He did it.
He actually did it.
Those two sentences. Short, yet impactful. Repeating like a broken record in my brain.
The flashy Times Square pop-up ads, that freezing November night in Manhattan, which under normal circumstances would catch my attention with its temperatures, couldn’t beat the fiery intensity that pounded my heart.
Nothing in the world mattered to me more than professional wrestling knocking it out of the ballpark, once again, in a dramatic main event finish that had been years in the making.
As I sat in the middle of NYC’s F train, in a city I haven’t visited in nearly a decade, in disbelief of AEW’s Full Gear main event, I tried to gather the words to tweet about Kenny Omega vs Hangman Adam Page, and though I managed to send a picture of my tear-filled face reacting to the latter’s well-deserved title win, the downfall of the Belt Collector seldom crossed my mind in the adrenaline of the moment.
Reaching for my phone in my jacket pocket, the lingering taste of cranberry vodka and buffalo mac n’ cheese pecking my taste buds, I glanced at the time before deciding to plug my earbuds, absorbing the emotions that only wrestling can devour me with.
Then, I was reminded.
A year’s progress, a year’s fiery toil, through electric wires and bombastic barricades: it all hit me. I slightly teared up, for Kenny Omega had once again painted a beautiful story of his own character arc, putting over a relatable character who truly deserved it in the climax of his Cowboy Shit.
Or it could have been the alcohol in my system. Maybe, definitely, the alcohol.
Either way, I knew that the story wasn’t over. This was not his downfall. This is not his downfall, but rather a pit.
He can rest now.
It’s all over.
Everything leading up to this moment, was his golden destiny.
-You Should See Him in A Crown-
I always heard the tales of the forbidden door. Its grandeur wood, its sleek knobs, its symbolic posture, the athletic treasures laying dormant beyond its locks…….
Actually, I’m acting like this is wrestling folklore passed down across generations, but it was first uttered during the buildup for Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 14, and while the concept of “The Forbidden Door” is newer, the possibilities behind it weren’t. Through bolstering rumors that New Japan Pro Wrestling’s relationship with AEW was strained due to the Elite’s exodus in 2019, it seemed as if that dream would be out of reach for the foreseeable future, and the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help either.
Enter Tony Khan.
Utilizing the star power of his two biggest stars, Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega (who were coincidentally the Winter is Coming main event), Khan has touted the Forbidden Door as an opportunity for wrestling promotions to have cross-promotional matchups and segments with their respective roster members.
In theory, it rewards the wrestling fan for being just that: a pro wrestling fan. It’s a collaboration not seen on a major scale since WWE’s symbolic monopoly on North American pro wrestling, dating back to WCW’s demise.
If Jon Moxley’s IWGP US reign unlocked the Forbidden Door’s tight chains, then Kenny Omega’s Belt Collector character forced the door’s hand into explosion.
And, my goodness, what a champion he was.
The AEW World Champion. The Impact World Champion. The AAA title. He accomplished what other wrestlers haven’t been able to do in decades, while also giving us his most varied, intense work of his career.
The Belt Collector character was phenomenal for its athletic versatility. No championship match was the same; every matchup Omega had, whether it was in AEW or Impact, felt very experimental, yet rewarding.
He sparked psychological war with Jon Moxley in an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch which had phenomenal storytelling, ending aside (yes, please, let us forget about *that* ending).
He faced the insecurities of his past by elevating young talent like Orange Cassidy and Jungle Boy.
He managed to take a seemingly underwhelming feud with Christian Cage and whip it into a battle with personal stakes by the time All Out occurred, reinvigorating interest in Christian to many fans.
He descended into hardcore hell, taking Sami Callihan with him, in one of my underappreciated match of the year candidates.
And albeit not for the title, he wrestled a near 30 minute clinic with Bryan Danielson—already considered an all-time TV classic.
And these are just highlights. I’m only describing the surface being scratched, below it containing AEW dynamite tapings he was in attendance for near most of the year. What’s perhaps most impressive about his title reigns is his work ethic and determination, essentially working around the clock for three different wrestling promotions.
His self-admitted problems with vertigo, as many in the community would discover during an interview uploaded after Full Gear, makes all these accomplishments bittersweet.
While I respect Omega’s work to a great degree, his health is more crucial than any title reign or belt collecting gimmick.
He’s earned his rest. He’s #1 on the PWI 500 for very sound reasons, more than deserving of that coveted spot. If the last several years of his career weren’t enough to substantiate his claim as one of the best of the modern era, then 2021 shoved those naysayers aside to mold a story that continues to shape Omega’s meta character.
For behind the illusion he’s casted as the best, lies the soul of an insecure, broken man.
Behind his stout, proud figure, behind his clashing wardrobe colors and choice facial hair styles, behind basketball wits and quips, is the emotional turmoil of a lost artist, seeking to suppress his heartbreak and isolation with material fame and wealth.
Omega fears. He uses his persona as a front, but it only results in cowardice. He holds his past as the Best Bout Machine in New Japan and the Golden Lovers with high regard, but seldom acknowledges their importance to him in fear of showing weakness.
Before Omega struck gold as the belt collector, many canned his potential in the United States, and while he’s used these doubts as a motivator for his title reigns, it exposed his character flaws further.
He is afraid of living up to his past. He squirms at the thought of being alone, not realizing in his championship pursuits that he only alienated himself further from who he truly is.
In his reluctance to accept his past, the belt collector is born. Though aware he cannot change what’s been and done, it is in denial that he lives day-by-day.
-The Clash of Destinies-
In facing Hangman Page for the AEW title, we see Kenny Omega’s character come full force, a climax of his dastardly actions months in the making. It reiterates how intertwined Hangman and Omega truly are in their destinies, and how the latter’s loss to him emphasizes that everything was meant to happen.
We see many fabled tales in professional wrestling recounted across the decades. Austin and Rock, Misawa and Kawada, Cena and Orton. And with 3 years chock full of storytelling, Hangman and Omega deserve to be up there among the greats. Once tag team partners who utilized each other’s faults to find solace in their company, it devolved into personal conflict that inflated into an intense feud come Full Gear.
What happens when destinies clash? What is the result of two clashing personalities that desire the AEW world championship for a multitude of reasons? The answer lies in the spirited, tried-and-true formula of good versus evil.
Not that I believe Kenny Omega is inherently villainous, but his actions suggest that he’ll cross the line of morality if it means protecting his reputation as an unbeatable champion. From sending Hangman Page out for two months to forging his signature on the championship contract with Hangman’s own blood, he pulled all the stops to ensure anything but a loss at Full Gear.
But Hangman’s destiny was triumphant over Omega’s, and when you think about those simmering, small details, it’s as if the story wrote itself almost two years ago. Omega and Page form a tag team in spite of their insecurities, winning the gold together whilst not being happily complacent. Both have made their own share of mistakes. However, it is the manner of which they coped with those that separates these two individuals.
Whereas Hangman held himself accountable for his actions, Omega did not, and in failing to recognize his emotional transgressions, in failing to self-reflect on the morality of his ambitions, he loses the AEW world championship to an individual who learned to love himself and accept his present circumstances—the antithesis of Kenny Omega’s Belt Collector.
Hangman’s win was destined.
And now Omega can’t change what’s been and done; it was his destiny to lose his title, to this opponent, for his own good.
It was always written in the stars—all he can do now is smile and march forward.
-The Elite is Still Fine-
I signify the stars in this verse to represent Kenny Omega’s support system, particularly The Young Bucks. They’ve been to hell and back with him for years, their allegiance to his cause even being questioned earlier this year.
Matt and Nick Jackson confronted Don Callis in January in hopes of receiving answers for Kenny’s behavior, and while they aligned with Jon Moxley, it was ultimately the loyalty for Kenny Omega that drove their decision to finally turn heel, concluding the wishy-washy, “will they-won’t they” discourse around their characters.
Regardless, there is obviously an undermining, tumultuous relationship between these 3 that has been overshadowed by their heelish tactics and outlandish fashion choices, but these previously buried issues are coming into question again with Adam Cole’s return to the Elite.
The focal point of his influence lies in the heart of the Young Bucks. After all, the three were the first to embrace during his infamous debut at All Out, and minus teaming with Omega during the October 6th episode of Dynamite, have consistently tagged together as a trio in the reunification of the SuperKliq.
Even in Kenny Omega’s absence following his loss at Full Gear, Cole assured him that he would maintain unity among the group, causing an awkward miscommunication when Omega clarified that he was referring to the Bucks. Just as we’ve seen their allegiance to Kenny tested in the past, especially this year, I absolutely believe that these plot elements will come around again.
Considering that, in the kayfabe sense, Omega has still not seen the ending to his Full Gear match, in which Matt Jackson gives Hangman the blessing to claim his championship victory, there’s a level of open-endedness in his character progression when he returns from his physical surgeries.
Will this cause further tension within the group? How does Adam Cole proceed with this? Will he take the Elite as his own stronghold to use against Omega, or will he leverage his relationship with Bobby Fish to abandon the Bucks and create a faction of his own, as revenge for the poisoning of ’17?
All the theories that I have heard are plausible, and could happen given the direction of AEW’s needs in the next few months. Whatever could and can unravel from this will be intriguing to see untangled on programming. The most diehard fans of the Elite are surely keeping tabs on what will happen next when Kenny Omega returns, and regardless of the outcome, it will be a return filled with bittersweet moments and complex characterization, a grey area between face and heel actions, as most plot points in BTE’s story arc abide by.
-The Medium is the Message-
As Kenny Omega takes a hiatus from wrestling to focus on physically rehabbing his body, there are bound to be a substantial amount of end-of-year discussions reflecting on his performance, ability, and storytelling.
But if I were to take away anything from his 2021, it would be his resilience in the face of a bleak industry. An industry that has welcomed his rhetoric towards storytelling in recent times, yet has been met with polarizing reception towards certain fans.
Professional wrestling is the last theater form of its kind. If theater is performance, and performance is art, then professional wrestling is art.
Art is subjective.
When an artist paints a picture, the portrait of their self-reflections, of their secrets and flaws, of their own victories and triumphs, the medium itself is bound to draw vast interpretations.
For someone to be so vulnerable that they utilize their creative freedom to craft powerful stories, all while sacrificing their bodies to mold an art piece of blood, sweat, and in a few cases, tears–that’s what I admire the most about wrestlers.
This is what has always driven compelling storytelling in wrestling.
For some fans, their best work won’t be enough. But for the ones who *will* listen, and *are* listening: it resonates with the innate desire for relatable stories with deep, characterized lessons.
The medium is truly the message. The utilization of interactive mediums—-Twitter, YouTube, and other social medias, allows fans to immerse themselves into great stories, and it’s the catalyst for why The Elite’s impact is widespread.
More specifically, it is through cohesive storytelling that Kenny Omega continued to release his best work in 2021, presenting a continuation of the man we saw murk the AEW world title’s prestige via heel tactics at last year’s Winter is Coming, who masks the bittersweet sadness of human emotion with his cockiness and gold belts.
Though it may have been written in the stars for him to dominate multiple promotions, it was through his fated relationship with Hangman Page that the destiny Omega tried so hard to preserve shattered at the Target Center in Minneapolis on November 13th, 2021.
And now, a snapshot of his character at this moment: free from the grueling demands of championship reigns and the psychological consequences of self-sacrifice for the medium. Will he return in vengeance? Or will he return with a brighter, happier outlook?
This is not the end of his story. He will return stronger, reminiscent of those younger days – the shining hope in his eyes that accompanied his signing to AEW on that Las Vegas night two years ago.
He will resurge anew in 2022.
He can rest now.