The former NEVER Openweight Champion unsuccessfully challenged Orange Cassidy for the All-Atlantic Championship in his first match back in the United States since his horrific injury against Kazuchika Okada 5 years prior.
He was forced to retire following an incredible match with Kazuchika Okada in 2017, battling for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at NJPW’s Sakura Genesis 2017.
It is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time, and is currently ranked as the third greatest match of all time by users on Cagematch. However, the match ended after Shibata hit a huge headbutt onto Okada, which caused blood to dribble down his forehead as a dazed look came across his face.
He finished the match, getting pinned after a Rainmaker before collapsing backstage.
He was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma (a severe bleeding of the brain) and rushed to hospital for emergency, life-saving surgery. He recovered, but immediately retired, being warned that if he ever wrestled again, he could die.
He eventually did return to the ring, wrestling twice in NJPW in 2021 and 2022, but his first great match since coming back was the Shibata vs Orange Cassidy match in AEW.
Shibata revealed that, despite the outcry of support afterwards, that he wasn’t happy with the match against Orange Cassidy. Not because of Cassidy’s performance, but by his own.
He had not wrestled since January that year, when he had a surprise match against Ren Narita at the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom. That match was just to show he was healthy, but this one was to prove he still had it.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well as he’d hoped (due to his own incredibly high standards) and he deemed the match to be “frustrating, really”.
However, there were positives, as the NJPW legend claimed he felt like he was “back on the battlefield” for the first time since his infamous match with Kazuchika Okada that ended his career in 2017.
Speaking with Tokyo Sports, Katsuyori Shibata said’
“It’s frustrating, really. The result is the same, and I have a lot of things to reflect on in terms of my moves. I felt that I was back on the battlefield, and that the ring is special. Sometimes things go well, and sometimes things don’t go well. I really felt alive. I’ve been looking for a chance for a long time. I thought that if I waited in Japan, I would never get a chance. I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity I have now. I wanted to give it my all. I went there without hesitation.”
He lost in his match against Orange Cassidy for the All-Atlantic Champion, but it was not the result of the match that was important to the fans.
Seeing that Shibata could wrestle again inside a ring, taking bumps and hitting his signature moves again was a sight to behold.
The match was built around his ability and did not risk any head bumps that could exacerbate his previous brain injuries, but was still a fantastic match planned out by two great wrestlers.
Katsuyori Shibata has since become a champion again in wrestling, for the sister company of AEW – Ring of Honor.
At the 2023 Supercard of Honor show, Shibata defeated Wheeler Yuta to win the ROH Pure Championship, the first title he won since his retirement in 2017.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.