I wasn't thinking about the headbutt that may have ended Katsuyori Shibata's career when the main event of Sakura Genesis ended.
Instead, I was impulsively trying to fit Shibata vs. Kazuchika Okada into the hierarchy of matches I've seen over the past few years. I knew that it was my favorite match of the year so far, even surpassing Okada vs. Kenny Omega from the Tokyo Dome. It comfortably surpassed anything from 2016 for me as well, and I may have been able to go back further if it wasn't for the fear of recency bias affecting my judgment too much.
But Shibata vs. Okada was nearly perfect. And it needed to happen when it did to reach such transcendent levels. It was Shibata's first shot at the IWGP Heavyweight title since returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2012. While it's probably fair to say that he was elevated too late, it happened right when Shibata had become capable of having the 38-minute epic that was his Sumo Hall headliner against Okada.