For nearly two decades, Kota Ibushi has been one of the most well-respected talents in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Dramatic Dream Team Wrestling (DDT). The accolades achieved by Ibushi include the top gold from both companies and also include notable awards and recognition from the likes of Sports Illustrated and Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Even though these achievements have earned him the respect of fans the world over, his time in the U.S. scene has been limited.
Kota first came into the U.S. wrestling scene for around a year during 2008/2009. These first appearances were at the invitation of a quickly growing promotion called Ring of Honor. It would be here that Ibushi would first battle the likes of Davey Richards, Claudio Castognoli, and The Briscoe Brothers. This brief run in ROH would be followed by an appearance in CHIKARA’s “King of Trios” tournament.
Many US fans of Ibushi, however, may remember him from his brief appearance in the 2016 WWE Cruiserweight Classic where he managed defeat Cedric Alexander and Brian Kendrick, only to a loss in the semi-finals to the 2016 CWC winner, TJ Perkins.
After departing from the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, Ibushi would return to Japan where he would cement his status as a top tier competitor by winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 15 in 2021. After a reign that was cut short (31 days) by Will Ospreay, Ibushi found himself at odds with New Japan management and eventually allowed his contract to expire. Thus, bringing Kota Ibushi to the present day and the announcement of his return to U.S. soil.
GCW’S Golden Lover
With the recent announcement that Timothy Thatcher would be joining Game Changer Wrestling’s (GCW) WrestleMania Weekend extravaganza titled “The Collective”, what else could leave fans so enamored? None other than Kota Ibushi. His addition to the weekend-long war of the independents breeds serious potential for epic dream matches. Matchups with the likes of Nick Wayne, Cole Radrick, and Joey Janela are safe bets to put fans in seats. Not only that, but the announcement that Ibushi will battle Speedball Mile Bailey at BLOODSPORT 9 has already raised the attention of the Internet wrestling community. If Brett Lauderdale is looking for gold, then Ibushi might be the golden egg he has been searching for.
IMPACTS Biggest Import
IMPACT Wrestling is known for their ability to work well with other promotions. From WWE to AEW, IMPACT has played ball with every company willing to do business. This includes bringing stars from New Japan into their house for highlight-worthy matches. Though Ibushi is now a free agent, his foundations sit with New Japan. Is it possible that we see IMPACT stars like Alex Shelly, Sami Callihan, or Rich Swann take a swing at Japan’s top free agent? One challenger that many would consider a dream opponent for Ibushi is Josh Alexander. Both, Alexander and Ibushi, have what it takes to draw and to make the replay reel for any major event. Scott D’Amore, make the move and offer the contract. This talent is worthy of breaking any salary cap.
AEW’s Headline Star or Bust
Tony Khan has been described as a kid in a candy store when it comes to signing talent. His pockets are deep and his genuine love for professional wrestling makes this a no brainer. Khan sees dollar signs when the thought of Omega vs Ibushi on American soil is brought up and he’s no fool. Given the history that Ibushi has with a large number of AEW talent, signing him means the potential for continued interest in the product. Hangman Adam Page, Bryan Danielson, and Claudio Castognoli could be main event opponents for Ibushi. The fact that AEW has such a robust roster and Ibushi could be paired against almost anyone means that he’s potentially a few months out from headlining Double or Nothing. Tony, this is your duty to your fans. You know what must be done.
U.S. Indie’s Potential Darling Star
With so many independent promotions across the country looking for that one talent to put them on the map, Ibushi could be that talent. As the independent scene continues to grow, competition for fans is at an all-time high. Indie fans are drawn to shows for the promise of seeing their local favorites be pitted against the top talents and Ibushi certainly brings that feel. Promotions like Unsanctioned Pro (OH), New Wave Pro (IN), House of Glory (NY), and PCW Ultra (CA) would greatly benefit from matching their top talents against Ibushi. Independent promotions, do your fans and yourself a favor, and add Ibushi to your next big event.
WWE’s NXT International Superstar
The largest elephant in the room when it comes to discussing free-agent signings must be WWE. Though Ibushi already has an established relationship with WWE, and we have to wonder if that relationship is still on good terms. After the 2016 CWC, it seemed fitting for Ibushi to stick around and be migrated over to the NXT roster. This apparently was not to be the case, as he exited immediately after. With the recent change in creative direction and Triple H now running the main roster, will we see a renewed interest in Kota Ibushi?
In terms of signings, his style and ability to work around the pros and cons of most other talents makes him a certainty. He’s shown that he can keep a fast pace high-flying match but also work the more technically sound talents WWE showcases. As far as TV readiness goes, Kota has been a regular on TV for New Japan up until a year before his departure. WWE has proven previously that they are able to position international talents in main event scenes such as Nakamura and Gunther. Another option WWE has is an introduction through the NXT brand. Pairing Ibushi against Carmelo Hayes, Charlie Dempsey, or Iija Dragunov could lead to some interesting matchups.
No matter where Kota Ibushi decided to plant his feet, you know the potential for dream matches and impressive showmanship makes Ibushi a prime free agent. Let’s hope his stay is long, his health is good, and his talents are properly showcased.
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