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At Wrestle Kingdom 15, Kota Ibushi Became God

3 years ago twitter/taigaPhoto_pw
Kota Ibushi as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion by @taigaphoto_pw


At Wrestle Kingdom 15, Kota Ibushi Became God

By: Jeffrey Andrews

Kota Ibushi won double gold at the Tokyo Dome on January 5th in the longest match in Wrestle Kingdom history, promising to unify the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship belts after the match. It’s an unlikely event years in the making that reached a crescendo after Ibushi beat “Switchblade” Jay White the night after a violent victory over Tetsuya Naito on day one of NJPW’s premiere annual event.

For almost a decade, it’s been clear to anyone worth their salt what Kota Ibushi can do between the ropes. Yet, in spite of his many accolades, there’s been one specific feat that has eluded him over time. The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship is perhaps the most coveted belt in wrestling, and wearing it has been an integral part of Ibushi’s plan to surpass the legends that came before him and to “become God.” Standing in the way were but two titanic blockades: the ungovernable Tetsuya Naito, and the cunning Jay White – both of whom decided it’s their time to lead New Japan.

And yet, Ibushi’s performance over the course of this two- night event was nothing short of spectacular.

Never a letdown, White/Ibushi matches are reminiscent of ’80s NWA title shots where the fiery explosive babyface stands up against the top-of-card savage heel who has the upper hand in just about every facet. The formula has proven to work time and again, and these two execute it to pure perfection. The methodical pace of the first ten minutes of Wrestle Kingdom’s Main Event saw White picking Ibushi apart at every advantageous opportunity, whereas Ibushi – still hurting from the night before – was forced to battle out from underneath. With rare exception, the early portion of this match was a Jay White showcase, but by the end, it’s clear what brought Ibushi to the dance: resilience, and guts.

Kota Ibushi’s rarely unmasked violent mean streak forced “The Switchblade” into deep waters and forced him to show us what he’s made of. It forced him to risk himself in a way he never had before but even then, in the end, it wasn’t enough. The pair landed a spectacular series of counters and impactful moves over and over again, past the 45-minute mark. Then they traded kicks and Ibushi landed a V-Trigger that had White reeling.

But the eventual winner was nearly caught off guard when White went for a Blade Runner out of nowhere, before countering and landing a nasty kick to the head, seemingly putting an end to whatever offense White could muster. Two Kamigoye knee strikes later, and Ibushi had done what he meant to do all those years ago. The story arc of the most talented wrestler in New Japan had reached a riveting climax, and he left the Tokyo Dome the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

After the match, both men were spent and understandably exhausted. A desperate and clearly depressed Jay White began his post-match press conference in dire straits.

“I feel like I’m physically the closest to death, that I’ve ever been, and hopefully ever will be,” he said. “You just all saw what I put on the line. I put myself at risk, not directly for your entertainment, for myself. I can barely walk.”

The match’s physical and emotional toll on White was evident. He was beside himself, writhing on the floor and dropping f-bombs having for the very first time not delivered on his self-fulfilling prophecies. It felt like the Switchblade was becoming human in front of our eyes.

“If you wanna talk to ‘Switch’ Jay White, I’m sorry… Maybe my time would be better spent someplace else.”

Ibushi was relaxed in his conference, delivering matter- of-fact statements to the press. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I now understand how heavy these two belts truly are. It’s not that they’re heavy in themselves, it’s what they stand for that weighs a lot.”

It was clear – even in this moment where Ibushi was forced to come to terms with the gravitas of his new possession – he was proud.

“To finally hold these titles, I couldn’t be happier… My ultimate goal is to make pro wrestling the best sport in the world.”

Lofty goals, but if anyone can manage it, it’s New Japan’s Golden Star.

This article first appeared in Monthly Puroresu Issue #3

Written by:

Editor in Chief, Founder of Monthly Puroresu. Bylines published in more than 155+ newspapers and magazines including Dallas Morning News, SF Examiner and Columbus Dispatch. More recently I've worked across ad agencies and startups on content strategy discovering brand insights, while developing a strategic roadmap for Monthly Puroresu.