One of the highlights of New Japan 2016, for me at least, has been Katsuyori Shibata’s ongoing beef with the old guard of the promotion. The dads. Tenzan, Kojima and Nagata specifically. He dislikes them and their old fashioned ways and wants to defeat them in pro wrestling matches. The one complaint would be the lack of a Shibata vs. Manabu Nakanishi match, but they may be saving that for the next Wrestle Kingdom. The thing is, this isn’t new. Shibata’s been kicking old people since the very start. That brings us to this match from 2004, where Shibata, still a member of the Makai Club at the time (an Antonio Inoki-worshipping collection of oddball shooters and martial artists), took on All Japan legend Toshiaki Kawada. Kawada had carried All Japan on his back since the exodus of the Pro Wrestling NOAH talent but the man was getting tired. By 2005 he’d had enough of breaking bones, instead settling for breaking hearts over the next few years with his beautiful singing voice in HUSTLE. But before he took the fight to the Generalissimo there was a young man who he had to put back in line.
Shibata immediately brought it to Kawada, attacking before the opening bell by charging him on the corner, and he had the old man up against it for a while. They brawled to the floor where Shibata continued the beating, hitting the penalty kick. They traded strikes and Kawada was dazed, unable to respond to a slap and falling to a knee. This is where Shibata’s youthful arrogance worked against him. He seemed to encourage Kawada by, for the lack of a better term, being too much of a cock; by using Kawada’s signature kicks and stretch plum against him he reminded Kawada just who the fuck he was. He’s Toshiaki Kawada, the legend, here to kick your fucking face right off. No ramen noodles for you mate, just delicious boot on the menu tonight. Shibata’s enthusiasm worked against him. Shibata found that every time he hit, now he was getting hit back harder. He was getting stomped on the head, kicked in the throat and suplexed on his neck too. Despite Shibata showing more moments of fighting spirit Kawada eventually put him down, responding to a series of leg kicks with some of his own, a knee to the head and a straight punch that knocked Shibata to the mat. A knee drop was almost insult to injury as Shibata was pretty much KO’d anyway and easily pinned.
Early Shibata is fucking awesome. I remember when I first started watching Japanese wrestling I was far more into the high flying wrestlers of the time (Marufuji over KENTA every time back in the day) and I didn’t quite get Shibata. I get him now. These early matches in his career were fought with some real spirit, he had a genuine aura of a rookie wrestler who didn’t wrestle like a rookie, he wrestled like a man with a point to prove. He wasn’t gonna stick around and let the old guys beat him at their game, he was going for the kill immediately. This was conveyed very well in these shorter matches where they might only have lasted 5-10 minutes but he’d put these considerably more experienced wrestlers through an absolute war before getting knocked out in an extremely severe fashion. This match lasted seven minutes but I’ve seen matches ten times as long as this that weren’t nearly as memorable. Shibata wrestles with similar “don’t give a fuck” attitude these days but he seems far mellower in general. In this match he was an angry punk and it was awesome to see him get shut down. Kawada was great here as the surly veteran being awakened from his slumber like an Old One, destroying the poor soul that foolishly disrupted him solely so he can rest again.