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Could Katsuyori Shibata be 2016's Wrestler Of The Year?


Editor's note: NJPW announced earlier today that a spine injury will keep him on the shelf temporarily. This column for this week's FFW was written before that news.

After gutting through a G1 Climax tournament which saw him taped him like a mummy by the end, Katsuyori Shibata finds himself with more on his plate than any wrestler in the world right now.

So, when news broke earlier in the week that a spinal injury was going to pull him from the NJPW DESTRUCTION tour, it was both a potentially big blow to plans and also not exactly surprising. Shibata’s close to the year looked set to be beyond busy, and him making it through everything feels next to impossible. But, for it to have ended before it started was potentially disappointing.

However, two days before this past Saturday’s Tokyo show, it was announced that Shibata was not going to be pulled after all and his match with Bobby Fish for the NEVER Openweight Title would go on as planned. Not only did it happen, but Shibata held nothing back. He and Fish, who both have legitimate fighting backgrounds, went at it hard both in the grappling and striking realms.

The real scary moment was a snap suplex attempt by the ROH star which saw the champion's body crunch down directly onto his head. Shibata fought through that and more, eventually hitting a sick headbutt (which bloodied him up), locking in a choke and delivering a PK for the win.

Following the match, Fish’s cornerman Kyle O’Reilly went face to face with Shibata in an intense moment which sets up a mouth-watering title match between those two. O’Reilly looked fantastic earlier on the show defeating Juice Robinson by submission. He has bulked up considerably making his move out of the Junior Heavyweight Division, adding a lot of upper body muscle.

His style matches perfectly with Shibata and there’s no doubt that he’ll view it as one of the most important matches of his career. If it happens at King Of Pro Wrestling on October 10th, we could be in for a classic in front of that Sumo Hall crowd.

If Shibata gets through that, he still has plenty on the horizon. Kenny Omega has said that he will defend his Wrestle Kingdom title shot briefcase against everyone who beat him in the G1: a short list which includes Shibata. EVIL defeated Shibata on finals weekend at Ryogoku which should have him in NEVER title shot contention. If all that isn’t enough, Shibata has picked a fight with the whole NOAH roster and his tussles with the likes of Katsuhiko Nakajima and Go Shiozaki are surely leading to big matches.

If somehow Katsuyori Shibata makes it through all of that in one piece, not to mention a UK tour with Revolution Pro where he’ll surely have some big matches, he’s got to be in Wrestler Of The Year contention. He opened the year with a series of classics against Tomohiro Ishii, and exchanged the NEVER title with Yuji Nagata in a summer feud which featured some memorable matches and had a great G1 as well.

Some have theorized that the injuries may be exaggerated as a way to build his story as a fighting champion full of heart. It would not be out of the realm of possibility and Japanese promotions have worked injuries like that before. But with the style he wrestles and the hard matches he’s had, it’s also very possible that Shibata is indeed that hurt and that he truly is a fighting champion full of heart.