|Kenny Omega at a July 2008 ROH show in Detroit. Photos by Chris Schramm
It's amazing how quickly a person's life can change in this day and age. And for Tyson Smith, who is quickly rising the ranks of Ring of Honor as Kenny Omega, it changed for the better.
Smith grew up with the dream of one day working for the WWE. But he never expected that dream to have a fairytale ending. He remembers watching wrestling with the men in his family and cheering for his hero the Ultimate Warrior. He would point The Warrior out to his father and say he wanted to be like him. As Smith reflected on his childhood memories, he wondered where the time went.
It seems like one day he went to sleep as Tyson Smith, a scrawny 16-year-old kid, stocking shelves at an IGA supermarket in Winnipeg, and woke up the next morning as a professional wrestler named Kenny Omega.
Smith began taking his goal of being a professional wrestler seriously in his pre-teen years, and remembers asking his father for a weight set one Christmas.
"I always liked the Ultimate Warrior, but I knew that because of my size, I was never going to be as big as him," Smith said. "So I started setting realistic goals for myself and it wasn't until I reached the age of 12 or 13 that I started to respect the technical side of wrestling and I became a fan of guys like The Rockers and Bret Hart, because they were closer to my size."
Smith might have been labeled a hardcore fan on more than one level. He started doing some backyard wrestling with his friends before ever being trained professionally. Eventually he realized that in order to make it to the WWE, he would need some professional training. He signed up for a school in Winnipeg, where he would meet his first great mentor.
"After training for a little while, the school was taken over by a man named Bob St. Laurent, who competed as Bobby Jay," Smith said. "Bob actually recognized me from the IGA. He used to shop there regularly and it was great to see him again, but I didn't expect it to be there."
Smith was also heavily into hockey at the time and because of that athletic background, he was able to endure a lot more than the average 16-year-old and he had the full support of his family.
"As long as my grades didn't slip and I continued with hockey, my parents had no problem signing the waiver," Smith said. "When you grow up as a wrestling fan and dream of being in the business, sometimes it feels like an eternity, so me turning 16 didn't come soon enough."
So it was now time for Tyson Smith to become Kenny Omega. Probably the hardest decision a wrestler has to make in the early stages of his/her career is to decide on a name. The name can come from seemingly anywhere, but sometimes, it's taken from the most unique places.
"I was playing Final Fantasy 8 one day and there was this really hard super boss called Omega Weapon," Smith said. "I know Omega means the end, and I thought it would be cool to call myself Omega, signifying the end for my opponents. I really can't say where I got the name Kenny. A lot of people ask me why I don't just use my real name Tyson and I really don't have an answer for that. I just think that Kenny Omega sounds better because it rolls right off the tongue and Tyson didn't really click for me."
Another concern for Smith was his gimmick. Originally, he was to be a Hawaiian surfer. The problem with that is that when it came to surfing, Smith was a novice. Needless to say, there aren't many surfers in Winnipeg.
"I was really down on wrestling at the time. Being a surfer wasn't me and I really didn't do anything surfer-ish," Smith said. "Besides wrestling, my other major passion is video games and I decided to go for a gimmick from a video game. I was a fan of Streetfighter and I tried to use some of the moves from the video game. I felt much more confident being myself and it showed in my performance."
In 2006, Smith was in for the shock of his life. He didn't know it at the time, but his dream was just about to come true.
"I was wrestling on a lot of independent shows and before I started training, I didn't even know that indy promotions existed. I thought if you wanted to be a wrestler, you had to go to WWE and either you made it or you didn't," Smith said. "I was wrestling in Japan at the time for Pro Wrestling NOAH and we were told there would be a surprise guest in attendance one night. It turned out to be Johnny Ace, who is one of the scouts for WWE developmental. He told us he'd be bringing some of us to work for Deep South. I was excited, but I didn't think I had a chance of being called up, because of my size. I thought they would just sign some big 300-pound guy, but to my surprise, I actually ended up being one of the guys called to the territory."
Kenny Omega grabs a hold.
Smith was enthusiastic about finally having a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream, but soon realized that it wasn't the same dream he had as a kid. He knew that times have changed and there were just too many politics for him to deal with, so he asked for his release.
"I knew that wrestling in Winnipeg was kind of dead end and you can only be a big fish in a little pond for so long. WWE was really the only way to have a legitimate career in the wrestling business and I learned a lot when I was at developmental. Dave Taylor was probably the biggest help," Smith said. "But it didn't take long for me to realize that I really wasn't in it for the money and it started to feel like a dead end job or a chore. It took the fun and purpose out of my life a lot of the time, because you really have no friends in the wrestling business. Everybody there was just trying to kiss ass and was willing to stab you in the back just to elevate their own career. It just wasn't the environment I wanted to be in."
Having worked for both companies, Smith is happy where he is right now and would not change a thing. He believes that Ring of Honor is the future of pro wrestling.
"I believe there are some ROH wrestlers who can wrestle the WWE style and some WWE wrestlers who can wrestle the ROH style," Omega said. "But ROH caters more towards fans who want more bang for their buck. They are not as heavily into the theatrics as WWE is. ROH fans come to the shows, expecting great matches and thatís exactly what they get. ROH does not try to insult anybodyís intelligence."
Omega had the opportunity to work a six man tag when Ring of Honor made their return to Toronto April 18. Despite all the bodies flying all over the place, the match may have stolen the show last night and Omega was very pleased with his performance and is only concerned with making his fans happy.
"No matter what, I always give 100 per cent of what I am and work to the best of my abilities to show all that I can show. Iím happy that Iím given the opportunity to show a different wrestling style to the fans," he said.
At 25, Smith finally feels comfortable in the wrestling business. He's wrestled all over the globe and is now doing shows for Ring of Honor. He's only 6'0" and 200 lbs, but has a giant-sized heart and he strongly believes the Ring of Honor is the best place for him to be, because it feels like home.
December 3, 2005: Winnipeg's Omega signs WWE deal
Blaine van der Griend scored a Roderick Strong interview at the recent ROH show in Toronto as well. Watch for that story soon. Email Blaine at firstname.lastname@example.org.