Katsuyori Shibata: former pro wrestler, former MMA fighter, and current NJPW LA Dojo trainer. One of the hardest-hitters to step into a New Japan ring, Shibata managed to rack up an impressive run of fantastic bouts before his career was tragically cut short. Let’s look at some of his best work against ten of his greatest opponents. As with all of my best matches lists, only one match against each wrestler can be considered for ranking. With that being said, these are the Top 10 Katsuyori Shibata Matches.
10. W/ KENTA vs Takeshi Morishima and Muhammad Yone – Pro Wrestling NOAH 3rd Great Voyage 2005
Standing across the ring from Katsuyori Shibata or KENTA individually is terrifying enough as it is, but standing across the ring from both of them at once would make anyone want to run a mile the other way. Two cocky, hard as nails strikers on the same team taking liberties against their opponents. The pairing absolutely destroyed Yone throughout the match until the dominating Morishima rushed in and pulverised them both, with an exciting finishing stretch to see which team could get the upper hand first. It’s simple but it’s brilliant.
9. Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NJPW G1 Climax 2014
What I love about this match is that it started out with such good intentions. Both men intended to keep it clean out of respect for the other’s ability. They attempted to keep it a clean, technical, mat-based affair for the first five or so minutes, that is until Nakamura disrespected Shibata with a taunt, and it went all out the window from there. Shibata brought the intensity straight to Nakamura, with The King of Strong Style responding in similar fashion, leading to one hell of an ending to a great match.
8. Vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – NJPW Destruction in Kobe 2014
Katsuyori Shibata unleashed a side of Tanashi rarely seen in this match. Gone was his cool confidence, replaced by a barrage of savage striking and a constant pace of punishment. Arguably the stiffest match of Tanahashi’s career, the two men ended the long-running rivalry they had at the time with a frantic brawl of a match. Tanahashi targeted the legs, while Shibata targeted… everything.
It was the culmination of a relationship established during their days as young lions. As a stand alone match, it’s not Shibata’s greatest, but for those that were along for the ride at the time, the story they told ended in superb fashion with this intense fight.
7. Vs. Tetsuya Naito – NJPW G1 Climax 2016
Two completely different styles collided in this G1 Climax match with fantastic results. From the very start, it was clear Shibata was not a fan of Naito’s tranquilo ways as he ragdolled him around the outside of the ring, launching him into barricades. In response, Naito kept his trademark brand of cockiness to further taunt his foe. Naito actually managed to gain the advantage for most of the match whilst mocking The Wrestler, with Shibata fighting back to end the mockery. An overlooked great from both men’s careers.
6. Vs. Yuji Nagata – NJPW Dominion 2016
If you’re a newer fan of New Japan, and you’re not really aware of what Yuji Nagata can do in the ring outside of show-opening six-man tag matches, watch this. Watch any match these two had. It was a back-and-forth exhibition of just how hard each man could hit, with each refusing to go down from the battering they were experiencing. It was the old guard fighting the next big main-eventer, and it was brilliant.
5. Vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW G1 Climax 2015
Dear god these two men hit hard. This match was basically one big contest to see who could bludgeon the other man with the most force. It wasn’t complex whatsoever but it is satisfying in its simplicity. My favourite moment from the brawl is without question when Shibata was getting hammered by the strikes of Ibushi. Appearing dazed and absorbing a barrage of attacks, Shibata suddenly caught Ibushi’s leg and hit a lighting fast slap to the face, before quickly locking in a sleeper for the win. The speed in which Shibata managed to completely change the momentum in his favor is evidence of just how great of a fighter that man was.
4. Vs. Hirooki Goto – NJPW Dominion 2013
As is the case with most Katsuyori Shibata matches, this was simply just two men beating the absolute crap out of each other in the most entertaining of ways. Hirooki Goto was one of Shibata’s greatest opponents during his career, battling several times over the NEVER Openweight Championship, but for me, this is their greatest battle of all. Shibata and Goto traded the stiffest of strikes from bell to bell, with one slapping battle being particularly great to watch.
The most aggressive you will ever see Hirooki Goto is when he was in the ring with Katsuyori Shibata. If you want to see two masters of strong style attempt to push the other to the brink of death in order to win a match, give this one a watch.
3. Vs. Kyle O’Reilly – NJPW King of Pro Wrestling 2016
Two men that were made to fight each other. Their styles blended together to conjure up MMA-inspired brawls that are a treat for the eye. Their final encounter together was arguably their best thanks to some outstanding mat wrestling, a ferocious slugfest, and a sense of urgency throughout, capped off with a fantastic ending that managed to make both men look all the better for it.
2. Vs. Kazuchika Okada – Sakura Genesis 2017
Some people consider this to be Shibata’s greatest outing, and perhaps even one of the best matches in NJPW’s history… it’s just a shame it would ultimately end up being his last.
For those that don’t know, Katsuyori Shibata wasn’t always the most popular member of the New Japan locker room. Way back in 1999, Shibata started his pro wrestling career with NJPW as a young lion in their dojo. From early on, it was clear the company held Shibata in high regard, branding him as one of the “New Three Musketeers” along with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Shibata spent the next several years continuously improving in the ring thanks to the opportunities thrown his way. By 2004, he was competing in IWGP Heavyweight Championship matches, and the G1 Climax tournament. Now, this period was not an affluent one for New Japan Pro Wrestling, in fact it’s commonly referred to as The Dark Ages of NJPW. Business was down, Antonio Inoki was driving away fans and performers with his ideologies, New Japan was on the cusp of bankrupcy: and that’s when Katsuyori Shibata left.
By 2005, this second generation NJPW star, and product of the young lion system, was gone, off to compete for rival companies such as Pro Wrestling NOAH. In 2007, Shibata left pro wrestling entirely to focus on his MMA career, taking a five year hiatus from the squared circle. During Shibata’s career change, there was also a pretty significant change in New Japan Pro Wrestling too.
Ever wondered why Hiroshi Tanahashi is so revered in New Japan, and referred to as The Saviour? Well, he pretty much saved the company by himself. The changing of New Japan’s whole attitude and how it operated coincided with Tanahashi’s rise to prominence. Whilst others like Shinsuke Nakamura held on to the idea that they had to be a traditional, non-eccentric performer like those that came before him, Tanahashi embraced theatrics and character, and the fans ate it up.
Other talents followed suit, and in time, New Japan became popular again. Fast-forward to the second half of 2012, and Katsuyori Shibata makes a shock return to the company along with MMA legend, Kazushi Sakuraba. So here you have a rookie built from the ground up, given all the opportunities you could want as a young wrestler, who then decided to desert the company when times were bad, and came walking back in once business was good again. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with a lot of people.
From this point on, Shibata had to prove to everyone how dedicated he truly was to New Japan. It took a long time, but thanks to several incredible, hard-hitting performances inside the ring, Shibata proved himself worthy again. In 2017, this culminated in him winning the New Japan Cup, and earning his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship match since 2004.
And this is the match that came from it. An epic, 38 minute brawl fuelled by desperation and aggression. Neither man dared show any sign of weakness as they absorbed a torrent of blows. It was an incredible main-event that instantly captured the attention of critics everuwhere – it was truly special, and may just be the greatest match of Katsuyori Shibata… or it would be if it wasn’t for one detail.
Towards the end of the match, Shibata was hit by Okada’s greatest weapon, The Rainmaker lariat, yet Shibata remained on his feet, and responded with possibly the stiffest headbutt in pro wrestling history. According to those in attendance, the sound was compared to that of a baseball bat. It was loud enough to make you physically sick. Immediately, blood started trickling down Shibata’s own head; he had collided skulls with Okada so hard that he had split himself open, a spot he had done in the past. Yet this time, it would be his last.
Once the match was over, Shibata was rushed to hospital, with rumours of paralysis and seizures. The injury to his brain would keep him hospitalised for months, and ended his career on that very night. His four and a half year fight to get back to the top of the card lead to that one match, and ended for good with it too. It’s somewhat poetic how a match he’d spent years clawing to get would cap off his career, yet absolutely tragic at the same time.
As a standalone match, this may just be Shibata’s masterpiece, but thanks to that one headbutt, I can’t rank it as the best. Just knowing the amount of damage that one move caused to his brain makes me squirm in discomfort. It’s a work of art and a car crash simultaneously. Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata is the greatest match I have ever seen that I will never be able to bring myself to watch again.
W/ Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada and Kazushi Sakuraba – NJPW Power Struggle 2015
Vs. Satoshi Kojima – NJPW Road to Invasion Attack 2016
Vs. Kazushi Sakuraba – NJPW Dominion 2015
Vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW New Beginning in Osaka 2017
Vs. Tomoaki Honma – NJPW G1 Climax 2014
Vs. Go Shiozaki – Pro Wrestling NOAH Great Voyage 2016
Vs. Matt Riddle – RevPro High Stakes 2017
Vs. Shelton Benjamin – G1 Climax 2014
Vs. Kota Ibushi – G1 Climax 2015
- Vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 2013
Got a friend that always bugs you by talking about how ‘fake’ pro wrestling is? Show them this barrage of pain.
The bell rings, both men run at each other, and the chaos begins. This is not a wrestling match, it’s a straight up fight. Limbs fly, boots collide with faces, and every step of the way both men are openly inviting the other to inflict more punishment. The first three minutes of this bout are some of the wildest opening moments I have ever seen, and the closing sequence sends the crowd into insanity. It’s not even thirteen minutes long, and is easily a contender for shortest five-star match of all time, but clearly Ishii and Shibata didn’t need any more time to craft a classic.
The G1 Climax in 2013 was Shibata’s first really big spotlight to prove to both NJPW fans and personnel that he was committed to the company, and willing to put on a great show. It’s fair to say, he knocked plenty of those doubts loose after this one. Ishii would ultimately be Shibata’s greatest opponent as they stood toe-to-toe multiple times in spectacular wars, but their 2013 quick burst of a brawl will always be my favourite, as well as my favourite ever Katsuyori Shibata match overall.
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