Katsuyori Shibata: The Wrestler!

The great Bret Hart once said “pro wrestling is an art form. I take great pride in making my stuff look as realistic as possible without actually hurting anyone.” Katsuyori Shibata then said, “Hold my beer!”

Ok so Shibata didn’t really say that but it’s a fun visual. Katsuyori Shibata works stiff! Like really stiff, he isn’t trying to hurt his opponent though, its just the Japanese style he was taught back in the New Japan Dojo back in the late 90s. it helps that he is a legit marshal artist and a double tough S.O.B to boot. But who is Katsuyori Shibata and why should you care? Well dear reader I am about to enlighten you, so clinch your jaw, tape your fists and knuckle up as I’m about to give it to you Stiff! (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

The back story:
Shibata made his NJPW debut in October of 1999 along with fellow rookies from the dojo Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura. New Japan saw something in these three men straight away and began promoting them as “the new three musketeers” taking the place of the Japanese legends Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto. The New Japan office had big plans for the rookies as they believed they would bring the company into the new millennium with a more exciting and realistic style. KS began his career in the junior heavyweight division before moving up to heavyweight in 2003 working primarily in the tag division until he entered the G1 tournament of the same year placing 3rd. Shibata got a world title shot against then champion Kazuyuki Fujita losing by knockout. That’s right NJPW wanted to protect their prodigy and didn’t want to have him pinned or submitted so booked a KO finish for his first world title bout. the following year in the G1 Shibata won his block but lost in the semi finals and come January 2005 he left the company to work as a freelancer and compete in MMA.

First return and eventual retirement:
Katsuyori Shibata made his triumphant return to New Japan in August 2012 alongside MMA royalty Kazushi Sakuraba as they teamed together to rip through the tag division naming their team Laughter7. Over the next few years Shibata had wars with the likes of Togi Makabi, Hirooki Goto and Shinsuke Nakamura but it was his match…no, bout….no, fight! With Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestle kingdom 10 in 2016 that caught my attention and made me a massive fan of Shibata’s. the only way I can describe this contest would be a co-operative fight, there wasn’t many working punches thrown if any in this battle. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you go watch it now, I’ll wait. RIGHT??? How nuts is it? Who in their right mind head butts another human being on the forehead in a predetermined wrestling match? It is beautiful in its brutality and marked the first singles title Shibata captured in the company winning the NEVER openweight title. KS continued to have a stella 16 months in NJPW climbing the ranks and gaining more and more popularity, he was on the cusp of greatness and then disaster struck. Challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on 6th April at Sakura Genesis 2017, this match was going to showcase Shibata as a main event player for years to come but during the match KS used one of his signature headbutts which instantly caused a cut in his own forehead. Katsuyori Finished the match but immediately after you could see his right-side dangling and he had trouble walking to the back. Once in the back he collapsed, a combination of severe dehydration and repeated use of the headbutt cased a subdural hematoma (a bleed on the brain) and temporary paralysis of his right side. Shibata was rushed in for emergency surgery to save his life, his Career was over.
New Japan signed Shibata to a full-time coach’s contract where he was the head coach in the New Japan LA dojo while also continuing to make sporadic appearances for the company.

The Comeback:
Showing the fighting spirit that made him so popular, Shibata announced his return to the squared circle in an exhibition bout against Zack Sabre Jnr at the G1 climax final of October 2021. The bout went to a five-minute draw, and you could see the fire behind Shibata’s eyes, he wanted to compete for real and expressed as much on the microphone as he said he would compete at wrestle kingdom of the next year. KS ended up facing NJPW young boy and up and coming star Ren Narita in a competitive back and forth match. Shibata also competed for AEW in a match against the man he saved from a beat down at the Forbidden Door PPV Orange Cassidy on a recent episode of Rampage. The match showed that Shibata has a lot left in the tank and while he has kept his hard-hitting style, he seems to have gotten rid of the headbutts from his arsenal.

A difference of opinion:

There is an argument to be made that Shibata’s style isn’t what pro wrestling should be and that argument does hold a small amount of merit, but we have to remember that there are all sorts of pro wrestling styles all around the world. Mexico is known for the pretty, high flying lucha libre style, Europe is known for their ground-based catch wrestling with very tight submissions, America is more entertainment based and focuses heavily on storytelling, and Japan presents their pro wrestling as more of a legit sport, strong style if you will. Is it the best idea for a long injury free career? Absolutely not but on the flip side the Japanese schedule is nowhere near as demanding as the American schedule so they can afford to take bigger risk with their body for our viewing pleasure.

Strong style is not for everyone, but the sound of a viscous chop to the chest, the slap of shin bone punting an opponents back and sternum and the stiff forearm shot to the side of the face, watching the sweat fly while hearing the competitors grunt and yell at each other in a language I don’t understand has totally captured my imagination. If you give it a chance I bet it will do the same to you too.

Author: Richard Othen

Photo Credit: AEW

Published by One Stop Wrestling

Wrestling fan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: