Career Retrospective: Katsuyori Shibata
After defeating Bad Luck Fale for the New Japan Cup on March 20th, Katsuyori Shibata will get his well-earned opportunity for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. At 37 years of age, I have to admit that Shibata is among my top 5 NJPW wrestlers.
He will now face the current champion, The Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada, at Sakura Genesis (April 9). Nicknamed ‘The Wrestler’, Katsuyori Shibata is well known for his shoot-style wrestling offence, which should be attributed to his career in MMA.
With Japanese wrestling rising in popularity, I thought this would be the right time to give a so-far retrospective on the career (specifically New Japan) of the next challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Katsuyori Shibata.
Born November 17, 1979, Shibata competed at national level amateur wrestling in 1997. His father was the former NJPW wrestler, Katsuhisa Shibata.
He made his debut for NJPW on October 10, 1999, facing Wataru Inoue. Katsuyori Shibata, Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi became known as the new ‘Three Musketeers’. Shibata competed in the 2000 Young Lion Cup ending up with 2 wins and 2 losses.
It was in this tournament that Shibata was involved in the death of Masakazu Fukuda. During their match, Shibata hit an elbow drop which led to Fukuda’s unfortunate death. Shibata and Wataru Inoue eventually climbed up in the ranks of the junior heavyweight division.
This led to Shibata unsuccessfully challenging the then-current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Kendo Kashin on October 28, 2001. The tag team of Shibata and Inoue were defeated by The Word Class Tag Team (Jado and Gedo) for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship twice.
Shibata would then join the Makai Club in 2003 and move up to the heavyweight division. The G1 Climax 2003 had Shibata ranked 3rd in Block-B, with a record of 2 wins-2 losses and 1 draw.
Later on, in 2004, Shibata got his first ever shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Kazuyuki Fujita, only to lose. Shibata defeated former IWGP Heavyweight Champions: Masahiro Chono, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Genichiro Tenryu in the 2004 version of the G1 Climax.
After successfully coming first in his block; he would go on to the semi-finals to face Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Shibata lost the match after being knocked-out. Shibata was a member of the stable Black New Japan until his departure in early 2005.
After a run in MMA, Shibata returned to New Japan to wrestle on September 23, 2012. Now forming a team with Kazushi Sakuraba as Laughter7, they defeated Hiromu Takahashi and Wataru Inoue at Destruction.
Laughter7 won both their matches at the following two pay-per-views: King of Pro-Wrestling and Power Struggle, defeating the team of Togi Makabe and Wataru Inoue twice. Togi Makabe defeated Shibata at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in a singles match.
Shibata and his high school classmate, Hirooki Goto, wrestled one another throughout 2013. Laughter7 defeated Goto and Wataru Inoue at The New Beginning. At Invasion Attack on April 7, Laughter7 suffered their first loss against Hirooki Goto and Yuji Nagata.
The first singles match between Shibata and Goto happened on May 3 at Wrestling Dontaku, with the match ending in a draw. Shibata won the second encounter against Goto on June 22 at Dominion 6.22. Goto and Shibata’s third match on July 20 also ended in a draw.
At the 2013 G1 Climax, Shibata ended up being placed 2nd in his block, ending with 5 wins and 4 losses. Goto returning from injury defeated Shibata on January 4, 2014, at Wrestle Kingdom 8.
Shibata and Goto ended their feud by forming a tag team. They quickly gained a tag team title opportunity after defeating IWGP Tag Team Champions Gallows and Anderson at the 42nd NJPW Anniversary Show.
Shibata entered the 2014 New Japan Cup with high hopes of challenging the reigning heavyweight champion, Kazuchika Okada. He defeated Karl Anderson in the first round but was ultimately defeated by Shelton X Benjamin in the round of 8 stage.
Goto and Shibata faced Gallows and Anderson on April 6 at Invasion Attack for the IWGP Tag Team Championships but were defeated.
Shibata entered the 2014 G1 Climax finishing fourth in his block with 12 points (6 wins – 4 losses), despite victories over Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Following the G1, Shibata was named the number one contender for Nakamura’s Intercontinental Championship.
On November 8 at Power Struggle, Nakamura defeated Shibata to retain his Intercontinental Championship. December 2014, Shibata and Goto took part in the World Tag League, winning the entire tournament.
At Wrestle Kingdom 9, they became the new IWGP Tag Team Champions after defeating Gallows and Anderson. This championship reign was very short lived as Gallows and Anderson regained the titles at very next major show, The New Beginning, in Osaka.
Shibata was knocked out of the New Japan Cup in 2015, after being defeated by Goto in the second round. Shibata then entered a feud with Kazushi Sakuraba (his partner as Laughter7).
As both these men had MMA influences in their move set, we were able to witness a worked shoot-styled wrestling match on July 5 at Dominion 7.5. At the end, Shibata came out as the victor.
Fast-forward to the 2015 G1 Climax. After a pretty dull campaign, Shibata was right in the middle of his block. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, Shibata won his first ever singles title in NJPW after defeating Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight Championship in a brutal match.
Shibata had a string of defences against legends like Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan etc. before losing it to Yuji Nagata at Wrestling Dontaku 2016. He regained the title by defeating Nagata at Dominion 6.19 in Osaka-jo Hall.
Shibata then retained the title against Bobby Fish, who he unsuccessfully challenged for the ROH TV Championship at Death Before Dishonor. He also defended it against Kyle O’Reilly.
He then lost the championship to LIJ member EVIL, and then regained it just after 10 days at NJPW’s Wrestling World 2016 event in Singapore. January 4, 2017. At Wrestle Kingdom 11, Shibata lost the title to high school classmate, Hirooki Goto.
As you all may know, Shibata most recently won the New Japan Cup 2017 and has decided to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis.
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