Kota Ibushi has been one of the best stars in all of professional wrestling. Due to his popularity gained in Japan, Ibushi joined the WWE Cruiserweight Classic tournament in 2016. Ibushi made it to the semi-finals before losing to TJ Perkins. Ibushi also appeared in NXT, defeating Buddy Murphy, as well as teaming up with TJ Perkins in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic to defeat Lince Dorado and Mustafa Ali, before losing to Sanity members Alexander Wolfe and Sawyer Fulton.
Although it was originally reported by PW Torch in July that Ibushi had signed a contract to compete full-time for NXT, they later rescinded it after Ibushi denied these reports. As a result, many speculated that this was the reason why he lost to TJ Perkins in the CWC tournament instead of winning the whole thing.
For the Royal Rumble match, there are still slots available for potential surprise entrants. When Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer was asked whether Ibushi would fill one of those slots, Meltzer replied, “Possible, but don’t think so.”
Rolling Stone also added to the speculation.
“That also speaks to how WWE might be using the Rumble now; with its acquisition of independent talent from all over the world, anyone who is main roster ready could theoretically pop up at the match. Styles might have been the first, but he almost certainly won’t be the last indie star to make their debut at the Royal Rumble.
“The rumor mill has been churning as it does every year for a couple of months now, with people like Kota Ibushi, Kyle O’Reilly and any of WWE’s UK Championship tournament competitors being talked about for a slot.”
Making a name for himself all across Japan, Ibushi increased his popularity after competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). Ibushi lost to Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) in 2009 and 2010 during the Best of Super Juniors tournament.
He lost to Devitt again at Wrestle Kingdom V in 2011, which is NJPW’s biggest event of the year. Ibushi was able to gain retribution of his losses by defeating Devitt for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at the Dominion 6.18 event in Osaka, Japan.
Ibushi’s ongoing feud with Devitt was far from over. The two combatants faced each other again at Wrestle Kingdom 7, where Devitt managed to retain the Junior Heavyweight Championship against Ibushi and Low Ki. Ibushi and Devitt faced off again at Wrestle Kingdom 8, where Ibushi won the Junior Heavyweight Championship again from his arch rival.
Ibushi left NJPW after suffering a concussion, and commenced a feud with IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura, which led to be one of the main events of Wrestle Kingdom 9. Ibushi remained a talent for NJPW, competing in memorable matches against AJ Styles, before leaving his full-time status with the company in early 2016.
Ibushi returned as a babyface under a mask, as Tiger Mask W, defeating Tiger the Dark (portrayed by ACH) at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 event.
It would be very interesting to see the long-time feud between Ibushi and Balor reignite in the WWE. While Ibushi would spend a period of time competing for NXT if he does decide to sign a WWE contract, he would eventually move up to the main roster.
Although he originally was billed by WWE as a cruiserweight, Ibushi has shown during his time with New Japan that he is a worthy heavyweight competitor. Moreover, the very fact that Finn Balor, who is smaller than Ibushi, is considered a heavyweight and has been the WWE Universal Champion, means that Ibushi would have no issues with being a staple in the heavyweight division.
[Featured Image By WWE]