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Cody Rhodes & Kota Ibushi: The independence of wrestling


It’s a pretty great time to be a professional wrestler, and a pro wrestling fan.

WWE's hiring standards have changed, and those who at one time may have been overlooked are now world champions. Social media, GIFs, podcasts and streaming services have made pro wrestling more accessible and has provided wrestlers with more exposure than ever before.

That exposure has led to many an indie star being noticed, sought after and signed by the titan of the pro wrestling industry, WWE. For those who dream of one day performing on the grandest stage of all, there’s never been a more opportune time of making that dream a reality.

But what of those whose aspirations don’t involve graduating from pro wrestler to WWE superstar? And what about those who have reached "Zion," but found it wasn’t all they had hoped for?

Two Roads

Kota Ibushi and Cody Rhodes are two such wrestlers. Ibushi, who competed in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic and is participating in the second annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, has declined WWE’s offer of a full-time deal, instead choosing to remain an independent wrestler.

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Ibushi had a lengthy career in Japan, working for DDT for around 10 years and NJPW for two. He even had a rare dual contract allowing him to work for both promotions at the same time. For Ibushi fans, it was great. I got to see Ibushi work in two of my favorite Japanese promotions.

But Ibushi ended up burning the candle at both ends. In late 2015, Ibushi took time off to recover from a neck injury, and ended up resigning from both DDT and NJPW.

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Photo by Mars Varela

But he didn’t retire from pro wrestling. After literally destroying his body for DDT and NJPW, Ibushi decided to become a freelancer. More specifically, he became a representative (the only representative) of the Ibushi Puroresu Kenkyujo (Ibushi Pro Wrestling Research Institute). If you want to visit the headquarters, I believe they're located somewhere in Ibushi’s unique imagination.

After leaving DDT and NJPW, Ibushi has made appearances in WWE, IGF, Kaiju Big Battel, DDT and Wrestle-1 under the premise of “conducting research” for the “institute." Research which will someday lead to...something?

Only Ibushi.

Meanwhile, Cody Rhodes left the “prestigious” life of a WWE superstar to pursue an independent wrestling career. In WWE, despite his best efforts, Rhodes was going nowhere as Stardust. The character had run its course, and Rhodes was ready to strip off the paint and reach the full potential that he believed “Cody Rhodes” was capable of.

But his ideas for creative fell on deaf ears, and he was ordered to remain as Stardust. Feeling stifled and stagnant, Rhodes wished WWE the best in their future endeavors. After leaving, dissatisfied with WWE, but not disheartened with his profession, Rhodes tweeted out his Amazon Wish List of wrestling.

Today, as a truly independent professional wrestler, Rhodes has already ticked off many names from his list, and had even more dream matchups with the likes of Zack Sabre Jr., AR Fox and Sami Callihan just to name a few.  


Though Kota Ibushi and Cody Rhodes took different roads, they have arrived at a very similar destination. Both men are redefining what it means to be a truly independent professional wrestler. They are doing wrestling the way they want to do it, having the matches they want to have, and working for promotions they want to work for without getting locked into undesirable long term contracts or full-time schedules.

Ibushi, as mentioned, has worked dates for WWE and will continue to work more in the future, but has declined their offers of an exclusive contract. That is something nearly unheard of, and really quite admirable of Ibushi. He’s changing the way WWE does business with independent wrestlers, and potentially opening the doors for other Japanese wrestlers and freelancers.

Similarly, Rhodes is breaking down traditional pro wrestling barriers. By the end of the year, Rhodes will have worked for WWE, PWG, TNA and ROH among many others, with more dates lined up in 2017 for promotions such as Germany’s wXw.

In just 2016, Rhodes will have appeared at WrestleMania, the Battle of Los Angeles, Bound for Glory and Final Battle.

While it’s not uncommon for indie stars to work for multiple promotions, it is interesting for someone with the star power and pedigree like Rhodes not to take a big money offer from any single promotion.

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But that’s what’s so admirable and unique about Ibushi and Rhodes. They are two guys wrestling because they love the craft, and are no longer willing to compromise when pursuing their passion. They’ve chosen a nomadic lifestyle, adventurers in wrestling, giving up financial security and a peace of mind for freedom and happiness. That needs to be applauded. 

Of course, not everyone is awarded that opportunity. Indie wrestlers still making a name for themselves and climbing the ladder would be crazy to turn down a WWE offer, or any big time offer from another major promotion. Some have families to support and need that regular paycheck.

Nonetheless, Ibushi and Rhodes are still taking a huge professional gamble in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, and in doing so, are creating opportunities for other like-minded wrestlers. Kota Ibushi and Cody Rhodes are making pro wrestling better, and for that, I thank them.