Kenny Omega & Will Ospreay: The Shadow Self 

Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay are two of the best professional wrestlers alive today. Both of them combine otherworldly athletic abilities with an innate skill to captivate a crowd. When they wrestle, you want to watch. They also both have walked the path of the Gaijin in New Japan Pro Wrestling. As foreigners, they have gone to Japan, won over the not easily impressed audiences, and risen to the top of that promotion. For many avid wrestling fans, the idea of an Omega vs Opsreay match is a truly mouthwatering concept. Unfortunately for fans, they seem to actually despise each other. 

Both Ospreay and Omega come from humble beginnings in England and Canada respectively. Both grew up as fans and began wrestling at a young age. Kenny Omega walked away from a promising hockey career and Will Ospreay’s mother put a wrestling ring in her backyard to keep her son from getting into trouble on the Essex streets. Go on Youtube and search “Ace Pain Wrestling” to see a young Ospreay in backyard matches set to “Wonderwall” and “I Walk Alone” mashups (it’s extremely British). In these videos, you can see Ospreay hitting 450 splashes and standing shooting star presses. It is very clear that the young Ospreay is super naturally gifted and has a different relationship with gravity than most people.

Omega began on the indie scene in Canada eventually shedding a surfer gimmick for a Japanese and video game-influenced persona that clearly was a more accurate reflection of who he is. Both men rose steadily on their respective paths. Kenny, inspired by Kota Ibushi made his way to DDT while Ospreay cut his teeth in the burgeoning British wrestling scene.

On the “WRESTHINGS’ podcast, Ospreay sites AJ Styles as his main influence. When you watch young Ospreay you can clearly see AJ’s influence. The aerial gifts, the intensity, and the clear desire to steal the show. Ospreay goes on to say that Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and AJ are the men responsible for getting him to New Japan. That is truly a murderer’s row of wrestlers showing Ospreay support.  

Both men arrived in Japan clearly intent on making waves and shifting the zeitgeist. Ospreay had a match against Ricochet in the 2016 Best of the Super Juniors that resonated outside of the traditional wrestling space with clips being shown on ESPN and circulating online (Vader amongst other old schoolers were vocal in their displeasure).

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Kenny before arriving in NJPW had banger after banger with and against Kota Ibushi. He also was combining an otherworldly athletic skillset with a desire to push the boundaries of what wrestling is, famously having matches with a little girl and a blow-up doll (separately).

The Golden Lovers is another example of this. Kenny and Kota’s relationship was never overtly defined but it was well beyond the “respect” and a handshake trope wrestling has given its fans over and over again. After an extended story involving Kenny and Kota not being together, Kota rushed down to the ring to save Kenny from a beating. The Golden Lovers finally reunited in New Japan and fans were openly weeping in the audience. Omega trusted the audience to have an open mind and a nuanced understanding of storytelling. This speaks to his awareness of narrative and an innate belief that wrestling fans are not a gaggle of homophobic troglodytes. 

Ospreay meanwhile won the Best Of The Super Juniors. His final match against Shingo Takagi was an instant classic. His speech after the match is something to behold. He is emotional and vulnerable, and at that moment what he means to the promotion and the Japanese fanbase shifts. Here is an absurdly talented, deeply humble kid who is so over he has the crowd in the palm of his hand. In different ways, Omega and Ospreay’s respective stars were clearly on the rise and both of them were doing it in their own ways.

Kenny and Will have always seemed completely uninterested in the formulaic. Omega walked away from WWE in his early days citing a lack of creative freedom and Ospreay by all accounts has politely declined multiple overtures to become a WWE Superstar. Another example of these two men being more interested in creativity than in money or the chance to one day star in “The Toothfairy”. Kenny and Will would cross paths in PWG in a singles bout and also some tag stuff. It wasn’t yet time for a marquee meeting between the two in an NJPW ring, however.  It is also important to cite that Omega is older than Ospreay and was ahead of him in terms of blazing trails and timelines.

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Kenny Omega as IWGP Heavyweight Champion

NJPW Dominion 2018. Prior to the event, both wrestlers would add accolade after accolade to their respective resumes. G1 tournament wins, New Japan cup wins, Junior I.W.G.P. title wins. Kenny would become the new leader of the Bullet Club. Omega and Ospreay would both come into Dominion 2018 at the tops of their games with high-profile matches on the card.  Top to bottom this event is probably the most positively reviewed wrestling show ever. It also has the distinction of having the highest Meltzer star-rated match (widely and somewhat controversially used as a metic for rating wrestling matches).

Will Ospreay faced Hiromu Takahashi in an absolute peach of a match. High spots, submissions, false finishes, and a sense of legitimate danger permeate the bout with Ospreay eventually losing his title. It is in many respects a vintage Ospreay performance and something that maybe 3 or 4 other men alive are capable of doing. Despite all of this, the night would belong to Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega.

Okada vs Omega 4 is in my view, the greatest wrestling match of all time. I plan on doing a longer piece on it at some point but to summarize, it is perfect. The highest-rated match in the history of the Meltzer star system.  It is quite simply a monumental achievement and to a lot of fans, it puts Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada into a class by themselves. Outside of the technical brilliance, the long-term story between the two of them is incredible. It is an immaculately executed wrestling program and as such elevated the art form to something completely new.

The program finished with the IWGP belt around Kenny’s waist which made him without question the top guy in Japanese wrestling. It could also be offered that the events following Kenny becoming champion started the long descent into mutual loathing we see between these two wrestlers today. 

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AEW. A dream cooked up by the Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and Tony Khan. An American promotion that was intent on offering professional wrestling, not sports entertainment. Kenny, Cody, and the Bucks left NJPW to form that promotion. How all of those men were booked as they were leaving New Japan seemed to generate heat. Omega has stated in interviews that he didn’t like the way he was booked as he was leaving and that there was a real sense of resentment towards him and the rest of “The Elite” as they moved on to start their own thing.

To hear Ospreay tell it, Omega put his arm around him on his way out and essentially handed him and Jay White the reins. It is also important to point out that in Kenny’s absence in New Japan, Will Ospreay won the IWGP title and main evented big shows. It could also be said that Jay White has been a hair more successful than Will although that can be chalked up to an Ospreay injury forcing him off the roster right as his title run was about to heat up.  That aside the longer-term fallout of The Elite forming AEW was an initial period of enmity between the long-standing “King of Sports” and the upstart promotion.

Sadly this is fairly common in wrestling and ultimately the fans are the ones who suffer. We are denied dream matches, sometimes feel like we are forced to choose sides, etc. Jon Moxley talked on a podcast about the difficulty navigating these issues when he was performing for both companies. Thankfully for the fans, these inter-promotional issues have been resolved and the result was Forbidden Door.

This leaves Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay. For what feels like a long time, the two have been trading shots on podcasts. Not “work shots” that would be a long-term build to a match. Actual criticisms and name calling. Kenny saying things like “Will has had a number of forgettable five-star matches” (is that even a thing?) while also praising Jay White and giving Ospreay backhanded compliments.

Will Ospreay has called Kenny “fake” the “C” word and threatened to slap him if they are in the same room. Will has also assured everyone this isn’t a work and in fact, it certainly does not present like one. From an outside perspective, it feels like someone yelling into a mirror. Are they different stylistically? Yes. Does the edge in storytelling slightly go to Kenny? Probably. Is Ospreay the better in-ring performer? I would say by half a centimeter, yes. That being said all of these opinions are completely subjective as wrestling is art and art cannot be qualitatively assessed in a traditional way.

Will Ospreay now leads his own faction in the form of the United Empire
Will Ospreay now leads his own faction in the form of the United Empire | Credit; Sportskeeda

What Is The Shadow Self? And How Does It Relate To Kenny Omega & Will Ospreay

The Shadow Self is a Carl Jung theory that essentially posits that we all have issues with the parts of ourselves we don’t accept and usually find those same traits in others to be reprehensible.

Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay would probably say they are nothing alike, maybe some people reading this will agree. I would submit that most people who like Kenny also have or have had Ospreay high on their favorites list and vice versa. They are both trailblazers, risk takers, mavericks, and above all, artists. Does it really matter who has more Meltzer stars? Both men are without doubt two of the most talented wrestlers working today and two of the most talented ever.

Seeing Omega hit a perfect V Trigger or Ospreay wallop someone with a Hidden Blade makes wrestling feel real. The chances taken by both men and the injuries sustained in pursuit of their craft leave no doubt about their commitment, passion, and willingness to sacrifice. I would argue that it’s their similarities, not their differences that are driving each other up the wall. How could Kenny sit at home injured and see Will coming into AEW and not feel a bit threatened or jealous? How could Will after putting on banger after banger not see Kenny’s 7-star match and say to himself “can I ever beat that”. 

My dream answer to this question comes at (hopefully) Forbidden Door 2. Put these two guys in a room together and don’t let them out until they square it. Then put them in the ring. It would do UNGODLY business. The story writes itself.  Often in the wrestling business, you hear performers talk about timing being everything. The biggest stories, feuds, etc being a matter of luck as well as planning. Maybe the wrestling gods knew the fans needed this match and decided that art imitating life was the clear path forward. Maybe it’s all a random cipher and we just got lucky. Either way, Omega vs Ospreay is a story waiting to be told. The dream match of dream matches. All we need is for these two brilliant men to stop chasing shadows. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

It’s a big scary beautiful world out there, remember to lace em up.

By Thomas Jay Hayes | Twitter

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