Wrestling isn’t fake, it’s fixed. Wrestlers are supposed to work together to make matches as safe as they can be, but no matter how safe you are you’re still going to get banged up when you fall and dive off stuff for a living. The goal is removing as much risk as possible while still making it look real.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to be. For some reason, Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito seem intent on breaking at least one of their necks whenever they face off. Every recent match between the two has had unnecessarily dangerous bumps focused on the head and neck, but their match at this weekend’s Dominion show took it to a new extreme.
Here’s a GIF from today’s show. It’s legitimately hard to watch, so be warned. If you don’t like seeing people’s heads bend at unnatural angles while attempting something utterly ridiculous in or around a wrestling ring, you’ll probably want to just scroll down as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to tell what they were even attempting to do there. Presumably it was supposed to be a German suplex on the ring apron. That’s a high-risk move, with a small margin of error for a safe landing. If this was supposed to be a German, then it looks like one of them messed up the launch angle, dropping Ibushi too high and also too far from the actual apron. Instead of hitting the apron with his back, he hit the edge with his head, which then buckled at a frightening angle while his body fell to the floor.
If this wasn’t supposed to be a German, then they went out there planning to spike Ibushi on his head. That sounds ridiculous, but considering how this keeps happening in their matches, it seems hard to believe it’s always an accident. And if it was intentional, New Japan needs to send their entire roster a message and punish both of these guys for trying something so dangerous. And if New Japan knew an intentional spot like this was planned for one of its matches, and didn’t do anything to prevent it from happening, well, that’d be pretty disgusting.
Kota Ibushi isn’t as young as he looks. He’s 37. He’s actually older than Naito. He’s an amazing performer, one of the best athletes in wrestling, and is more than capable of having a fantastic match without these kinds of bumps. He needs to be working smarter and stop either trying spots like this or putting himself in positions for such egregious botches (and again, something like this happens almost every time these two wrestle, and there were other bumps in this match that looked almost as bad). He’s over a decade older than Will Ospreay, but Ibushi could still learn something from him; after years of taking extremely risky head and neck bumps, Ospreay has been working a safer style over the last few months without losing any of his speed, excitement or athleticism.
Nobody wants to see Kota Ibushi become the next Hiromu Takahashi, who broke his neck almost a year ago and hasn’t wrestled a match since. Katsuyori Shibata made an appearance on Dominion today, and he should be a warning to everybody on the New Japan roster: his career came to an abrupt end two years ago when he suffered a subdural hematoma after legitimately headbutting Kazuchika Okada. No fan wants to see anybody become the next Shibata or Hiromu, but with bumps like the one that happened today, Ibushi almost seems like he’s trying to become exactly that.
Ibushi is one of the best and most charismatic wrestlers in the world today, and yet I hate to watch his matches because I don’t want to see a man die in a wrestling ring. Since Ibushi and Naito have proven they won’t try to protect themselves, or moderate their styles when they face each other, it’s New Japan’s obligation to make sure they cut out these pointless risks. New Japan’s reputation has already been sullied by Shibata almost battering himself to death in the middle of the ring; if Ibushi and Naito refuse to work safely, the results could be lethal both to them and to New Japan’s popularity outside Japan.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.