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NJPW addresses status of Kota Ibushi, will remain under contract

NJPW held a press conference on Friday to address the situation.
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At a press conference on Friday, NJPW addressed the status of Kota Ibushi.

Ibushi began expressing his frustration with NJPW management in a series of tweets earlier this month. The situation stemmed from an employee in NJPW's talent relations department named Kikuchi threatening to terminate Ibushi's contract for making an appearance accompanying wrestlers to the ring at TAKA Michinoku's Just Tap Out promotion. The official believed that Ibushi was attempting to deliberately breach his contract so that he could leave NJPW.

Ibushi described Kikuchi's interactions with him as being "power harassment." Ibushi was also upset with Kikuchi for attempting to rush him back to the ring in time for January's Wrestle Kingdom 16 after suffering a shoulder injury in October.

NJPW president Takami Ohbari and Bushiroad's Takaaki Kidani appeared at Friday's press conference and spoke about the situation. Ohbari stated that he met with Ibushi on March 31 to discuss the breach of contract. Ibushi apologized to Ohbari and made it clear that he wasn't trying to leave NJPW. Ibushi's penalty for the breach was limited to a reprimand.

Not wanting to lose the services of Kota Ibushi in such a manner, and wanting to find out his true mental state and opinions on this matter, I arranged a meeting with Mr. Ibushi at his personal training facility on March 31.

In my brief meeting with Mr. Ibushi, we chatted while we conducted some light exercise. As we moved on the mat, and participated in some jump training, I was amazed at his super human physical abilities, yet Ibushi confided that he found recovery from his 2021 shoulder injury was taking longer than he had expected, and that his range of motion was far from ideal.

After our conversation, Mr. Ibushi took me by car to a restaurant where we continued our conversation. Our conversation was amicable, and Mr. Ibushi explained to me that he had been invited to Just Tap Out by its manager TAKA Michinoku. He also explained that while he was in the dressing rooms, he made an impulsive decision on his own accord to head to ringside and second the wrestlers.

After receiving Mr. Ibushi’s explanation, I reprimanded him, reminding him that this was a breach of his contract with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, as well as a breach of licensing agreements we hold with other companies. Mr. Ibushi sincerely apologized for his actions. Mr. Ibushi’s penalty for his breach was limited to a reprimand as, on hearing with Mr. Ibushi, it was clear there was no intention to breach the terms of his contract, nor did he believe a breach had taken place because he had not participated in a match.

At the point of our meeting, I did not know the exact wording or particulars of Mr. Ibushi’s text conversation with the Official and as a result, did not offer a proper apology for the content of the conversation. 

Ibushi then started tweeting publicly about the situation on May 10. Ohbari said he's learned that the tweets "were made when Mr. Ibushi was acting in a state of concern for his mother. Mr. Ibushi told me that this situation triggered his mother’s mental distress, leading to a suicide attempt at the start of May in which she suffered a broken bone in her back."

A meeting with Ibushi, Ohbari, and Kidani was held yesterday. Ohbari said that NJPW "fully and unreservedly" apologizes to Ibushi for the content of the messages he was sent by Kikuchi:

However yesterday, myself and the company owner Mr. Takaaki Kidani were able to meet with Mr. Ibushi, and discuss this statement to you here as well as our opinions on the matter. Before proceeding I would like once again to sincerely apologize to fans for the concern caused by this series of events.

I would now like to relay the company’s stance on this situation.

Mr. Ibushi’s actions in attending an outside event without proper procedure, as well as publicly disclosing internal affairs were actions in breach of his contract, and after consideration of the particulars I previously mentioned, an appropriate penalty for Mr. Ibushi will be determined.

However, the words of the Official in his text conversation were inexcusable, especially in their direction to a wrestler who risks his life in order to fulfill his role as a professional. It is this mindset that directly led to Mr. Ibushi posting his critical tweets about the company. For the thoughtless content of these messages, we fully and unreservedly apologize to Mr. Ibushi.

Despite the Official’s lengthy relationship with Mr. Ibushi, the lack of consideration shown to him and by extension our wrestlers at large should also be met with an appropriate penalty. 

Ohbari confirmed that Ibushi has not been released from his contract and will continue to be a contracted NJPW wrestler. Ohbari said there was never any consideration given to terminating Ibushi, but he will likely receive a salary reduction for the contract breach and publishing company secrets.

The penalties Kikuchi will face haven't been determined. Kidani said that "at the very least" they're considering transferring Kikuchi to a different position.

When asked how close Ibushi may be to returning, Ohbari said there's no set timetable because his shoulder isn't in ring shape.

"There is absolutely no rush, and I don’t feel Ibushi needs to consider his injury as a weakness," Kidani said. "With all he has done for NJPW, he can take all the time that he needs. So I think he shouldn’t worry about being in the ring, and rather discuss what he can do as things progress and as his condition improves."

NJPW offered the following summation on the situation:

Kota Ibushi is, and will remain a key member of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling roster. This kind of severe disagreement between company and talent should not happen again; in order to prevent any such instances in the future, and ensure the best possible working environment for talent, we will be actively engaged in discussion with Mr. Ibushi about improving company policy and implementing proper procedure.

We again would like to apologize to fans, wrestlers and personnel for the concern and the disruption caused in the middle of the Best of the Super Jr. tour. 

However, the press conference didn't resolve all of Ibushi's issues with NJPW. He tweeted the following after the press conference: "Don't leave out the part you don't want to talk about, the true story from May 8th. I'll address in detail. My mother sensing my concern, asked me if there are any problems on May 8th. As a result of the story that I told her, on May 9th, she attempted suicide and broke her hip bone. That was 95% of my tweet. Why did you leave it out? I told you yesterday that I would address if it (their explanation on the press conference) was not correct."

NJPW then issued a correction regarding some of the wording relating to Ibushi's mother's suicide attempt.