Kazuchika Okada (C) vs Katsuyori Shibata
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
April 7th 2017 in Ryōgoku Kokugikan
The Rainmaker vs The Wrestler, and the birth of the infamous Bitchmaker. A match so intense and so brutal that Shibata sustained life-threatening injuries and has not been able to wrestle since. The expression “leave it all in the ring” has perhaps never been more apt than it was for Shibata on this night.
Okada was in the midst of the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign of all time when he hit the wall known as Shibata. Having won the New Japan Cup a few weeks prior, Shibata had earned the right to challenge Okada in the main event of Sakura Genesis. With a Ryōgoku crowd strongly in his corner from the off, Shibata was looking to use his Cup win momentum to climb all the way to the top of the New Japan mountain.
At times a technical wrestling match with Shibata implementing submissions it consistently breaks down into a one-sided fight that sees Shibata nearly always having the upper hand, with both men’s pride and fighting-spirit firing on all cylinders. A stubborn Shibata flares as he openly lets Okada unleash forearms which he shrugs off to demoralize the Champion before retaking control. A nasty slap over the top of Okada’s head leads to the Rainmaker sitting down in the middle of the ring to challenge Shibata in a contest of slaps. A onslaught of vicious kicks from Shibata and the Bitchmaker comes late in the match, and you don’t need me to describe it; when it happens, you’ll know.
Using everything at his disposal to try and defeat Okada included the use of the most sickening headbutt I have ever seen or heard during a wrestling match. It instantly split Shibata’s forehead open. The clashing thud is almost uncomfortable and literally sends shivers throughout my body. It would unfortunately be the cause of Shibata’s injury. As a result of the headbutts combined with severe dehydration, Shibata collapsed backstage following the match and was rushed to a hospital, where it was discovered that he had a subdural hematoma which required emergency surgery. He also experienced some paralysis on the right side of his body.
Perhaps one day Shibata will be able to compete again. For now, he trains the future of New Japan as the leader of the LA Dojo. He is still heavily involved in NJPW and his influence on the wrestling and wrestlers is still palpable on every show. But if this is to be his last ever match, I don’t think we could have asked for anything better.