Kenny Omega is rightly considered to be one of the greatest active professional wrestlers in the squared circle, but becoming the very best at your chosen craft is a complex journey that requires determination, collaboration, and innovation. In a rare in-depth interview with the man himself, Muscle & Fitness took a deep dive into the mind of one of pro wrestling’s biggest intellects. What followed was a “money can’t buy” masterclass for anyone that wants to be elite in their own field.
To figure out where Kenny Omega (real name: Tyson Smith) picked up the burning desire to be the very best at anything he puts his mind to, you’ll have to go back in time to when the decorated pro wrestler was just 10 years old and picking up ice hockey. “I suppose, in Canadian culture, I got a late start,” recalls Omega, who was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and became a talented goaltender. “I thought that I had to work from an incredible deficit, because I’d spoken to all the kids at that time and they would all say, ‘hey, yeah, I’ve been on skates since I was 5 years old, 4 years old, even 2 years old,’ so I always felt like I was playing catch up in that realm,”
It’s a feeling of inadequacy that Omega was so uncomfortable with, that it likely lit the fire in him to be an innovator in anything that he tried his hand at going forward. It seems that the 6’ superstar, who is now riding high on All Elite Wrestling’s television shows and pay-per-views, and also regularly appears for New Japan Pro Wrestling, has been going all-in with his competitiveness since childhood.
Kenny Omega is a Well-Rounded Athlete
Having become a formidable AA hockey player, and a member of three separate teams by the time he graduated from high school, Omega could have continued with the sport while building his academic education, if he hadn’t fallen in love with the idea of being a full-time pro wrestler.
“So, originally, I thought that I would get into physiotherapy,” said Omega, who enrolled at the University of Manitoba. During this time, however, Omega’s interest in pro wrestling was gaining momentum and while the young student enjoyed studying physiotherapy, he also found himself veering towards the idea of teaching, and loved literature, psychology, and film studies.
Omega was selected for the junior hockey league back when he was 16, but his love of the sport finally cooled off after he sat in on a friend’s pro wrestling training session, at the Top Rope Wrestling school in Winnipeg and it was here that Omega felt that he’d found his own true calling. In the years that followed, Omega became a capable grappler and a highlight of the independent wrestling scene by night, while funding his in-ring experience by day including a stint working at Costco.
Then, in 2005, Omega signed a developmental contract after impressing the talent scouts at WWE, giving him a regular income and the chance to be promoted to primetime TV shows like Monday Night Raw. Still, Omega decided to leave WWE after around two years, feeling that in order to become a top star in the industry, he would need to forge his own style and character, outside of what he considered to be the often-micro-managing style of the worldwide leader in “Sports Entertainment.”
One of the ways that Omega would add to his arsenal in pro wrestling after leaving WWE developmental was to take up Brazilian jiujitsu. “I trained with the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts,” says the fighter. “Once I got to Japan, for professional wrestling, I was finding myself training in the Pancrase dojo and also the Deep dojo.” Tyson “Kenny Omega” Smith’s MMA record stands at 4-3-0 in MMA. In professional wrestling, things were going even better, thanks in large part to him taking the Japanese scene by storm. He was ranked No. 1 in the “Pro Wrestling Illustrated 500” in 2018 and 2021. He’s also been awarded multiple matches of the year, and is able to draw on his love of Japanese video games and popular culture, added to his knowledge gained during film studies, to create an innovative style in the ring that is viewed by many as easily being in the argument for the title of ‘greatest active pro wrestler’.
Omega named his signature running high-knee strike; the “V-Trigger,” in tribute to the powered-up moves in “Street Fighter V” and his “One-Winged Angel” powerbomb-driver combination is a fond not to “Final Fantasy VII”
Kenny Omega Attempts the Impossible in Order to Push Himself Further
“I think a lot of the sports that I partook in, the sports that I really tried hard in, whether it be ice hockey, whether it be soccer, basketball, I always took whatever aspect of that sport, that I felt could be most applied to professional wrestling, because in the end, that was always the end game,” shares Omega. “I always wanted to be a professional wrestler, so when it came to being a goal tender in ice hockey, you know, you’re wearing at that time, 30, 40, 50 pounds of equipment. But I always made it a goal of mine to keep up with the forwards in any of the conditioning drills, any of the speed drills. I tried as best as I could. And, you know, a lot of times it was impossible, because our skates were different, they were more flat bladed than sharp bladed, we can’t dig in as much, I had of course an incredible deficit of having all that weight on me, but I wanted to push myself. I wanted to be the best conditioned athlete that we had on the team. When I played basketball, I wanted to be very dynamic. I wanted to be explosive.”
Omega points out that he even gravitated towards beach volleyball because it was a great way to train for finding the right footing in a wrestling ring, where the mat’s surface isn’t solid. “So, I knew that if I could get my bearings and become dynamic and agile in the sand, I could probably be agile in a ring as well,” shares the former AEW and IWGP world heavyweight champion.
Kenny Omega Rolls with the Punches
Of course, chasing those high-adrenaline moments in the ring is a risky business, and the toll that this takes on the body is unavoidable. “I’ve had four knee surgeries. I’ve had herniations on my neck,” says Omega, who has also torn his labrum, suffered herniations in his stomach, and is only just getting started listing the sacrifices that he’s made to become the best in his field. As an avid fan of bodybuilding, Omega still loves to lift, albeit lighter these days in order to “feel the pump,” he says, and he also compliments his training with daily swims. Omega says that when training with methods such as HIIT, he often uses the tempo to construct future wrestling matches. Omega is now back in the ring and feeling great after some much needed recovery time, but even so, was almost taken out of action once again a few weeks ago, when he missed with the “V-trigger” in a steel cage match against Jon Moxley, and found himself hanging from his groin on a steel supporting pole.
Fortunately, despite how scary that spot looked, Omega was able to roll with the punches and walk away pretty much unscathed. “I’m still bewildered over how it was that I walked away from that one,” says Omega, who on reflection feels that it was his ability to go with the momentum rather than fight it that saved the day. “I just let it happen and I think, somehow, because nothing was going against the grain, or fighting against this odd happening, I miraculously ended up OK.”
Kenny Omega Mixes Innovation with Tradition to Keep Crowds Guessing
Now firmly established as one of the best in the wrestling ring, Omega still sets himself the challenge of coming up with something new in each and every match, to keep fans on the edge of their seats. He also brings authenticity into his ring performances by utilizing the lessons learned while growing up and studying the likes of Bret “Hitman” Hart, who would strike an opponent without hurting them for real but would make it look, to those in the audience, like he’d knocked someone’s block off. “He had an incredible snap to it,” observes Omega of Hart’s punches and kicks. It’s the acknowledgment of those types of small details that tends to separate the greats from the greatest of all time. “Aside from being a professional wrestler, as you know, I’m an athlete,” says Omega. “It’s very important to me, to represent pro wrestling in the best light possible. I do believe that we are some of the greatest in the world, applying our craft, and even though what we do is a lot of showmanship and there’s a lot of performance to that, I do believe at the base of that, the backbone of that should always be an incredible athlete applying his trade.”
Kenny Omega is a Team Player
Omega tells M&F that it is easy to see why the dojo system has produced some of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time, naming Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Bálor, and Jay White as relatively recent examples. “It is very much designed to test your mettle,” he says. “Not only are you training at the dojo as a professional wrestler but you’re training your body, you’re training your mind, your training teamwork. You’re training how to be a better human being; you’re training how to live not only for yourself but for your fellow dojo mates.”
Omega feels that the dojo system works so well because some of the workouts, like the endless standing squats (you are expected to start out at 500), are so tough that they are designed to make you reach failure, requiring your teammates to pick you up and get you to the end of every drill. The dojo system in Japan creates unbreakable bonds and this is clear to see when the athletes even respectfully do each other’s laundry. With the encouragement of his peers, Omega upped his 500 squats to 1,000, then 1,200, then it was 1,800. This feat took everyone in the class to cheer for him in order to make that number, but he got there. “And it was a great feeling,” recalls Omega. “I didn’t feel great the next morning,” he adds in jest, but says that he felt a great accomplishment had been earned. “A feeling like, as a team, I didn’t do that on my own. Everyone was with me, lifting me up to get to that place.”
It’s perhaps his desire to be part of a team in ice hockey, basketball, and later the dojo that attracted him as a hot free agent to sign with the newly formed AEW promotion in 2019. Despite offers from established companies, reportedly including WWE, Omega opted to become part of the AEW team by agreeing to wrestle, and also serve as an executive vice president. The star has undoubtedly been an integral part of AEW’s immense popularity ever since. While Omega’s appeal in both Japan and the United States is well and truly cemented, you can add England to the list of countries that are clambering to see him in action too. AEW’s “All In” show at Wembley Stadium, set for Aug. 27, has already sold upward of 60,000 seats, with many of those ticket holders eagerly anticipating the chance to see the icon. “In my travels, I have made a few (wrestling) stops over in the UK, but nothing can compare to what we are about to undertake with this Wembley Stadium show,” says Omega. “This is above and beyond anything I could have imagined for out first debut in the UK. I don’t think you could ever go any bigger, or better for a first show.”
Follow Kenny Omega on Instagram @kennyomegamanx