My translation of an interview series with Ibushi Kôta published from 3/10 to 3/11 2016 on Weekly Playboy NEWS here and here.
As always, my annotations are in , and annotations by the original publication are in ().
Images and original content © SHUEISHA INC.
Note: pull quotes may differ from actual answers. This is part of the editing in the original.
Ibushi Kôta speaks about the truth behind his departure from New Japan and DDT: “I’m more motivated than ever before!”
Pro wrestler Ibushi Kôta, who since October of last year took a long time away from wrestling due to injuries, held a press conference on February 22nd, and announced his future plans.
Ibushi was active (for both DDT and New Japan Pro Wrestling) under the world’s first double contracts, but he suddenly ended his contracts with both promotions at the end of February. Now, he will go forward as a freelancer, with his position being in the “Ibushi Wrestling Research Institute” that he founded himself.
Also known by the name of Golden☆Star, what in the world happened to the revolutionary youngster that brought traditional wrestling one step ahead? We pressed the man himself for answers!
I was surprised when you declared that you would quit both promotions and become a freelancer.
Ibushi: I debuted for DDT (2004), and later, I got under contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling (2013). I still love both promotions. But when I was in the ring for both, it began to feel somewhat like my arms were being tugged into a lot of different directions, and I didn’t need that whatsoever then. Partway through, it stopped feeling like I was a wrestler for two promotions, and instead it felt like I was wrestling for pro wrestling. Ever since the beginning, I had a sense [that I was] being a freelancer. With all that going on, I thought that I wanted to improve my wrestling even more, and thus I made this decision.
Both promotions continue their shows and tours with their own storytelling, so certainly it must have been hard to divide yourself into two, depending on [the promotion].
Ibushi: It does put shackles on you, like, I [can] do this in DDT, but New Japan that’s a no-go… Those [restrictions] kept piling up, and little by little, I was losing the sense that this was wrestling what I was doing… Though of course this is the adult world, so I understand that you have to adapt yourself to what’s asked of you.
The more you’re recognized in New Japan, the more you become involved with the upper echelons of the promotion. Last year, you challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight and the Never Openweight singles titles too. In DDT, you were wrestling “streetfight style” in bookstores and on camping grounds, and you created quite the stir with your innovative fight against the sex doll Yoshihiko.
Ibushi: In the beginning, when I was in New Japan, I wanted to master the orthodox wrestling [style]. In DDT, you can’t go far with that style. I experienced that firsthand when I tried wrestling for both promotions. On the other hand, you absolutely can’t do the streetfight wrestling in DDT anywhere else, so my idea was that the more I did that kind of planning, the the more I would improve [in both]. This way, as long as I was asked to [have] fights with completely different characteristics in the respective rings, I had a feeling that I could somehow manage the schedule of both promotions.
Even so, you had more and more title matches in your old home of DDT. Last year, you won the KO-D Tag Team Championships, and you also wrestled a match for the KO-D Openweight Championship. It felt like you were also expected to be the orthodox ace in DDT.
Ibushi: That’s it, yeah… When DDT is asking me for title matches and [things like that], then I think, simply put, both promotions demand the same thing from me… What happened then was that I felt like it didn’t make sense to be in both promotions, and my thoughts about [it all] were then completely different from the thoughts I had in the beginning.
You were with DDT for 12 years, overcoming various challenges, and it feels like that this was a time in which you could “move on” [from DDT] so to speak. However, with you winning the Best Bout Award at the Puroresu Awards for a New Japan [match] and all that, you were on the shortlist of promising candidates for the company’s next ace, so it also felt like you could stay in your contract for [New Japan].
Ibushi: Wrestling for two promotions doesn’t simply mean having it twice as tough, but it’s also necessary to balance [yourself] between both. So then it feels more like wrestling for three promotions. The physical and mental switch was hard, and in the end I needed about ten times more energy. So I thought it would be better to reset that all completely so something new could be born. That’s how I immediately arrived at the conclusion of quitting both promotions.
I see…It’s unfortunate, but understandable. How is your health? At the beginning of your long absence, the reason for it was said to be a herniated cervical disk. Was that the bill for taking extreme bumps for so long?
Ibushi: All in all the total [invoice] has been going for 22 years, because my history of “vertical bumps” goes back to play-wrestling in elementary school! So I think it could be true.
In your autobiography “Golden Star Ibushi Kôta: The Best”, you also wrote that you were influenced by the wrestling of the Four Pillars of All Japan, and that you took neck bumps from dangerous angles since your time in elementary school. There are unbelievable stories in there, like you falling down from the morning pep talk platform onto the schoolyard and breaking your ribs when you were in 5th grade.
Ibushi: My neck has already completely healed so it’s fine, but there is some damage to my lower back. I was diagnosed by the doctors with spondylolisthesis. I was told it’s a condition that people tend to get in their thirties when they have been working out really intensely since 15, especially when they do movements that bend the body. It seems it often occurs in Olympic level and other such athletes.
Around 15, you were in the rugby club, right?
Ibushi: Yes. But I know that more than from rugby, the damage comes from play-wrestling.
So the old scars from before you debuted come from play-wrestling? (laughs) How do you heal spondylolisthesis?
Ibushi: It seems the only thing you can do is strengthen the small muscles [of the torso] called deep muscles. Since my symptoms aren’t that severe, I was told things will be okay as long as I train the inner muscles. It’s not rehab, but I’ve already started working out like that, and my body has returned to a state where I can get into the ring.
Will he go to WWE in pursuit of Nakamura Shinsuke?
That means you [did] this press conference at a time when your body had healed. When your absence due to injury was first announced on October 25th, on the day of the Kôrakuen Hall show, you were planning to challenge for the KO-D Openweight Championship. Furthermore, this was immediately after you published two autobiographies at the same time (“The Best” and “The Maddest”). Publication events were planned all over the country, but they were cancelled. The news made the rounds that the contents of the autobiographies were too detestable and that you had run away because of that.
Ibushi: Hold on a moment. The reason I missed the match wasn’t because I was running away, I had a high fever! It’s pure coincidence that the timing of the publication events overlapped with that. I actually wanted to do a lot of marketing campaigns. I felt really sorry for the people who had looked forward to that.
Nakamura Shinsuke, with whom you had two very famous bouts in 2013 and 2015, went from New Japan to WWE. Was one of the reasons why you decided to leave [New Japan] because you had lost the goal of winning against Nakamura?
Ibushi: Hmmm, it’s not a direct reason. It feels like it’s one of the about 100 reasons why I decided to become a freelancer.
Would you ever have any desire to go to WWE in the future?
Ibushi: Oh no, I don’t speak English and all that. I think it would be impossible. Because “going to WWE” would mean “living in America”. Realistically, I think that would be very hard for me… But, hypothetically speaking, there is probably a possibility that, if I went to WWE, the wrestling that I intend to do could level up even more through that… But right now, I don’t know.
In the sense of you wanting to bring wrestling to even greater heights, to show it to more people, is there a possibility of you appearing at the MMA event “RIZIN” that began at the end of last year?
Ibushi: I’d think about it if it became a positive effect for wrestling.
And just like this, the offers come in at once (laughs). Nevertheless, even if you wanted to show your wrestling in that ring, but you were only offered martial arts matches, [what would you do]?
Ibushi: If I think it’s a good idea, I’ll do it, I think… I rely on my “intuition”. If I think deliberately wrestling there would be better, then I’ll wrestle. There’s lots of possibilities.
If you got a one-off offer from New Japan for a big match in the future, would you do it?
Ibushi: It’s not like I quit both promotions out of animosity. So I want to wrestle both for DDT and for New Japan as well. But I want them to let me choose the meaning and the reasons for that. If I don’t, then nothing has changed. From now on I want to be at [shows, in matches, etc] that I think are worth it. I want to do my wrestling. It is true that I quit the promotions because I felt [things] were too hard, but I’m more motivated than ever before!
The “heightened unreality” of the wrestling Ibushi Kôta has as his goal: “I want to continue so that I’m ready to quit any day”
At the moment, the “Ibushi Wrestling Research Institute” isn’t a promotion or anything like that, but something inside your head, a homemade think tank so to speak. How do you intend to refine traditional wrestling in the future?
Ibushi: I want to restore all the excitement in wrestling. While I was out, I watched a lot of different things, and I thought about wrestling. The other day I watched Cirque du Soleil. It made me think that wrestling still has so much potential.
What did you [think about] while watching Cirque du Soleil?
Ibushi: There are still a lot of ways for wrestling to be exciting within its pre-set rules, and I thought that something new would [emerge] if you used that [framework] well. Like how [kicking out] close to 2.9 in wrestling was born because of the three-count rule.
You’ve wrestled both against the sex doll Yoshihiko in a famous match, and outside the ring in streetfight wrestling. You show us a free expression removed from traditional wrestling, but [do you think wrestling] should have general principles and regulations, like the three-count?
Ibushi: I’m thinking about it both ways, whether they [should] exist or whether they [shouldn’t]. You can probably make things exciting with a certain degree of tight rules. But I also feel like I want to create [a style of] wrestling with a completely new set of rules. A ring doesn’t have to have to be square. It could be a triangle or a circle, and the size doesn’t have to be fixed to what it is now, either…Things like that. Since some of what I imagine is connected to streetfight wrestling, I’m thinking about maybe doing something with that same feeling to it. I have nothing concrete yet, but I have a feeling there is a style of wrestling that is exciting with something new, in a new form. Well, I’m in the middle of thinking that I could also do this with “intuition”, since I’ve gone with my intuition so far.
Lately, you’ve often used the word “intuition”.
Ibushi: Yes, everything is intuition.
[Winning] the IWGP belt is [about] “timing and intuition” too
What other ideas do you have?
Ibushi: Should we have matches solely with established wrestlers? That’s what I wonder. Not just martial artists from other types [of contact sports], but athletes from completely different sports as well. It might be interesting to fight these people under the same rules. For example, in terms of the rotation for high-flying moves, a gymnast is definitely better than me at it, and when it comes to strikes, the kicks of a kickboxer are at a higher level than mine. I think that if you brought all these together into the ring, you could do something amazing with that. All that you need is the best athletes in their respective fields to show what they have cultivated. I have a feeling there is potential there.
Pancrase has started livestreaming matches via LINE. What do you think about this new presentation of wrestling by making use of social media?
Ibushi: There is potential there as well. I heard that there is a niconico video event in Roppongi called “nicofarre”, and that they showed videos on four walls and the ceiling there. For example, you could have a match where the posts by the viewers appear in real time. So if someone writes “Jump!”, [the wrestler] really would jump. Or [the wrestler] would ignore that on purpose (laughs).
A form of on-demand wrestling! Sounds interesting. As far as your plans with the “Wrestling Research Institute” go, will you attach more importance to holding your own events than appearing as a guest for existing promotions?
Ibushi: That too [I leave to] my intuition. I go with two types of intuition. If I think there is a point in appearing for a promotion, I accept the offer and go there. I also once absolutely want to try and present a new [kind of] wrestling at my own independent event.
So then you no longer need to become the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, at the top of the wrestling world in New Japan?
Ibushi: If the IWGP belt is necessary for developing this [kind of] wrestling I’m thinking about, then I want it. This is about timing and intuition too.
I see. For now, I want to see your own events. When will you hold them?
Ibushi: I think that, even if I started to get going as soon as the ideas have crystallized, the preparations would take several months, so at the earliest it would probably be around August or September this year.
[August or September] will be the time New Japan holds the G1 CLIMAX. So then you wouldn’t be in [the G1] this year?
Ibushi: I don’t know. I might be in it, if it aligns with what I’m thinking about. I haven’t decided anything yet…
But isn’t wrestling “heightened unreality”?
You have created many original moves, from a swandive release German suplex from the top rope, to the Phoenix Plex Hold that combines a powerbomb with a German suplex, and so on. When do you come up with these?
Ibushi: For the most part, it’s often something I see in dreams. I hastily write those down in a notebook as soon as I wake up. [For the] matches with Yoshihiko and such, there I spontaneously decide the back-and-forth as [the match] unfolds (in the 2009 singles match, a famous spot involved Ibushi taking 8 piledrivers in a row from Yoshihiko).
For our work, some of the plans we come up with while talking in a bar turn out to work surprisingly well. What about [things] like that?
Ibushi: I hatch a lot of ideas while I practice alone. I don’t practice with anyone else because that time is important to me. There are times when I practice alone the whole time, and there are times when I go to the dojo and sit in the ring and do nothing. I’ve gotten good ideas during those [times] as well.
You’re currently 33, but your attitude is completely different from those of your average thirty-somethings. I think normally, wrestlers live in such a way that they acquire and train their skills at a young age, and then continue working for a long time [honing said skills] like craftsmen. But you don’t try to be a craftsman at all…You’re not thinking about living a long life (laughs).
Ibushi: For me, that way of living is the pattern that yields the least popularity. If what you want to do doesn’t come first, then you can’t put out good things, and you won’t become popular. Money isn’t what’s important, you know.
Certainly, it doesn’t feel like you’re being a pro wrestler to have something to eat.
Ibushi: I don’t do this as a job. It is my job in the end, though.
If it’s not a job, then what is it?
Ibushi: I think it’s the place where I can express myself the best. And coincidentally, I earn my income with that. I don’t know what action I would take if my income disappeared (laughs), but I have lived my life this far without really thinking about financial matters, so…I don’t think I should be thinking about those things (laughs).
There’s this way of thinking that says, building your own career by setting medium-term goals is important for any profession… But you live your life in the moment, or like you’re brimming with the thrill of living in the now.
Ibushi: But isn’t wrestling “heightened unreality”? In your normal everyday life, you don’t go around knocking your own head (laughs). I chose that expression myself, and I think the fans are paying money and come to see something that’s not normal. I think the worst thing in our profession is if it shows hints of the realistic. I want to show the unrealistic to its maximum. I want to continue wrestling [in the way of] what I see as my goal, so that I’m ready to quit any day. That’s what I consider to be the work of a pro wrestler.
After this interview, it was made public that Ibushi Kôta would appear for the local indie promotion “EVOLVE” in Dallas, Texas, on May 1st and 2nd. Look forward to the future worldwide adventures of the Golden☆Star! !