They’re at the center of the biggest non-WWE story in wrestling. Helping - along with a timely assist from Chris Jericho - New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) to bring in record numbers of subscribers to their streaming service, and selling out shows for that promotion and Ring of Honor (ROH) all the way to WrestleMania.
But say you’re new to the Japanese scene, or have just been a following New Japan for mostly Bullet Club-related reasons the past couple of years. Why are people so excited that Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have reunited as a tag team? What’s with the name Golden☆Lovers? Are they (gasp) gay?
If you’re looking for a comprehensive, well-documented answer to that first question and have 20 minutes to spend getting an answer which includes breakdowns of how match psychology has been used to tell this story over the years, this video from Showbuckle (who puts together one of these NJPW primers almost every month, which are a great way to learn more about the promotion) is your hook-up:
For answers to those other questions, Twitter user SimpsonsReference offered a LGBTQ perspective on what some view as subtext in a platonic relationship. Others think the romance between Omega and Ibushi is plain for all to see. If you’re looking for an indication there, know that Kenny retweeted and shouted out this version of the story, so... yeah. I’ve included SimpsonsReferences’ first tweet in the thread and then just the text content of the remaining tweets - head over to her original posts for GIFs, clips and more reference (no pun intended):
I don't really have wrestling-related followers but all I want to talk about is how the best thing in professional wrestling right now is a complex, epic, and (currently) happy gay love story, 9 years in the making and featuring two of the best in the world. It's remarkable. pic.twitter.com/B6sPxSyLYw— Simpsons Reference (@EffingBoring) February 23, 2018
“Okay, no one asked but this will get threaded anyway, so lemme tell you all about the #goldenlovers, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi.
It’s hard to say what’s real and what’s kayfabe (wrestling fiction-- the storyline). And the Golden☆Lovers always like blurring the line. But the legend begins when Kenny (a Canadian wrestler and nerd) saw a video of Kota (a Japanese wrestler and immortal elf prince). Kenny knew it was his “destiny” to fight Kota. He thought they must have the same philosophy about how wrestling could be simultaneously art and comedy; athletic and entertaining. He sent a challenge video to Kota’s home promotion, DDT, and they agreed to a match.
Their first match, in Japan in summer 2008, involved fighting in parking lots and warehouses, and Kota won by Phoenix Splash off a vending machine (wrestling? real.) “It was the first time I ever cried after a match” says Kenny. “I love Kenny Omega!” says Kota. So they’re smitten with each other as friends and wrestlers. In 2009, Kenny moves to Japan and signs with DDT, and after the amazing response to their first match, DDT understandably wants the two to become great rivals. They’re both clearly full of talent. But, nah, say Kenny and Kota. We don’t want to fight each other. We want to be a tag team. Uh, OK, says DDT. Let’s call you guys ‘the golden brothers’ or something, you’re different ethnicities, it’s funny! Mmm, nah, say Kenny and Kota. We have a different name in mind.
Thus the Golden☆Lovers are born, beginning in January 2009. In the beginning especially, there was a creepy yaoi/gay cream puff vibe to their gimmick, but even so, they quickly become beloved. And champions. They’re always in sync, really some of the best tag team chemistry out there. They win in both DDT and New Japan Pro Wrestling. All the while, they’re explicitly lovers in kayfabe, even if it’s a weird lol-gays gimmick. Their end goal is ‘marriage’ says Kenny.
But Kota kinda starts outpacing Kenny. He’s dazzlingly naturally talented, whereas Kenny’s talent is the work-hard-never-quit type. They’re still a tag team, but Kota starts getting more singles opportunities-- and winning. They face each other a second time in 2012. At the time, it’s called the best bout of all time, and it gets Kota banned for life from Budokan for doing a moonsault (backflip) off the mezzanine/balcony. The match is a showcase for their talent and incredible, basically sensual chemistry. And once again, Kota wins.
And a lot of stuff happens that i might gloss over a bit. Kota signs full time contracts with both NJPW and DDT (the first wrestler to have 2 home promotions, which is a bad idea, he will later find out). He briefly goes up to heavyweight to be in NJPW’s G1 Climax tournament. In 2014, Kota goes up to heavyweight permanently, and Kenny remains a junior heavyweight. The Golden Lovers wrestle their last match as a team in October 2014, and Kenny leaves DDT for NJPW. He almost immediately turns heel (becomes a bad guy!).
Kenny, former otaku who is fluent in Japanese, joins the Bullet Club, a faction of foreigners who (in storyline) disdain Japan and Japanese fans. This comes with requisite Sly-Stallone-in-Cobra I’m A Bad Guy Now look. He’s now in this for the money, fame, and women (heh). In early 2015, Kenny betrays Kota. He costs Kota the IWGP Heavyweight Title, maybe the most prestigious belt in wrestling, by interfering in Kota’s match against AJ Styles, leader of the Bullet Club. He is fully a heartless winning machine now.
Not too long after that, Kenny spearheads a Bullet Club coup and deposes AJ Styles, becoming the leader. And he keeps winning; it’s all he cares about anymore. He moves up to heavyweight, and puts on more than one ‘best of all time’ match, according to basically everyone.
Meanwhile, Kota gets a neck injury, gets burnt out from being in two promotions. He leaves both DDT and NJPW, becoming a freelancer after healing from his injury. He does some soul searching, which involves a brief flirt with WWE... ... and antics such as shooting fireworks off his chest while standing on a car (which he then moonsaulted from), feeding fans melons and holding snakes, and inviting all of twitter to his birthday party (side note: Kota is my favorite human being to ever exist).
All along, the Golden☆Lovers are referencing each other. Kenny does Kota’s moves when he wins the G1 Climax in 2016 (the first gaijin to do so), then won’t comment. Kota’s costumes all sport an image of a skeletal wing (a reference to Kenny’s finishing move, One Winged Angel). When Kenny’s asked about Kota he says he’s always been in his shadow, and now has surpassed him. The best wrestling is in Japan, he says, so he’s going to stay there ‘doing my best, and waiting for him.’
Kota says ‘you’re lonely aren’t you? Well, I’m right here, waiting.’ Kenny keeps doing Kota’s moves and continually subtweeting him. Kota lives his best life and mostly ignores it.
Then in 2017, Kota is announced as a participant in the G1 Climax. Kenny wonders why Kota came back now. ‘I thought if I won the G1, you’d come back to me.’ All through the G1, there’s hope that the former Golden☆Lovers will face each other in the finals. Kenny goads Kota, saying he’s washed up and can’t make it. Kota says he wants to face Kenny in the finals-- kinda. He’s also afraid they’ll kill each other if they have a match.
But Kenny makes it to the finals and Kota doesn’t. Kenny’s ring gear in the finals (and the very important match prior to the finals) is a totally-not-thinking-about-you tribute to Kota. Kenny loses, and then... he sees Kota backstage. It’s the first time they’ve interacted since the betrayal in 2015. Kenny briefly melts into Kota’s arms before self-loathingly pushing him away.
Anyway, later in 2017, Cody Rhodes, a member of the Bullet Club who’s been gunning (lol) for Kenny’s position, challenges Kota to a match at Wrestle Kingdom (biggest yearly show). He says ‘Kenny told me to leave you alone’ while he does it. *eyes emoji* Kota, a dazzling superstar angel prince, of course beats Cody at Wrestle Kingdom, but Cody is pretty relentless about goading Kenny through Kota.
After WK, Cody leads a bunch of BC members in trying to beat the shit out of Kota. And... Kenny defies his faction and runs in to rescue Kota. Once he was willing to sacrifice Kota for the Bullet Club; he’s now willing to risk losing Bullet Club for Kota. A few weeks later, the Bullet Club (led by Cody) turns on Kenny. And Kota returns the favor, saving Kenny from a beatdown. Afterwards, he offers his hand to help Kenny up. Kenny is still self-loathing about betraying Kota. He obviously thinks he doesn’t deserve such a kindness. He tries to leave, but Kota forces him to face him. And finally, the Golden Lovers embrace, to tears and cheers, after years of circling, subtweeting, pining, and desperately trying to find the magic they had with each other, to love wrestling again.
Omega is a changed man. He admits to himself in the world that he and Ibushi are (and always have been) the best team. Theirs is the most important relationship for both of them. They do this freaking adorable documentary about their reunion and training together to be a team again. They’re obviously absolutely stoked to be around each other again, and can’t stop smiling.
Last night [Feb. 23] they made their debut, to deafening cheers, as a heavyweight tag team. Both smiling again for real, for the first time in years. And they haven’t lost a beat.
I don’t know what’s next for them, but this has been and remains an incredibly beautiful story, and it’s gay as heck. They keep it that way, and as A Gay, I love them for it. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
This thread absolutely does not do the story justice. There’s so many layers and so much nuance to it. But @ibushi_kota is the person who made me love wrestling, and the Golden☆Lovers story with @KennyOmegamanX is what got me hooked for life.
There’s still plenty of dudebros who think these guys are the ultimate bros and won’t be convinced until an actual wedding or makeout, but it is and has been gay and I can’t even express how much it means to me as A Gay to see a gay story play out in pro wrestling.
I should also add that this has CONSTANTLY been rumored to be more than fiction. Omega is basically out as bisexual and Ibushi is heavily rumored to be gay (though never confirmed, ya know how rumors be). It doesn’t matter what the ‘real’ story is though. It doesn’t matter because the story is still gay, but still, this seems important to acknowledge and is a testament to how fucking real this story feels.”
Now you’re ready for Strong Style Evolved, Supercard of Honor XII, and beyond!