Will Kota Ibushi Have a Major Impact In AEW?

During last night’s edition of Dynamite, the final members of both teams for next week’s Blood and Guts, the War Games-style cage match, were announced. The long-speculated announcement that Kota Ibushi, former IWGP heavyweight champion, will join The Elite, was made, while Pac’s return will see him added to the Blackpool Combat Club team.

Ibushi, who originally made his name in the over-the-top DDT promotion in Japan, is close friends with Kenny Omega, who worked for the Japanese league early in his career. Perhaps, the pinnacle of Kota’s career was when he captured the IWGP Heavyweight championship at Wrestle Kingdom in 2021, dethroning Tetsuya Naito after a dangerous main event. At one point, he claimed that he signed a “lifetime contract” with NJPW and expressed that he would finish his career under that banner. His reign would be rather short, as he dropped the title to Will Ospreay a few months later and then suffered a serious shoulder injury in August of that year. The injury prompted a fierce debate between Ibushi and the New Japan office, apparently over how the injury was handled as far as the time off he was given, or at least that was the general consensus at the time with rough translation.

Either way, one of the major stars of NJPW exited the company after more than a year on the sidelines, which fueled speculation about where he might end up next.

Since he suffered the shoulder injury in August of 2021, Ibushi wrestled only two matches, which were both this past March for Game Changer Wrestling during Wrestlemania weekend. Right now, I don’t see his debut in All Elite Wrestling as nearly the major announcement it would’ve been before the injury. Make no mistake about it, Kota is one of the most dynamic workers of his generation, with a style that combinations graceful aerial maneuvers with car crash bumps. At the same time, Ibushi, regardless of if Tony Khan would admit it or not, is still a niche name in the United States, especially to the vast majority of the TBS audience that probably heard his name for the first time ever during the segment that he was announced to join The Elite last night. Already a name that only diehard fans will know, his impact is further minimized when you take into account that he was on the shelf for such an extended period of time and a lot has happened within the past two years in the industry. The point being, Kota Ibushi hasn’t been a topic of conversation, at least on a major scale, in at least over a year.

His upcoming debut just doesn’t seem quite as monumental as it would’ve been if he had done anything beyond just two independent shows during one of the busiest weekends of the year on the wrestling calendar

That being said, this doesn’t mean that Kota Ibushi is already a flop in All Elite Wrestling.

Instead, there are just some key questions that might be an indication of his success. First and most importantly, how healthy the Japanese grappler is will be a major factor. At 41, Kota keeps himself in tremendous shape and could theoretically have several more years as a top performer left in his career. At the same time, how much the shoulder injury affects him in the ring going forward, and specifically if he can avoid any further injury is just as big of a factor in the success he could have in AEW. Remember, Kota Ibushi worked a very dangerous style for several years and it caught up with him, the same way the toll of the high impact style put Kenny Omega on the shelf for several months. The former tag team partners have a lot in common with their in-ring presentation, as well as the price they paid for it, with extended absences from the ring to repair the damage.

Assuming Kota is and can stay healthy, I think it’s more than possible for All Elite to properly introduce him to the American audience and add another star to the roster. Talent is talent, and Konosuke Takeshita, who also worked for DDT prior to his AEW debut, is proof that the right presentation can dissolve any perceived language barrier. Of course, Takeshita, especially at this point, has the bigger upside because he’s younger and doesn’t have the list of injuries, but the point is, Kota Ibushi is such a unique athlete that he can make a similar impression on the national TV audience.

It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off deal or if Kota will be on the roster full-time, particularly because that might be the subject of political red tape, given Ibushi’s rocky exit from New Japan, and AEW’s working agreement with the Japanese league. On the flip side, maybe this will help mend fences between Ibushi and New Japan? One thing is for sure, he was booked in a major spot for his AEW debut so hopefully, Tony Khan signed him to at least a semi-regular deal so that the spotlight is maximized for each team.

Speaking of which, Pac was announced for the other team, and while he did the best work of his career in All Elite Wrestling, he appears for the company so infrequently that the “return of Pac” has lost any sizzle it might’ve had. Reportedly, Pac, who hasn’t worked for AEW since March, still lives in his native country of England so he is only booked for short stints in America. As much of a stellar athlete as Pac is, without consistency, which is a problem that is seen often with the bloated roster, his usefulness to the organization is minimal if he only appears a few times a year. It’s difficult to expect the audience to invest in a character that simply isn’t on the show. I’m not sure what type of deal Pac has with AEW, but unless this Blood and Guts appearance brings him back to the organization full-time, it might not be worth the investment to keep him under contract.

Back to Ibushi, the bottom line is, it completely depends on his health and what he brings to the table at this point in his career. It’s not just a matter of his health now, but also if he can continue to perform at a major league level without any further injuries. Given his limited exposure in the United States, I’m not sure the announcement of his involvement was as big of a deal to the TV audience as it was to Tony Khan, but as mentioned, if Ibushi has healed up from the shoulder injury, there’s a huge upside for him in All Elite Wrestling. The precise high-flying style with the wild bumps make him a unique commodity. Ironically, that same dynamic might limit his success if the history of injuries doesn’t allow him to get back to the top form that made him a name in Japan.

As far as the potential of Kota Ibushi in All Elite Wrestling, the best case scenario is probably to be cautiously optimistic about what he brings to the company.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail [email protected] | You can follow me on Instagram & Facebook @jimlamotta89