Today we take a look at one of the favourites for WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic which kicks off on 13th July – Japan’s Kota Ibushi.
Ibushi is a favourite because, quite frankly he is that damn good. Kota Ibushi has spent all his career with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), becoming a three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, a one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion as well as winning the prestigious Best of Super Juniors and Super J Cup tournaments. His is perhaps the most decorated entrant in the Cruiserweight Classic, coming in from a company who WWE have had no problem citing when it comes to guys like AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. The acknowledgement of NJPW and the IWGP championships on Raw make Ibushi, by association, a stand-out competitor in a tournament full of wrestlers who haven’t been in semi-main events in front of 36,000 people.
Ibushi didn’t become so decorated by accident or some backstage deal either, his in-ring work is terrific, and where the other favourite Zack Sabre Jr is known for his work on the mat Ibushi’s best work comes with his feet off the floor.
Ibushi’s high-flying and snug work made him a fan favourite in Japan, as did his burgeoning personality. Ibushi is far more charismatic and relatable for a western audience than a lot of Japanese wrestlers can be. Perhaps that is why WWE approached him when his contract with NJPW was expiring, either way we get to see Ibushi against a whole host of opponents we never would have if he stayed in Japan. While he has ventured out to the likes of Ring of Honor from time to time, through NJPW’s working agreement with ROH, he has kept himself in the far east for the majority of his career and while he achieved a strong following and notoriety in Japan. As a result, he will be a relative unknown to most of the audience watching the Cruiserweight Classic.
One of the reasons Ibushi is a huge favourite for the Cruiserweight Classic is that he may in fact be signed to WWE already. Ever since he appeared in the crowd at NXT Takeover: Dallas, rumours have been swirling that he is signed up and will be a full-time, main roster wrestler for WWE after the Cruiserweight Classic is over. Add that to his hugely impressive body of work and as soon as he was announced as a competitor the expectation has been that Ibushi would win it all.
Ibushi has been in the ring with some of the greats in Japan like Ryusuke Taguchi, Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor) and Shinsuke Nakamura in this masterpiece. Enjoy!