Kenny Omega takes issue with Roman Reigns' claim: Who is the best in the world?
The 'best in the world' pro wrestling debate can be a tricky one
The topic of who is the best professional wrestler in the world today is often debated by fans and critics alike but rarely one the actual performers are willing to entertain.
All of that seemed to change in December when Roman Reigns made headlines by declaring on the WWE Network's "Straight To The Source" that he was "the best performer, in-ring, in the world" during a candid interview with Corey Graves.
Some took exception with the bold claim, with the juicy quotes providing fodder for podcasts and social media rants. You can now count New Japan Pro Wrestling star and fellow "best in the world" candidate Kenny Omega among that group after an interview published Wednesday by Bleacher Report.
"I don't know if Roman was put up to saying a comment like that from a social media team or if it was something that he consciously thought of himself," Omega said "But I thought it was pretty smart of him to do -- to say -- that, because it became instantaneously a topic that people were talking about. And just because it sounds so ridiculous. You know what I mean?
"By no means do I actually think he believes in those words. There's no possible way."
Does Omega have a point? That's where the debate gets interesting.
Omega, a native of Canada, became a worldwide wrestling sensation in 2017 after delivering a series of matches in Japan that many critics, including legendary Wrestling Observer scribe Dave Meltzer, declared as the best they had ever seen.
Not only was Omega's trio of matches from his feud against Kazuchika Okada in NJPW among the highest-rated of all time, but some have pondered whether he authored the single-best calendar year by any professional wrestler, in WWE or abroad, in the history of the art form.
Even though Omega, who replaced a departing AJ Styles in 2016 as the leader of the popular Bullet Club faction, projects himself as a cocky heel in front of the cameras, he's often much more reserved when not in character. It's the reason why his willingness to boldly retort was so compelling.
"I don't have to feel like I have to speak up about it," Omega said. "It is what it is, and I understand that it's a fun thing for fans to generate interest in the product. I take absolutely zero offense in him saying it.
"Especially since it's quite clear that the fact of the matter is much, much different."
Considering how often Omega, 34, has talked during interviews about how he prefers to let his in-ring work speak for itself, the comments from Reigns clearly struck a chord within him.
But if we're taking the quotes from Reigns at face value, the correct response would be that he's wrong.
"The Big Dog" certainly deserves credit for his confidence, of course. He also deserves praise as a truly great in-ring worker after improving at such a dramatic clip in recent years while shouldering an often unfair amount of criticism from fans simply for how hard WWE chairman Vince McMahon has chosen to push him.
The truth, however, is that Reigns isn't even the best performer in his own company. That nod goes to the very deserving Styles. And if we are really splitting hairs among the very elite, Reigns wouldn't even finish in the top five considering how incredible the talent in NJPW alone is right now, from Omega and Okada to Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi.
It's hard to watch an Omega match and not marvel at his sublime athleticism and creativity. In fact, Omega might be single-handedly responsible for the current boom period that's forming outside the walls of WWE as fans have more access to independent wrestling thanks to advancements in technology than at any point.
But let's be clear on one thing: Omega and Reigns are operating in two entirely different universes, with a contrasting set of rules.
Omega, who might be best compared as a wrestler to an improvisational jazz player, from all indications has an open canvas within NJPW to paint the exact vision of his character that matches his feelings inside. It's a forum that breeds the kind of wrestling that can best be compared to art, as Omega often appears as if he's naturally reacting instead of acting.
Reigns, on the other hand, operates in a world much more reliant upon scripting, polish and timing. It's in this restrictive world that Reigns has few peers. It's also in this world where he has become one of the world's biggest and most polarizing stars.
Omega can rightfully claim he's above Reigns as an in-ring performer. But the real challenge, now that "The Cleaner" has embarked on such a meteoric rise in the past 12 months, is whether Omega can equal Reigns as a recognizable star who can one day carry a global brand the size of WWE.
Is Omega the rare transcendent talent who can get to that level without WWE while doing the impossible of creating legitimate promotional competition for the first time since the Attitude Era? Or if he does one day follow the likes of Styles, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura from Japan to the WWE, can he build the type of following that names like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena have before him?
In record time, Omega has already stamped himself among the genre's best artists historically. But there are bigger questions awaiting Omega as he begins his reach toward that proverbial brass ring should he hope to finish his career in the same company of the superstars who Reigns appears on the fast track of joining.
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