On Friday May 27, Takaaki Kidani and Takami Ohbari greeted members of the media to address comments made on social media by Kota Ibushi. The news conference is available in video form here (Japanese), with statements and questions outlined in English below.
Update May 27: 10:16PM JST- an update to President Ohbari’s statement has been made clarifying the timeline of Kota Ibushi’s mother’s suicide attempt.
Takami Ohbari: Representative director, New Japan Pro-Wrestling
Today, on behalf of New Japan Pro-Wrestling I would like to address recent claims made by Kota Ibushi.
Starting May 10, Kota Ibushi began releasing statements critical of certain members of NJPW staff on Twitter. Firstly I would like to deeply apologise for the concern these comments caused amongst fans and personnel.
The statements posted on Twitter included screenshots of a text conversation with a member of staff (henceforth “Official”) that included a threat that Ibushi’s contract would be terminated. On investigation, we ascertained from the individual concerned that these screenshots were indeed genuine. I would now like to take a moment to explain the series of events that led up to the aforementioned posts to the extent of our current understanding.
Kota Ibushi is a wrestler exclusively contracted to New Japan Pro-Wrestling. As such, it is understood that in order to devote full attention to NJPW matches and associated events, he is required to inform, and receive express permission from NJPW before outside appearances.
On March 4, in breach of the terms of his contract, Mr. Ibushi made an appearance seconding wrestlers at a Just Tap Out event. The aforementioned Official is responsible for contacting various wrestlers contracted to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, but also has a long personal history with Mr. Ibushi that extends far before him becoming an exclusively contracted talent. The Official contacted Mr. Ibushi in the belief that Mr, Ibushi’s actions in breach of his contract were taken deliberately to persuade NJPW to terminate its agreement with him. Perceiving this as a betrayal of personal trust established over a number of years, his messages were sent in an emotional state as a result.
When I myself learned of Mr. Ibushi’s appearance in a different promotion, I requested a full status report from the Official. Therefore it is possible that the official’s contact with Mr. Ibushi also involved a desire to find out the exact particulars of the situation to relay to myself. In relaying this report, the Official told me that he thought Mr. Ibushi wanted to leave NJPW.
Not wanting to lose the services of Kota Ibushi in such a manner, and wanting to find out his true mental state and opinions on this matter, I arranged a meeting with Mr. Ibushi at his personal training facility on March 31.
In my brief meeting with Mr. Ibushi, we chatted while we conducted some light exercise. As we moved on the mat, and participated in some jump training, I was amazed at his super human physical abilities, yet Ibushi confided that he found recovery from his 2021 shoulder injury was taking longer than he had expected, and that his range of motion was far from ideal.
After our conversation, Mr. Ibushi took me by car to a restaurant where we continued our conversation. Our conversation was amicable, and Mr. Ibushi explained to me that he had been invited to Just Tap Out by its manager TAKA Michinoku. He also explained that while he was in the dressing rooms, he made an impulsive decision on his own accord to head to ringside and second the wrestlers.
After receiving Mr. Ibushi’s explanation, I reprimanded him, reminding him that this was a breach of his contract with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, as well as a breach of licensing agreements we hold with other companies. Mr. Ibushi sincerely apologised for his actions. Mr. Ibushi’s penalty for his breach was limited to a reprimand as, on hearing with Mr. Ibushi, it was clear there was no intention to breach the terms of his contract, nor did he believe a breach had taken place because he had not participated in a match.
At the point of our meeting, I did not know the exact wording or particulars of Mr. Ibushi’s text conversation with the Official and as a result, did not offer a proper apology for the content of the conversation.
Several weeks later, on May 10, screenshots of the conversation on the LINE service were made public. I have since learned that those tweets were made when Mr. Ibushi was acting in a state of concern for his mother, with mental distress being caused by this situation. Mr. Ibushi told me that after being contacted by his mother on May 8 and discussing the details of his situation with her, she attempted suicide on May 9 and suffered a broken bone in her back as a result.
After the first series of Mr. Ibushi’s tweets were posted, a meeting was held on May 10 including our company’s legal staff in order to understand the particulars of the situation, and to determine the best possible course of action for both New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Mr. Ibushi. We determined that said best course of action would be to directly meet with Mr. Ibushi, to formally apologise and hear one another’s opinions before making a public announcement should one be deemed necessary.
As a result, there has been no formal announcement from the company on this matter until this time. However yesterday, myself and the company owner Mr. Takaaki Kidani were able to meet with Mr. Ibushi, and discuss this statement to you here as well as our opinions on the matter. Before proceeding I would like once again to sincerely apologise to fans for the concern caused by this series of events.
I would now like to relay the company’s stance on this situation.
Mr. Ibushi’s actions in attending an outside event without proper procedure, as well as publicly disclosing internal affairs were actions in breach of his contract, and after consideration of the particulars I previously mentioned, an appropriate penalty for Mr. Ibushi will be determined.
However, the words of the Official in his text conversation were inexcusable, especially in their direction to a wrestler who risks his life in order to fulfil his role as a professional. It is this mindset that directly led to Mr. Ibushi posting his critical tweets about the company. For the thoughtless content of these messages, we fully and unreservedly apologise to Mr. Ibushi.
Despite the Official’s lengthy relationship with Mr. Ibushi, the lack of consideration shown to him and by extension our wrestlers at large should also be met with an appropriate penalty.
Takaaki Kidani: Representative director, Bushiroad
First let me express my sincerest personal gratitude to Kota Ibushi for his contributions to New Japan Pro-Wrestling and his thrilling matches in the ring. It is my sincerest hope that he continues to be connected to NJPW moving forward. However, his utmost priority at this time must be to the care of his mother, as well as full recovery from his injury. It should go without saying that he will remain under contract for as long as that process takes.
Mr. Ibushi receives so much support from fans all over the world. While it might be difficult for him to perform in the ring, I sincerely hope that he can continue to contribute outside of it, at signings, talk shows, or, and this is my personal wish, to assist in operations at STARDOM. I continue to hold Mr. Ibushi in the highest regard, and if he ever again feels he wants to move away from NJPW, I hope we can have a full and frank exchange of ideas.
It’s my opinion that Kota Ibushi’s contributions to his company and the world of professional wrestling have been innumerable. I join fans in hoping that he continue to shine as only he can, and take any issues he has outside of the ring as a top priority. I hope with this conference today we can put these issues behind us and move forward together.
Kota Ibushi is, and will remain a key member of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling roster. This kind of severe disagreement between company and talent should not happen again; in order to prevent any such instances in the future, and ensure the best possible working environment for talent, we will be actively engaged in discussion with Mr. Ibushi about improving company policy and implementing proper procedure.
We again would like to apologise to fans, wrestlers and personnel for the concern and the disruption caused in the middle of the Best of the Super Jr. tour.
Questions from press
–Kota Ibushi made allusions in his tweets that he had been released from his contract and was no longer part of NJPW. Can we say that this is not the case and that he will continue to be a contracted NJPW wrestler?
Ohbari: That is correct.
–As a result of your discussions with him.
Ohbari: Correct, yes.
–What was Ibushi like in your discussion with him?
Kidani: I’ve met him twice now, and both times were over food. Yesterday with Mr. Ohbari and myself we were eating, and before that he and I ate with a mutual friend. That first time was two hours or so, and yesterday I think we talked for about three hours. So we talked about a lot of different things, mainly pro-wrestling but a little martial arts as well.
I think obviously yesterday there was a fair bit of tension at first, but the more we talked about pro-wrestling, the more light came into his eyes, and the better time we all had. That’s why I really hope that however long it may take, he can come back to the ring.
–So were you able to reconcile your differences?
Kidani: I believe so. I don’t know whether we can say things are fully reconciled, and I think there will be some issues that take time to mend. I can say that as far as I personally am concerned, there are no differences to reconcile. There never were, there aren’t now, and I confirmed that when we met. I hope that we can get that relationship back up to 100% in time.
–You discussed penalties for Ibushi and for the Official, can you elaborate on what form those may take?
Ohbari: Regarding Kota Ibushi, especially considering the circumstances surrounding everything that happened, there was never any consideration given to termination. But given the contract breach involved in the unsanctioned appearance as well as publishing company secrets, that is something that would likely result in a salary reduction.
–Some fans were worried that Ibushi might leave NJPW, or retire altogether. Can you say categorically that is not the case?
Ohbari: Well, when we trained together, or I should say while he trained and I pretended, there was never any discussion of retirement. The conversation was always when could he come back, and he was training with the intention of being back as soon as he could be. When we talked yesterday and things had calmed down, he said that he wanted to be back in NJPW when he was at his best. So I took that to mean that yes, he will be back in NJPW.
–Can you speak to the penalties the official will face?
Ohbari: That hasn’t been determined as of now.
Kidani: But at the very least we’re considering a transfer to a different position.
–This has been a press conference to discuss the company standpoint, and your own accountability to the fans. I think there would be fans that want to hear directly from Kota Ibushi himself; are there any plans for that?
Kidani: First of all, when we met yesterday, every step of this press conference was discussed with Kota Ibushi. We made sure that everything said was true and accurate, and that he would be comfortable with everything, and we had express consent form him about everything we’ve said today. That I can tell you clearly. After this, if Ibushi himself wants to share a message directly with fans, or wants another press conference then of course that will be considered. In the meantime we felt that the company needed to present this message to the fans on a day where there weren’t any events on the Best of the Super Jr. tour.
–Can you reveal how close Ibushi might be to returning?
Ohbari: He has expressed himself that his shoulder still isn’t in ring shape, and I would say at this time there is no set timetable.
Kidani: There is absolutely no rush, and I don’t feel Ibushi needs to consider his injury as a weakness. With all he has done for NJPW, he can take all the time that he needs. So I think he shouldn’t worry about being in the ring, and rather discuss what he can do as things progress and as his condition improves.
Kidani: Again, I want to express our humblest apologies for the concern caused. As discussed in one of the questions, should the need for a further press conference arise to discuss matters more, then that will be done.
While this isn’t the purpose of this conference today, I do want to say that NJPW is starting to bounce back, with Best of the Super Jr. proving a huge success, and our joint event with AEW on June 26 coming up. With that in mind, I anticipate sometime soon, around the start of July, to announce new plans for NJPW moving forward. I have left a lot of burden on President Ohbari and the staff here to manage all the goings on, but I want to take more time to be at the venues myself, offer ideas, and be there for any support NJPW needs.
Ohbari: One last time, my sincerest apologies for the distress caused, and thank you for attending the press conference today.
Kidani: Thank you.