At tonight’s NJPW Press Conference Post-Wrestle Kingdom, NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi mentioned some big news. The first was that Suzuki-gun member Takashi Iizuka, aged 52, will be retiring, with a retirement show on February 21. The next announcement was rumored for some time, but became painfully real. KUSHIDA, 6x IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, 2x winner of the NJPW Best of the Super Juniors (2015, 2017), was departing New Japan after eight years with the company.
Sugabayashi has 3 points: 1) Ibushi will be taking the next tour off due to his concussion. 2) Takashi Iizuka is retiring. He will have a retirement ceremony on February 21. 3) KUSHIDA will leave New Japan at the end of his contract on January 31.
— chris charlton (@reasonjp) January 7, 2019
KUSHIDA then took the mic and addressed the media (translation via Chris Charlton):
“As Sugabayashi said, I will leave NJPW on January 31. This was an extremely tough decision made with Meij, Sugabayashi and Kidani. It was a very big decision in my life and I’m thankful they understood. I will head overseas and to see the world of pro wrestling.
I have been here in NJPW for 8 years. I was surprised at the scale of the business when I first came in and proud of being able to work here. The warm reception and words from the fans made me who I am and I am so grateful to them. You meet so many people in this business from fans to rivals to allies and staff, and they all helped to grow me.
When I won the BOSJ a few years ago I said I’d lead the division to a bright future. I was so happy to hear the BOSJ finals will be in Ryogoku. Some may say I put it there, but it’s due to the efforts of everybody in the division to make a change.
I have no doubt the junior division will be absolutely fine without me.
I am contracted with this company until the end of January, so I won’t be talking much about beyond then. But it has been my dream for a long time to travel the world with professional wrestling. And that’s what I will be doing.
I increasingly took on the role lately of working with younger talent, and while not teaching, learning together. Along with that, going back and forth between ROH and New Japan, I realised I am now 36 and have much less in front of me career wise than behind.
Being with Shibata in the Dojo, I learned how difficult it was to teach the next generation. A lot of personal research has to go into that progress. For me, in order to best teach the next generation, what do I need to do?
I loved this journey through life with everyone here. I don’t know why I’m crying. This is my decision and I’m not sad I made it. These are happy tears. If there was anything left for me to achieve and do, I wouldn’t be leaving. But I’ll put my all in this last month. There’s been a lot of people who have influenced me over these eight years. Liger, Tana. Shibata, Makabe, Tiger Hattori. They all enjoy wrestling.”
It marks the end of an era for KUSHIDA, who joined New Japan in May of 2010 as Gedo‘s new tag partner in the Super J Tag Tournament. In the next eight years, he would become one of the faces of the Junior Heavyweight division, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship on six occasions, plus the IWGP Junior Tag Team titles twice. He also won two Best of the Super Juniors, in 2015 and 2017.
YUSHIDA began his career in MMA, fighting for the ZST promotion in Tokyo, Japan, debuting in 2003. He would go on to a 6-0-2 record as a professional MMA fighter, with his last MMA fight occurring in 2005. The following year, he began to train and work with HUSTLE, the promotion run by his mentor Nobuhiko Takada, as well as working occasionally with ZERO1, All Japan and Osaka Pro Wrestling.
In 2009, he headed to North America on an excursion to further his pro wrestling training, where he attended the Can-Am Wrestling School in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and learned under Scott D’Amore (now Executive VP of IMPACT Wrestling). He competed for D’Amore’s Border City Wrestling, as well as other Canadian indies like Ottawa’s Capital City Championship Combat (C4), Canadian Wrestling Elite (CWE) and Great Canadian Wrestling (GCW) and in the US with CHIKARA and International Wrestling Cartel (IWC).
He returned to Japan in 2010 and the rest is history. Whether as a singles competitor, dominating the New Japan Junior Heavyweight division, or in tag team action alongside Alex Shelley in the Timesplitters, KUSHIDA was a master inside the ring. Fluid, athletic, and remarkably charismatic, many fans hoped for the day he may move up to the Heavyweight division, like past stars like Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi did. Sadly, that day never came.
While the WWE is the most rumored destination for KUSHIDA, he does have his IMPACT connection to former trainer Scott D’Amore, and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) may make a pitch for him as well. But wherever he lands will be another exciting chapter in the career of Yujiro Kushida.
— KUSHIDA (@KUSHIDA_0904) January 7, 2019