Home / Sport / EXCLUSIVE: Kenny Omega says getting women featured more on AEW is his ‘first interest’ and talks signing joshi talent from Eliminator Tournament

EXCLUSIVE: Kenny Omega says getting women featured more on AEW is his ‘first interest’ and talks signing joshi talent from Eliminator Tournament

The AEW Women’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament has been nothing but positive for AEW thus far.

Many fans have been frustrated that female wrestlers haven’t played a more prominent role on AEW TV since it’s inception, but injuries and the pandemic has robbed the company of talents they would have been using.

Aja Kong was one of the stars of the Japanese bracket’s first round

They still need to showcase who they have, of course, but the joshi talents – Japanese female wrestlers – were set to be a big part of the division before COVID.

Now, with this eliminator tournament, AEW have got one bracket taking part in the US and one in the US, opening up opportunities to the joshi women who haven’t been able to travel.

Yuka Sakazaki, Emi Sakura, Aja Kong and Ryo Mizunami progressed from the first round last week and the show has been universally praised.

With the first round of the U.S. bracket concluded yesterday and the Japanese bracket set to take place over YouTube, talkSPORT spoke to Kenny Omega, one of the biggest influences on the women’s division in AEW, to get his thoughts.

Kenny Omega is one of the most influential people behind the scenes for the female wrestlers

“I tried to watch just as much joshi wrestling as I could when I was staying over in Japan for the decade that I was there in the country. I’ve said in multiple interviews, I really do credit joshis for bringing my love back to professional wrestling when I was in a drought looking for things that make me feel something,” Omega said.

“To be able to not only have some of the athletes involved in the tournament that were in that time period [he was in Japan] having killer matches like Emi Sakura, Aja Kong and Ryo Mizunami, we’ve got some new up and comers too like Yuka Sakazaki and Maki Itoh who clearly have a real bright future in the world of professional wrestling.

“They’re going about things the right way. Every time you see them, they’re adding something to their arsenal, they’re improving.

“For me, on AEW – and I’d seen it on TJPW, I can’t lie [laughs] – it was awesome to see Yuka Sakazaki debut her Firebird Splash, or the Magical Girl splash.

Yuka Sakazaki was gaining momentum in AEW before the pandemic

“To give these women an opportunity and for them to not only answer the call but overdeliver… I know they’re representing AEW so maybe there is a little bit of bias, but for me to watch that live stream on Monday and just be able to take it all in as everyone else was taking it in live, I had just a big smile on my face from ear-to-ear.”

Omega explained that it was actually AEW Women’s champion Hikaru Shida who put the Japanese side of this tournament together.

“I enjoyed every minute of it. Every match had something unique to offer and I couldn’t have been more proud of them and couldn’t have been more proud of Hikaru Shida, actually.

“She really went the extra mile and put it all together herself in Japan. These things don’t happen out of thin air. She really wanted to feature the women wrestlers more, the girls stuck in Japan and feature some of the women that she has worked with when she was doing freelance work.

Hikaru Shida is the current AEW Women’s champion

“So we got some of the other freelancers like Veny, for example. She wrestles in Japan as Asuka. And Veny absolutely killed it against Emi Sakura. Just an incredible match. It gave people a taste of what they’re missing out on, just what they’re missing out out in the world.

“It’s unfortunate you can’t you can’t see all the best stuff all the time every week, but I felt extremely proud to host something as a way for people to see what goes on in that world of joshi and how our athletes are doing as well,” said Omega.

So is Omega going to try and secure some of these talented women to AEW’s women’s division?

“All I can say given this world climate we’re in right now, it’s a very trying time and very difficult to make any real promises, I don’t want people to hold their breath.

Maki Itoh won over many fans in the tournament

“But if I had my way and I could manipulate global travel schedules the way that I wanted to [laughs] I think it would probably be a safe bet that you’re going to see more than one of these women back on AEW television.

“And that is definitely always going to be my first interest; getting these girls featured, getting more TV time for our athletes. So I’m just so happy that the tournament is opening a lot of peoples eyes.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and the women killed it on the TV show, too. Thunder Rosa and Leyla Hirsch in round one. Rhio and Serena Deeb… one thing I love about this tournament, I feel like now that we have a little but of time to have these matches, these women are really showing there’s no ‘good matches for a female wrestler’ comparatively to male wrestling or comparing them to men or tag team wrestling or whatever.

Serena Deeb and Riho put on a classic

“I really do believe they’ve evened out the playing field completely and they really set the standard on that particular Wednesday where I was like this was the technical standout of the night and I dare anyone to beat that.

“It was a huge statement for the women and I just feel like the tournament in general has been an incredibly positive statement for women’s wrestling and that’s what I always hoped for from the beginning,” Omega said.

Watch AEW Revolution on March 8 from 1am in the UK with FITE TV. Kenny Omega defends the AEW title against Jon Moxley in an exploding barb wire match!

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