Kota Ibushi’s self-declared free agency takes a strange twist as he debuts as Tiger Mask W in New Japan after entering Dusty Classic (w/Radican’s Analysis)

By Sean Radican, PWTorch columnist

Kota Ibushi (Photo credit Kyle Niblett © PWTorch)


Kota Ibushi’s strange 2016 continued at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “King of Pro Wrestling” PPV today. Ibushi, who chose not to sign with NJPW earlier this year and became a free agent, returned to the company under a new gimmick. PWTorch has confirmed that Ibushi wrestled in the dark match at “King of Pro Wrestling” as Tiger Mask W. As Tiger Mask W, Ibushi used his signature offense to beat Red Death Mask.

Ibushi is currently working as a freelance talent. He has given interviews in Japan stating he is not interesting in signing with any promotion and is working with a variety of different promotions in Japan. Ibushi also wrestled in EVOLVE, Kaiju Big Battel, and in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic in the U.S. this year.

Sources told PWTorch over the summer that WWE made multiple attempts to sign Ibushi during the CWC over the summer, but he spurned all of their offers insisting on remaining a free agent. Ibushi has confirmed these claims in interviews with the Japanese media.

Ibushi was set to be a big star in NJPW once he recovered from an injury earlier this year, as the company was hoping to build around him as after the departures of Shinsuke Nakamura and A.J. Styles, who informed NJPW management they were leaving the company shortly before “Wrestle Kingdom” was set to begin on Jan. 4.

Ibushi is willing to work with WWE on a part-time basis and it appears WWE is comfortable with this arrangement. Ibushi recently was confirmed as being part of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which is airing on NXT TV every Wednesday night (and on demand thereafter) on the WWE Network. He will team with Hideo Itami. Their first round match is scheduled to be taped on Oct. 13 at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla.

Radican’s Analysis: It is amazing to see Ibushi return to NJPW in a pre-show match under a mask. Ibushi would have been such a valuable piece for NJPW to build around, but most people I’ve spoken to note that he is a free spirit. If you read any translations of the various interviews he’s done about wrestling in WWE and spurning their contract offers with the Japanese media, it’s clear he wrestles to please himself and doesn’t care about making a lot of money wrestling in WWE or NJPW.

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