Blurring the Lines: How Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks changed the game with 'Being the Elite'

Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks feed off of one another, and each has helped the others reach new heights in their professional wrestling careers. Courtesy of New Japan Pro Wrestling

A certain percentage of wrestling fandom must be getting sick and tired of hearing about all the ways that The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega are changing the world of wrestling for the better.

The T-shirts, the "too sweets," the superkick parties and, of course, all their titles.

But there's more.

The trio's YouTube show, "Being the Elite," features a rotating cast of friends and colleagues and its own ongoing storyline. The show has succeeded in doing something that even the WWE has failed at -- taking original and creative online content, and successfully and seamlessly interweaving it with the ongoing storylines of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling.

What started out as a labor of love, a way to promote themselves and their merchandise, has been gaining in popularity since it debuted in May 2016. "Being the Elite" was at first intended to be an ongoing video journal of life on the road, but it has turned into a hybrid that also includes one-off skits and, most importantly, the semi-fictional over-the-top tales of the inner workings of The Elite and the Bullet Club.

"See, the Bucks and I, we're still trying to make a statement in terms of what wrestling should be, what it can be," said Omega during a recent interview with ESPN in Toronto. "The potential of what professional wrestling is in the year 2017 ... we are able to express ourselves personally as performers. I think it widens our scope, and it shows the fans more of what my true range is as an athlete and a performer."

More than 50 episodes into the show's run, "Being the Elite" had its most critical moment at Ring of Honor's War of the Worlds pay-per-view on May 12. In the culmination of a months-long storyline, Adam Cole, a fixture in the Bullet Club for more than a year and a longtime friend of the Bucks, was excommunicated from the group in stunning fashion.

For viewers who watched only ROH's weekly programming, it made sense. There was tension in the group, and Cole had tried to fire The Young Bucks from the Bullet Club during a show in Las Vegas. Even though things had ostensibly been patched up, the writing was on the wall. But for those who had watched "Being the Elite", the payoff was much greater.

Within the storylines of that show, tension had built up between Cole and Omega, a fight for the loyalty of The Young Bucks -- including a poisoning and X-rated direct messages. Plus, Cody Rhodes and Marty Scurll were introduced as secondary characters. Before the on-screen stories of ROH and "Being the Elite" could fully intersect, however, months of planning took place by all involved and more than a few challenges were overcome along the way.

"We didn't really have everything figured out, but a lot of it just came into place perfectly," said Nick Jackson during a recent interview with ESPN.com. "We had lead-ins for each episode to turn ourselves on out of.

"For instance, I got sick during one of the episodes, and this was Matt's brainchild, to make the story that Adam poisoned me. So that was on the fly, but a lot of the other stuff was planned ahead of time."

The original payoff to the story, as fans might be disappointed to hear, involved a mega-match at the Hammerstein Ballroom that many have dreamed of over the last couple of years. But it wasn't meant to be.

"We had other ideas to end the storyline. At first it was actually going to be Kenny Omega vs. Adam Cole on pay-per-view," recalled Nick. "But Kenny's visa didn't get approved."

Despite missing out on what would have been a spectacular ending to Cole's time in ROH, fortune smiled on Omega and The Young Bucks in the form of a brand-new member of the Bullet Club. It just so happened that the person in question was already a regular on "Being the Elite," with the right kind of history and the right kind of motivation to land the knockout blow on Cole.

"So we heard that New Japan was planning on bringing Marty [Scurll] into the mix," Nick said, "And as soon as we heard that, we were like, OK, we've got a different out. With the finale, it all worked out perfectly."

Instead of a dream match with Omega in Manhattan, Cole instead got one of his own personal dream matches against Japanese superstar Hiroshi Tanahashi. After months of bouncing between friendship and animosity with Cole, The Young Bucks walked out to the ring after Cole's loss to Tanahashi and teased a double superkick before cracking into giant smiles and hugging their longtime friend. With rumors of Cole's impending departure from the company, it seemed perfectly appropriate for a curtain call to happen.

But then the lights went out, and the video screen buzzed to life.

Omega appeared out of the darkness to thunderous applause. In a video that was shot by Nick Jackson himself, Omega said he had sent a proxy in the form of the newest member of the Bullet Club to deliver a simple message. Every fairy tale needs a hero, but it also needs a villain. With that, the camera panned out to show "The Villain" Marty Scurll, and Omega told Cole to consider himself officially fired.

The lights came on, and the Scurll reveal was in motion. With a Bullet Club-emblazoned version of his signature umbrella, it was time for a memorable betrayal -- a double superkick from the Bucks, an umbrella shot to Cole's head and, in the ultimate form of mockery, a final kiss to each cheek (a signature moment for Cole and The Young Bucks).

The newest star of Bullet Club was born.

The fact that Scurll was added to the most popular faction in NJPW and ROH after finding a more prominent role on "Being the Elite" may not have been a coincidence, either.

"It's funny that New Japan had the idea, because Matt and I and Marty, we had discussed it months ago that he would be a perfect fit for [Bullet Club]," said Nick. "We had hoped he would be a guy that would eventually join, but we never really talked to Gedo and Tiger Hattori about it. It makes me question, maybe they were watching the show too."

While The Elite is the creative force behind the show that bares its name, none of this would have been possible without the go-ahead from Ring of Honor, the company that employs the Young Bucks. That ROH gave the all-clear to a show that is shot and edited entirely on an iPhone speaks to the company's confidence in Matt and Nick Jackson.

"We believed so strongly in the idea, we felt it was going to be a done deal," said Matt. "We lucked out because, to ROH's credit, they allowed it to happen. They realized that it was a big opportunity."

A lot of that speaks to the amount of energy and time put into making "Being the Elite" happen. The show, on average, airs once or twice a week, depending on where in the world Omega and the Bucks happen to be, and they try to shoot everything in order to reduce the need for crazy edits. But in the weeks leading up to that pivotal moment in Manhattan, the volume of the episodes increased dramatically in order to squeeze in all the creative elements in play.

With the buzz still fresh, the race to get the finished product out for Episode 52 was on.

"We drove from New York to Philly, so we had a two-hour drive and I edited it on the way while driving home," said Nick. "I think we finally got that two hours done at around 5 a.m. or something crazy."

By 6 a.m. the following morning, the episode was live, and everyone who missed the live ROH pay-per-view (and even those who saw it) got to see the well-choreographed moment through the lens of "Being the Elite." Everything that was built up over the course of months on the show, concurrently with the storylines on ROH's weekly programming, was laid out clearly as the scope of the master plan was revealed.

That kind of blind dedication speaks volumes about The Young Bucks' motivation with this project, and with most of the things they do.

"We don't trust anyone else with the creative process that we have," said Nick. "We had many people offer it, like, 'Hey, we'll come and do it all for you, we'll edit it all.' We both shied away, we're like, 'Sorry, we just want to have everything in our control.' We want to upload it whenever we have the chance to do it and whenever we want to. We like that, and we feel like we deserve to have that."

Matt added, "And it's so fun for us because now we're the talent, we're the actors, right? But we've also become the producers, the director, [and Nick's] the editor."

It's an extension of the way The Young Bucks and Omega have gone about their wrestling careers -- thus far forgoing any temptation to work for the WWE and instead taking far greater control over the direction of their careers. Even as Omega prepares for one of the biggest matches of his life this weekend, a second shot at Kazuchika Okada and NJPW's IWGP heavyweight title, the balance that a creative outlet like this provides for his career and his brand is just as valuable as getting the chance to do fun, goofy things with his friends.

"We're just a variety show. No matter what type of person you are, whether you're young, you're old, new wrestling fan, old wrestling fan, you'll be able to take something from our performance and enjoy it," said Omega. "That's what we hope to have from our matches [too] ... and it's fun to take that journey together.

"It alleviates a lot of the stress of our everyday jobs of doing what we have to do. Doing 'The Elite' thing, when we really feel like we're clicking on all cylinders, we are [proving], from start to finish, that we're real entertainment, not [just] wrestling."