Skip to main content

31 Days of Wrestling (12/26/17): Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata (Sakura Genesis)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where 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 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 2017 produced for us.

Today, we look back at the match that made and (possibly) ended the career of The Wrestler, Katsuyori Shibata.

IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada’s record-breaking title reign was no walk in the park. His matches against Kenny Omega for the title may have given him much more global recognition, but little do other wrestling fans know that aside from his barnburners with Omega, Okada’s defenses actually produced a lot of classics, particularly his Sakura Genesis match against the Kyoken—rabid dog—Katsuyori Shibata.

Shibata is NJPW's prodigal son. He, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Shinsuke Nakamura were seen to lead New Japan Pro Wrestling’s New Generation in the early 2000s, until he left to pursue a career in MMA. Now that he returned and regained the trust and respect of the locker room, he was put in the position as a viable contender to NJPW’s top gold. Shibata challenged Okada for the title after winning the New Japan Cup, having gone through Minoru Suzuki, Juice Robinson, Tomohiro Ishii, and Bad Luck Fale.

Watching this match made me wince in pain. No-nonsense wrestler Shibata was stiffing out on the flashy Okada as soon as the bell rang, with forearms and kicks so vicious they echoed throughout Ryogoku Sumo Hall.



The cocky champion, knowing that he couldn't out-wrestle The Wrestler, resorted to underhanded tactics in order to be a step ahead. He refused to have clean breaks and recognize Shibata’s rope breaks.

At one point in the match, Okada was able to deliver a Rainmaker on Shibata after a series of kicks. Shibata wasn’t fazed though, and he delivered a headbutt that was surely heard around the world, busting him open. Really, you should watch the match to hear the thud of two skulls bumping against each other.


It looked like Shibata was about to take the gold away from around Okada’s waist because, as Kevin Kelly pointed out in commentary, Shibata wrestled a perfect match. But there was just no escape from Okada’s Rainmaker.

But it's the post-match events that truly had the wrestling world talking.

Following the pulverizing encounter, Shibata collapsed backstage and was rushed to the hospital. It was later learned that he had suffered a subdural hematoma, a life-threatening injury that needed emergency surgery. The injury, which was caused by a combination of his stiff headbutts and dehydration, also paralyzed the right side of his body.

Following the updates on Shibata’s injury on social media was disheartening for his fans and followers of the product. While he'd update everyone on his feats on his road to recovery, his chances of getting back inside the squared circle seemed to get slimmer as days passed.

But on the day of G1 Climax Finals, Shibata made a very brief return to the New Japan ring and told everyone that he is "alive," to the delight of the crying, emotional fans.


It was a bummer that the match that earned Shibata's stamp of approval from the fans and everyone in New Japan possibly also marked the untimely end of his career, leaving all of us basking in our what ifs.

But on a wider scale of things, this only goes to show the risks that these men and women will take for our entertainment. Shibata's school of wrestling thought may clash with others, but the hazards are just the same.

Whether The Wrestler makes a comeback inside a wrestling ring or not, I'm just glad that he survived.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2017.

Read our previous entries:

1. The Okada/Omega Trilogy
2. Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 33)
3. The Mae Young Classic Finals
4. Billy Suede vs. Jake De Leon (Wrevolution X 2017)
5. WarGames
6. Prince Puma vs. Pentagon Dark (Ultima Lucha Tres)
7. Fatal Four Way for the WWE Universal Championship (SummerSlam)
8. Manami Toyota's Retirement
9. Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE Championship
10. Roman Reigns Tries To Take The Torch (No Mercy 2017)
11. Hanzello Shilva vs. Aldrin Richards (MWF Balikbayan 2017)
12. Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega (G1 Climax 27 Finals)
13. The Implosion of #DIY
14. Ubusan ng Lahi (PWR Vendetta 2017)
15. The First (and Second) Women's Money in the Bank
16. Cody Rhodes Wins the Ring of Honor World Championship
17. The Beginning of the Zo Train Era
18. Killshot vs. Dante Fox, Hell Of War (Ultima Lucha Tres)
19. The 16-Time Champ is Here
20. Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii, G1 Special
21. Kurt Angle Joins The Shield for the TLC Main Event
22. Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne, NXT Takeover: Chicago
23. The Festival of Friendship
24. Christopher Daniels Wins His First World Title (At 47)
25. Shinsuke Nakamura meets John Cena

Comments

Trending This Week

Ladykiller 101: The Business of Seduction

How To Make A Basic Lucha Face Mask

"Survivor" Series: What Are People From Slamtown Called?

#FinisherFriday: Sixth Move of... Doom?

#SGQ: The New NXT UK Titles