My translation of an interview with Ibushi Kôta that appeared in a special issue of the official NJPW magazine. As always, my annotations are in , and annotations by the original publication are in ().
Original text and images © New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., Ltd.
Interview taken 9/29 2018.
Note: pull quotes may differ from actual answers. This is part of the editing in the original.
Cody has the power to control the atmosphere of a match
The battles rage in full force all over New Japan right now as we anticipate next year’s 1.4. Dome [show]. Has 2018 been an equally packed year for you?
Ibushi: It has. It really went by in the blink of an eye. It was a turning point, and a lot happened.
Looking back, the Golden☆Lovers (after: GL) reunited after a long time, with the springboard for that being when you saved Kenny Omega, who was caught in the turmoil of Bullet Club’s inner conflicts.
Ibushi: I simply felt the joy of being able to fight together with Kenny again. That we fit together immediately again, even though there had been a three year gap in which we didn’t tag [together], that made me realize again that he is my best partner.
On March 25th in Los [Angeles], you took part in the main event as the GL, and earned a win over one of the best tag teams in the world, and the current IWGP Tag Team Champions, the Young Bucks.
Ibushi: For me, I had purely wanted to captivate [the fans] with just the match itself, but at that time, Kenny and the Young Bucks were fighting through a complicated, hostile relationship, and I feel like it was just me who was out of place (smiles wryly).
And then we approached May 3rd, when you were facing Cody in Fukuoka, who was a central figure in the inner strife in Bullet Club at that time. You won against Cody at this year’s 1.4 Dome [show], but in Fukuoka, you suffered a defeat by pinfall. Both were acclaimed matches. Who is Cody to you?
Ibushi: First of all, I think the aura he gives off is incredible. I think his athleticism or his technique aren’t anything to write home about, but he has the power to control the atmosphere of a match.
He probably possesses [that power] because he is a thoroughbred [wrestler]—Dusty Rhodes being his father—who came to survive in WWE since his early twenties.
Ibushi: Yes, I guess [he’s] plainly and simply “the All American wrestler”. Also, he had adjusted himself more to New Japan by May than he had in January, so I think he has a good sense [for wrestling] as well.
Later, Kenny and Cody mended fences on July 7th in Los [Angeles], but this time, the Bullet Club OG, forming around Tama Tonga, rebelled. How do you perceive this string of events?
Ibushi: I’m [part of] the GL, but I’m not a member of Bullet Club, so honestly I can’t say anything. Because Kenny might have reconciled with Cody, but I haven’t. However, at the end of the show we did in Chicago (9.1, ALL IN), Cody asked me for a handshake, and I gave in, without knowing why, so it still feels like a wait-and-see situation.
I was set up by Tanahashi in the G1 finals
In the G1 CLIMAX held from July to August, you advanced to the finals as winner of B Block. Was Kenny winning the IWGP Heavy [Championship] in Ôsaka-jô on June 9th a big driving force behind that for you?
Ibushi: It gave me a pretty [big] push. [I thought,] next, it’s my turn, or like, I can’t get left behind.
How about when you look back on the tournament as a whole?
Ibushi: I have taken part in the G1 four times so far, but this one was the hardest for me, physically. However, maybe because I have grown, I didn’t feel once like it was difficult for me mentally. This is probably related to how I achieved my personal greatest success in the past.
The part about growth—did you feel a change in yourself coming into this year?
Ibushi: My resolve has become much stronger. This is a resolve to make wrestling more popular on my own, and for that I need to achieve success more than anything.
I see. Your opponent in the finals was Tanahashi, whom you have idolized as a “god” for a long time now.
Ibushi: That match is something I will never forget, in a lot of ways…First, the day before, in the last tournament match, I faced Kenny [in the ring] for the first time in 6 years, and I ended up going into the finals without having slept [much].
Because you were excited that you had defeated your trusted friend, and the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny?
Ibushi: Yes, but for me, more than about having defeated Kenny, it was about feeling that I had been entrusted. Because after the match, between Kenny and me, it was clear that I had taken more damage.
The next day, you took Kenny along as your second, and you went on into the finals.That match became a literal fight to the death.
Ibushi: I think, however, I was able to fight with a cool head, as [my anger] hadn’t been “awakened”. But, when I lost in the end, I [thought,] man, Tanahashi really is amazing. I felt that watching his manner of fighting throughout the G1. Compared to me giving every match everything I had, it’s like he was able to balance himself out well. Also, at the time of that finals match, I thought that the fans were probably going to cheer for me. That was in part because it was my first time being in the finals, and in part because I had defeated Kenny and advanced over [him and all the others].
It was easy for the viewers to empathize with you, I think.
Ibushi: Actually, there were very loud cheers when I came in. But there was loud cheering when Tanahashi came in as well, and then I suddenly realized Shibata (Katsuyori) was with him…I knew he had set me up (smiles wryly). At that moment I sensed a lot of things, and [I thought,], this is New Japan vs the Outside Invaders.
It was like the mood had suddenly shifted. Like he was opposing the GL with the bond he [has] with his classmate and rival.
Ibushi: Before the match [even] started, he went and took the mood in the venue for himself, and I thought, this is Tanahashi’s [way of] wrestling, huh.
Tanahashi and Kenny’s views of wrestling are the opposite of one another, and they criticize each other’s fight styles too. What do you think about that?
Ibushi: I think both are amazing wrestlers, and I can understand them. Also, there is a part of me that thinks my own wrestling is different from either of theirs. However, I’m [a part of] the GL, so when they’re fighting, of course I’m going to be in Kenny’s corner.
That belt is very meaningful to me if I’m going to win it off of Kenny
Then on the next tour, on September 15th in Hiroshima, Kenny defended the IWGP Heavyweight [championship] against his opponent Ishii Tomohiro, and you watched [that match] as guest commentator. What are your candid thoughts and feelings about that?
Ibushi: Kenny revealed a lot more of his athleticism than usual in that match, as if he meant for Tanahashi to see it. What I saw as amazing, from him once again, were his stamina and mental resilience, and I think he’s had those since he was born.
When Kenny defeated Ishii, he made a remark towards you that suggested a fight for the championship between you as GL would come true. And then you replied by [saying,] “Let’s fulfill our promise.” What is this promise?
Ibushi: My match with Kenny six years ago was also at Budôkan, and at that time, we talked about fighting in a venue bigger than Budôkan the next time. But [we’re] not too overly attached to that. Before we faced each other in this year’s G1, [we] cared about the situation in which we would fight, but now, as long as just the timing is right, [we’ll have that match]. I think the most important thing is that I’m going to fight Kenny with the IWGP Heavyweight [title] on the line.
What is the IWGP Heavyweight belt for you?
Ibushi: I’ve always yearned for it ever since I was a child. What left a special impression on me was when Hashimoto Shinya kept raking up defense after defense, and when wrestling itself was at its peak, and I’ve [always] thought of the IWGP Heavyweight [title] as the emblem of that [since back then]. I had always wrestled as a junior since my debut, and I didn’t dare dream that I would later be added to a fight involving the IWGP Heavyweight [belt].
In the past you challenged just once for the IWGP Heavyweight belt AJ Styles was holding at that time, shortly after you won the 2014 New Japan Cup.
Ibushi: I wasn’t able to reach [my goal] then, but my [resolve] that next time [I’ll get it] is strong. Furthermore, I think taking [the belt] from Kenny is very meaningful, and the IWGP Heavyweight [title] is the highest mark [I can earn] in my quest to make wrestling more popular.
Lastly, please leave a message for the fans.
Ibushi: This year has been full of ups and downs so far, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the last three remaining months, but please look forward to Ibushi Kôta’s wrestling.