The last weekend of January 2018 was huge for pro wrestling, with NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia and the Royal Rumble for WWE, and New Beginning in Sapporo for New Japan Pro Wrestling. The WWE stuff was awesome and thoroughly covered by With Spandex, but there’s something else important we need to tell you about:
Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega, formerly the tag team known as Golden☆Lovers, have reunited, and love is real! This beautiful, angsty, confetti-ful moment may fit in a GIF, but it has over a decade of history. A rich history full of friendship, betrayal, and 450 splashes.
Love At First Fight (2006-2008)
Omega first became aware of Ibushi in 2006 when he started watching his matches for DDT, a Japanese promotion known for integrating comedy with the puroresu style. They’ve produced a heck of a lot of viral videos over the years, especially when their 24-7 defense Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship was in the U.S. a few years ago. I first became aware of both Omega and Ibushi from gimmick matches they had in DDT: Kenny’s infamous match against a 9-year-old girl and Ibushi’s bout with blow-up doll Yoshihiko.
Omega was determined to have a falls count anywhere match with Ibushi, and started calling him out on the internet. Look at how blonde and babyish he is in that promo video! DDT set it up, and this match started Omega’s rise in Japan. He talks about it at the beginning of this NJPW mini-documentary, saying “I thought I found my arch-nemesis; arch-rival, but as time went on, we became friends.” He says the first time he cried after a match was after that first match with Ibushi.
New friends Omega and Ibushi soon started teaming together and established themselves as one of the top tag teams on the Japanese independent circuit. They won DDT’s KO-D Tag Team Championship twice, and captured NJPW’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship from Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt and Ryusuke Taguchi,) When they lost that title during Fantastica Mania 2011, they gained the Best Bout Award from Tokyo Sports. Both men would have many similarly-acclaimed matches to come.
Their alliance wasn’t without conflict. Omega challenged Ibushi for the KO-D Openweight Championship after winning the King of DDT tournament in 2012. Ibushi defeated Omega in what many called the match of the year, which you can watch lon DDT Universe, the promotion’s streaming service.
The Golden Lovers went on to achieve further success as a tag team until Omega left DDT to compete for New Japan Pro Wrestling full time in 2014. Ibushi was already a semi-regular in NJPW’s heavyweight division, and Omega declared himself as a junior heavyweight. It looked like the end for indie wrestling’s power couple.
The Cleaner And The Free Agent (2015-January 4, 2018)
Both men’s lives took dramatic (dream) turns after the split. But where most of us make some ill-advised facial hair or hair dye choices, Ibushi and Omega both took their careers to the next level.
Ibushi had a legendary match with our 2018 Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke By God Nakamura (sorry, I’m still very excited about that) at Wrestle Kingdom 9 that was voted Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s match of the year. You could no longer get away with knowing him as That Guy Who Wrestled A Sex Doll if you wanted any smark cred.
Omega joined the Bullet Club, then under the leadership of AJ Styles. Later that year, he interfered to cost Ibushi a match with Styles. It was pretty par for the course heel faction member behavior, but, as you can see in the video above, Omega doesn’t look too happy about it.
In 2016, Omega kicked Styles out of Bullet Club and also the nation of Japan (Can I thank Kenny for kayfabe sending us our current WWE Champion, or will I get sued?), and moved up to the heavyweight division. This is when he truly became the Best Bout Machine we know and love today, taking pro wrestling to new heights — or at least new Dave Meltzer star rankings.
You’d think now that he and Ibushi were both heavyweights, their paths would cross again. Especially if Omega turned evil to advance his career and messed with his former partner as a part of it, and ESPECIALLY especially if Omega took out Styles NOT ONLY to advance his career, but also because of LINGERING TRUE LOVE. Motivations aside, we know that, even after all Omega’s acheivements, the fact that he never beat Ibushi weighed on him:
But Ibushi was out of NJPW while much of this was happening. He was injured in 2015, then decided to become the hottest free agent in the wrestling world. He competed in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, rejected a full time WWE contract, and did some more freelancing before returning to NJPW in a cosplay disguise. He and Omega’s paths never crossed, even when Omega’s stablemate/Starscream Cody Last Name Unknown took his feud with Ibushi to a weird place, yelling “Kenny doesn’t love you like I love you!” during their Wrestle Kingdom 12 Handsome Battle.
New Year Dash!! (January 5, 2018)
But the day after Wrestle Kingdom 12, Cody (who lost to Ibushi, which I think means he’s the objectively less handsome man) took a step too far. After a 10-man tag match at New Year Dash!! in which members of the Bullet Club (including Cody) defeated a team that included Ibushi, Cody led the Bullet Club to attack Ibushi with a chair.
Omega ran in to save his former partner, which led to he and Cody arguing in the ring. Omega declared, “I am sick of the infighting… talking behind everyone’s back … We need unity. We need to be a team again.” Classic deflection, trying to make something seem like it’s for your heel faction when really it’s for love. The future confetti doesn’t lie, Kenny!
Reunion At New Beginning (January 28, 2018)
At New Beginning in Sapporo Day 2, Switchblade Jay White — aka Orin from Parks and Rec if he was a wrestler — defeated the defending Omega for the IWGP United States Championship. This upset victory immediately trigged more Bullet Club infighting. Hangman Page challenged White for the belt, but Omega hadn’t surrendered it to the new champ yet, so obviously that had to become a whole thing because these are the messiest dudes in pro graps. Omega and Page’s argument prompted the rest of the [white guys in] Bullet Club to rush into the ring. More drama ensued, but they all seemed to make up, possibly realizing that Hot Topic t shirt sales were more important than their problems.
In a twist everyone and Gedo saw coming, Cody actually wasn’t suddenly cool with Omega for the first time since Dominion 2017 and sneak-attacked him from behind. Just as Cody was about to attack Omega with a chair, Ibushi ran into the ring and chased him off, saving his former partner. But was he just returning the NYD!! favor?
Things get real dramatic and emotional real fast. Ibushi extended a hand to Omega, who didn’t take it, pulling himself up with the ropes instead.
English-language commentator Kevin Kelly extrapolated on this miracle we just saw before our very eyes: “This is what the fans have been waiting for literally for years… a relationship that goes deeper, beyond friendship.” Don Callis added, “Some things can’t have a label put on them … The bond goes deeper than wrestling, deeper than a tag team.”
Okay, so Kenny Omega betrayed his faction (or at least the dude who’s been trying to take his place in it) for love. What now? The next NJPW show is Road to New Beginning on February 5, which you can watch on their streaming service NJPW World. In the meantime, Omega and Co. have provided us with enough information to speculate and have a lot of feelings.
First, his official statement, translated by Cageside Seats, about the incident made me realize that all my relationships are garbage:
“When he came to help me I had a flashback to our time as Golden Lovers. Ibushi’s always been kind of hard to figure out, but I kind of understood something. The real Kenny is always at Kota’s side. I said I wanted to face him, but the truth is what I wanted was to stand in the ring with him.
[I didn’t go to WWE] because I was waiting for him. If we aren’t together, there’s no point. I want us to change the world together. I took the belts with Bullet Club, did a lot, but that was all the job. Golden Lovers transcends wrestling. This is real life. As long as there was a chance for this to happen, I wasn’t going to say goodbye to NJPW.
“I don’t know if he wants what I want. But if he does, we can do something amazing together.”
Ibushi’s statement was similarly enigmatic, if less epic:
We also have episode 90 of Being The Elite, Kenny and the Young Bucks’ web series, entitled “Bullet Club Is Fine.” This gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Omega’s stress leading up to New Beginning in Sapporo and the effects infighting is having on the Biz Cliz. Cody defends his actions backstage after Night 2 and everyone seems convinced. But in the conclusion of the episode, we see Kenny and Ibushi meet the Young Bucks in their hotel room.
So … are they kicking Cody out of Bullet Club? Are The Elite + Ibushi breaking off to form yet another sub-Bullet Club faction? Is this all leading to Cody vs. Omega for Bullet Club leadership? Will the Guerrillas of Destiny get involved? Most importantly, will we get more Golden Showers? The only thing I know for sure is that love is real, and it competes in the NJPW heavyweight division.