Kenny Omega is back. That’s right. The Best Bout Machine made his long-awaited return on Wednesday's Dynamite to join The Young Bucks in the first round of the AEW World Trios Championship tournament.
The crowd greeted him with a warm welcome as he entered the Charleston Coliseum to compete in his first match in 277 days. It was a stark difference from the last time we saw the once-megalomaniacal champion, but the All Elite Wrestling fans clearly missed him.
It didn’t take long to realize The Cleaner wasn’t the same man who stood atop the company as its longest-reigning flagbearer, though.
The 38-year-old stepped out onto the stage for the first time since November 2021 with a familiar pose and accompanying pyro. However, he was sporting a shoulder brace and compression shirt under his ring jacket.
This was unfamiliar territory for his longtime fans. His hiatus to deal with several nagging injuries marked his longest time away from the squared circle in his entire career. Sure, we all expected him to show some rust or diminished athleticism. Instead, one of the most highly touted wrestlers of this generation looked human again.
It was a far cry from the conqueror who showed at Double or Nothing last year draped in world championship gold. Nevertheless, all of the collective title defenses and his record-setting 346-day reign as AEW world champion had taken their toll on him.
The price was high, but Omega accepted the challenge. Now he’s back to reunite with his best friends and make history again. Can he rise to the occasion, or will it take him more time than expected to return to form?
The Grueling Journey Back to Glory
During Wednesday night’s main event, the Canadian looked a step slower than usual, and his opponents targeted his surgically repaired shoulder throughout the match. He also failed to hit his trademark rolling fireman's carry and moonsault in the corner.
Regardless, Matt and Nick Jackson picked up the slack, and the trio looked as fluid at times as they were during their run with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. In the end, Omega landed a brutal V Trigger and secured the win with his One-Winged Angel.
The two-time NEVER Openweight six-man tag team champions have the most experience together, making them the early favorites to win this tournament. Still, it will be bitter work for The Elite with a stacked field ahead of them.
Omega looked gassed as he addressed the Charleston, South Carolina crowd after the match. During his closing promo, he and Don Callis didn’t gloat about his win like they did many times in 2021.
Instead, he spoke candidly. The Cleaner admitted he questioned whether he could return to AEW and compete at a high level again. He even said it would be a while before he would be able to challenge for a singles title again.
“This very much is a work in progress, and I’m very glad that all of you are joining me on this journey,” he said as the crowd cheered.
Again, this is quite a shift for Omega considering his run last year. Nonetheless, he immediately warned the audience that doesn’t make him a “good guy.”
His physical limitations may have humbled him a bit, but his mission statement remains the same. His vow to give his best effort wasn’t greedy or self-serving like his conquests before he left. No, this seemed more like the celebrated in-ring competitor Bryan Danielson came looking for following All Out 2021.
It may take some time for The Best Bout Machine, who produced a classic Dynamite with The American Dragon, to return.
However, the fighting spirit is there, and it will be a treat to watch him grow stronger throughout the AEW World Trios Championship tournament.
The Missing Piece
Ever since the founding member of All Elite Wrestling made the trek to the United States, he has fought an uphill battle to establish himself for a new fanbase.
NJPW fans know how great he is, but mainstream fans didn’t see his acclaimed matches with the best the Japanese promotion had to offer. So, they didn’t understand the hype.
It was quite the undertaking for Omega as he struggled during his first year in his new home. In 2020, he made a massive impact as one-half of the AEW world tag team champions and eventually claimed the company’s top prize. But some of his biggest detractors still didn’t see what made him so special.
Watching him stand at the top of the industry as a decorated star probably didn’t connect with some viewers. His attempt to find out if he still has it in the final leg of his career could. This story could be some of his most engaging material with AEW to date.
It’s hard to tell someone who didn’t experience his greatness how talented Omega is when so many fans already put him on a pedestal.
This is a clean slate for some viewers. To that end, his empathetic push to recover and regain his confidence over the next few months could finally be the missing piece for them.