At Wrestle Kingdom 10, Katsuyori Shibata takes on Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER (ALL CAPS) Openweight Championship. Why? Because shut up! That’s why! There is no backstory here. No storied rivalry. It’s just happening. And you know what? I’m not even mad. Not even a little. Usually I would be. But in this case, nope. Totally not mad. I’m unmad. And I’ll tell you why in just a minute. But first, let’s get to know these two bruisers who will no doubt beat each other senseless at the Tokyo Dome.
Similar to how the formerly white (current colour undefinable) IWGP Intercontinental belt is Shinsuke Nakamura’s plaything which he occasionally lets others have a hold of, Ishii and the NEVER title go hand in hand. Ishii has the most reigns of any NEVER Champion at 4, and the most combined days as champ. Since the conception of the title in 2012 and after Masato Tanaka’s initial run (and Tetsuya Naito’s subsequent run), the NEVER title division has been dominated by Tomohiro Ishii.
That is until the great disturbance in the force that was Togi Makabe, but that King Kong sized speedbump is in the past now. Ishii is champ and all is good once again. The other important thing to know about Ishii is that his matches are brutal. THE BRUTALEST. Stiff lariats, thudding headbutts, and all the things that make you wince when watching a wrestling match. But he’s not just a physical worker, his selling (always that darn shoulder/neck area) is second to none.
And then there’s The Wrestler, Katsuyori Shibata. If Ishii’s matches are the brutalest, Shibata’s aren’t far behind. Shibata is one of the best talents in New Japan, but also one of the most underutilised. He’s only ever held one title in New Japan: the IWGP Tag Team Championship with Hirooki Goto. His biggest singles wins usually come in the G1 tournament. Other times, he’s mostly put in tags and multi-mans.
2015 was a fairly quiet year for Shibata. After winning the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom and losing them almost immediately, Shibata had very few singles matches and feuds. Late in 2015, it looked like he was heading towards a showdown with the excellently ingobernable Tetsuya Naito at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Shibata defeated Naito in the G1, but Naito got his revenge at Destruction in Kobe. Then, Naito and EVIL (best name ever) defeated Shibata and Goto and knocked them out of the World Tag League.
However, after pinning Ishii (for the umpteenth time) in a multi-man match on the final day of the World Tag League, he laid the NEVER title over Ishii’s carcass, signifying his intention to challenge at Wrestle Kingdom 10. It was then later announced that Hirooki Goto would be the one to face Tetsuya Naito at the Tokyo Dome.
Slightly baffling build up, but it kind of makes sense. Sort of. Shibata has beaten Ishii quite a few times in multi-man matches, so he may as well get something out of it in the form of a championship. Meanwhile, Goto has been almost equally involved in the feud with Naito and EVIL, so that match isn’t completely out of left field either. In a discussion about the match I had on social media, an interesting idea was brought up in that Shibata wins the NEVER title and feuds with Naito over it. That would be logical considering their recent history, and something I’d love to see, but it also means Ishii loses at the Tokyo Dome, and I don’t care for that at all.
When it comes to Ishii vs. Shibata, no elaborate angles or backstories are needed. These two are no frills wrestlers. They arrive. They obliterate. They leave. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, these two are going to murder (not literally) each other, or die trying. I’m not going to lie, I’ll be spending the majority of this match with my hands over my eyes, peeking at the destruction through my fingers. I love both of these wrestlers, but their style is career shortening. It’s sometimes hard to watch, but even harder to look away. When these two meet in the Kingdom of Wrestling on January 4th, they’re going to tear the roof off. We’re gonna need a bigger dome.