This is my translation of an interview Kenny and Nakazawa did with kaminoge vol. 88 published in April 19th 2019.
As always,  are annotations by the translator, () are additions by the original publication. Interviewer in italics. The original content and image are © Toho Publishing.
NOTE: Pull quotes may differ from the actual quotes. This is part of the editing in the original.
[He’s] joined the rumored new American promotion, AEW! He tells all his candid thoughts about his ambitions for the future and his thoughts towards Ibushi Kôta.
Kenny Omega (AEW) with Nakazawa Michael (first Japanese wrestler [in AEW] )
“I think that we should concentrate on our home base of America first now that we are making a promotion, but I want to bring AEW to the Japanese fans as well. I would be happy to meet everyone again as soon as possible.”
Is there a shift occurring in the international world of pro wrestling? New American promotion AEW (All Elite Wrestling) announced in February that they will hold their first event on May 35th in Las Vegas, Nevada, and that former New Japan Pro Wrestling star Kenny Omega will act as [one of] the company’s EVPs. Omega was rumored to join AEW since around fall last year, but now, the cat’s out of the bag.
The owner of AEW is Tony Khan, the son of England Premier League [team] Fulham FC and NFL Jaguars owner Shahid Khan (a billionaire with a combined total worth of assets of ca. $9,000,000,000). It’s said that he provided more than $90,000,000 in funds for AEW, and the rumors are that the top wrestlers of the world are going to join AEW in the future. The appearances of Japanese joshi Aja Kong and Sakazaki Yuka have been announced, and from the collaborating IWE, CIMA is also going to appear.
And ever since April 3rd, when it was announced that Omega’s best friend from his time with DDT, Nakazawa Michael, will be an inaugural member of the promotion, the world has been in disarray.
“At AEW, the plan is for me and the new people to all work together. We plan on collecting the best personnel.”
I have a lot I want to ask you, but first of all, how about you introduce the person sitting next to you?
Omega: Okay. He’s called Nakazawa Michael, but his real name is Nakazawa Masatsugu.
Nakazawa: Hey! Do you need to tell them my real name? They’ll remember this. (laughs)
Omega: The first Japanese person I ever met when I first came to Japan was Kakimoto (Daichi)1, but the first one I became really good friends with was him. Because he had a car he took me with him on his way to the gym, and he also took me to temples and such. And we often hung out with Cherry2 and Ibushi (Kôta).
Omega: I often trained together with Nakazawa, we played games [together], went out to eat, and he’s also the one who ordered all kinds of supplements for me. I went to his home and his wife cooked dinner for us. Nakazawa is my best friend in Japan. This might be an exaggeration, but if he hadn’t been there for me, I could have died in Japan. That’s because I didn’t know anything in the beginning when I came to Japan.
Nakazawa: Well, I showed you around and we often hung out together. And I helped a little bit with his study of Japanese.
Omega: He’s been a good friend of mine like that for 10 years, but maybe he was anticipating I would become a star in the future? So he could use me and be in AEW like that now. (laughs)
Nakazawa: No, no. (laughs)
Oh? So Nakazawa is in AEW too?
Nakazawa: Let’s leave it at that [for now].
Omega: Yeah, my relationship with Nakazawa isn’t just a private one, we also had matches together as a team in DDT, we fought against each other as enemies, did events together, appeared for SAMURAI! TV together, and such. That’s right, I also wrestled in (All Japan’s) junior tag league with him. Truth be told, I also wanted him to appear in New Japan, but he had to go to Thailand for work and wasn’t able to do it.
So you mean, if Nakazawa hadn’t hadn’t worked in Thailand he would have gone to New Japan?
Omega: Of course! If it had been up to me. (laughs)
Weren’t there similar stories about him with WWE? That he was going to sign with WWE together with Ibushi Kôta or something.
Nakazawa. Ah, that was 2 years ago, but yeah, there were stories like that. At the time, Ibushi hadn’t really said yes to WWE, and I was asked something along the lines of what I would do, if I would be willing to be [there] with him. But I don’t think anyone in a position of power like Triple H or someone said something like that.
You are a veritable key player [in all of this]. And then [all this happened] after you returned home from Thailand.
Nakazawa: Yeah. This time I didn’t return to Japan at a moment’s notice. I was approached first by AEW in October or November last year, or a little earlier than that. But because I had a gym to look after in Thailand I couldn’t just accept at that time, but I wanted to prepare [to join them eventually]. I think people think it was all decided suddenly because neither the AEW side nor myself announced those [talks we had], but this was decided a long time ago. And now, after I’m finally ready, I came home to Japan.
Omega: We plan to announce Nakazawa tomorrow.
Ah, tomorrow. Will your position be to act as the contact [person] for AEW’s Japanese [talent]?
Nakazawa: Honestly, regardless of what position I’ll be in, I think there will be offers from AEW to Japanese wrestlers and on those occasions I’ll do interpreting and [be the one] to actually contact them and ask them about their plans. And the concerns with the visas and everything are complicated, so I’ll help with that, checking the contracts, things like that. Real estate contracts are like that too, [they use] their own lingo and you often don’t know the details of what’s written in them.
Omega: Do you know?
Nakazawa: I don’t know either. (laughs) But, well, I’m going to help the Japanese talent in AEW to the best of my knowledge and while working back and forth with the people in AEW who have legal knowledge and such. Simply put, I’ll be behind the scenes.
You speak English and Japanese, and you have a good understanding of the business [side] of wrestling as well.
Omega: That’s right.
Of course, you were the one to invite Nakazawa, right, Kenny?
Omega: Yes. But even if he didn’t speak English or had this talent for the wrestling business, I think I would have found a position for him in AEW as just a wrestler or something. And that’s because at AEW, the plan is for me and the new people to all work together. We plan on collecting the best personnel.
Is that so?
Omega: Unfortunately, we might not be able to make that 100 percent reality, but we’ll work to make it close to 100 percent reality. But I’m not just saying that because these people are my friends and I have their support. I’m simply looking for what I consider to the best possible talent.
You have a vision of what you want to accomplish, and you want to become close with the people who can make that a reality, or with the best possible people.
Omega: Yeah. The people of this world may not know who Nakazawa is, but I know his genius well. That’s why I want the people of the world know about him. We did comedy and serious matches together in DDT. We also produced Beer Garden shows together. I want to show the talent behind those things to the world. Same can be said about the Japanese joshi. I want to give them a push this time and show the people of this world a part of Japanese pro wrestling that they haven’t seen before. I want them to know about the beauty of Japanese women’s wrestling.
“If there’s anyone who is in the last stages of talking about a contract with AEW, and then suddenly decides to go to New Japan after all while they are in those talks, they’re nuts.” (Nakazawa)
Nakazawa: Actually, I was approached by New Japan [about a contract].
What?! Tell us more.
Nakazawa: This isn’t something that Ibushi (Kôta) wanted or anything, but I was approached [by New Japan] via Ibushi. He told me that they had wanted to contact me, and if it was okay to put [the message] through. At this point, Ibushi still wasn’t under contract with New Japan, and it was at the stage where they were only talking, but apparently he had been told that they wanted to talk with me about work as well, and through Ibushi they got my email address and phone number and gave me a call.
New Japan did?
Nakazawa: However, that offer wasn’t for wrestling, but for [fitness] training. And, looking after Ibushi.
A mental trainer for Ibushi. (laughs) Yeah, makes sense.
Nakazawa: I got the offer to [work there] including supporting Ibushi mentally, but at that point I had already finished talking with AEW, so I declined. I hadn’t signed with AEW yet, but we had entered the final stages, and I had no intention of signing with New Japan. I talked to them just because I wanted to know what they wanted from me and what [the work] would look like. That’s when they told me they wanted me as a full time trainer and what my work would look like and under what conditions [I would work there].
If you look at it from New Japan’s point of view, they did this because they absolutely wanted to get Ibushi Kôta signed, even if that meant involving you, right?
Nakazawa: I wonder about that. I don’t know, but they definitely must have known me and AEW were talking.
At any rate, you could say that AEW won the contest for Nakazawa’s heart. (laughs)
Nakazawa: Yeah. It was the timing. This time, I was torn between [choosing] Kenny and [choosing] Ibushi, but truthfully I wanted to help both of them out. But AEW had talked to me sooner, and another big reason was that I had studied abroad in America before and I had wanted to work there as well, but I wasn’t able to get my visa and I had to reluctantly give up and return home to Japan, and I always regretted that. That was one of the reasons why I decided to go to America this time. I was in the final stages of talking with AEW as well, and if there’s anyone who suddenly changes their mind under those circumstances and decides to go to New Japan after all, they’re nuts.
Right. Kenny, you are acting as EVP for AEW, but do the Young Bucks and Cody, who are EVPs as well, hold equal power to your position?
Omega: Yeah. I think no one stands out above the others and we all have our fields we are responsible for? That’s why the four executives you just mentioned all work together right now without any disputes or disagreements. Of course, there’s the worry of how we are going to organize if we do clash, but there’s no point in arguing about that at this stage. We are already making the weekly program, and that’s similar to producing a wrestling event, so it’s going well. Even if we have different opinions, we don’t clash over those, we just respect each other and our opinions.
I think you and the Young Bucks are people who have created a wrestling style that allows them to make money despite never going to WWE, by doing the wrestling they love. Even if AEW hadn’t been born, you would have continued to lead a happy wrestling life, right?
Omega: I think so too. For example, New Japan is a very traditional company, and I lived under that tradition for a long time. I also think a new process started there when I came in. So, even thought they were such a traditional company, they let me do new things, they trusted me [to do that]. I’m really glad they did, and I’m thankful to them for that. Because they believed in me I was able to put out my originality. And AEW is a promotion full of people who think like me, who want to show something new, who want to show original wrestling. I think there hasn’t been a promotion like this before, and there was never an attempt to do something like that. So we won’t know what actually happens until we try and do it. (laughs)
There’s also the fear that you won’t be able to do everything you want to the way you want to do it. And like you have said, New Japan has trusted you as a foreign wrestler for many years. I think that’s a very rare thing in the history of New Japan. Why were you able to create this situation [for yourself]?
Omega: Well, if you look at it, wrestling’s a business, it’s about what you do for that money, and I put out best bout after best bout and I continued to share my thoughts on Twitter and stuff like that. A lot of fans responded to that and followed me [on my journey], and that was a big reason why. It might sound weird to describe the way New Japan does things like that, but the direction they took was to use the media well and imprint on the fans “this guy is at the top” or “this guy is the best”. So because of that, the fans look at Tanahashi (Hiroshi) as the ace, they look at Naito with reverence and so on. Because of how they did that, their business didn’t get in a slump and they were able to stay above water and rise up step by step. I think it was a good, smart choice. And they gave me a chance as well, and because they came to let me do things how I wanted to do them, they went up another notch.
You had that realization.
Omega: While they’re doing that, there were points when they felt like they had to stop the flow and return to [their] basics. And then because the excitement was going down a little, they stopped and thought, oh, wait, could what Kenny’s been saying be true? And they let me do things once more and it got over. I guess you could say they experimented [with me] again and again. I think I was able to gradually earn their trust while they made those experiments again and again. In other words, I was able to earn the power to be able to do what I wanted to do.
So, those 4 years with New Japan were a very fulfilling time for you?
Omega: I think because I’m gifted with the ability to get to the top by myself, without getting a push from the company, without being on the covers of magazines, without having TV specials made about me, I was good fit for New Japan, someone they could experiment with without risk. Of course there were times as well when I asked them what they thought of me doing this or that, or when I did it anyway without getting confirmation [from them]. But because I had already earned their trust, the New Japan side understood when it was best to do things the way I proposed to do them. And because I got that trust from them, by getting the power to do things freely, I was able to become the best Kenny Omega I could be.
Did you think in earnest about letting AEW and New Japan collaborate?
I wanted to do it together with them, because even now I think of DDT as my family, and I carry those same feelings towards New Japan. If there’s a difference between DDT and New Japan, it’s that DDT has a strong unity. The wrestlers get along really well and understand each other’s feelings. Opposed to that, New Japan is a big company, and as you would expect there are people in that system who have never met, and there are different people who come from (the parent company) Bushiroad lineage as well. I thought that, because it’s a company with so many people in it, things just can’t progress that easily. As a singular wrestler you might be able to make talks go along more smoothly, but when it comes to the people in the system, you need the approval of several people and carefully go back and forth to finally decide on anything. It’s not like you can simply decide things on your own.
Were you surprised that New Japan declined a cooperation?
Omega: Oh no, it’s not quite that we were turned down by New Japan. AEW hasn’t really started yet, so [we] said, let’s wait until a bit more time has passed. You could say that the business discussions haven’t really started yet.
“If you cling to one style of wrestling, then you’ll lose sight of anything outside the confines of the ring. Your matches only express 40% of [everything].”
Ah, I see. That’s why you stated that your contract allows you to appear for New Japan as well.
Omega: That’s right.
So, are you able to work together with DDT as well?
Omega: Of course. It’s not just limited to DDT, I could appear for WWE as well. Because I think that DDT and New Japan were the ones who made me who I am in my 10 years here, I hope we can work out something together with those two first. But if you replace me with the Young Bucks, then it’s Dragongate who made them the best tag team. And at that time CIMA was at Dragongate. That’s why the two of them called CIMA [and told him] that they want to work with him again. I myself feel that there’s potential for the wrestlers in OWE (the first real pro wrestling promotion in China lead by CIMA). I took a lot of inspiration from Hong Kong kung fu movies and I feel that same style from OWE. I think they’re a promotion with an amazing potential.
Where is AEW’s place in terms of style between those promotions?
Omega: We can’t decide on just one style. We don’t plan on saying, for example, “we are strong style” or “we are lucha”. Instead, we want to think about what kind of things we can show on a single show. If you cling to one style of wrestling first when you’re thinking about a single show, then you’ll lose sight of anything outside the confines of the ring. When it comes to what I express [in my matches], then it’s not “what kind of style do I want do?”, but “what do I want to show?”. I think that I was able to have all those great matches because I perceived of the bigger things outside the confines of the ring. But this isn’t just restricted to wrestling, it’s about looking at the bigger picture and thinking about what you can show. That’s what putting on a show is about, I think.
You feel that wrestling is one form of expression.
Omega: Yeah, exactly. For example, for this year’s Dome on 1/4 I made a collaboration video with the game Undertale, right? The way I think about it, wrestling doesn’t just end when the bell rings at [the end of] a match. More to the point, it starts with the VTRs and includes everything until the fans go home. Including the lighting and special effects and music and things like that, you have to put on the best of [those] things, and then you have to express [yourself] thinking about everything until the fans go home. These days, even when they don’t come to the venue, fans can watch short videos while the match is going on on Twitter, and you can drag a lot of people into it [that way]. I do [my matches] while thinking about that too. My match with Tanahashi at the Dome might have been 35 minutes from bell to bell, but that was only 40% of everything [involved with that match].
This is something I heard, but is it true that you and the Young Bucks and Cody aren’t just thinking about what you are going to do from now on, but that you’re also actively thinking about how to plant the seeds to create the next superstars to exceed you?
Omega: It is. But that’s something we did already as the Elite, when it was just me and the Young Bucks in the beginning. Then Cody came in, and then Hangman Page and Marty Scurll, and they have become stars as well. The Elite has that power to produce stars. And I want to raise the next joshi wrestler stars from now, and I also want to make this Nakazawa Michael here a star. (laughs)
Nakazawa: I don’t think of myself as that great, and I don’t have a high self-confidence either. (laughs) There are people around me who tell me I’m great, but no matter what I’m told, I always think I’m not that great. It’s the same when I had matches with Kenny, but the people I care about thought I could do it, and everyone prepared a space for me to do it and went through all kinds of trouble doing that for me. So, to put it bluntly, it really wasn’t like I was asking for a title match, even though somewhere deep, deep down in my heart probably had [that fire] smoldering within me. But Kenny believed in me having that strength and he set things in motion to make [the title match] a reality. I didn’t believe in my own potential at all, but I didn’t want to betray the expectations of my friends who believed in me, and so I said, I’ll do it. That’s it.
That’s a nice story. For some reason I’m thinking of the the formation of a new Golden Lovers now? (laughs)
Nakazawa: No, no, it’s not like that. (laughs)
Of course it’s nothing like that. (laughs)
Nakazawa: Well that’s because we only tagged a couple of times. (laughs)
Omega: We had a match as a tag team during Beer Garden against the Shirai Sisters, but we were called “NuruNuru3 Lovers” or something like that at that time. (laughs)
Nakazawa: That one really was one hell of a match. (laughs)
So you, Kenny, want to keep an exchange with DDT and New Japan, and also work with Nakazawa. The Young Bucks want to work with CIMA. AEW really seems like a family.
Omega: It’s really sad when the people around you leave. When you think about the circumstances of that leaving, for example, Nakazawa wanted to do business in Thailand and that’s why he left DDT. Of course, that was for himself and because he wanted to do another business than wrestling, and I don’t blame the promotion in this or anything. If DDT had properly recognized his worth and paid him accordingly, then maybe he wouldn’t have chased something else.
“What I wish for right now from the bottom of my heart, is first and foremost for Ibushi to do all the things he feels has to do, and if he can, to achieve [those things] while he’s happy and enjoying himself.”
You mean that he would never have considered any other option outside of wrestling.
Omega: Pro wrestling offices are always divided into the wrestler side and the side of the people from the company, and sometimes the people from the company don’t realize how the wrestlers are feeling, but at AEW, of course we are thinking about the business things too, but we do want to take care of the human relationships above anything else. If we’re taking care of the wrestlers, than in the end that’s a total plus for the company, and the fans can see that and enjoy that too. So, what becomes a problem then is if, for example, the company makes a profit, and the the company is like, “Here’s how much you get”, and the wrestlers are like, “Wait a minute. Why does the company take this much? We made that money for you, so you should pay us more. If you don’t we’ll just destroy this company.” We want to avoid situations where there’s exchanges with other wrestlers who look at the Young Bucks getting paid their dues and go, “No, no, we’re the better wrestlers, pay us more”. We want to share for the sake of everyone, for the sake of the fans, and we don’t want to keep the company’s profits to any one person or deny anyone a large share. We want to share it with everyone.
Nakazawa: Yeah, yeah.
Omega: Maybe that’s just a dream. But put simply, people don’t stop waging wars even though they know it would be better if there were no more wars and instead there was peace, right? The reason this is happening is because the people in charge don’t want to give up their shares. Fortunately, I’m in a position now where I’m the best wrestler and I have the influence to decide all kinds of things. And on top of that, I want to share equally with everyone. There are people who can’t go along with this and they say that, no, no, this way of doing things at AEW won’t do at all, but we have to leave those people behind and go forward one step at a time. I want to eliminate the conflicts and rigid ways of thinking and make this business a more peaceful world.
The people who are friends with you or Ibushi or Nakazawa can all be quite strange. Are you yourself aware that you’re a weird guy?
Omega: I am. Actually I say, “change the world”, and that I want to do the best I possibly can. To me, that’s about wrestling, and even though there are many problems in this world, like racism or terrorism, and amongst those gigantic things wrestling is just a tiny part of this all, I want to start changing things there. In the end, what we call the world is made up of a collection of many smaller things, and because of that I’m hopeful that the world as a whole is going to change when other people do the best they can do as well, just like I’m doing my best. Is that strange? (laughs)
No, no, it’s wonderful. I simply have to ask you this, but how do you feel about Ibushi staying behind with New Japan, frankly? I think, including Nakazawa, naturally you had the wish to take everyone with you to AEW [but…].
Omega: … (keeps his eyes closed in silence for a while) Yeah. Certainly a part of me feels like in everything, there are things I can’t make a reality without Ibushi. However, in 2016 I was able to get through the G1 with the help of the Young Bucks while Ibushi wasn’t there. At that time, Nakazawa was there for me as my second as well. And because of [their help] I was able to accomplish the most difficult thing, and that was winning the G1 as a foreign wrestler. And then the following year, when Ibushi came back, I thought that this was the right way for things to be, and that everything was coming together perfectly, and [I] had numerous best matches not just in singles but with Ibushi as tag team, too. When I found out that he had come to the decision not to go to AEW, I thought there was nothing I could do alone that was bigger than what I had done with him. But when I calmed down and looked at my surroundings once more, I wasn’t as alone as I had thought. There were the Young Bucks at my side, and Nakazawa decided [to join AEW] soon after he got the offer, and now he’s sitting next to me. And the other members of the Elite turned down the invitations from WWE and chose AEW as well. A big piece of the puzzle I’m trying to assemble from now on is definitely missing. That big piece being Ibushi, of course, but I don’t want to think of puzzle as ugly because that one piece is missing. Shouldn’t we all just do our best together to fill [the hole left by] that piece? My way of thinking about this is changing right now. I cry when I watch movies, and if I had to say, I guess I’m very sensitive. That’s why when I see interviews or articles about Ibushi, I can’t help but see everything in a sad light. But I can’t make up for that anymore, I can’t change anything about that anymore. What I wish for right now from the bottom of my heart, is first and foremost for Ibushi to do all the things he feels has to do, and if he can, to achieve [those things] while he’s happy and enjoying himself. And I want to do the things I have to do from here on while having fun as well, but the point in which Ibushi and I differ is that I have a lot of friends who support me. Beginning with the Young Bucks, Cody and the members of the Elite. But there is no one around him now. That’s why I think he doesn’t have an easy journey ahead of him.
He probably has no one close to him he can call a kindred soul, yeah.
Omega: Ibushi too is his own person, his own adult, and because this is something he alone has decided on, even though we think it’s sad and all that, because this is something that he decided to do as his own man, I think we have to believe in him feeling that this is what he has to do right now. He doesn’t come to AEW this time, but we’re always talking about him, always thinking about him, and even though he might not actually be here, the feeling is that we’re always together. So I don’t want you to think he’s alone. I would like you to think of us as always being with him.
Understood. New Japan has ceaselessly brought in new fans during the last couple of years here. For AEW to be founded during a time like this, they are the first time those new fans witness the moment when a new movement starts, and I think AEW might become a special promotion for those people because of that.
Omega: I myself am very happy we’re getting all that attention. Of course, AEW’s home base is going to be America, but we’re currently thinking about how to make AEW available for the Japanese fans as well.
Do you mean by arranging for a place [for those fans] to watch [AEW]? [i.e. a streaming service etc] Or is this about [AEW] holding events in Japan?
Omega: Since the first steps as a new promotion are the most important things, some people might think that we should focus on our home base of America first of all, but I don’t think it’s overly ambitious to hold events in Japan or Asia as well. I would love to able to meet with all our Japanese fans again as soon as possible.
1 Former DDT wrestler, and manager of their bar Dropkick.
2 Former DDT wrestler.
3 Lit.: slippery, referencing Nakazawa’s nickname of Slippery Pervert because of his use of oil during matches.