viewers. Just saying, Shaq and Sting are more responsible for last Wednesday's higher number than the hype over Omega as the new AEW Champion and working with Impact Wrestling.
And again, I want to strongly emphasize the QUALITY of the SINGLES MATCHES that Kenny Omega has had since joining AEW during mid-2019. For a year and a half now, nothing close to 5-stars for his singles matches and nothing sniffing "Match of the Year". New Japan has a long list of in-ring mechanics who have endless amounts of energy to pull off impressive looking athletic contests. While Omega had great matches with their top stars, those same top stars have had great matches with everybody.
If we go by Dave Meltzer's own Star System BEFORE Kenny Omega joined All Elite Wrestling and then AFTER he joined AEW... Something has happened.
Let's be really honest here... Kenny Omega IS an Executive Vice President of AEW. He has power to not only recruit talent to be signed by the Khan family, but he has Creative power over his character. While in New Japan, he was just another wrestler who had no creative power and had no say in his opponents. Notice the difference? Before when he was in the New Japan ecosystem and under their control, he had great matches with great NJPW workers. When he's in AEW where he has control over Creative and Talents signed, he's not quite any good matches.
Funny how that works.
If Kenny Omega was so good as a talent, wouldn't that translate into being a good EVP? Reportedly, he's in charge of the booking of the Women's Division meaning that he had creative control and was responsible for bringing in talent for that division. His ties to Japanese wrestling was evident, as he brought in talent from various promotions over there... Yeah, that didn't work out too well. Riho was a TERRIBLE choice as the company's 1st ever AEW Women's Champion and she held that title for over 4 months.
Now, I'm watching Don Callis talking up Kenny Omega as if he's the biggest deal in pro wrestling right now.
I don't know man... I just don't see the mass appeal that would make anyone, besides those who show him with love from a newsletter, want to follow him as a top draw. The evidence and numbers are there as presented in this column. Despite having all of those 5-7 Star Matches between 2016-2018, it didn't cause wrestling fans to be tripping over themselves to want more New Japan Pro Wrestling. NJPW barely made any impact on the wrestling scene in the United States during that time and the attendance on US Shows and poor performance on AXS prove that.
I hope that it works out... I have always liked Callis as a talent and felt that it was often in the wrong gimmick or in the wrong spot at the wrong time. He's the kind of guy who could help Tony Khan build something special in AEW. But is Kenny Omega that bigtime champion that is obvious to wrestling fans to want to follow? I just don't know...
Numbers don't lie, my friends... I'm curious about the angle and it's one of the better things that AEW has had for 2020... But 2020 has been a tough year to watch for AEW, however, regardless of COVID. Dark Order, Nightmare Collective, Matt Hardy teleporting, FTR looking weak and losing already to Young Bucks, way too many hardcore matches, Cody losing to Darby, and now Tony Khan pimping himself on television for this AEW/Impact deal. So yeah, this cross promotional thing with Kenny Omega and Impact isn't half bad.
I hope that I'm wrong... But I believe we'll head consistently under 900,000 viewers again once the "new car smell" of Sting and AEW/Impact wears out with wrestling fans.
So just chill... Until the next episode!
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