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New Japan formally apologizes to Kota Ibushi

Earlier this month, former IWGP World Heavyweight champion Kota Ibushi took his conflict with New Japan Pro-Wrestling management public. A few recent incidents — including a non-wrestling appearance Ibushi made for another promotion, and the 40 year old’s return to the New Japan ring after suffering a shoulder injury last fall — brought up long-standing issues with people backstage, and serious accusations about personal misbehavior and the company’s ties to organized crime.

Despite their star implying he’d been released, NJPW offered no comment at the time. Now they have, after a meeting between the two sides which may have been prompted when Ibushi tweeted earlier this week that his mother attempted suicide due to stress from the whole ordeal.

At a press conference today (May 27), New Japan President Takami Ohbari and the founder & President of parent company Bushiroad Takaaki Kidani addressed the situation in some depth. The company’s website summarized their statements in English.

Ohbari apologized to fans and the company’s personnel for concern caused by the situation. He said the Talent Relations official (believed to be Kikuchi) who sent text messages to Ibushi about his appearance at the Japanese independent show believed Ibushi was trying to get out of his contract. Ohbari met with his star at the end of March to discuss the situation. He did reprimand Ibushi for violating the terms of his New Japan deal, but Ibushi told him he hadn’t intended to breach his contract and “sincerely apologized for his actions.”

At the time, Ohbari says the team at NJPW was unaware of the content of the Talent Relations official’s text to Ibushi. After they were shared online and were verified internally, management met again with New Japan’s lawyers on May 10. Then it was “determined that said best course of action would be to directly meet with Mr. Ibushi, to formally apologize and hear one another’s opinions before making a public announcement should one be deemed necessary.”

That meeting happened yesterday, and involved Kidani. While New Japan’s President says the Talent Relations person’s texts “were sent in an emotional state” due to his concern Ibushi wanted to leave the company, Ohbari called them “inexcusable, especially in their direction to a wrestler who risks his life in order to fulfill his role as a professional.” He also indicated the official would be punished:

“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.”

Both men praised Ibushi repeatedly in their remarks, with Kidani suggesting they’d like to have him involved as a public face of the company and possibly working behind-the-scenes at Stardom while he continues to rehab his shoulder injury. They also repeatedly stated that he is still under contract to New Japan.

“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.“

No specifics were given as to how the Talent Relations official will be punished, beyond his being moved into another role “at the very least.” Ibushi apparently will face a financial penalty, with Ohbari responding to a question from the media by saying:

“... 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.”

No timetable was given for Ibushi’s return to the ring. While Ohbari & Kidani said he was consulted on every aspect of today’s press conference, they left open the possibility of a public statement on the matter as well. And one came this morning, as he tweeted about things being left out of the company’s version of events. NJPW then issued a correction, which was retweeted with another apology from Ohbari.

It definitely seems the process of mending this relationship will be an ongoing one. But even with some ongoing tension, New Japan is invested in keeping Ibushi in the fold.

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