My translation of a feature written by Suzuki Ken and interview with Ibushi Kôta and Kenny Omega that appeared in the official New Japan publication New World Vol 2, published 7/5 2018. As always, my annotations are in , and annotations by the original publication are in ().
Original text and images © New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., Ltd.
Note: pull quotes may differ from actual answers. This is part of the editing in the original.
Golden Lovers: Sharing the Choice of Happiness
The Reason the Reunited Golden☆Lovers are Beloved as an Emotionally Moving Story
Once, Ibushi Kôta and Kenny Omega were said to have breathtaking coordination in the ring, and that the “lovers” shared the same heart beating in two bodies. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, they parted ways, and the unruly Golden Star and the lonely Best Bout Machine walked their own paths. Time passed, and now, pulled towards each other again in the ring, they reveal the unspoken story they kept in their heart.
Nobody would have pictured the way the main events of the two days in Kôrakuen Hall went on February 23rd and 24th. They saw the Golden☆Lovers (after: G☆L) tag again for the first time in three years and four months. In pro wrestling, [everyone] can share the feelings and emotions of the wrestlers who step into the ring.
Even so, I can say with confidence that these two days were truly a special situation. The moment Ibushi Kôta and Kenny Omega appeared at the back of the entrance ways, everyone in the audience erupted into joy, just like I did.
This intensity wasn’t common. For the fans who had watched them since their time in DDT, it was a moment of joy when the dream they thought sealed away forever began to glitter in the dazzling light again, and those who became fans of theirs since they stepped into the New Japan ring, were drunk with excitement at being able to see the half-legendary duo live and in color.
Add these two together, and you get emotions crashing like waves on the shore. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but considering the ripening period that was seemingly necessary to create the flavor of such exquisite happiness, the more than three years in which they kept narrowly running past each other every day, were maybe not all wasted.
It wasn’t that they hated each other—fate had pulled Ibushi and Kenny apart. During their time in DDT, the G☆L stepped into the New Japan ring, where they captured the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships and gained tremendous favor [with the fans] with their creative teamwork and elating aura, even though they were from another promotion.
Choosing [to be a fan of] the G☆L wasn’t a matter of choosing between right or wrong, but choosing the third option: happiness. This gave birth to a popularity that transcended the borders of promotions.
They continued being [this third option] after Ibushi came under double contract for New Japan and DDT in October of 2013, but in November of the following year, Kenny joined the Bullet Club. By throwing away his old self as “the Cleaner”, the positions of all three people—Kenny’s, Ibushi’s and the fans’—changed.
The more Kenny became tainted by the Bullet Club, the more his days in the G☆L seemed a thing of the past. Even so, for the fans, the memory of “KenIbushi” must have always lived on in some corner of their minds. In New Japan, “love” brings up images of Tanahashi Hiroshi, but that night when [the G☆L] reunited, everyone in the audience became a lover, and responded to Ibushi and Kenny in the ring with their own thoughts and feelings.
“I had no idea how the G☆L reunion would be received, because we had more new fans in New Japan. But the reaction in the moment our entrance song came on reached me behind me the curtain, and I came close to crying. This response, as though everyone knew my story with Ibushi and had continued to take this journey with us, had me choked up. It was [unbelievable] that they responded so enthusiastically to something that had been reset to zero and was starting anew…”
Since entering the bad guy group of Bullet Club, Kenny had turned his back on turning happiness with the fans. It was necessary to [mentally] prepare himself for this if he wanted to become the best there was in New Japan.
As he graduated from the juniors into the heavyweights and achieved greatness, the reactions from the crowd changed from boos into cheers, and everyone expressed their praise for him when he won his first G1 in 2016. Regardless of the attitude [in terms of heel and face] of his stable, Kenny had forced [people] to acknowledge him as the best all on his own.
Seeing him like this called back to mind Kenny’s days as a pleasant and friendly guy. How did the period of time reflect on Ibushi when the fans were quietly keeping the impossible dream inside of them, even though they wished for it somewhere in their hearts, never speaking of it?
“I had no intention of making a move and linking up [with Kenny again]. It was like I was viewing Kenny cement his proper position within New Japan from far away. I just wanted him to succeed, so I thought I’d go and watch the finals because Kenny was in them.
[He] had become a research object for my wrestling research. New Japan had evolved in the one year [I hadn’t been there], so I was investigating that through Kenny.”
In February of 2016, the Golden☆Star left both New Japan and DDT, and started the overly strange affair of the “Ibushi Pro Wrestling Research Institute”. But it wasn’t like he was glued at a computer somewhere in a laboratory.
[Ibushi] became a true freelancer and wrestled even for WWE, not remaining [just] in Japan. It would be a common thing to jump at the invitation from the world’s largest promotion, but this was different from the “strange activities” Ibushi [was] thinking about, so he didn’t nod his head in agreement, no matter how fervently [WWE’s] representative Triple H persuaded him.
“It would have been weird to be in New Japan, DDT and WWE at the same time, I think. Although that would have been nice,” Ibushi says with a cheeky smile on his small face. Another time in the past, he also said, “If they invite me, I’ll join every stable at once, New Japan main faction, CHAOS, Bullet Club, Los Ingobenables de Japon.”
Certainly, being in every stable at once would surpass being in two promotions at once, and it would be extremely strange and groundbreaking, but in reality it’s not possible. Even so, Ibushi completed his research on New Japan, and returned once more to the front lines.
[Ibushi and Kenny] walked their separate paths, never crossing, [but] amidst that, it was during last year’s G1 when the distance between them closed. Kenny, the winner of the previous G1, told Ibushi that he would be waiting for him in the finals, as they both had been entered into different blocks in the tournament, and he also prepared gear with a motif on it that invoked both their designs.
“I had planned to keep sending Ibushi hints so [we] would return to our previous relationship, on social media and in interviews and backstage comments [and so on]. When he left, I was jealous of him, and I needed to overcome that. Winning the G1 2016 had even more significance [to me] because of that. Surpassing Ibushi was so important to me that I only found out later I had won [the G1] as the first gaijin wrestler.
If you don’t take a good look at those dark feelings, you won’t be able to overcome them. I was able to beat them because I faced them head-on. Now, I don’t get jealous, no matter how much Ibushi gets praised as the best, and I can be happy for him.”
In 2005, Kenny left a WWE feeder promotion [he was in] and watched video after video he gathered about the Japanese indie scene. Among those, he saw the figure of a man jumping about who was the embodiment of his own view on wrestling.
Kenny sensed that he was definitely going to come into his life, even if he had no basis for that, and so, as if he had bitten into a lure [he wasn’t letting go of], he sent DDT a video of his anywhere match, and uploaded it to YouTube as well.
After they fatefully encountered their own mirror image on the other side of the globe, and had their first singles combat on August 6th 2008, [Ibushi and Kenny] swore not to fight each other anymore, on the basis that they didn’t wish to hurt each other.
“To put it another way, not wanting to hurt [the other] means being afraid of being hurt yourself. If either one of us is going to get hurt if we get sloppy, then in conclusion, the best way to do this without hurting each other, is to do it with 100% power and exercise the skill to take 100% [in turn]. [We] have to give this everything we’ve got because of the depth of our emotions, not because we’re cruel.” (quote from Kenny at the time)
They knew what would happen if they both used their athletic skills to full extent. Indeed, when Kenny won the [KO-D] tournament and challenged DDT’s Openweight Champion, Ibushi, at the time, their superhuman and dangerous bout (August 18th 2012, Nippon Budôkan) elicited screams [of fear], and became the subject of debate even at the Puroresu Awards at the end of the year, where [it was argued that the match] had been incredible, yes, but people weren’t sure if it should be chosen as the “Best” Bout.
I have never heard of any other [match] that didn’t become the best because it was too amazing. After beating Kenny at Budôkan, Ibushi muttered, “It turned out like [we] said it would”. He still feels the same way today as he did back then.
“The biggest change after Kenny left my side was that I was able to see him as an opponent in a singles match. For example, if it had come to the finals of the G1, it would have been a situation in which we would have had no choice but to fight each other, and I would have done it.
But in the end, I wasn’t able to [reach the finals]. To be honest, I both wanted to fight him and didn’t want to fight him, and I think wanting to fight [each other] and not wanting to hurt each other at the same time [was] what the fans wanted then. I think there [were] a lot of fans who [didn’t] know our [singles] matches, and there was [a part of me] who also wanted to show those fans one more [match between us].”
With such a conflicted mind being one of the reasons why, Ibushi couldn’t advance into the finals where Kenny waited for him. While [he] knew fans during that time wanted to see a showdown between the G☆L, [he himself] must have breathed a sigh of relief [it didn’t come to that].
Kenny overcame his inferiority complex towards Ibushi, and Ibushi came to fight in New Japan, thinking he had to chase after Kenny who had arrived at the very top. And then…
This year, on January 28th, Ibushi saved Kenny from the punishment of the Bullet Club forces lead by Cody that descended on Kenny after he lost the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship. The moment [Ibushi and Kenny] embraced, the three years and three months of voidness were bridged at the speed of light.
“I knew this was my last chance. I knew that if we didn’t join up again here, we would never join up, and we would fight and that would be the end of it.” (Ibushi)
Kenny had been the one to send the messages for this, but Ibushi had been the one to act. In the end, by acting on his own, he had “evaded” the third singles match between them.
The G☆L continued to move the hearts of those who had always watched them, whether they drifted apart or tagged again. In their DDT era, they had once run amok together through the wide open space of a camping ground. The fans scrambled after the wrestlers through mountains up and down, and experienced the same exhilarating thrill even as they scattered and ran from the fireworks flying about.
This is why Ibushi and Kenny’s happiness feels like my own happiness. So strong is the way we all take part in this [compared to anything else]. Such a relationship between wrestlers and fans forms the foundation for the extraordinarily [emotional] space Kôrakuen turned into on February 23rd and 24th.
“For those two days, our wish to tag again and what the fans wanted to see came together in a nice form, and it felt good that [everyone] was so happy. This is my only motivation for wrestling right now. It’s not at all about whether I have fun. In these last two, three years I’ve often thought about why I’m doing this. It’s not because I love wrestling itself.
I probably could have done anything. But wrestling just fits me best in that I can express myself with it. I’ve started wrestling because of that, because I wanted people to be happy. I want [people] to see how interesting wrestling is right now. I want them to fall in love with it, or rather I want them to take part in it. The G☆L want to show them things they can participate in, too.”
Like Ibushi says, the G☆L probably include the fans who are emotionally involved with them. And he acted because he hoped to offer and share his happiness [with the fans] together with Kenny.
However, in reality, he bumped into a troublesome wall. The mess inside Bullet Club spoiled [their perfect ending], and things continue to be a far cry from offering happiness.
“I’m sorry for that. Because it dragged Ibushi into it. But we’ll no doubt overcome it. By each of us growing, we’ll be able to make this story into something more solid. And the reason for that is because love and friendship are powerful things in the world.
I focused on rivalry and jealousy in the beginning of my story with Ibushi, but it has changed into a story of love and happiness. I think what this love is, is really caring about someone, and through that taking each other to the next level. I want to express this and tell this story through my wrestling, because it’s a story everyone can have in their lives.”
What came across from Kenny as he spoke about his story with Ibushi, was a passion that was [as real as] the warmth of the body. His wish to share his happiness with the fans is the same [as Ibushi’s].
Friends, rivals, brothers in arms, siblings…you could choose from a plethora of phrases to describe the bonds that exist between tag teams. But both Ibushi and Kenny said that it’s difficult to apply any of these to the G☆L.
“[We] don’t want to turn these things into something cliched by putting them into words.”
Seeing these two carefully think over [their answers] in the same way to the same question, I remembered what I had heard from Nakamura Shinsuke once. Just from the time they took to think about [the answer] alone, you can tell what the G☆L mean to Ibushi and Kenny. And that they both arrived at the same following conclusion, even though they were asked separately, actually ran a shiver down my spine.
“No matter what, the timing of our movements strangely matches. I don’t know why we match each other even if we don’t practice [together]. In 36 years I’ve never had this with anyone else aside from Kenny. It’s like—it’s as if two people are sharing the same brain.”
“It’s like a real [version of] Your Name, you know? This happened because we were both drawn in by a similar feeling or heart. Everybody would love it if [I] called [us] a couple, though, hahaha. But it’s not that simple. Hmmm…Maybe calling it a relationship in which we share the same heart brings it across.”
The brain births the feeling, and the heart takes in the feeling…Ibushi had answered the question before Kenny, and when Kenny was told of his answer after the interview, he let out a surprised “Oh, my God!”, and smiled shyly. The hidden power that exceeds even their own expectations—maybe that is the grand television period drama called the Golden☆Lovers.