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31 Days of Wrestling (12/24/16): Chris Hero vs. Katsuyori Shibata, RPW/NJPW Global Wars

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

For Christmas Eve, we're giving you two of the best and stiffest strikers alive today.


This match is the main event of the second of two back-to-back evenings in the UK for both Rev Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling's own Global Wars event last month (not to be confused with the ROH/NJPW Global Wars event back in May). And it's secretly also a battle between two older men continually fighting to prove that they've still got something to offer to the pro wrestling world.

At one corner, you have Katsuyori Shibata. Part of the NJPW generation that produced both Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, Shibata is the prodigal son of that group, leaving NJPW for MMA and coming back in 2012. Since then, he's been fighting and clawing his way back to the top, never quite reaching the same singles success as his two more heralded peers until he finally won the NEVER Openweight Championship from Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom 10. The night before this match, he won the RPW British Heavyweight Championship from Zack Sabre, Jr, his only other career singles championship.

As for Chris Hero, we all know his story. This is a man who's been and gone to WWE, as part of the indy generation of NXT that also brought us luminaries such as Cesaro, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Neville. Since he left, he's been hit hard by what seems to be an unfair bout of uncontrollable weight gain, leading many to write him off as a fatass. While he's definitely heavier than he was when we last saw him, Hero has been working his ass off in the independents, perhaps to prove that his looks aren't everything, that he can still wrestle as well as he always has—especially now that there are new rumors of NXT looking to sign him back.




Now the thing with these overseas, cross-promotion matches is that when one outsider wins a home title, there's a reasonable expectation to be made that he could drop the championship pretty quickly. There would have been every reason for Shibata to drop the title to Hero one night after winning it, and it wouldn't have been a bad thing considering Hero was a fine match for him.

But that wouldn't be the case for Global Wars. Unlike Shibata's previous matches with Zack Sabre, Jr., there was relatively less technical finesse involved in this bout. Both men preferred to stiff the fuck out of each other with their trademark elbows, forearms, and kicks to the face and upper body. It was a straight up display of shooting expertise, and at the end of the match, Hero found out that you couldn't outshoot a shooter. Shibata won with his patented sleeper hold-to-Penalty Kick combo, guaranteeing that he's got continued obligations in England as their British Heavyweight Champion.

With such a relatively prominent position in the indy wrestling scene, Shibata could very well use this momentum to launch himself into a better opportunity in NJPW next year. That is, if he absolutely wants to. If he does, we'll be watching excitedly, as Shibata is one of the more underrated wrestlers of the #2 company in the world—he's more substance than style, but his no-nonsense attitude could earn him more fans and support the same way Chris Benoit's did.

Meanwhile, if it really is true that Hero is going for NXT again, then this is yet another match that he can add to his impressive latter-run resume. Size and looks no longer matter as much as ability does, especially if the recent signing of Big Damo from the UK is also an indication. Hero would still have an uphill battle, but since he can easily show that his appearance is no factor to his conditioning, he shouldn't have a big problem.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

Read our previous entries:



#9: American Alpha vs. The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championships, NXT TakeOver: Dallas

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