NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 13 felt like a night of resets for the company, with eight championships changing hands and some big victories for rising stars. On January 6, both Tokyo Sports and a New Japan Pro Wrestling press conference revealed even more changes, both short and long-term, in the aftermath of the January 4 Tokyo Dome show regarding both of the Golden Lovers, Kushida, and veteran members of the roster.
Around the time of Wrestle Kingdom 13, there were a lot of rumors and speculation about the career of then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega. Most of the rest of his stablemates and Being The Elite castmates announced they were going to their new promotion, All Elite Wrestling, in the days leading up to the show. Omega’s NJPW contract is known to be up at the end of January, he was reported to have a big offer from WWE, and said he would only go to world’s largest wrestling promotion to work with AJ Styles. At Wrestle Kingdom 13, Omega lost his championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi. He didn’t appear at January 5’s New Year Dash!!, and neither did any of the rest of the Elite except for Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi, who used this show to realign themselves with Bullet Club.
On January 7, Tokyo Sports reported that Omega is leaving NJPW. In an interview with the website, he said that this is because he lost the Wrestle Kingdom 13 main event, “a bout to decide the protagonist of New Japan.” He added that “There is no real place for me to fit, so it’s best for me not to be in [NJPW.] I can’t be there working under Tanahashi… If we can, I want to face him again. But I need time away, and not just from New Japan.” At his first NJPW press conference as champion, Tanahashi also expressed the desire to wrestle Omega again, like he did backstage after his win at Wrestle Kingdom, but couldn’t say what the Best Bout Machine’s relationship would be with NJPW in the future.
Omega said that, regarding his future, he knows that if he goes to WWE, “the fans there will be pleased,” as would AEW fans if he went to the new promotion, but he needs to do what will make him happy.
At the post-Wrestle Kingdom press conference on January 7, NJPW announced that the other half of the Golden Lovers, Kota Ibushi, will take January’s New Beginning tour off to recover from a concussion. Ibushi was stretchered out of the ring after losing the NEVER Openweight Championship to Will Ospreay. The company later announced that he had suffered a concussion, but not a serious one. Since then, Ospreay has been using this injury to put over his elbow to the head.
NJPW also announced the departure of multiple members of the roster, though notably not Omega, at this press conference. Most notably, Kushida will leave the company when his contract is up on January 31. Kushida, who has worked for NJPW since 2010 and is a two-time Best of the Super Juniors winner and is tied with Tiger Mask IV for second-most reigns with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (behind Jushin Thunder Liger,) said that this “was a very big decision in [his life]” and that he “will head overseas and see the world of pro wrestling.”
When asked by Tanahashi about his time in NJPW, Kushida broke down crying as he answered, and said he was only leaving the company because there was nothing “left for [him] to achieve and do.”
Kushida, per a report from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in December 2018, is expected to work for WWE after his departure from NJPW at the end of the month. Kushida said in the press conference that because he’s contracted with NJPW until the end of January, he won’t be talking specifically about his future until then.
Additionally, Takashi Iizuka, the 52-year-old wrestler who debuted for NJPW in 1986 and has performed as part of the Great Bash Heel, Chaos, and then Suzukigun stables over the past decade, will retire on February 21, 2019. Previously known as a deathmatch and hardcore wrestler, Iizuka, with his Iron Glove and taste for human flesh, has played a more comedic role, largely in tag team matches, over the past few years.
According to an Instagram post by Chris Jericho shared by members of the New Japan roster, longtime NJPW referee and foreign talent agent Tiger Hattori worked his last Tokyo Dome show on January 4, 2019. At this point, it’s unknown whether the 73-year-old Hattori is retiring as well, or will simply step away from his referee duties.
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Congrats to my old friend #TigerHattori for working his last #TokyoDome show last night. Tiger is one of the most genuine and best people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and My times shared with him and so many great brothers, including #EddieGuerrero, #ChrisBenoit, #DocDean & #BlackCat, will never be forgotten. Kanpai Tiger! @njpw1972