My hands were shaky. After weeks of anticipation, the big moment was here, and it was time to prove myself. Sitting in ESPN’s Los Angeles studio for a special HP event, I was about to step into the ring with world-famous pro wrestler Kenny Omega.
The “ring,” of course, was the digital battleground of Street Fighter V.
Omega is arguably the biggest star of his sport, spending years headlining New Japan Pro Wrestling before helping spearhead the hot new All Elite Wrestling promotion, of which he is both a performer and executive vice president. But most importantly, he’s also a huge gamer and fighting game aficionado, making regular appearances at Street Fighter tournaments and gaming conventions around the globe.
So when HP invited me to its special Omen event featuring Omega at E3 2019, I couldn’t say no to the chance to trade a few virtual blows with the man called "The Best Bout Machine."
Things started off rough. Neither Omega nor myself were using our go-to controllers (a fight stick for him, a six button Hori pad for me), and neither of us have been playing much Street Fighter lately (I’ve been hooked on Mortal Kombat 11; he can’t put down Apex Legends). But Kenny quickly started smothering me with his Alex’s high damage grapples, and I struggled to remember how to pull off my signature Ibuki combos on a standard PS4 pad. I got a few decent hits in, but he took me down pretty handily.
After the PR reps in attendance said we could play another match, I took a second to compose myself, headed back to the character select screen and busted out my secret weapon: Cody. The big-knuckled brawler is one of my backup fighters, and just so happens to be Omega’s favorite Street Fighter character. I figured Cody’s easier-to-execute moves, coupled with the mindgame of using Kenny’s character against him, would give me the edge.
Game two started off much better for me. I landed more hits, connected more combos, and felt just a bit more in control. And just when I was in danger of losing a round, my colleague Sherri L. Smith shouted “use the knife!” reminding me to bust out my powerful V-Trigger move that allowed me to secure the game and emerge victorious. It was a sloppy win, but a win nonetheless. Ever the gracious opponent, Omega shook my hand as we exchanged a quick “good game” and briefly chopped it up about fighters and E3.
Kenny Omega being at HP’s E3 OMEN event wasn’t some publicity stunt — his passion for this stuff is obvious. In fact, he’ll soon be combining his love for fighting games and wrestling at All Elite Wrestling’s Fyter Fest event on June 29, which will cram a night full of top-tier grappling into a weekend-long fighting game event dubbed Community Effort Orlando. It’s his second annual collaboration with the popular Florida esports tournament.
Being able to play Kenny Omega in Street Fighter V is certainly one of my favorite moments in my six years of attending E3, and a reminder of video games’ amazing ability to bring together everyone from ripped pro athletes to out-of-shape technology journalists. Omega might be one of the best wrestlers in the world and the face of AEW, but I’ll always have that one game on him.
Credit: Tom's Guide
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.