Is Kota Ibushi One of Japan’s Top Draws?
This question comes on the heels of the announcement via this week’s Wrestling Observer that New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Invasion Attack show (April 5) has sold out historic Sumo Hall in advance. Dave Meltzer noted that this is the fasted non-G1 Climax or non-special show (interpromotional) to sell out the arena in more than a decade.
Invasion Attack is headlined by Ibushi (winner of the 2015 New Japan Cup) challenging IWGP Heavyweight Champion and Bullet Club frontman A.J. Styles. The three presumed top draws in New Japan (Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi) are saddled in relatively obscure matches throughout the card:
- Nakamura is teaming with CHAOS stablemates Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI against the triad of Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito and Togi Makabe.
- Tanahashi teams with former rival Katsuyori Shibata to take on Kazushi Sakuraba and the man he’s currently feuding with Toru Yano.
- Okada finds himself in the semi main-event as he looks to get revenge on Bullet Club big man Bad Luck Fale.
It’s safe to say these guys aren’t the draw to Invasion Attack — that distinction goes to Styles and Ibushi. Last week, my colleague Joe Lanza spoke about the significance of this main event and a potential sellout. Now that we know in some form or fashion, April 5 will be a sellout, this becomes a really big deal.
There are a few things we need to clarify here as far as a sellout. Traditionally, a Sumo Hall sellout would be 11,000-11,500, a number New Japan has done countless times over the last 40 years and most recently accomplished October 12, 2009 on the back of Masahiro Chono’s 25th Anniversary Match. That match featured Chono teaming with Keiji Mutoh and Kenta Kobashi taking on the team of Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima and Jun Akiyama. For all intents and purposes, that’s not really a New Japan show.
Forgetting this instance, the last pure 11k for New Japan at Sumo Hall was February 20, 2005 when then-Triple Crown champion and All Japan Pro Wrestling representative Kojima took on Hiroyoshi Tenzan.
The last purely New Japan 11k main event was Kensuke Sasaki vs. Kazuyuki Fujita in October 2004.
At last year’s King of Pro-Wrestling, we saw the first 9,100 sellout when New Japan reconfigured Sumo Hall to accommodate fewer fans by turning the traditional four-seat sumo seats into two-seaters. We still don’t know for sure if this was done purely out of fan comfort, to combat terrible weather conditions that were plaguing the area at the time or just a way to claim a sellout with lower numbers. Either way, New Japan sold every ticket available to see a main event featuring Tanahashi vs. Styles and Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito.
Back to the present, we don’t yet know what a “sellout” means in this case. Is it the 11k+ of year’s past or the 9,100 from last year’s King of Pro Wrestling? Either way, it’s significant.
Even if we account for 9,100 as a sellout, the same examples as 11k apply. NJPW got close with King of Pro-Wrestling 2013 (Okada vs. Tanahashi) but that 9,000 came with the old 11,500 setup, not a sellout.
This graph shows New Japan’s Sumo Hall attendance numbers since 1990. The red plots are sellouts (above 9,100 last year and this year — we’ll assume its the same setup as last year).
Ibushi’s resume gets boosted by his tremendous drawing ability as a member of the DDT promotion. Though many laugh at DDT’s outlandishness (see: Ibushi having a 5* match with a doll) from afar, they draw pretty damn well. Their yearly August Sumo Hall show has done quite well in the last few years drawing: 8,865, 8,600, 6,000, 6,500 and finally last year a 9,100 sellout with Harashima/Omega/Kodaka, Tanahashi vs. Takeshita and Ibushi vs. Kondo.
Another feather in Ibushi’s cap is the 2012 Nippon Budokan main event alongside Kenny Omega (again for the DDT promotion).
With Ibushi in a top match (as defined by ProWrestlingHistory.com), he draws an average of 8,038 people to Sumo Hall.
I looked at Okada, Tanahashi and Nakamura’s numbers over the last 10 years to see where they came in as Sumo Hall draws and guess what? Ibushi beats them.
Okada comes in a close second with 8,008, Tanahashi is below him at 7,209 and the low man is Nakamura with just 6,500.
It should also be noted that A.J. Styles deserves some credit. His first two Sumo Hall draws have been sellouts. It will be interesting to see once we get a larger data set whether this is purely circumstance or if Styles is a draw. It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t give him some credit.
I wasn’t happy with simply looking at Sumo Hall, so I decided to do an average of all stadium shows (Sumo, Budokan and Tokyo Dome) over the last five years to see if Ibushi still stands out.
Ibushi is definitely a step behind the others in this method, but much of that is a result of multiple Tokyo Dome top matches for the other three and only one for Ibushi. Still, he draws an average of 12,212 people for all stadium shows below Nakamura (tops at 20,250), Okada (16,571) and Tanahashi (15,741).
Going one step further, I decided to standardize all New Japan and DDT attendance numbers over the last 10 years in Sumo Hall, Budokan Hall and the Tokyo Dome to see if we can make it a little more fair for Ibushi. After all, those others have had opportunities he hasn’t had yet in bigger stadiums.
Ibushi moves up a bit after standardization (0.90), but he is still well below our high-man Okada (4.42), Tanahashi (3.64). Conversely, he’s well above Nakamura (-0.50).
Ibushi isn’t quite at the level of Okada or Tanahashi have been at over the last 10 years, but momentum is absolutely on his side. This year alone, Ibushi has helped generate the highest Tokyo Dome attendance (36,000) since 2005 and now has the distinction of being atop a Sumo Hall card that sold out quicker than any in the last decade.
If we come to find out that Ibushi/Styles sold the old standard 11,500 at Sumo Hall, the competition may be over — Kota Ibushi would be the dominant draw moving forward in Japan.
Attendance Info via ProWrestlingHistory.com EventInfo Spreadsheet: http://www.prowrestlinghistory.com/supercards/eventinfo.xls