Kota Ibushi on getting back to business (1/2)

Kota Ibushi gives his thoughts during the Coronavirus enforced off period.

Before Coronavirus COVID-19 was dominating the headlines, Kota Ibushi had his New Beginning in USA campaign derailed with a tough struggle against influenza and Mallory-Weiss Syndrome. A living example of the human ability to bounce back stronger, Ibushi returned in amazing shape, and went straight on to the IWGP tag Team Championships alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi. 

While Golden☆Ace and the rest of the NJPW roster wait to get back in the ring, Ibushi sat down with

For a wrestler not to wrestle is the definition of frustration

–So, with the New Japan Cup events cancelled, how have you been taking the time off?

Ibushi: I’m a wrestler at the end of the day. I know it’s a good chance to be active in other ways, but for a wrestler not to wrestle is the definition of frustration. 

–What have you been doing?

Ibushi: I’ve honestly been training so hard it’s been tougher than a lot of matches to be honest. We haven’t had to travel either, so taking that into account, too. I really can’t call this down time at all. 

 –Working out every day?

Ibushi: For sure. But it’s important for me to know where to draw a line. I want to keep my immune system up at the same time, so I don’t want to completely wear myself out training, too. 

–Hiroshi Tanahashi has talked about how training too hard can compromise your immune system.

Ibushi: Right. So if anything, I’ve been training to improve my immune system. Doing a lot more aerobic training.

–Running, cardio, that kind of thing?

Ibushi: Yeah. Before I had been doing a lot of anaerobic training. I’d be pushing myself incredibly hard for 20 seconds, stopping, going again. Now, I feel if you train aerobically, it’s better for your immune. And I’ve been making sure to shower right away after getting sweaty, making sure to wash my hands, gargle, all that.


All of a sudden, here’s all this blood… 

–Good to hear you’re taking care of yourself. In January, you missed the New Beginning USA tour with influenza and Mallory-Weiss Syndrome.

Ibushi: Right. The pre-Corona days (laughs).

–I’d actually never heard of Mallory-Weiss Syndrome. What happened exactly?

Ibushi: I just felt absolutely terrible one day, and threw up two or three times. What can happen is that there’s this thin connective tissue between your stomach and your esophagus, and that can tear and get damaged. That’s Mallory-Weiss. 

–I see.

Ibushi: Apparently a lot of college students get it. If they’re not used to alcohol and binge drink they throw up, and that sparks this issue. For me, it was probably the ‘flu that sparked the vomiting.

–That sounds really awful, to have those two illnesses at once.

Ibushi: Oh, it sucked. The flu alone sucked. I had this awful cough, and I felt a bunch of mucus in my throat. I thought I could clear it and couldn’t. Then I coughed really hard, about five or six times and all of a sudden there’s all this clotted blood on my hands. 


Ibushi: And I had a fever over 40 degrees at the time. I thought, ‘man, that’s it, I’m gonna die…’

–That would be a natural reaction.

Ibushi: And my lower back was in so much pain. Enough where I was thinking ‘I don’t care if I die, as long as my back stops hurting’. Bear in mind, this was at 4AM on the day I was set to fly out to America.

–It wasn’t going to happen.

Ibushi: Even if I’d dragged myself onto that plane, I’d be nothing but a hindrance to everybody. I wouldn’t be able to do anything, and if I felt terrible on the flight, I couldn’t just ask to be dropped off. 

–You definitely did the right thing not going.

Ibushi: It took two or three days for the fever to come down, but the symptoms stayed with me for a whole week. To be completely honest, I’m still a little sore in the stomach area, so I haven’t been drinking at all; I’m not a big drinker anyway.


I’m not really about showing off what moves I can do. I want to be engaging a live crowd.

–Different companies have taken different approach to the current global situation. Some have decided to conduct events in empty arenas and then broadcast that video. What do you think about empty arena events?

Ibushi: ….There’s a lot of different ways of thinking about it, but completely honestly, I’m not a fan of empty arenas. There’s of course a lot of merit to watching video, and you can get a closer sense of the action in the ring perhaps. The thing is though, I’m not really about showing off what moves I can do. I want to be engaging a live crowd. In that sense, I really don’t see the point of running events if there aren’t going to be any people there.

–You’ve been in kinds of different scenarios in your career. Have you wrestled empty arena matches before?

Ibushi: I guess so. Just after I debuted with DDT I took an indie booking in this town… To be fair, I don’t think it was an empty arena by design (laughs). 

–Nobody showed?

Ibushi: Yeah. I looked at this empty building before my match and asked ‘shouldn’t the show have started?’ and they went ‘yeah, 15 minutes ago, but nobody’s shown up yet’ 

‘You’re waiting?’

‘Yeah, it’s always like this’

‘Always? No people?’

‘Well, like three or four’.

And that was the conversation we had (laughs). I actually wrestled for them a couple more times!

–Kota Ibushi wrestled in front of zero people. That’s quite a thing to think of.

Ibushi: I was actually a mystery opponent on that card! I don’t know if announcing my name beforehand would have made a difference. Anyway, it felt really weird in front of no people, but I wanted the best for this place, so I put everything I had into the match anyway.


I wanted to win, wanted the belt, but losing- for an instant- felt good.

–If we can, let’s go back a little bit to January 4 & 5 in the Tokyo Dome. 

Ibushi: OK.

–First, your match with Okada on January 4. Was it different to normal, to be on such a big stage in the main event?

Ibushi: I wasn’t nervous at all. Completely relaxed. I think that was what was different; I’ve been in the Dome a bunch of times, but this was the most relaxed I’ve ever been there.

–You had more self confidence, perhaps?

Ibushi: I don’t know whether you could call it confidence, or if it was because I was against Okada… I think being the older guy in the match, that gave me some peace of mind. Plus the fact that I was in this position, of being contracted to NJPW for a year now and going in that environment. I was at ease with all that.

–Was the G1 win a big factor in that, do you think?

Ibushi: I think so, yeah. The Dome was never going to be as tough as the whole G1 was; nothing in my wrestling life was as tough as the G1 was. I don’t think any other athlete in any other category could have continued with the injury that I had; I’m still feeling some of the after effects. 

–The ankle injury you suffered in Dallas against KENTA.

Ibushi: But I was able to take that injury and rethink my style; to turn it into a positive.

–You actually said that, even though you lost, it was one of the highlights of your career.

Ibushi: It’s not that I like losing, but I actually have a few matches that are like that. I wanted to win of course, I wanted to get that belt, but losing, for an instant at least, felt pretty good.

–What other matches were like that?

Ibushi: The one that springs to mind is Wrestle Kingdom 9, with Shinsuke Nakamura.

–You felt that you lost, but you were satisfied with how you put yourself out there?

Ibushi: Yeah, to an extent. Also that I was able to break free from the pressure. With the Okada match, like I said, I was very relaxed, but that wasn’t always the case. Around last December it hit me that I was going to be in the main event in the Tokyo Dome, and that gave me a lot of anxiety. But I was able to carry that with me, keep myself under control, and then release that tension in a calm and relaxed way.

–I see.

Ibushi: Another thing that drove me was the crowd. It’s really hard to hear the crowd noise in the Tokyo Dome, because the sound goes upward in a stadium like that. But I was able to hear them clearly during the Okada match. I was able to think for a second, ‘ah, I’ve got them,’ and that made me really happy.

–But, in the end you did lose, and you couldn’t take part in the double title match the next night.

Ibushi: I think that main event title match experience that Okada has paid off. There might be a few areas that i can’t beat Okada in, but I definitely felt in that match that there are areas where I’m the better man. Oh, and I was able to try something out in that match.

–Which was?

Ibushi: The Phoenix Splash. I hadn’t done it for a while, because it is such a high risk move. 

–If you miss it, that’s a big hit to take.

Ibushi: And to an extent, having that in my moveset eliminates other moves. But I wanted to know if I could still do it if I had to. The place to find out was at the Tokyo Dome; if I screwed it up, I had the most to lose, embarrassing myself on that big a stage.

–You wanted to take that risk?

Ibushi: Yeah. I missed, and it hurt, but I’m happy I tried to hit it at least. Especially against Okada.

–In the end, it was Tetsuya Naito who stood victorious after the Double Gold Dash. What did you think, given your history with him?

Ibushi: Hmm. Naito… Wasn’t fair (laughs).

Ibushi gives his thoughts on Naito and much more in part two!









photography by Taiko Kuniyoshi