Shawn Michaels has set a benchmark in the industry for others to follow. His storytelling skills and ring-work are exemplary. Thanks to this, promising young wrestlers often earn the moniker of ‘The Next Shawn Michaels’. Everyone from AJ Styles to Dolph Ziggler to Seth Rollins has been subject to this comparison at some point in their career.
The latest name to enter this illustrious list of ‘Shawn Michaels Version 2.0’ is Kenny Omega. The Canadian native has by far been the best ring worker in 2017, which made the comparison inevitable. Wrestling historian Dave Meltzer himself called Omega the modern day HBK. Here are five similarities that further strengthen this argument.
1. Started in a tag-team
Before he attained the moniker of ‘Heart Break Kid’, Shawn Michaels was predominantly a tag-team wrestler. It was in AWA where he formed The Midnight Rockers alongside Marty Jannetty. After having a short spell in 1987, they re-joined WWF as The Rockers. During the early 90s, a period regarded as the golden age of tag-team wrestling, The Rockers had countless classics with The Hart Foundation, Demolition, The Brainbusters and many others. Their partnership came to an end with the infamous Barber Shop segment, where Michaels turned on Jannetty and threw him through a glass window.
In the same way, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi formed a tag-team called Golden Lovers in 2009 when they wrestled in DDT Pro-Wrestling. Golden Lovers made their NJPW debut in January 2010, defeating Jado and Gedo. They were involved in a major feud with Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi) for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Their match at NJPW Destruction 2010 was declared the ‘Best Bout’ of the year by Tokyo Sport. Golden Lovers ended when Ibushi joined the heavyweight division, allowing Omega to start a solo run in New Japan.
2. Faction leaders
During the early part of Monday Night Wars, WCW was winning the rating battle thanks to NWO. Degeneration X was Vince Mcmahon’s reply to it. Triple H (then billed as Hunter Hearst Helmsley), Chyna and Rick Rude, under Shawn Michaels’ leadership, formed the coolest stable ever. They were offensive, rebellious and in-your-face. Degeneration X or DX played a huge part in ushering the Attitude Era. Triple H and Michaels were creating some of the edgiest segments in the history of wrestling. Though Michaels left DX (and wrestling) in 1998, it eventually became part of his legacy to the wrestling world.
The closest thing to NWO or DX in today’s world is Bullet Club. Unlike Michaels, Omega wasn’t the founding member of Bullet Club. While he joined the faction in November 2015, it was only after AJ Styles’ departure in January 2016 that he became their leader. Bullet Club has been the biggest reason for NJPW’s global expansion in recent times. And it has reached new heights since Omega took over its leadership. At the same time, Omega’s career got a huge push due to it. He became the first non-Japanese to win the prestigious G1 Climax tournament in 2016 and main-evented Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4, 2017.
Shawn Michaels had been a trailblazer throughout his career. In 1992, he participated in the first ever WWF ladder match against Bret Hart. At Wrestlemania 10, he wrestled the first ever five-star match in WWF history against Razor Ramon. Michaels became the first WWF Grand Slam Champion when he won the European title against ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith in 1997. In the very year, he participated in the first ever ‘Hell in a Cell’ match against The Undertaker. He was even part of the first Eliminations Chamber match at Survivor Series 2002. He mainevented Wrestlemania 20 in 2004 alongside Triple H and Chris Benoit. Never before had a triple-threat match been a Wrestlemania mainevent.
Much like Michaels in WWF, Omega has been the path-breaker in NJPW. In 2016, Kenny was involved in a feud with fellow Canadian Michael Elgin for IWGP Intercontinental Championship. They fight at NJPW Road To Wrestling Dontaku 2016 – Day 7 marked the first instance where two Canadians main-evented an NJPW show. They also fought each other in NJPW’s first ever ladder match at NJPW Dominion 6.19 on June 19th, 2016. The biggest feather in Omega’s cap remains his G1 Climax 26 victory, making him the first non-Japanese to do so. Also, this made him the only wrestler on earth to have won both NJPW’s G1 Climax and PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles, which he won in 2009. He became the first non-Japanese to main-event NJPW’s January 4 Tokyo Dome show since its name changed to Wrestle Kingdom. There he, alongside Okada, delivered the first televised match to be rated a whopping six-star by Dave Meltzer. Last but not the least, in July 2017 he became the first IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion at NJPW’s G1 Special in USA.
4. All round entertainers
When we talk about a complete wrestler, a wide range of factors should be kept in mind. These include mic-skills, in-ring ability, ring psychology, personality, looks, charisma and much more. Even the greatest of wrestlers couldn’t tick all the boxes. These include Hulk Hogan (poor ring-work), Bret Hart (weak on the mic) and Mick Foley (imperfect physique). Two names that fulfil all these requirements are Shawn Michaels and Kenny Omega.
Michaels wasn’t a huge man, but his muscular body and looks made him popular among children and women. His words could arouse strong emotions, both as a heel as well as a face. But his strongest asset was his ring work and story-telling skills. HBK could present any possible style of wrestling match from a technical contest to an all-out brawl. And the best part is that he narrates an engaging story regardless of who he faces.
‘The Cleaner’ Kenny Omega has shown similar traits too. His physique and mic-skills are par-excellence. Omega possesses the ability to deliver a great contest against any opponent be it a brawler like Tomohiro Ishii, power house like Michael Elgin or high flyer like Ibushi. In the ongoing G1 Climax 27 tournament, Omega wrestled Toru Yano, who is basically a comic relief performer. The match was anything but traditional wrestling. While the contest didn’t go well with wrestling conservatives like Jim Cornette, it was professional wrestling at its funniest and outright entertaining for any age group.
5. Match of the Year factory
For the ones who don’t know, this is actually how Kenny Omega describes himself in his Twitter bio. And one can’t disagree much. In 2017 itself, he has twice broken Dave Meltzer’s star rating system with his matches against Okada getting six star and six and one-fourth star ratings. And this doesn’t even include his amazing fights with Michael Elgin, Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki. Also, he fights have won ‘Best Bout’ award by Tokyo Sports once and Japanese Indie Awards twice.
As good as Kenny Omega’s credentials seem, they are still no way near that of the man himself, Shawn Michaels. There is a reason why the world calls him ‘The Showstopper’. Any match he wrestles turns into a classic itself. Even his midcard bouts make main-events look pale. Talking about accolades, Michaels has won Wrestling Observer Newsletter ‘Match of the Year’ four times, Slammy award for ‘Match of the Year’ five times and Pro Wrestling Illustrated of the Year’ an astonishing 11 times. These include his numerous show-stealing performances at Wrestlemania itself.
While it is highly unlikely for someone to surpass these achievements, it isn’t impossible. Certainly not for the phenomenon called Kenny Omega. Can the current best in the world surpass the all-time best? Let’s wait and watch.