Jericho, Omega excited to be making hometown ring return
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When Kenny Omega was a teenager, he would skip shifts at his part time job at the IGA Supermarket in Transcona to wrestle locally for next to nothing.
“I was elated, unbelievably excited to look in my piggy bank after a month’s worth of (wrestling), which at that time was two shows a week, and a lot of those were ladder matches, hardcore matches, and all sorts of things, and see that I had twenty dollars… It didn’t even work out to five dollars a match,” said Omega with a laugh in an interview with the Free Press on Monday.
When Chris Jericho finished wrestling school in Calgary, he returned home to Winnipeg in the summer of 1991 to lace up his boots at an event ran by famous local promoter Tony Condello. Unbeknownst to Jericho at the time, the booking was at a place the aspiring wrestler knew all too well: Georgie’s, a St. James bar next to the Kirkfield Motor Hotel.
“I was like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I was so embarrassed. Like I go all the way to Calgary to find my fame and fortune to come back and work in the exact same bar where we used to go for 35 cent draught night three months earlier,” said Jericho.
“I even jumped off the top rope and hit my head on the roof because it was so low, and I put a little hole in it. So, that was my first experience wrestling in Winnipeg.”
This week’s homecoming for the pair of Winnipeg products will be a much different scene, and for a much better payday, as Omega, Jericho and the stars of All Elite Wrestling (AEW) take over the Canada Life Centre Wednesday night for episodes of Dynamite and Rampage.
It’s the first time the upstart promotion based out of Florida, that began in 2019 and airs their weekly programming on TSN and TNT, has made its way to the Manitoba capital. Winnipeg is only the second Canadian market to host the group of grapplers as Toronto’s Coca-Cola Coliseum was the first to do so back in October.
Wednesday marks the first time Omega, whom Pro Wrestling Illustrated named the best wrestler in the world in 2021, has had a televised match for a major company in his own city. It will also be the first time Jericho has performed on TV in his old stomping grounds since July 5, 2004, when he was with WWE and lost an Intercontinental title match to Randy Orton on an episode of Monday Night Raw at the Winnipeg Arena.
“When AEW became a thing, we always thought ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if this really was an international wrestling product.’ And not only international by how you consume it via television or internet, but I really wanted to do live shows all around the world. For one of our first international shows, and one of our first Canadian shows, to be in my hometown is a really cool thing and I’m sure Chris has a very similar feeling towards it,” said Omega, 39, whose real name is Tyson Smith.
“He’s done it many times before I’m sure for WWE and such, but I don’t think it loses it’s specialness. And I think when AEW comes back a second, third, fourth time or what have you, that I’ll probably have that same indescribable feeling that I have right now.”
As you would expect, Omega and Jericho will have no shortage of family and friends in the crowd.
“It’ll probably be the high school reunion that I never had,” said Omega.
The company was started by Tony Khan, whose family owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and Premier League soccer club Fulham F.C., but Winnipeg deserves a ton of credit. You have to go back to 2018 when Omega, a star in Japan for over a decade, defended the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against Jericho, a six-time WWE world champion who had just left Vince McMahon’s promotion, in the co-main event of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 12 at the Tokyo Dome.
It was the first time the two Manitobans squared off.
One year later, Khan made Jericho and Omega two of his marquee signings and the Winnipeggers have helped AEW go toe-to-toe with WWE programming.
“I don’t want to speak for Tony, but from what I understand, when Jericho-Omega headlined the Tokyo Dome in a match that was basically brokered by Don Callis (a former wrestler from Winnipeg who is now Omega’s on-screen manager in AEW), it did such great business in not just Japan, but North America. Streams and pay per view buys went up by something like 300 per cent,” said Jericho, who’s 52 and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“So, people were interested in this match and I think Tony kind of read the tea leaves and figured out there was a market for an alternative (to WWE) in pro wrestling in North America and that was kind of the genesis of how AEW got kicked into gear and by proxy, that would basically suggest that AEW, in a lot of ways, started in Winnipeg.”
Jericho defeated “Hangman” Adam Page in August of 2019 to become the first-ever AEW World Champion. A year and a half later, Omega beat Jon Moxley for that same belt and went on to hold it for a record 346 days. In Wednesday’s main event, Jericho and Omega will be focused on a different prize as they’ll be vying to knock off Malakai Black, Brody King, and Buddy Matthews for the AEW World Trios Championship. Jericho will be teaming with Daniel Garcia and Sammy Guevara, while Omega will be partnering with The Young Bucks, Nick and Matt Jackson.
As of late Monday, the event was closing in on a sellout.
“It’s gonna be an awesome show with an awesome match featuring two hometown heroes at odds, or together, who knows what’s going to happen,” said Jericho.
“But I do know it’s going to be a classic match and a classic night for us at AEW with the amazing Winnipeg fans.”
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Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 10:04 PM CDT: Fixes typo, adds image of Kenny Omega