Kota Ibushi gives his post G1 thoughts as he moves toward Power Struggle
It was already a history making autumn, and Kota Ibushi wrote his own page in that chapter of the history books. The first ever autumnal G1 Climax, and the landmark 30th running of the tournament saw Ibushi enter an unprecedented third consecutive final, and a back to back victory overall, only the third man in history to achieve that feat.
We caught up with the Golden Star to get his thoughts on this incredible achievement, and what is to come.
This year was even harder than last year
–So, we’re conducting this interview just one day after your G1 win. I bet you’re feeling it…
Ibushi: Yep… Yeah I am (laughs).
–After the finals, where all the confetti comes raining down, you collapsed, didn’t you?
Ibushi: I guess I did.
–That’s usually the big photo opportunity for all the press, but they could only catch you sitting down.
Ibushi: I just couldn’t stand anymore. I’d given it all I had.
–You had said that last year’s G1 was the toughest experience of your career. With that in mind, how was it this year?
Ibushi: Last year we had the preview tag matches so I was wrestling more. So I figured this year would be a lot easier, but I actually think it was tougher.
–Even after your ankle injury in Dallas last year?
Ibushi: Even without the injury, I think this year was tougher. It’s really down to the current situation, you know…
–All the COVID-19 precautions.
Ibushi: Right. I’ll be honest, I never really felt it before. Even when we were doing the empty arena matches, I really thought I could wrestle the same way whether people were there or not. But in something like this G1, you do feel the effect. It hurts your resilience. That lack of chanting and encouragement makes it harder to keep that mental strength you need to push through.
–Wrestlers always talk about the G1 being the otughest tour of them all, but that the fans’ encouragement, the hottest crowds of the year help them through. Things were different this year.
Ibushi: Right. We had applause, but no name yelling, no chants. So it meant there was the same level of noise in a regular league match and in the finals. There wasn’t quite the sense of urgency and the buzz from the crowd there is normally.
–Did wrestling in the autumn rather than the summer have a positive effect, conditioning wise?
Ibushi: Oh yeah. I was able to get in perfect shape, and the heat not being a factor definitely helped. All the conditions were right, but it was still the hardest experience for me. It’s weird.
When you think about it, it was a completely unique final
–When we talked to you before the G1 you said you wanted to face Tetsuya Naito in the finals, but in the end it was SANADA who emerged from B Block. How did that make you feel?
Ibushi: It definitely made me think ‘him, huh?’. Come to think of it, just like Naito, it had been a year since I’d faced SANADA.
–You were tied at one win apiece after your last two G1 meetings.
Ibushi: And since we met last year, we had barely touched. I don’t even think in tag matches. This year we weren’t wrestling on days it wasn’t our block, so I didn’t even see his face for a month. Didn’t watch his matches. So it was definitely a strange experience stepping in the ring with him for the first time in over a year.
Ibushi: I’d watched his stuff on NJPW World, but that’s very different to seeing someone in person. So yeah, it was weird.
–Did that take you out of the match to begin with?
Ibushi: I’d say so, yeah. It was a lot of things together, but it was hard to get into the flow.
Ibushi: We couldn’t have a packed crowd, they couldn’t raise their voices, my opponent was a guy I hadn’t seen in so long… I was a bit out of sorts at first. It was unique, for sure.
–But you had experience being in the final, at least. You became the first in history to make three consecutive finals.
Ibushi: Experience, yeah… I think I was able to pride myself with being able to handle any situation, but this, this was different. I usually thrive in first time environments, but this was so bizarre. Just looking at those Ryogoku box seats and only seeing one person in each square where usually you have four. That got in my head.
–We talked a lot in our pre-G1 interview about wrestlers who got their start in places outside of NJPW. SANADA obviously is one of those, and this was the first time we had two finalists in that position.
Ibushi: Ah, now that you mention it, I guess that’s true. You know though, especially as we’ve had more wrestlers come here to compete from overseas, I think that sense of your origin being important, being a true NJPW guy or being plucked from somewhere, I think that concept is going away a bit.
–But you’ve made a point of not being a ‘made in NJPW’ guy…
Ibushi: Heheh. But you know, it’s fine. NJPW is the best wrestling promotion in the world, and the place for the best wrestlers in the world to wrestle. It doesn’t really matter where you’re from, or where you started. Times have changed.
In my mind, he isn’t SANADA. He’s Seiya Sanada.
–That said, there is something very similar about the two of you, in style and personality.
Ibushi: Well, we are and we aren’t. There are a lot of ways where we’ll similar, but with him I’m not sure which guy I’ll be facing. In my mind, this guy isn’t SANADA, he’s Seiya Sanada.
Ibushi: Yeah. I think that’s the guy we saw in the finals. The all caps SANADA was the one that made the entrance, but he went away when the bell rang. I still think he’d be a better fit in hontai.
–You said that after your match last year. ‘Why isn’t he with us’?
Ibushi: I still think that way.
–SANADA was in his first final and you were on your third go-around. Did you feel you had to dictate the pace for the bulk of the match?
Ibushi: Well, certainly I was the more experienced in big matches, after the finals I had and January 4 & 5 in the Tokyo Dome this year. That big match aspect didn’t phase me.
–But for the different atmosphere.
Ibushi: Apart from that, yeah. Different is an understatement.
–Everyone came away with the memory of that O’Connor Roll by SANADA…
Ibushi Haha! Yeah, I think that had everyone.
–It was really 2.999…
Ibushi: Heheh. Yeah, that was a dangerous one. If the ref’s hand had hit, that would have been it, but it didn’t, just about (laughs).
Chono is the G1 to me. It meant a lot.
–The dynamics of this year’s final were quite different to last year. The overwhelming number of fans were willing you to beat Jay White in 2019, but there were definitely a lot of people who wanted SANADA to win this year. Did you feel that difference?
Ibushi: Oh, absolutely. I get it; it was somebody who’s already been there against a challenger looking for his first win.
–That was certainly the mood in the building.
Ibushi: So the question became how to control that atmosphere to an extent. But then again, it was kind of hard to tell much of a difference with the clapping crowd. ‘SA-NA-DA’ and ‘I-BU-SHI,’ they’re the same three clap rhythm anyway.
–Good point (laughs).
Ibushi: So it became ‘are they pulling for me? Or him?’ It was very difficult to play off the crowd.
–In the end though, you did pull off that back to back victory. Plus you had the surprise of Masahiro Chono presenting the trophy.
Ibushi: Chono… I first started watching wrestling in, oh, 1992 or so? Back then they would be showing that clip of Chono winning the first G1 over and over again. That’s how I first understood that the G1 Climax was even a thing. Chono was the G1 to me from that moment, and he kinda still is. So for him to be doing colour commentary and then present me with the trophy; that got to me. It meant a lot. That’s when the happiness of achieving all this sank in: the guy I used to watch on TV handing me a trophy.
You need to be lucky to win once. You need more than luck to win twice
–You are now only the third man after Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan to win back to back G1s. Is that a different feeling, to get back to back wins like that?
Ibushi: Oh yeah! Luck always plays a part, and you need some element of luck to win the G1 once. To win it twice, you need something much much greater.
–It’s a feat the likes of Tanahashi, Nakamura, Okada or Naito haven’t been able to do; that must make you pretty happy.
Ibushi: It really, really does.
–I can see that (laughs).
Ibushi: I mean to carve your name in history definitely feels great. For years people have said only Tenzan and Chono have done it back to back and now you have to add my name to the list.
More in part two!