At New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Sakura Genesis”, Kota Ibushi unexpectedly dropped his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship to Will Ospreay. Will Ospreay won clean, using his signature “Stormbreaker” to get the three count, becoming the first Brit to ever win a top title in NJPW (Intercontinental, Heavyweight, or World Heavyweight).
This was a huge decision! Ibushi is the most popular Japanese wrestler since Shinsuke Nakamura and has carried NJPW for the last 18 months. He got the rub from Tanahashi, Okada, and Naito at that time. This is not to discredit Ospreay, who is probably the most popular British wrestler to ever not touch “The Fed” and is an unbelievable in-ring talent. However, he just is not as big a draw and as big of a deal as Kota Ibushi.
He also is not as finnicky as Kota Ibushi is.
Kota Ibushi is notorious for changing promotions whenever he wants, rarely ever signing any long-term contracts. He will spend time in DDT in Japan, then jump over to hit a few Power Bombs in ROH. Then he will jump back to NJPW for the Wrestle Kingdom, then show up as an entrant in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. Ibushi holds no allegiances and is probably a happier man because of it. He gets to make his own schedule, do most of his own booking, and is treated like a king everywhere because of it.
Without a title to hold him down to the company, NJPW has certainly lost Ibushi’s attention and commitment. With limited commitments and allegiances, the future could technically hold anything for the Golden One.
However, there is one connection that he will never be able to leave behind. One story that will not end until Ibushi hangs the boots on the mantle.
One name that will forever be intertwined with his: The AEW World Champion and AAA Mega Champion, Wrestling Observer’s 2018 Wrestler of the Year, the man who once looked at a map of North Carolina. The Cleaner, the Best Bout Machine: Kenny Omega.
Real-life best friends, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi together form the “Golden Lovers” a name they have donned for years together. This storyline has been going since Omega’s first-ever high-profile match, which was against Kota Ibushi himself. The two saw themselves destined to do this thing together forever and grabbed each other’s backs from then on.
When Kota Ibushi left NJPW in the early 2010s, Omega was directionless and helpless, being buried and brutalized. This forced him to join the Bullet Club and align himself with the footsteps of Prince Devitt to protect his future. With all of this success and, eventually, power, Kenny lost that golden part of him and became the bad guy of NJPW, eclipsing even Kazuchika Okada as Japan’s best heel. When that world started to collapse around him, with Cody Rhodes stealing away the Elite and Hiroshi Tanahashi taking his IWGP Heavyweight Championship, it was Kota Ibushi that saved him from complete chaos.
Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega’s careers are permanently connected. This makes it surprising that Ibushi has not already made an appearance in AEW. However, now that his reign as NJPW’s top guy has come to an unceremonious ending, it seems inevitable that he is making his way to Jacksonville for at least a short time.
Even Kenny Omega’s current storyline seems to be ultimately building to Ibushi. Don Callis inserting himself into Omega’s life as if he were the driving force in his career. Omega severing ties with the Young Bucks and The Elite. Kenny slowly closing off everyone but Callis. He and Callis both name-dropping Ibushi in interviews and promos.
In the short term, he also fits into the story. The Young Bucks will need a new third man once Jon Moxley leaves for paternity leave. Ibushi fits that hole better in every single way and raises the emotional stakes of the matches significantly.
Fans should be careful and cautious when getting excited about the prospect of Kota Ibushi doing literally anything. It is his nature to be unpredictable and flaky and hard to nail down. However, never has a Kota Ibushi decision been so clear and so certain as this one right here.