In an emotional interview at Sunday's last major Pro Wrestling NOAH event of the year held in Tokyo's Sumo Hall, Kenta Kobashi, one of the greatest workers ever in wrestling history, announced his retirement due to a catalogue of injuries in front of a tearful crowd of a claimed 7,500 fans.
Kobashi hasn't wrestled since Feb. 19th, 2012 after suffering bruising and medial collateral ligament (MCL) damage in his right knee, a broken right tibia (shinbone) and a sprained left tibia from a badly landed moonsault on Takao Omori in a major tag team match that also featured Keiji Mutoh and Jun Akiyama on an inter-promotional Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief show in Sendai. It's a move that he should have completely shelved over a decade ago due to the knackered state of his knees even then, but being so driven to put on the best matches possible he continued doing it on special occasions until his legs could simply take no more damage.
However, as Zach Arnold translates, these weren't the injuries that ended his career; worryingly it seems that Kobashi worked on a badly damaged neck for a long time, even after his former boss Mitsuharu Misawa died from cervical spinal cord damage in a match on June 13th, 2009:
- Kobashi's had numbness issues with his left arm and left leg for four years.
- He has problems with his knees, neck, hips, elbows, and shoulders. He admitted that his body is entirely damaged due to all the matches he's been involved in....
- Kobashi had surgery at the end of July, right after Takeshi Rikio's retirement ceremony at Ryogoku. The surgery in question is believed to be anterior cervical fusion surgery, which involves a transplant of some pelvic bone into the neck. He had the surgery, had an accident with a cracked pelvis that delayed rehab, and a piece of ceramic was used. Ceramic usage is not entirely uncommon with this kind of surgery.
- His body isn't responding the way he would like to in terms of rehab and it has limited his training. He is only starting light training now.
Despite all these physical setbacks, he's expected to have a retirement match at Budokan Hall, the arena he headlined over 30 times during his career, next year, likely on or around Feb. 26th, 2013, exactly 25 years after his pro wrestling debut. The sellout that show would inevitably draw would mark the symbolic end of Pro Wrestling NOAH as a major promotion, which hasn't run that building due to declining popularity since Dec. 5th, 2010.
In the interview, Kobashi claimed he wasn't forced to retire by NOAH management, denying news reports that he had been fired by the company a week ago in a cost cutting measure. However, this was likely just said so both sides could save face. There's no way the company could continue to afford paying his high six figure salary while he spent most months on the disabled list at a time when their house shows tend to only draw a few hundred fans, a thousand if they're lucky, and their major events are less frequent and have been scaled back in size. Losing his contract would have certainly helped Kobashi to make the decision to hang up his boots that he should have made several years ago.
But how NOAH officials like Ryu Nakata and Akira Taue handled the decision to cut Kobashi loose was so heavy-handed that it has led to a company implosion. So upset at Kobashi's treatment were his friends and allies in the company, namely Jun Akiyama, Go Shiozaki, Kotaro Suzuki, Atsushi Aoki and Yoshinobu Kanemura, that they plan to leave NOAH at the end of the year and become freelancers instead, with All Japan Pro Wrestling expected to be their new home base. The fact that all these performers lost on Sunday's big show is a sign that they haven't changed their mind about quitting the promotion, even though Kobashi seems to have taken his punishment on the chin.
Frankly losing several of their top stars is another nail in NOAH's coffin, a company that has been hanging on by a thread ever since the triple whammy of being axed from Nippon TV, the infighting in the aftermath of Misawa's death and the bad publicity from an embarrassing Yakuza scandal combined to bring them to their knees. I'm sure Kobashi's retirement event will give them some breathing space to try to reorganise and find new talent to fill the vacant spots opened up by those departures, but long term they look to be in deep trouble, because their roster depth will be at an all time low and all their legends will have gone.
"Tokyo Sports hints at Kobashi/Kensuke vs. Mutoh/Chono at Budokan. Paper claims Kobashi will promote w/ NJ-AJ due to heat with Ryu Nakata."
Well, if NOAH can't even profiteer from Kobashi's retirement match, then they really are well and truly screwed.