“I’m pretty good at turning every place I go into my own personal hell, so I think they’ll have a lot of options for me.” – Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place, on being tortured in The Bad Place.
Like most wrestling fans, one of the things I love about getting engrossed in a fantastic match or story is the escapism it brings. I can leave what’s bothering me in real life behind and stay in the moment. As someone living with ADHD, that can be extra thrilling, as whatever is forefront in the moment for me is heightened something fierce. I’ve seen the brain scans to prove it – one tiny circle lit up to the utmost while other background areas (which for most folks would be lesser, but still active) just drop out. This means roller coaster rides like we find in wrestling can really elevate or move me to a huge extent. TRIUMPH! HILARITY! Heel turn? – WHAT A BASTARD! I’m along for the ride and leaning hard into every curve, swerve, and swing. A lot of the time, I’m loving every minute of it.
That being said, the flip side of all this is that I am extremely gifted, much like Chidi, at turning anything into a reason to unleash my latent anxiety throughout my inner world. I make that the moment and what is actually going on externally fades away (which is why I forget so many things my friends or loved ones say directly to my face). What is thrilling can become devastating without any change to the product on the screen. Since the launch of All Elite Wrestling, the man who has caused more angst to leak into my good times is the one who was always supposed to be head of the fun brigade – current AEW World Champion Kenny Omega.
I am, admittedly, not as well versed in Japanese wrestling action as others who peddle their words here at WrestleInn. Sure I see the tweets, the clips, the Meltzer-gasms, the omnipresent Bullet Club shirts in every wrestling crowd around the world. And I try to catch up and stay up on it. But with more and more wrestling to watch (why hello, Mission Pro!) and more resources to connect with more independent feds (oh hey, Honor Club), it’s not been easy. And no one has made that more hard on me than me. When the rating star hoarder and Best Bout Machine himself made his way to American shores to help lead AEW, it felt like this was finally my time to get in on the secret.
Like a lot of things in my life, it turned out to be less simple than I thought (or perhaps less simple than it legitimately should have been). AEW and Dynamite began and watching Omega felt…off? Flat? Something wasn’t right. He was…a wrestler. Sure, he was clearly an athletically gifted one, but where was the idol figure leaping off my TV and remaking the sport? More than that, where was the cocky character who had FUN out there regardless of what went down? Several things were cited for the difference in presentation, like the more regular American match schedule as well as his new backstage duties. I found that hard to accept as my brain, as it is wont to do, turned this issue not into a hot Twitter take about regional wrestling supremacy, but rather aimed inward. Imagine FOMO, but on steroids, and followed by a chaser of self-loathing.
That became the focus during should-be classics pitting Kenny against dream opponents like PAC and Jon Moxley:
What is wrong with ME that I can’t appreciate this as I should?
Or worse, if I’m right that it’s not the same, then I’m a fool for costing myself the chance to have been plugged in at the right time and it will never come around again.
(**oh hey, another Snapdragon Suplex**)
Is there not really any point anymore, no not really
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Hey guy, all that overthinking is probably distracting and part of why you’re not getting as much out of those early matches as you’d want.” To which I’d say, “Hey NOW you’re getting it!” The only saving grace, especially during the past year when I couldn’t, you know, engage in actual life, was that unplugging altogether and losing the dependable fun and internet community of wrestling was an even worse option.
While I soldiered on, so did Omega, and oddly enough the same kind of ennui I was getting off him became a written part of the on-screen story. His attempt to break out of it lined up with the emergence of another star in his midst, as we entered the era of Cowboy Shit. Omega and Hangman Page were not an immediately understandable team, even with their vast individual gifts, but this was a new mode and new phase that I could enter along with everyone else. No backstory, youtube clips, or Observer links required. I needed to see something to feel like I knew what I was doing, why I was still here. And then it happened.
#THATTagMatch might be the best contest I’ve ever watched on live broadcast, a list that includes multiple WrestleMania main events and other huge moments from a dozen other organizations. Speed, synchronicity, classic ring psychology, and the explosion of a long tense build added up to an instant classic. It was easily Omega’s best showcase in AEW to that point, and watching it I felt like I’d gotten a foothold that I wasn’t completely nuts, but also had not completely missed the boat. I was ready for whatever could possibly follow this insane single night. Once Kenny & Page lost the belts, what followed was a series of hints on Being The Elite to the return of Kenny’s New Japan character and approach. This itself became a bit nerve-wracking as it felt like a make or break moment. Either “The Cleaner” would be everything I wanted and more or it would be a desperate attempt to refry the past because it’s what they thought the audience wanted and would come off as half-baked and half-hearted. No in-between!! (Thinking in black/white absolutes is another symptom of ADHD. Just thought I’d mention that.)
Ironically, for something I took far too seriously, it was the levity that reassured me the most. Having ladies come out in 80’s jazzercise apparel to dance with brooms to announce The Cleaner’s arrival undercut the pressure I (and many) placed on this return, and was also just plain FUN – an element that had been missing even during the drama amongst the Elite members. That built out over the following weeks with Justin Roberts dragging out Omega’s introduction further and further with more inane bullshit, stretching as far as necessary to make sure to justify mentioning “NORTH CAR-O-LIN-A,” to the point where I had to laugh and appreciate it. Anyone who would plan these things out has to have absolute confidence that the in-ring action would justify it rather than make themselves seem like a punchline.
And that justification in fact came. THIS Kenny Omega, totally unleashed by the time of the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament, was a fully formed other human being. He stalks his opponents with a swagger and mutters to himself between delivering blows, like his subconscious breaking through to keep its physical form on-task. All of this bleeds out through the charisma I thought I’d made up or missed out on, back with an absolute vengeance that also comes through in the ring itself. Rather than rely on a moves-of-doom type consistent repertoire, Omega began tailoring his brutality into more specific and aggressive attacks on his recent opponents. There are more chop spots, a hurricanrana here, a straight-up brutal strike there.
His greatest hits (and One-Winged Angel) are all still present, but not so dominant that you see them coming. Each one of his recent matches, particularly the showdown with Page to earn a title opportunity, has felt different. It made them each more real, more gripping, and more must-watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off the proceedings. This was heightened by the fact that NOW all I could feel was the rush of knowing THIS IS IT – what I was looking for, what I wanted out of this show, this company, this sport. I wasn’t too late! YEEEEESSSSSSS. Even once that rush petered out, I was able to sit back and feel contented. Contented that in the greatness of this man on the screen; and my knowledge of the path along the way back to it – I had seen the truth. I could trust myself, trust my own reactions to both the before and the after. And oh boy was it fun to revel in the after. Finally!
Luckily, Kenny Omega wasn’t nearly as happy with his newfound success as I was. In working with Don Callis to ensure his winning the AEW World Championship, bringing it to IMPACT Wrestling, and now seeing in a seeming invasion of more New Japan talent, Kenny Omega has lit the business on fire. He’s brought attention to talent like IMPACT foes Rich Swann and Moose, much like the traveling NWA Champions of years gone by did to spotlight names in certain territories. More than anything else, he’s helped put more choices and options on the table for where pro wrestling goes. There are more paths ahead than we have seen since perhaps Black Saturday itself. Unlike the crippling scenarios people like poor Chidi and yours truly have run into in the past, the abundance of these choices is a blessing that will only make sure I never doubt the greatness of The Belt-Collecting Cleaner again. Darkness, my old friend, I know you’re not gone forever, but thanks to wrestling I can again have moments where I get to bid you Goodbye, and Good Night.