She said: “It’s not now or never,
Wait ten years, we’ll be together.”
I said: “It’s better late than never,
Just don’t make me wait forever.”
‘The Less I Know the Better’
Love is a powerful thing. It can give strength and take it away.
Our story today is one of love, of violence, of passion. It’s a long-term story that’s rippling effects opened barriers of representation in pro-wrestling, while also changing what could be possible within this medium.
Ten years. That’s what it took. Two souls on a collision course changed the perception of many facets of the industry. Tag teams garnered more focus, Japanese wrestling was feeling like a bigger deal beyond the shadows cast from WWE, there lay representation within the LGBT community, and there was a story a decade in the making.
In this tale there lies extensive lore and depths of meaning. Rife with drama, heartbreak, comedy, angst and hopeless romanticism, you would be forgiven for not expecting this sort of thing in wrestling. This is a predetermined performance under the guise of sports and competition, yet there lies shades of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen and it is all coated with the very experience of being human.
What I Know
Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have been extremely well-documented in the wrestling space.
I probably don’t even need to explain them individually, but here’s a brief summary in case anyone reading this isn’t privy to their history…
Kenny Omega was a burgeoning talent on the western independent wrestling scene before arriving in Japan’s DDT promotion, eventually joining New Japan Pro-Wrestling before at last bringing legitimacy as a game-changer of wrestling to the still-young AEW.
Kota Ibushi as a wrestler defies explanation. He moves through the squared circle with insane power. His own path to becoming a household name involved honing his craft as a natural athlete and performer. He’s also known for his character being a goofball and living with outpouring emotion. He doesn’t make the best decisions, which makes it easy for enemies to trounce him if he’s not careful enough, and even so, he is still hard to overcome. Don’t underestimate him.
I am aware of the story of the Golden Lovers. It is a tale told countless times by wrestling fans. Two cosmic warriors that are so in sync despite separate backgrounds and motives and abilities. It’s a love story like Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth. It’s compelling and it carries meaning.
In writing Noob Japan, I’ve found my own poetic and detailed way to put anyone, including myself, into a match; I make it so you feel as though you yourself are watching it just by reading. I aim to capture any passion and heart and nuance there is.
Anyone can recite the Golden Lovers story. But here, I will be taking a look at essential matches featuring the pairing as we explore golden love and the highs and lows that go with it.
Kota Ibushi vs Kenny Omega, August 6 2008 (DDT, 2 out of 3 Falls Count Anywhere)
The match starts off like gunfire with both men wrestling around each other, from the top, to the mat, to the mat again. It is clear right off the bat that there’s a sort of magic between Ibushi and Kenny as they approach a stalemate. A minute has barely passed and it’s electric.
This energy continues as the Canadian and the Japanese fly across the ring like slippery spider monkeys, dodging each other all the while. Kenny Omega attempts a Hadouken from Street Fighter (which made me laugh while in shock because I wasn’t used to seeing it from Omega), but Kota Ibushi refuses to take it. No epic gamer hours for Kenny, sadly. Good news is that the DDT crowd is loving Kenny. Elbow strikes are traded to the head by the opponents before they abruptly decide in unison to take the fight outside of the ring.
Already, the chemistry is ever-present as they go nuts. They’re fighting in a parking lot like it’s Applebee’s during happy hour and they’re dads from different towns. I’m straight up grinning at this point as chaos reigns underneath the Japanese moonlight. The crowd has perfect for the time flip-phones, cementing the fact that this was in the 2000s and thus, I am old. There’s no way around it, I am old. Carnage ensues with chairs and vans and Kenny gets the first pin of the match, much to Ibushi’s dissent. Too bad, pal. It already happened.
Ibushi would get retribution after diving off of a vending machine to a table-prone Omega before getting a successful pin himself, tying the two opponents.
The action returns to the ring area, on the ramp and on the stands the audience had previously stood on. Kenny manages a successful Hadouken, but it doesn’t get the pin, and neither did the funky looking suplex he nails, either. After a flurry of offense that would signify the style of Ibushi, Omega is too battered to go on, and Ibushi gets the final pin.
In a bizarre turn of events, they both celebrate and rejoice. The crowds love them and they love each other already. Maybe they have a future as a tag team?
Golden Lovers vs Apollo 55, October 11 2010 (NJPW, Destruction)
Soon after their aforementioned bout, Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi would join forces to become the Golden Lovers, a tag team that would use their chemistry and synchrony to great success and popularity. This popularity led to their appearances in NJPW while still main-stays in DDT, and most notably this led them to face off against the IWGP Junior Tag Team Champions, Apollo 55. Impressive that they had to go through fifty-four versions of Apollo to finally get it right.
Apollo 55, consisting Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) and a younger Ryusuke Taguchi (who looked a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo around this time), were holding the gold and they were no strangers to being goofballs too.
It is so surreal to see Kenny Omega and Prince Devitt around this time, factoring in where they end up later in their careers, most notably with both becoming members of the Bullet Club along their journeys.
Taguchi and Devitt have their own brand of chemistry showcased in this match, most comically when they keep tagging each other in while they have Kenny cornered in their local ring post.
This match has many moments that have since been made into famous clips, such as Kenny’s fame-asser and Ibushi’s always picturesque Phoenix Splash, both on Devitt.
There is a palpable sense of hype and intensity with the crowd as they come unglued and beyond alive. This showcased DDT so well, while further cementing how on-the-same-page the Golden Lovers are. This was also my introduction to their finisher, the Golden Shower, which I sorely wish they hadn’t named as such.
It’s a great match, evident by it winning 2010’s Match of the Year award from Tokyo Sports, a fitting example of their harmonious tag team chemistry.
Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi, August 18 2012 (DDT, Budokan Peter Pan)
The tone for this match is drastically different from the previous two that I’ve watched. It feels more serious, which is apt from what I hear about the KO-D Openweight Championship. I’ve heard rumblings from Golden Lovers fans that this was a significant moment, where shit gets real.
Gone are the silly, action-packed moments that solidified how destined the two were meant for each other as tag team partners, here now is a battle to prove one’s self. Omega and Ibushi showcase how well they’ve grown over the years as partners. They pick up on each other’s tricks.
Within the first five minutes I can’t shake this thought out… Kota Ibushi is holding back. Normally he seems to hold back in his matches in general, but man, it does feel he’s pulling his strikes. It perplexes me, because he could easily power out of Kenny’s strategies. Yet he doesn’t. Maybe that’s just how strong the love is.
The Golden Star absorbs it all, painfully, like a sponge, especially as Kenny works his left arm. Kenny is the vicious one here, as though The Cleaner persona he would later embody had taken over long before the Bullet Club initiation.
Ibushi works mercifully against Omega, but Omega doesn’t reciprocate the favor. He stays resolute in his ruthlessness. Perhaps it is instinct, perhaps he’s had enough, but Ibushi kicks up behind him, staggering Omega. Back and forth, back and forth, both men rain hell upon the other, countering every so often – particularly when Ibushi attempted a moonsault, but Kenny got his knees up just in time.
This is where the match gets nasty.
Violence builds to more violence and the crescendo hasn’t been reached yet. Slaps, slams, chops, all with the force of an enraged animal. DDT’s main event tonight is brutal and intense. There’s more strikes bartered, and Ibushi’s leap off the rope is halted by an upward dropkick by Omega, all for a two-count.
Ibushi unleashes more and more of the inner beast, catching up to Omega. He’s pissed off and he doesn’t want to lose his belt to someone carrying himself as too much of a threat. From simple strikes, to now the most complex, daring, and devastating manoeuvres, Ibushi and Omega raise the temperature. The heat is too hot for Omega, however, as Ibushi sends him skyrocketing out of the ring. Ibushi meets him out there, using his body as a projectile weapon and landing on Omega.
A brief glimpse of love winning over hate takes place in the blink of a second, as Ibushi has Omega by the hair ready to slam his head against the ring… instead he just rolls Omega in. With missile dropkicks, Ibushi sends Omega out on the ramp and continues the assault from there. Omega lies in a dazed stupor, as if he’s processing all of existence at once due to the sheer magnitude of pain inflicted by Ibushi. Psyching himself up, Omega returns to the ring, only to be met with kicks and strikes that tell him he should have stayed down and let himself be counted out. He’s not about that life, however.
Like the one-winged angel he is, Omega flies around, surmounting his rival, diminishing his star any way that he can and there’s little in the way of offense that Ibushi can do, aside from persist. Persist he does, for he kicks out of Omega’s pin at two – the bell does not toll for Ibushi.
Omega stays in control for a while, at least until Ibushi climbs upon a nearby balcony. There is no limit Ibushi will stop at in order to destroy Omega tonight.
Most people would not jump willingly from a balcony with the eagerness that Ibushi does – but he assuredly does, sending Omega into a crumpled mess as he moonsaults several feet from the heavens. Somehow both of these men are able to get up. Clearly they are not normal, mortal human beings. I think everyone knows that. I certainly do.
The men proceed, after all this time, to move in unreal fashion. Somehow Omega finds strength in himself to suplex Ibushi and hold him in a pin, despite it being broken up at two. He’s still coked up on adrenaline, however, and soars across the ring, but Ibushi lariats him back down to earth to the chorus of a hot Japanese crowd, and he returns Omega to the mat with another earth-shattering powerbomb. Ibushi weakly climbs up the nearest turnbuckle, but he’s felled by Omega who then suplexes him off of that same turnbuckle because Ibushi certainly doesn’t need to live, does he? Ibushi kicks out of the resulting pin at two, and even he doesn’t seem to believe it. Me too, pal. Me too.
Omega perches himself on the turnbuckle, but Ibushi is filled with whatever force is possessing him, trapping Omega between his legs and catapulting him out of the ring, a move as death-defying and terrifying as the earlier balcony moonsault. Almost, almost, Omega is counted out. Ibushi in particular looks damn near satanic in his glee, but he is quikcly destroyed by a V-Trigger, and again with a One-Winged Angel.
The inevitable, the trump card, the swan song. The one that ends it all. One, two… Nope. Not this time – this is the only time anyone has ever kicked out of Kenny’s One-Winged Angel.
Kota Ibushi, fuelled by whatever entity possesses him punches a nearby turnbuckle pad and the moment hangs. Ibushi sobs through his hand, choked by the emotions blocking up his throat. So much bravado, so much spectacle, so much intensity, and it comes to this. We are at the crescendo. The crowd responds heavily as Ibushi is ensnared in a hold, climbing for his life to gain a rope break.
It’s Omega’s turn to struggle with swallowing his emotions, and I’m sure there are a lot of them at this moment, for there’s a lot of suffering in this match beyond the brutal physicality of it. Emotional pain, wringing every drop of passion and love and hurt from the Golden Lovers.
Ibushi’s fire persists as Omega’s is dwindling down to a sad, pathetic ember. He doesn’t want to lose Ibushi, to feel he’s fallen behind someone he’s been so in-sync with. And sometimes we don’t get that, we don’t get to stay being the strong person that the person we love thinks we are, but it’s up to them to love us anyways.
With a Phoenix Splash, the Golden Star ends the match, the referee counts to three, and confetti falls.
There is no celebration. There is no joy. There’s only broken hearts and two partners, wrestlers, lovers, holding each other in bitter tears. Ibushi retains his KO-D Openweight title, but he feels he has betrayed and hurt he who is closest to him.
And love is not a victory match; it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
Kota Ibushi vs AJ Styles, April 5 2015 (NJPW, Invasion Attack)
“When routine bites hard and ambitions are low
And resentment rides high but emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways, taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again‘
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’
Following the match in Budokan, Kenny and Ibushi wouldn’t speak of what had transpired often. They’d continue as tag team partners until Kenny left for NJPW in 2014 while Ibushi would work full hours on contract for both DDT and NJPW.
Upon Omega’s arrival in he was separate from Ibushi, instead joining the ranks of the villainous Bullet Club. There he’d clean up the junior heavyweight division while under the leadership of AJ Styles. Ibushi largely remained the same.
On this night, Ibushi was set to take on the leader of the group of disrespectful foreigners. However, on the side of defending champion AJ Styles was Kenny Omega.
The bell rings and immediately I can see these men have read each other well, kind of like how I’d read the menu at a Pizza Hut, because let’s be honest – nobody out-Pizzas the Hut.
Ibushi knows there are layers of knowledge and experience in the TNA and ROH veteran, and Styles is keenly aware there lies a monster in Ibushi. Kota does attempt to shove in some offense at first, but AJ is hip to his every move. If he so much as breathes, the Phenomenal One is ready. Styles taunts Ibushi so, toying with him. Why not, when he’s got an army?
Through this match, there are glimpses of Kenny – normally you’d expect a member of the Bullet Club to be loud and boisterous, to be interfering in every single iota of shenanigans and tomfoolery when a referee’s back is turned. Rather though, Omega just stands in the breadth of suboptimal mists as the battle rages on.
If you poke a bear long enough, it will bite. Styles continues to poke Ibushi until his kuma is unleashed, and soon there is level ground, the Golden Star able to stand up to the wily veteran. This is one of those matches you show to someone when you’re introducing them to wrestling, a taste of the beautiful meal that wrestling can be – well, save for the end. After all, context is key.
Almost forty minutes into the match, Styles starts to crumble while Ibushi’s on a tear, nigh unstoppable. Stood high on the top turn buckle, Ibushi prepares to soar and strike gold, and that’s when an instinct strikes Omega. The barrel is loaded and the aim is set; Kenny Omega is up on the ring apron, standing and staring at Ibushi, but he’s paralyzed. He can’t pull the trigger to interfere. He just…can’t.
As Ibushi stares on the top rope back at Omega, they lock eyes. In that moment, the past blows in like an angry whirlwind as the world stops, only for a brief second, until Ibushi shakes his head back into the now. Tragically, Omega’s indecision still does the job.
Pushing away this sudden jolt of emotional pain, Ibushi dives off with a Phoenix Splash onto Styles, but he isn’t there. The now standing Styles catches Ibushi in mid-air and unsheathes his Styles Clash to gain the pin and win the match, thus retaining his IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Kota Ibushi would leave that night, emotional and beat, to start a different journey. As for the Bullet Club, they continued to reign supreme. Styles rejoices with his cohorts that have joined him, but Kenny looks like he’s just done something dirty, his indecision a clear decision against his better judgement.
This is but another pit that love will bring you. There may be a time when someone you think the world of, the person you would be in the arms of, would twist the knife behind your back. There may be a time when you’re the one who does the selfish thing, no matter how much you’d rather not do it, for your own benefit. Bitter is the apple that was pulled from the forbidden tree.
Tetsuya Naito vs Kenny Omega, August 13 2017 (NJPW, G1 Climax 27)
Tetsuya Naito, to me, is a wrestler of a different breed. He’s reckless and crazy in the ring, yet there’s a feeling of calculation and cunning. Naito is able to rile up his opponent and get the best of them: like Bugs Bunny if Bugs Bunny was an asshole. Well, more of an asshole.
The mind games begin before the bell, the way he slowly takes off his fancy clothes, one-by-one, until he’s down to his wrestling gear is more than enough to irk his foes. Sir, how dare you slowly disrobe your high-fashion suit when fisticuffs must be thrown?
But 2017 would prove to be a stepping stone to greatness, and what better way than the 27th G1 Climax? Tetsuya Naito sets his eyes on destiny, with a returning Kota Ibushi to greet him early in the tournament. Naito dispatched Ibushi soundly, disrupting Ibushi’s homecoming as he spammed Destino for the win.
Naito has more reason to be lit up under the premise of fighting Omega, for he had trounced the ungovernable one at the previous year’s G1 Climax, when Kenny finally won the crowd over and became the first foreigner to win the tournament. But would this be Naito’s year?
The purveyor of Tranquillo really has something to prove this time around. Omega has been having a litany of successes already; the winner of the G1 Climax, the leader of Bullet Club, the current IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Champion, and after a couple of world-changing matches where he failed to get the win on Kazuchika Okada, Omega finally defeated his biggest rival the night before.
The competitors forgo the process of familiarization that Naito went through with Ibushi, for they know each other well by now. Omega in particular is wise to the feigned lock-up Naito is prone to do. Watching this match now, after having seen the legendary Omega/Okada series, this fight is underrated in the context of everything. These men leave everything on the table (and on one occasion miss the table entirely), reigning unholy destruction upon one another, callously dismantling without any remorse.
After failed V-Triggers and a ruined One-Winged Angel, Naito ends this match like he did with Ibushi: Destino. Naito definitively wins his second G1 Climax.
Kenny Omega is accompanied to the back by The Young Bucks until the trio sees Ibushi waiting for them with a towel, which he presents to Omega. The Young Bucks halt the cameramen from getting closer and invading personal space for a tender and stinging moment. Words are quietly exchanged beyond our ears, Kenny pushes Ibushi back and tosses the towel aside and walks away.
Clearly, the love Ibushi held was unconditional, even after all this time, even after Omega’s transformation. But how could Omega open up again to someone he hurt? To someone he loved so much? Sometimes that’s one of love’s biggest obstacles – to communicate with the person that means so much to you, that makes your heart swell, that you just can’t ask for help. You can’t talk about what you feel, so you let the poison eat yourself up inside, damaging your emotional and mental being. Omega just walks.
Cody Rhodes vs Kota Ibushi, January 4 2018 (NJPW, Wrestle Kingdom 12)
“Oh say, say, say
Wait, they don’t love you like I love you”
-Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The blade of Brutus flashed in the light, ready to stab Caesar in the back. Though it may be January, but the ides of March are upon Kenny Omega, for fellow Bullet Club member Cody Rhodes aims to strike the heart of his leader where it most hurts.
Wrestle Kingdom 12 was the night that Rhodes would make it clear he meant disrespect and he meant mutiny. Whilst Rhodes was to face Kota Ibushi in the Tokyo Dome, Kenny would be having a historic match against Chris Jericho, unbeknownst to both that this would mark the beginning of a future AEW.
Cody takes note of what other wrestlers do with Ibushi and toys with his mind. Using the tool of love to deconstruct his opponent is sly, whether it’s the use of wife Brandi Rhodes to play possum and publicly displaying his affection towards her, or the way Cody lifts Ibushi up only to betray his trust and send him back down. Cody’s a straight up menace.
Kota is no slouch, however, and he’s definitely not Cody’s bitch. He knows he’s a toy for the American Nightmare. What we get here is a Kota Ibushi match, a strong style match, against a Cody match, evoking the twisting of the American Dream, distorting the Southern style of Dusty Rhodes in such a way that it hands him an advantage over the usual monster that is Ibushi.
Ibushi tries his Kamigoye, his bursts of offense, and at one point even employs the Golden Triangle moonsault, a move once used in tandem with Kenny Omega in their Golden Lovers days. It’s not enough to get the job done, as is the case with Cody’s Cross Rhodes.
This is not a side of Cody I remember seeing before. I missed out on his dark Bullet Club side, just as I missed his Dashing and Undashing phases in WWE. I’d say this feels like a more realistic, gritty version of Stardust, told in such a way that would inform his character further.
What really set the exhausted Ibushi off late in the match, what really was the trigger, was when Cody yelled: “He doesn’t love you like I love you!” It was here where he done fucked up.
Ibushi fought ferociously as he rose from the ashes with a Phoenix Splash, Cody was finally, soundly defeated. But that didn’t stop him.
The next night at NJPW’s New Year Dash!!, both men stood across from the other in a ten-man tag match. Following Cody’s victory in the Bullet Club’s corner he hunted down Ibushi, assaulting him with no refrain, even at the interference of fellow Bullet Club members and Ibushi’s own teammates. It takes a run-in from Kenny Omega to fight off and argue Cody to stop as a battered Ibushi makes an emotional retreat.
So close to a reunion. So close, yet so far.
Jay White vs Kenny Omega, January 28 2018 (NJPW, The New Beginning in Sapporo)
Unfortunately for Kenny Omega, he had other things on his plate to attend to: Switchblade Jay White, a former Young Lion who quickly matured into a hungry lion. A new era was coming as Kenny Omega was set to defend his IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Champsionship against Jay White.
Kenny looks very Abercrombie & Fitch here, while Jay White is Hot Topic. There’s no way around this folks, that’s just how it is. Early in the match, White has Omega where he wants him, cold and calculated, breathing with the Switchblade for about ten to fifteen minutes, all for it to change in a snap. A hurricanrana, followed by a Terminator dive from Omega shifts the tide to his favor for almost the rest of the match.
V-Triggers and dragon suplexes punish the future catalyst of professional wrestling over and over. As if to rub salt in the wound, Kenny boasted that the Kiwi was not on his level. He’s essentially playing with his food at this point – but as love teaches us all, those who hesitate are lost. This could have been solved with a One-Winged Angel, but the feathers were ruffled as Icarus flew too close to the sun.
That’s what is the folly for many a professional wrestler; if you get lost in the bravado, death will take you. Perhaps Kenny felt untouchable, perhaps his mind was on something, or someone else. It matters not. In the final minutes of the match, a snap comeback moves to Jay White’s favor before the Blade Runner delivers the lasting blow.
Defeated and humiliated by his hubris, Omega watches as fellow Bullet Club member Hangman Adam Page calls his shot to face Jay White next, but that isn’t his belt to hand off, it isn’t his call to make. Omega rips it out of Page’s hands and thrusts it upon the man who trounced him.
The Elite confront Kenny for acting so erratically, where calm tones make way for shouting and nudges become shoves. This comes to a head when an injured Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks tries to reason with Kenny, only to be shoved down in blind anger. The remorse washes the rage and confusion as Kenny tries to apologize to everybody.
The Young Bucks leave and the other members pretend it’s all okay, only to turn on Omega and subdue him, ready to strike him in the head with a chair. This is theatre and soap opera at its finest, sucking you in. Though you know Kenny doesn’t mean the things he does, he feels trapped and doesn’t know who to reach out to. When nobody listens and you don’t have the person who helps the universe make sense to you, you’re alone in the dark.
Then, something beautiful happens.
Sprinting down the ramp is Kota Ibushi to make the save. Everyone flees, as a lifeless Kenny finds strength to climb up the ropes. Kota attempts to help, but Kenny shoves him. Might as well, because everyone just leaves, right? No matter what you do or how fucking good you are, they all leave when there are bigger things than you. Kenny turns his back and Kota nearly gives up as he does the same, tears already welling up. And then it happens.
Kota never gave up on Kenny, Kenny gave up on himself and became someone he was never meant to be, something he could never replicate. Streamers fall down, as commentary and fans unite in a heartfelt clamor. The tag team partners hold each other tight, as if all things in existence had faded but them.
I’ve seen the clip of this moment dozens of times, but having gone through the story, even as briefly as I did, this touched me. This is what true love, no matter the type of love, is all about; it’s about being there when someone is broken and lost and helping them back up.
I did not expect this moment to pack such a punch, almost as if my own emotions received a One-Winged Angel. The power in this moment is strong and has so much weight and meaning.
There’s been so many highs and lows in the story that I empathize with everyone (except Ryusuke Taguchi’s Shaggy-looking self). At last they are reunited, and it is bittersweet knowing what the future holds ahead of them at this moment in the story. For now, let’s watch as the confetti falls on them. This isn’t the end, simply a new beginning.
Kenny Omega vs Kota Ibushi, August 11 2018 (NJPW, G1 Climax 28)
It’s the Budokan again for The Golden Lovers, six years after they faced off there, and a decade after they first faced off in general. The stars had aligned to a moment that many would dread – would the stars be diminished by the collision of that twin flame that brightened them? Or would it create a supernova?
The Golden Lovers went on a tag team spree, playing all of their greatest hits, and having a great time doing so. Both were in-sync as though they had never been apart in the first place.
Omega has recently defeated Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and rekindled his friendship with The Young Bucks, all with Ibushi by his side, like a guardian angel – but not for long.
The tone changes on this night, different from their tag matches, singles matches, and previous matches against one another. There’s a sense of dread, but understanding. It was clear what they had to do.
After everything they had gone through, this wasn’t funny like their first match, nor was it as haunting as their second match. This was laced with emotion.
When you’ve loved someone for long enough, you tend to see all their features – strengths and weaknesses, and you feel like you know them like the back of your hand. That’s this match in a nutshell.
Those matches against one another or alongside one another have informed them of every step they take. As a result, this isn’t a usual Kenny match where he overcomes the odds and proves why he’s a great wrestler. This isn’t one of those Ibushi matches where he fights like an explosive burst of energy that breaks everything in his midst.
This match was opponents knowing where to be at the right time and ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Almost everything in their arsenals proves fruitless, but that doesn’t stop them from putting their bodies on the line. Nobody breaks themselves over concrete or balconies, but through the sheer force of themselves. So much so that even the Young Bucks that had accompanied them in the meantime were even begging them to take it easy on each other.
In the end, Kota wins against Omega like he’s always meant to, and he does it with a Kamigoye. He gets the pin, but doesn’t move from his partner’s body. He still holds him close, clinging to that tender feeling of pressing your ear to your partner’s chest and listening to the soundtrack of their heartbeat.
The belt is still Kenny’s and Ibushi moves on to the finals. All is well, both men laid it out on the line. If this were to be the end of their story, that would be alright. In the end, the better man won. But as it stands, it’s unclear if they’ll cross paths again at all.
The Forbidden Door and Hidden Secrets
The exodus of The Elite to form AEW was one that would see bittersweet moments being made, mostly on Kenny’s side. He’d been living a Japanese life and a wrestler’s life in Japan, but at Wrestle Kingdom 13, he’d wrestled his last match in the company as he lost the IWGP title to Hiroshi Tanahashi – the first match by the Ace I had ever seen, but have since forgotten.
The aim of the Golden Lovers was to ‘Change the World’, but that didn’t mean together, it seemed. Though Omega wanted to bring Ibushi with him, he didn’t want to sacrifice all which Kota still had left to do. So Kenny stayed the course in AEW, struggling to be the star he was until becoming AEW Tag Team Champions with Elite member “Hangman” Adam Page in a story that mirrored Omega’s own with Ibushi, before later becoming the Belt Collector once he ditched Page.
Omega has since lost his titles, most recently the AEW World Heavyweight Championship to Page and has been recuperating his broken body.
Back in the Eastern Hemisphere, Ibushi would win the G1 Climax in 2019 and again in 2020. He would later go on to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championships, eventually combining them into the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Controversy would arise from this, as the IC belt held weight and significance, especially thanks to Shinsuke Nakamuara many years ago.
Just as injuries had plague Omega since 2018, Ibushi was the same way, and so much of what he was going through and seeing what the rest of the industry was going through behind closed doors, The Golden Star would bring dark things to light, changing how we see the inner machinations in the cerulean blue. It’s unclear how or when Kota Ibushi could come back, if ever. That’s up to him, and this is no piece of speculation, just where the story of the Golden Lovers is at this point.
The Forbidden Door was opened on June 26, 2022, but neither would step through it, for their aforementioned reasons.
But they did indeed change the world.
I do not know the world of LGBT+ people. All I know I have learned from them, but their experience is their own. I do know that this story resonates with some of them. Young or old, many on the spectrum have found their voice and life resonating with the Golden Lovers, and they dealt with the highs and lows to finally be dealt that hand, that of a good ending.
This story was in the midst of so many things developing in wrestling. All-In, Okada/Omega, the Bullet Club Civil War, and the beginning of Jay White’s rise stems from here. With a decade-long storyline the Golden Lovers helped change how tag team wrestling was perceived, bringing more eyes to puroresu, and how LGBT+ characters in wrestling were represented. They were in the background, pushing the big moments in the foreground, until it was time for the payoff. That’s incredible.
My Thoughts and Feelings
I came in with high expectations and their story surpassed them. The silly match that they met in, the pain of Budokan, the tag-team synchrony and the rising motions due to The Cleaner makes this story so powerful. I didn’t expect for the climax of the story to hit me so hard, like sixteen tons of cinder blocks.
This is the beauty of storytelling, and the beauty of professional wrestling. We live and age like these wrestlers, but they get to tell tales unique to their craft and we get to be along for the ride. The hard work they put in is our investment well-paid.
Long-running stories, planned or not, have such weight in the world of wrestling, where meaning is made through patience. So much can be said through time itself.
This one, it did its job as a cornerstone of modern wrestling. It is a lesson too, that in love, patience is required and you’ve got to determine who and what is worth waiting for. What you’re willing to live with and put up with, when you want and need something. When you know if you both are willing to walk through fire with them to pull them from the flames.
You’re not alone. You too, can change the world.