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Kota Ibushi's interesting 2016 and unpredictable 2017

Kota Ibushi

I’ve been thinking a lot about Kota Ibushi lately, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for yours truly.

But with Wrestle Kingdom 11 fast approaching, I’m reminded of the incredibly awesome match Ibushi had with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 9. Thinking about that match then makes me think about the paths both guys have taken since that night.

Both left New Japan and have worked for WWE with the main difference being that one is currently the face of its “developmental” brand, while the other participated in a couple of tournaments but declined to sign with the promotion. In fact, Ibushi has declined to sign with any promotion.

As I’ve written previously before, I consider what Ibushi is doing to be inspiring, doing pro wrestling his way and on his terms. And though I do still think that’s great, I can’t help but to look at Ibushi’s 2016 and compare it to other New Japan alumni, such as Nakamura and AJ Styles, or even his former tag partner and career rival Kenny Omega, and feel a twinge of disappointment.

The aforementioned three have all had incredible years. Nakamura, while not having his greatest matches, has unsurprisingly gotten over like rover and become the King of NXT Style. Styles has a couple of big wins over John Cena, is the WWE Smackdown champion, and runs the place with his face. And Omega graduated/got promoted/transitioned from junior heavyweight to adult heavyweight in New Japan and is now about to main event this Wednesday against Kazuchika Okada. Main event! Kenny Omega!

So if winning top titles, having high profile and memorable matches, and being elevated to main event status sum up Nakamura, Styles, and Omega’s 2016, what sums up Kota Ibushi’s? He’s made sporadic appearances in WWE, most memorably being the highlight of the Cruiserweight Classic. He’s returned to New Japan to play the role of Tiger Mask W in a dark match. And he rode a bicycle off a ramp, took out Gota Ihashi (his teammate) and landed on his head in a Takoyaki, Ladder & Chairs in DDT (where else?). His arguably highest profile match was a non-televised affair against Bobby Roode in NXT.

None of those accomplishments is in anyway a knock. While his year hasn’t been as impressive and he hasn’t been as “successful” as those others, that’s more or less by his choice. And this is where I, as a huge fan of Ibushi, am torn.

Ibushi chose not to sign with WWE in order to focus on helping Japanese wrestling grow, and I applaud him for making that decision, which I assume wasn’t an easy one. But as a result of not signing to WWE, or any company for that matter, he hasn’t, well, had a very memorable year, with the exception of an awesome bicycle stunt, of course.

He hasn’t been involved in any big feuds, or chased or held any titles. His appearances in promotions have been just that: appearances. His intentions are noble, but besides remaining available, what has he done for Japanese wrestling in 2016?

Like lot of people in their mid-thirties, it may be time Ibushi thinks about settling down. Not as in starting a family and buying a house in suburbs, but as in choosing a promotion to call home. The logical choice, if Ibushi truly wants to help bring about the next Japanese wrestling boom, is New Japan Pro Wrestling.

He will do what makes him happy, and if that means leaving behind a unique, if not unremarkable legacy, so be it. But this is where I play the role of the selfish fan. What about me? What about what I want? I want Ibushi to leave behind a remarkable legacy and to reach his full potential, and making appearances in NJPW, WWE, and DDT just doesn’t cut it. I want feuds with Nakamura for the NXT title. I want his title history in New Japan to say more than IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion and Junior Tag Team champion.

And, so does he:

https://t.co/rljmxNJVoz Ibushi speaks on returning to NJPW, @KennyOmegamanX , Nakamura.. pic.twitter.com/PzxjUszzZv

— chris charlton (@reasonjp) November 22, 2016

I want 2017 to be Ibushi’s year, whether that means becoming a player in the WWE, or having what could be classic programs with the likes of Naito, Omega or Okada in New Japan.

Most importantly, when all is said and done, I want Ibushi to be remembered for what he did in pro wrestling and for pro wrestling, not for what he could have done.