Katsuyori Shibata makes return to the ring against mystery opponent at Wrestle Kingdom 16

Hamish Woodward

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Japanese wrestling legend Katsuyori Shibata made his triumphment return from injury, wrestling a full match at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 16. Shibata was forced to retire in 2017 after suffering a subdural hematoma in a match against Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis 2017.

Shibata wrestled over thirty minutes against then IWGP Heavyweight Champion, but a brutal headbutt caused him to collapse backstage and was rushed to hospital. He required brain surgery and was assured he would never wrestle again.

However, Shibata returned to the ring in 2021. At the G1 Climax, he wrestled Zack Sabre Jr in a special “Grappling Rules” match, in which he took no bumps and no strikes were allowed. It was used as a test to see if Shibata could one day return to the ring. He passed, with flying colours.

Prior to Wrestle Kingdom, it was revealed that Katsuyori Shibata would come out of retirement to wrestle for NJPW. It was announced to be a “Catch Rules” match, similar to his match against Zack Sabre Jr. His opponent was a surprise, and would not be revealed until the show itself.

Katsuyori Shibata at Wrestle Kingdom 16

It was revealed that Katsuyori Shibata’s opponent at Wrestle Kingdom 16 was NJPW Young Lion Ren Narita. Narita was a trainee in the New Japan Dojo, and after a spell in NJPW was sent on excursion to America. There, he wrestled for New Japan Strong and AEW, whilst also training at the LA Dojo. This is where he was trained by Shibata, and likely the reason he was picked by Shibata for his return match.

The match was announced as the previously mentioned “Catch Rules” match. However, Shibata grabbed a microphone before the match, stating that he wanted those restrictions lifted. He was granted his wish and the match was contested under normal wrestling rules. Shibata’s first match for almost 5 years.

The match was a simple one, but exactly what it needed to be. Strikes and bumps were in full flow, with every hit filled with worry as to the condition of Shibata. It has been likened to the return of Daniel Bryan from retirement, with every blow having fans convinced he would never wrestle again.

Luckily, it seemed like the same old Shibata was back. He won the match in just under 11 minutes, hitting his trademark Penalty Kick for the win. It is unknown if Shibata will return to the ring after this or if this is simply a one time thing to placate him. However, I think most NJPW fans would relish seeing step into the ring on a more regular basis, health permitting.

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