Pro wrestler Kenny Omega is a living video game character. His destructive finisher is called The One Winged Angel, named after Final Fantasy 7’s bad boy, Sephiroth. His entrance music was formerly Dr. Wily's stage theme from the first Mega Man. He currently dresses like Liquid Snake, he’s visited Capcom’s headquarters, and one of his signature moves is a damn Hadouken. He's possibly the most hardcore gamer to ever wrestle (professionally, anyway). Meet your new favorite superstar.
"I've always been an avid gamer and (aside from wrestling) I credit games, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Saturday morning superhero cartoons for developing a lot of my personality," Kenny explained via email from Japan. "As a kid, when the neighbors were out playing street hockey or tackle football, my friends and I were in my basement with the NES/SNES. In high school, despite my involvement on four different sports teams, I threw my duties of being a jock out the window and spent my spare time in wrestling training or on the PS2."
Under all that muscle, athletic ability, and charisma, Omega is a gamer at heart, and that experience has led him to great success in the squared circle. A native Canadian who currently splits his time between Japan and his home in Winnipeg, the 31-year-old has been a full time wrestler for more than a decade. He's was briefly part of WWE's developmental division, and has worked for numerous prestigious groups like Ring of Honor and DDT, and most recently joined New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 2014. No matter where he wrestles, his trademark gaming moveset comes with him.
"That came about while trying to create a character in wrestling that was original, yet still me," he explained. "Some nods are purposely more recognizable than others, and the rest are just me being a fanboy, paying homage to things I love. I knew that there was a chance it'd fall real flat, but I was lucky, and people got it. Because it wasn't a parody and something I did with conviction, I think it got a 'Hey, I remember playing Street Fighter!' type of nostalgic reaction."
In case his killer Hadouken didn't convince you, Kenny has a long history with the Street Fighter series, talking about his favorite characters and moves like he’s a finalist at EVO. "I started in Vanilla and Super with Zangief, but after getting to a pro (or at least near pro) level, I took a long break from playing." But it was getting so close to a pro’s skill level that stuck Omega in what he described as a kind of Street Fighter purgatory.
"I was at a point where matches with friends wouldn't be competitive and yet I'd still get destroyed by the absolute top players if I entered big tournaments.” It’s a plateau that many fighters can identify with, though Omega eventually returned to the series. “After I sat out SF for years, I picked up Dudley in Ultra for a while. The combos and mix ups were fun but in the end, I had too much fun stabbing guys with (Cody’s) OP'd knife over and over again."
Omega’s YouTube page is full of his Ultra Street Fighter 4 matches, but you’ll find something else there too. Kenny and fellow wrestler Michael Nakazawa began filming a new Let's Play series called Cleaner's Corner - after Omega's newest nickname. The initial three episodes have them playing some of Kenny's favorite retro titles, including Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers for the NES, with Kenny helpfully singing the theme song.
"That came about late last year before my NJPW debut. From late September to January, I had to sit out from all shows and I wanted a way to keep in touch with fans. Making the videos became a fun personal project outside of my daily training schedule and helped me coax friends into revisiting the NES era with me."
After settling in at his new home, he finally posted them in late January. "I'm really happy about the response thus far. The positivity definitely makes me want to continue the series.” Now that he’s running with a new group of friends - the dastardly Bullet Club - he hopes to feature them in the next run of videos. “It should be a crazy two or three episodes, so I'm anxious to get them filmed ASAP."
As you might expect, Kenny’s played his fair share of wrestling games, and like many his age, the N64 era grapplers have a special place in his heart. "I think a lot of guys were inspired by the N64 AKI engine games." He loved WCW vs. nWo and WrestleMania 2000 back in the day, but the series’ Japan-only entry reigns supreme for him. "Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 remains the best wrestling game ever, in my opinion."
Those late '90s wrestling games would turn out to help him in his future profession. Developed with Japanese style grappling in mind, the N64 games had attacks rarely seen outside those borders. "My first exposure to a lot of cool moves we never saw in North America were via those games. When guys were using Sting and Kevin Nash, I was the dude with Dim Sum or Powder Keg. Once I realized that those oddball characters were based on real wrestlers in Japan, it gave more incentive to learn about the sport outside of our borders." That path would take him to New Japan Pro Wrestling, the biggest promotion in Japan.
The audiences in Japan have “been overwhelmingly positive” to Omega, particularly the gamers. He’s got friends at Capcom, and performed live at last year’s Tokyo Game Show, Japan’s version of E3. "I shit you not, of all the places I've been in the world, I've never felt such a warm reception. I'd walk five feet (at TGS) and there'd be fans, media, or game designers that knew me because of my character and wanting to take pictures. It was such a friendly atmosphere and even though some of the people had never seen me perform live, they knew about all my shenanigans by watching online and became supporters."
If you want to see more of the man, Omega's next big match is April 5 in Tokyo, streaming on New Japan’s online network. He'll be defending his championship against one of Mexico's top luchadores, Máscara Dorada, so expect some wild, high-flying action. And if we’re lucky, maybe an Hadouken or two.