Once hailed as the future ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, the answer to long-time top babyface Hiroshi Tanahashi, a series of Tweets from Kota Ibushi , The Sportster reports, seems to expose that the ‘Golden Star’ has fallen out with the company. If Ibushi is about to depart NJPW, and in such acrimonious circumstances, it will be a disappointing end to a journey that began with excitement and hope for his future with Japan’s largest pro wrestling promotion.
Kota Ibushi’s pro wrestling career began with Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) in 2004. He rose quickly in the company, becoming popular in the company known for its unconventional approach to pro wrestling. With comedy skits, and a personable and intimate approach to interactions with their fanbase, DDT was and remains the wacky, inclusive wild child alternative to mainstream Japanese puroresu promotions like NOAH, AJPW, and NJPW. Ibushi’s fortunes changed in 2006, when he was challenged by a Canadian wrestler who had once been a World Wrestling Entertainment training prospect: Kenny Omega. DDT brought Omega to battle Ibushi, and the two made electrifying opponents who shared a daredevil approach to highflying spots and fast-paced knee strikes. Omega and Ibushi began to tag together as the Golden Lovers.
The two began making appearances for NJPW. They attained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship one time, against Apollo 55, before the tag team disbanded and Ibushi began to compete in the junior heavyweight division, attaining the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship for the first time. He later began competing as a heavyweight.
Departure from NJPW, and Freelance Return
After departing NJPW in 2016, Ibushi became a freelancer. He made appearances for various promotions, and took part in World Wrestling Entertainment’s Cruiserweight Classic. He returned to NJPW as a freelance performer, wrestling under the guise of anime character Tiger Mask W, in a promotion for an anime produced by NJPW’s parent company Bushiroad. Ibushi later figured prominently in the Bullet Club’s ‘Civil War’ angle. Cody Rhodes’s flaunted aggression towards Ibushi as a way to emotionally manipulate Bullet Club leader, and Ibushi’s former tag team partner, Kenny Omega. Omega’s hidden loyalty to Ibushi was exposed by Rhodes’s attacks, and the two reunited as the Golden Lovers. Alongside Omega’s allies the Young Bucks, Ibushi and Omega formed the stable the Golden Elite. The Young Bucks and Omega eventually departed NJPW to form All Elite Wrestling.
Ibushi’s Golden Era
The next phase of Ibushi’s career was meant to be a golden age for him and NJPW. Amidst speculation that he would follow Omega to AEW, Ibushi committed to NJPW full time. He achieved the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in 2019, and won the 2019 G1 Climax Tournament. In 2020, in a move pointing to Ibushi as the anointed future ace of NJPW, he won the IWGP Tag Team Championship alongside Tanahashi as the team ‘Golden Ace’ in 2020. In 2021, Ibushi won the Intercontinental and Heavyweight titles from Tetsuya Naito at NJPW’s 49th anniversary show. He later unified the titles into the inaugural NJPW World Heavyweight Championship.
This move proved to be the downfall of what should have been a dominant babyface run for Ibushi. The new title proved to be unpopular to those who held great reverence for the old IWGP Heavyweight title. Although the title still exists, now held by Kazuchika Okada, the lack of enthusiasm for its creation dimmed Ibushi’s star.
While competing in the G1 Climax in October 2021, Ibushi suffered a shoulder injury. As of April 2022, his return was speculated to be forthcoming, as he was said to be about 70-80% recovered from the injury. .
Between a lengthy injury and what now appears to be backstage conflict, Ibushi has had a rocky journey with NJPW since permanently committing himself to the promotion and placing himself fully in its hands for a role as top babyface. While he has achieved dazzling heights of success, his future with the company is not certain. At his best, Ibushi is an exciting performer who takes dazzling risks which endear him to the crowd. He has a long, if sporadic history with NJPW. If he truly is departing, fans will surely follow wherever Ibushi lands next.
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