Kenny Omega: An Ace Awaits

At the conclusion of AEW’s initial press conference, one key role remained vacant. They had familiar faces, hot prospects and even an industry icon but for all that optimism, the promotion was still without an obvious singles centrepiece. Simply put, they needed an ace and just one month later, the ideal choice came to fruition. Announcing the acquisition of Kenny Omega in February 2019, AEW had another executive vice president onboard but more importantly than that, they’d already found the ingredient to make their in-ring ranks truly elite.

Omega was a unique asset, increasing the promotion’s perceived potential almost immediately. In his time as NJPW’s lead Gaijin, Omega had become an almost mythical figure among wrestling’s most ardent audience. Producing masterpieces opposite a range of famed foes, Omega was the consensus choice for the world’s finest in-ring performer. In many ways, Omega appeared to be the perfect top star for a fledgling promotion. His reputation preceded him, experienced on a major stage without being an overly known quantity. There was still an element of mystery to Omega, his ceiling not capped or even pronounced.

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With that came a hurdle of sorts though, as Omega had never operated under the circumstances awaiting him. AEW would have a traditional US format, built on weekly TV and as a result, relying more on episodic storytelling that extends beyond the ropes, shaped by personality and character. It was hard to dwell on that element though, as mere months into their existence, All Elite Wrestling had a fitting figurehead for their expanding core. Clearly, challenges were ahead but Omega’s track record was encouraging and thankfully so, as AEW could be depending on his success.

Initially, Omega’s efforts were fittingly undeniable too, delivering with relative ease as the promotion headed towards its TV debut. Once Dynamite arrived though, things swiftly became more polarising. In-ring, Omega remained generally excellent but in truth, his actual role was somewhat divorced from expectations. It seemed as though Jon Moxley was a factor in some ways, almost immediately claiming the position that Omega once seemed destined for. Instead, Omega was a key player, but not the key player, teaming with ‘Hangman’ Adam Page rather than pursuing World Title acclaim.

For the already established sceptics, that reality was the only evidence necessary. Omega was quickly framed as a flop, failing to reach the heights that the aforementioned hype had promised. That always felt hyperbolic though, as Omega continued to make magic once the bell rang. Granted, much of that came alongside Page but considering its sheer quality, that didn’t feel like much of a disclaimer at all. In truth, the reality likely fell somewhere towards the middle, as Omega’s stint certainly hadn’t been perfect either.

There was a vagueness to his presentation, a slightly hollow character within AEW’s weekly format. Omega seldom provided a hook in terms of personality, instead appearing more comfortable as a backdrop than as the story itself. That was effective at times, especially as Omega found himself standing between Page’s conflict with The Young Bucks. Omega was a supporting act in that angle but he portrayed it perfectly, a cool, calm head within the chaos surrounding him. That felt like the best reflection of babyface Omega, only enhanced by their eventual classic at Revolution.

It speaks volumes that Omega’s output remains a debate when in many ways, he still has an argument for AEW’s most prolific performer of 2020. Either way, his current trajectory feels far less in dispute, as Omega has recently found familiar form. After just over a year of television exposure, AEW is a far more settled landscape now. Their roster is established, stacked with talent that’s increasingly comfortable in this setting. Omega has been mostly patient during the process, but suddenly seems set to fulfil the potential that once defined his signing.

With his tag team resume secured, Omega is back in singles competition, chasing the AEW crown once more. Bell to bell, Omega remains almost peerless, battling Page in an enthralling opener at Full Gear. That match was growth in its own way, with Omega working within himself to produce something far more compact and concise than most expected. For better or worse, Omega has become synonymous with wrestling’s grander classics, matches that strive to set a new standard. This wasn’t that though, and it didn’t make it any less exciting, neatly completing the overall event.

Either way, Omega’s physical performance isn’t the story here as in the meantime, he’s crafting a character that thus far, has arguably eluded him. As a babyface, Omega was likeable enough but rarely much more while as a heel, ‘The Cleaner’ is a far more pronounced persona. Omega is almost unknowingly arrogant, obnoxious with an increasingly pronounced pride. This character isn’t an evil villain but he’s a natural antagonist, organically maintaining his own fans through bell to bell brilliance. Omega doesn’t exist in shades of grey, but he’s not having to overact either, projecting an energy that suits him seamlessly.

In the brief build to their upcoming sequel, that’s been an effortless contrast opposite Jon Moxley. One year ago, these two met in a ‘Lights Out’ main event but now, they are set for the biggest match in Dynamite’s history. With the title hanging in the balance, Omega could enter 2021 as AEW Champion, continuing his sublime start to Dynamite’s second year. That endgame always felt inevitable but currently, Omega has his strongest case yet. It may have taken some adjustments, but Omega now has the personality to match his physicality.

If Omega indeed leaves this Wednesday with the title around his waist, he’ll be cemented as the promotion’s headline heel. That could lead Omega directly towards the ace moniker that was once so tied to his reputation, especially considering the opponents available. Omega no longer needs to be defined by those expectations though, as right now, he’s drawing from his past to create something new. This character still feels as though it’s in transition, but it’s already firmly on the right track, positioning Omega in the prominence that his in-ring exploits command.

Omega was divisive before AEW and unsurprisingly, that discussion has only intensified since Dynamite’s debut. His match catalogue is hard to question though and without even daring to be anything more, Omega continued adding classics to his collection. That was still an immense pace, it simply took place in a steadier position, but Omega is now threatening something far more emphatic. As champion, Omega can finally silence the doubters, anchoring a television product as its absolute centrepiece. First though, Omega meets the man that’s done exactly that, taking on the aforementioned Moxley.

This match is much more than a tantalising main event bout, signifying the title’s true meaning as well as its on-screen significance. That title should be exclusive to the most valuable performers and thus far, Moxley has yet to be dethroned in that regard. For all the in-ring magic that Omega has produced, Moxley has always felt secure in his spot, unchallenged in his leadership of this brand. Whether he wins on Wednesday or not, Omega has a similar point to prove, a similar debate to win.

Kenny Omega has had magnificent matches with remarkable rivals but yet, his biggest challenge awaits. In this setting at least, Omega still has the ultimate test to pass and as champion, those questions wouldn’t wait any longer. It starts opposite Moxley, as Omega looks to wrestle away the role that thus far, has been filled flawlessly. In many ways though, that very role feels like Omega’s destiny. Almost two years ago, Omega was pencilled in for this position and now, it’s simply a matter of making it permanent.

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