IWGP Intercontinental Champion Kota Ibushi announced at New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s media conference for the Road to Dontaku tour that he had officially signed an exclusive contract with NJPW, after three years of being a freelance performer. It had been speculated he had signed months ago, amidst wishful thinking from AEW fans that he would join his Golden Lovers‘ teammate Kenny Omega in All Elite Wrestling when he declared he “wasn’t going anywhere” at an NJPW event. Ibushi released the following statement, stating that “I would like to formally announce that I have signed with New Japan Pro Wrestling and will now represent NJPW as Intercontinental Champion. I appreciate your support going forward.”
Ibushi was interviewed at the media junket, transcribed on NJPW’s website, and said the following:
At one point in the past, you were signed to a double contract with NJPW and the DDT promotion. Is it correct to say that you are exclusive to NJPW at this point?
Ibushi: Yes. That’s correct.
In Nagoya, you said that you wanted to be on every card going forward.
Ibushi: That’s right. If I can physically be there I want to be there.
You’ve been freelance for the last three years; what made you arrive at this decision?
Ibushi: Well, I had this dual contract and after I left both companies, I went to a lot of different places and had a lot of different experiences. At the end of the day though, ever since I was a kid in middle school, I always wanted to join NJPW. I thought that I couldn’t, and that’s why I worked for a lot of different independents, but my feelings never changed.
The time finally arrived for you.
Ibushi: I took a roundabout route, but it all got me some valuable experience.
Do you think now is the right timing for you, personally?
Ibushi: I do. I really think I’m arriving at my peak now. Whether I have another 10 years, or 20 years wrestling I don’t know, but my peak is beginning now. So I’ve found my final destination.
When you are contracted, your position and your responsibilities change. Is there anything extra that you feel you can do now because you are exclusive?
Ibushi: I’ve always said that I want to broaden the horizons of professional wrestling. I feel, if I can broaden the horizons of NJPW, then I can broaden the horizons of wrestling at large.
Having that mission motivates you?
Ibushi: It’s the ultimate motivation.
Is there anything specific that you want to do in order to achieve that?
Ibushi: Well, for now, I’m the Intercontinental Champion, and I want to put everything I have into defending this title.
You want to elevate the status of the title?
Ibushi: Yes, of course.
A while ago Tanahashi questioned your resolve. Was that challenge something that influenced your decision?
Ibushi: Hmm. ‘Resolve’ means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but I think I finally understand now what Tanahashi meant when he used that word. I always felt I had resolve when it came to my definition of the word, but I understand what Tanahashi means now.
And what do you think he means exactly?
Ibushi: To put it simply, I think he was talking about responsibility. To put it in a word.
Signing with the company brings with it a responsibility to represent it. That’s what you think he meant?
Back in February, you said in the ring ‘I’m not going anywhere’. Was it from there that you decided to commit to NJPW?
Ibushi: Right. To bring up my and Tanahashi’s resolve again, as far as I was concerned personally, I made this decision last year. But to actually bear responsibility and resolve the way Tanahashi puts it, the timing was a little bit different.
And now everything’s finally the way you wanted?
How long is your contract for?
Ibushi: Contract… To me, this is the last place I’ll be. Until the day I die. Until the end. That’s my contract period. (To Sugabayashi) Is that OK? Until the very end? OK then (laughs).
Now that you are fully signed with NJPW, you might be asked to join a specific unit. Is there a group, in particular, you want to join?
Ibushi: I like to think I can make it work wherever I am, wherever would be fine. But personally, I’d like to be in hontai (the unaffiliated group that includes Tanahashi).