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31 Days of Wrestling (12/17/16): Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight Championship, Wrestle Kingdom 10

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.

Today, we look back at one of the most hard-hitting bouts ever—one that could make even the most hardened smarks cringe at all the pain dealt out throughout the match.


It says a lot about an entire card when three of its matches end up on a list of the top matches of the year. That is a testament to how much New Japan Pro Wrestling and its talents have flourished and how they continue to grow in this pro wrestling landscape. We live in a world where more and more wrestling fans get excited for January 4, regardless of what day it falls on, because of the mere fact that Wrestle Kingdom will be on. What a time to be alive.



When Shibata vs. Ishii was first announced, many fans already expected that both competitors would not hold back in delivering the stiffest match humanly possible. What we got was something that could very well turn casuals into New Japan, or at least Strong Style, fans because of how it changed the way you looked at wrestling.

With every stiff kick, hard headbutt, and loud slap, watching it felt like a validation to every asshole who ever told you that wrestling was just playfighting. In fact, this match had everything you could need to tell a hater to go fuck himself. There was a story, there were stakes on the line, and you could tell that these two dudes were literally killing each other to put on a match for the ages.


Ultimately, the Shibata/Ishii bout at Wrestle Kingdom 10 is significant in the sense that NJPW has officially seen these two talented stars as true key players in the grander scheme of things. When you look at where these two came from—Ishii having to play the sidekick role for many years and Shibata having to earn the trust of the NJPW faithful after his much-publicized split in the 2000's—it is good to know that the cream will always rise to top when you persevere and work hard enough.

True enough, these two would play a huge role in keeping NJPW afloat in the post-talent raid era (read: 2016), with Shibata officially signing with the company after years of being a freelancer. One thing is for sure: Ishii and Shibata both symbolize the mantra that if you keep at it, you will eventually be rewarded in a big way. And ultimately, these are the meta stories we wrestling fans get behind because they give us hope that maybe life can imitate art after all.

*****

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

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