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Behind-the-scenes drama could be leading to Ibushi leaving New Japan

New Japan Pro-Wrestling - G1 Climax 31 Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

This week on social media, drama’s been playing out between Kota Ibushi and New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Translation issues have made it difficult to grasp what exactly is going on between the first-ever IWGP World Heavyweight champion and his bosses at NJPW. Ibushi’s tweets are in Japanese...

... as are the direct message exchanges he’s posted that are purportedly with a member of NJPW management...

But some recent reporting from Voices of Wrestling has shed light on the situation.

While the pressing issues seem involve Ibushi’s return to action after the shoulder injury he suffered in the G1 Climax final last October, there is said to be bad blood going back years between the wrestler and Kikuchi, a longtime New Japan executive who is currently head of talent relations for the company. Ibushi and Kikuchi apparently first butted heads back in 2018 over merchandising royalties.

Kikuchi left NJPW a year later, allegedly due to the royalties issue and a personal matter. But he was brought back in 2020 after Dick Togo gained a more prominent role on the booking committee (Kikuchi, Togo & others are involved in creative, but Gedo has final say). Kikuchi supposedly has “old school” views of the business that he “selectively and unfairly” enforces.

Ibushi believes he is one of the people unfairly targeted, with Kikuchi preventing him from wrestling Shingo Takagi at Dominion last year after his aspirational pneumonia diagnosis, but then pressuring him to return by Wrestle Kingdom in January while he was still rehabbing his shoulder. Two months later, when Ibushi was ready to return for the New Japan Cup — a tournament Gedo planned to have the Golden Star win — Kikuchi had him pulled from the shows. VOW’s source says Kikuchi’s justification was a “minor concern” about Ibushi raised by a doctor.

Complicating matters is that Kikuchi has allies beyond just Togo, including others in management and former NOAH wrestlers like KENTA, Taiji Ishimori, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Ibushi also has heat with Suzuki-Gun members Taka Michinoku & Taichi; the “Cheaters-Gun” he refers to in tweet is apparently Kikuchi, TAKA, and Taichi, a group Ibushi has warned younger wrestlers to avoid.

Matters have obviously come to a head, with Ibushi threatened to expose Kikuchi’s extramarital affairs (the aforementioned “personal matter” which allegedly contributed to former NJPW President Harold Meij’s decision to fire Kikuchi in 2019) publicly after Kikuchi threatened to have him released. Thought he’s far from the only person backstage with a negative view of Kikuchi, there’s reportedly some heat on Ibushi for doing this publicly rather than going to NJPW’s corporate parent Bushiroad with his grievances.

Commenting on the matter, Dave Meltzer said:

“There is more than smoke to the fire. Ibushi has problems with upper management that are significant. Gedo... is trying to smooth them out, but it’s not settled.”

In addition to his future with New Japan, the situation could also impact Ibushi’s ability to work with AEW — something fans hoping for the continuation of his Golden Lovers saga with Kenny Omega very much want to happen.

Stay tuned.