NJPW: Impact Wrestling’s Low-Ki left NJPW over Fukushima nuclear radiation fears (exclusive)

In an exclusive interview with RealSport, Low-Ki revealed how New Japan threatened to suspend him if he refused to wrestle at Fukushima show despite safety fears

by Gur Samuel

RealSport recently sat down with indie wrestling legend Low-Ki for an exclusive interview, in which we discussed his past, his future and all manner of topics. There was one question, however, where Low-Ki’s answer left us feeling surprised and a little shocked. It’s a serious enough claim that it deserves its own article.

An act of protest

Since Low-Ki returned to Impact Wrestling, he’s very distinctively worn a suit in his matches, in a look that many people say is inspired by Agent 47 of the ‘Hitman’ video games series. Early on in the interview, we asked Low-Ki where the idea of wrestling in a suit came from. The answer was far more complex than we had expected.

“It was based off of silent protest,” Low-Ki responded, “it originated in Japan, and I’m careful with my words because I don’t want anyone to see New Japan Pro Wrestling as a negative, but it was the business practice is what led to that.

“I had put my foot down about wrestling in Fukushima. I did my research, both in the country as far as media and news outlets, and outside of the country as well, to get more of an informed position on Fukushima. I didn’t want to wrestle there. At that time, I was the IWGP [Junior Heavyweight] Champion, and I spoke with the company and said I don’t feel comfortable with this, I don’t want to do that.”

Threatened with suspension

“We had a meeting, I believe a week later, where I was informed that the president thought that if I couldn’t make that event, which would be scheduled for the following February, because it’s a large television market, that I would be disqualified from performing. And I thought ‘Well ok, I just won’t perform at that one event’, and they came back with ‘no, you’re going to be cut for the entire year’.

“So to me, that was utter disrespect, only because the first ten events I was a part of in 2012, we sold the events out. I like to think that my contribution to the company led to positive results. That was a complete disregard, and my stance was based off of safety, and it wasn’t necessarily based off of me.

“My argument was, ‘what about the rest of the people here? What about your staff? What about your wrestlers? You’re more concerned with money, I’m more concerned with safety.’ And when they told me that ‘we won’t use you for the entire year’, I only had one more match under contract, which was the [Tokyo] Dome. And the Dome, that was my final stance.”

Kept out the ring

Using cagematch.com, we looked at the events NJPW held during Low-Ki’s 2012 run. There’s one very notable absence on the list of events – in the “Road to Power Struggle 2012” tour, during which Low-Ki held the Junior Heavyweight belt, Low-Ki did not take part in the sixth night of the tour. That night’s event was held in the Tsuruga Castle Gymnasium in Fukushima.

We have reached out to New Japan for a statement, to confirm whether or not they threatened to suspend Low-Ki if he refused to perform in Fukushima. NJPW have not yet responded to our request.

What we can say, however, is that following the tour, at the Power Struggle 2012 pay-per-view event, Low-Ki lost the belt to Prince Devitt (the eventual Finn Balor). Low-Ki then did not appear on any of the next twenty NJPW shows, including nine TV tapings and a pay-per-view. This was after he appeared in 51 different shows for NJPW in the preceding eight months.

As Low-Ki said, he still had one match he was contracted to take part in – a three-way dance with Devitt and Kota Ibushi for the IGWP Junior Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in the Tokyo Dome on January 4 2013. NJPW would return to Fukushima in March of that year. Low-Ki decided to go out in style – by wrestling in his suit.

Leaving his mark

“They didn’t know it was coming,” Low-Ki said, “we actually did some media for the DVD sale earlier on, where I was in my normal outfit. They didn’t know anything about it.

“When we went into the holding pen, because in the Tokyo Dome, the locker room is on one side of the stadium, you have to take a minivan, go all the way to the other side, and there’s a security entrance that you have to go through that has a vacuum seal. We go through there, and then there’s a holding pen before we have to go out into the entrance.

“We get into the holding pen and I’m all suited up, and I just take my guns out and lay them on the table, and Ibushi and Devitt are looking at me like ‘what’s going on?’. I go, ‘nothing, we’re gonna have a match today.’”

“So, it was, to me, it was my silent protest by leaving New Japan, and it wasn’t in the sense that I’m a ‘hitman’, it was in the sense that, I’m ‘The Professional’. This is my last time here, I’m going out with a bang, but I’m doing it in a fashion that everyone is going to respect it.”

When Low-Ki re-signed with Impact earlier this year, they asked him to keep the suit as in-ring attire, and he’s wrestled in that suit since.

While it’s unquestionably a fascinating story, it also raises some serious concerns. Should NJPW compel wrestlers to work in locations where they genuinely fear for their own, and their co-workers’, safety? What measures have NJPW taken to determine that it is, in fact, safe to perform in Fukushima, especially less than eighteen months removed from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster?

As stated above, we have reached out to NJPW to ask if Low-Ki’s account of events is accurate. We also asked them what evidence or assurances they received as to the safety of the location when they booked a show for Fukushima, but we have not yet received any response.

Check back tomorrow for the full interview with Low-Ki!

Do you think Low-Ki was right to leave NJPW over the handling of the situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


Gur Samuel