My translation of an interview with Ibushi Kôta in the summer of 2018. As always, my annotations are in , and annotations by the original publication are in (). Ibushi’s answers in bold.
Original text and images © BBM.
Note: pull quotes may differ from actual answers. This is part of the editing in the original.
For the second year in a row, Ibushi Kôta is participating in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Midsummer Festival”, the G1 CLIMAX, for his 4th time in total. And even though his announcement that he would “erupt into full force this year”, as well as his tag team reunion with Kenny Omega, has become hot news, he himself hesitates to say that he’s been leaving a huge impact with his performances. While he will come blow to blow with Kenny for the first time in six years, what he aims for is “an impactful summer”. Before he went off to America, we caught him at the airport and asked him some questions. (Interview held on 6/28 at Narita Airport. Interviewer: 市川 亨, Photography: 山口 高明)
I watched the battle at Ôsaka-jô, and [I thought,] I want to be the one to have an amazing match
You’ve been on many overseas tours now. Would it be fair to say that you’re getting used to moving around without becoming “averse to being abroad”?
Ibushi: No, there’s some things I’ll never get used to. I always want to come home (back to Japan) before going.
So basically, by saying you always want to come back home before going, you mean you don’t want to go at all. (laughs) This time, [you’re having] a match at the game show in Florida (to be held on 6/29 local time), right?
Ibushi: That’s right. Looks like Kenny asked if [we] couldn’t wrestle there, since he had made an appearance at that game show before, and it went from there.
The match-up has you and Kenny face Naitô and Hiromu. You have never faced them in Japan before, right?
Ibushi: It’s my first time fighting Hiromu. I don’t know why it’s come to this match-up, but I’m excited, and it feels strange. That we’re going to wrestle each other, even though we’ve never done so in Japan.
Is this a match-up you’d want to try in Japan?
Ibushi: It is. The lines between heavyweights and juniors are diminishing. So, it would be really interesting to have [them] form proper tag teams as well, and challenge for the [Junior and Heavyweight] tag team championships (together with the Golden☆Lovers). Well, for now, let’s try it out [with this match].
You came along as Kenny’s second for the show in Ôsaka-jô Hall. What kind of training did you do together with Kenny while he was in Japan before Ôsaka-jô?
Ibushi: He has an athletic [background], and I think that’s the kind of training he’s come to do, but this time, it wasn’t so much as that, as it was a lot of practice on how to think about wrestling, and what kind of match to have and so on.
So you specialized a lot in conceptions and inspirations and the like?
Ibushi: Right. Ideas and things like that.
How frequently did you train together with Kenny in one month’s time?
Ibushi: Once, twice per week.
Hasn’t it been a while since you’ve practiced with Kenny that frequently?
Ibushi: It’s not so much that it’s been a while, and more that I have never really practiced [this way] with Kenny to begin with.
Including the past, you’ve never really done this [together] before?
Ibushi: No. We were a team that grew during the matches.
So training together was a fresh [experience] for you as well.
Ibushi: It really, really was. [I was surprised at] what kind of style of training he does, and such.
Where there elements that benefitted you as a tag team as well?
Ibushi: Yes. That’s why I’m looking forward to what kind of double teams and such [we’re going to do] when we tag in the future.
How did you feel about watching [his] fight with Okada at Ôsaka-jô as his second?
Ibushi: Of course, I, like everybody else, thought that it was an amazing match, but I was really nervous watching it.
Ibushi: Yes. [I thought,] please, just don’t get injured. And also, I wanted him to pull it off (fight through it), I wanted him to win. That’s why, the moment (Kenny) won, [the relief that] it had ended without injury, [the joy] that he had done it (fought to the end), those feelings were all mixed together, and for 2, 3 seconds I was feeling overjoyed. But then, immediately after…I felt, like, empty.
Empty in what way?
Ibushi: Empty in that I thought, why am I not in gear in this place? What am I wrestling for?
Of course you were ringside on your own will. But when you calmed down, you wondered why you were there as a second?
Ibushi: Yeah. That was a bit painful, or rather, it was a complex feeling.
How did you feel about Kenny, whom you’ve known for so long, winning the IWGP Heavyweight belt?
Ibushi: I was really, really happy. I’m [happy] he was able to pull [this all] off.
During Kenny’s backstage comments, there were some saying that you looked like you had a complex look on your face as you stood at his side. What were you thinking at that time?
Ibushi: I did have complex feelings. I said this before, but I [thought,] why am I not in that ring? I would have loved to be the one to have an amazing match in that ring. I was having mixed feelings because of that.
Your ego, your pride as a wrestler was being pricked.
Ibushi: Yeah. That came out. Or like…well, that’s how it was.
So, does this mean you can now envision specifically that you two are going to face each other in the ring?
Ibushi: I already knew that if [we] didn’t do that, that I wouldn’t be able to reach the IWGP Heavyweight belt, to get [that belt] one day. With Kenny winning (the belt), I have become aware of him as well [as an opponent].
Is there a part of you that feels closer to the IWGP Heavyweight [title scene] now that Kenny has won the belt?
Ibushi: I do feel closer.
So, under these circumstances, is the match with Kenny during the G1 an advantage for you?
Ibushi: It’s already been decided [we’re going to face each other] in the same block, and without this (without these circumstances), I would have been in a torn, half-hearted state, wondering if we should or shouldn’t fight. I think this is the best opportunity [we could have met under].
Originally, there were rumors that you were banned from Nippon Budôkan, and that you would be forbidden from entering [the tournament] (laughs).
Ibushi: I got messaged beforehand by Sugabayashi (New Japan’s chairman Sugabayashi Naoki) that everything was okay [and that I could enter].
You got a message that you weren’t banned from the venue? (laughs)
Ibushi: Yes, there was an exchange like that.
[Ibushi’s] Renewed Prophecy of Inadequacy?! “It’s going to be [his] summer of declining”
What did you think when you saw the division of blocks in the G1?
Ibushi: I thought that B…had become a bit of a dangerous block.
What do you mean?
Ibushi: It’s the same for Ishii and Kenny, and for Naitô and Zack, but everyone has their own specialized strengths. I think there might be a lot of dangerous matches just because of that.
Certainly, the four wrestlers you just mentioned are very uniquely focused.
Ibushi: They are.
Within those, you’ll face Zack, who’s very particular, for the first time.
Ibushi: Zack’s submission [moves] are a bit different from those of other wrestlers, aren’t they? Submissions are my weakness, but I don’t particularly hate Zack’s specialty submissions.
You mean you don’t like that feeling of unpredictability?
Ibushi: I love the feeling of unpredictability. It’s probably going to be nice to face such an opponent for the first time, but still, the (fight) with Kenny at the end is the one I’m a bit concerned about.
You’ll face SANADA for the first time (in singles action) as well.
Ibushi: I feel like there’s parts of me and SANADA that overlap, just a bit.
From an objective point of view, I feel like the two of you are both intuitive and geniuses in your own right.
Ibushi: I think we might be a bit similar in the intuitive way we fight.
Do you have an impression [of SANADA] from when you fought him [before]?
Ibushi: SANADA’s especially hard to get a read on.
Did you ever face someone before with whom you shared those parts in this way?
Ibushi: This is a bit different again, but it feels like Kenny is similar [to me] too. But between Kenny and SANADA, the ways in which they are similar [to me] are different.
Do you think SANADA might become a favorite opponent of yours in the future?
Ibushi: He might. I look forward to [wrestling] SANADA [and finding out].
You have fought Naitô last year, and you’ll face him this year as well.
Ibushi: I want to win against Naitô in a match.
At the beginning of this year, you said that you were “predicting” Naitô would start slumping.
Ibushi: I think he’s declining a bit, yeah. [I’m predicting] that he’s basically going to slump from autumn of 2018 to 2019.
Rather, you’re saying, his slump is going to start in earnest from now on.
Ibushi: It’s going to be in full force after the G1 (laughs). It’s going to be [his] summer of slumping.
Your battles with Ishii are always intense.
Ibushi: We are clashing head-on with one another. It’s not like I’m trying to match him at all, it just naturally becomes likes that. Because the wear and tear from a battle with Ishii is so brutal, [my] battles in the tournament after that might turn out different.
We touched on this earlier, but your last battle [before the finals] in the tournament will be against Kenny, and it’s the first time you’ve faced him since 2012.
Ibushi: I’ve wondered when the time to fight Kenny again would come ever since this year started. I have said that I want to go all out in New Japan this year, so I’ve also been prepared to meet Kenny [in the ring].
Six years ago, after your match [with Kenny], you said the words, “Next time, I’ll die”. Do you ever feel heavy-hearted, considering you’re facing such a dangerous battle?
Ibushi: I do. I’m still undecided, or rather, [I think,] is this really happening? It doesn’t feel real at all, and there’s also [the worry of] what kind of match it’s going to be, but that (the content of the match) I’m not looking forward to that much. To me, [having] such messy matches with Kenny ended back then.
You mean that, 6 years ago, you closed that chapter?
Ibushi: Kenny has stuck with that way (from 6 years ago) and that style, and he still does, doesn’t he? I think that [he’s] still following that same line from (6 years ago), but to me, that style ended back then. I think the fans that watch [me], they might understand that (my style) has changed, and for me, I closed that chapter. I have no intention to climb back on that horse, so I think this time around things might turn out different. Well, I think Kenny’s probably going to come at me with the style he had back then, though.
At the very least, you’ll go into this with a different style and mind than you had 6 years ago.
Ibushi: If we’re talking about whether or not you’re going to see an extension of the match from 6 years ago, then I think you won’t be able to see that.
However, it’s still true that, in order to reach the top of New Japan right now, you’ll have to go through Kenny.
Ibushi: Yeah. Even if that’s the style he (Kenny) is going to go for, then that’s just what I’m going to have to deal with.
I just have to ask to make sure, but you’re not going to jump from the balcony again, right? (laughs)
Ibushi: No, I don’t think so. Well, I’m sure I’m not going to (laughs). I’m kind of scared that’s that what [people] expect of me (laughs bitterly).
This will be your 4th time participating in the G1. Do you have your own key points on how to win these grueling tournament matches?
Ibushi: When I took part [in the G1] for the first time, I went into every battle with full power right from the start. That’s how I raked up three wins in a row, but I lost every single one after that, and [I realized,] this is nonsense. After that I tried to plan to my advantage for every battle, but that wasn’t good either. This is my 4th time, and somehow I’ve come to understand how to divide myself between the different matches, and I’ll go into this with this kind of intuition.
You mean it’s very important to distribute your strength in and outside the ring?
Ibushi: Especially outside the ring. The things [that happen] in the ring are important for everyone involved, but I think it’s become important to me how to spend my time outside the ring. Moving around [as part of the tours etc], and that includes your diet and all that.
Do you feel this G1 is special, compared to the 3 other times you have taken part so far?
Ibushi: It’s been about five years since I’ve entered the heavyweight [division], but I haven’t achieved anything. I think this G1 might be my time window to get some results.
So you’re saying you’re most interested in the results.
Ibushi: I’m only going to be interested in the results.
At the beginning of the year, you declared that you’ll “erupt into full force this year, and to be honest, the last six months haven’t been that big of an explosion for you.
Ibushi: Because I keep misfiring. I was supposed to go off during the New Japan Cup, but I misfired, so I think with this [G1] I’ll have to…hurry up and make a recovery, right now. I feel that I do want to be Kenny’s best partner, I do want to be his best rival, but there’s [also] parts of me that aren’t catching up with him.
You want to catch up to your rival soon.
Ibushi: In New Japan, I want to stick to my own wrestling, and for that I want to catch up.