This was Katsuyori Shibata's last match in professional wrestling. A nasty looking headbutt delivered by Shibata to Okada caused a subdural hematoma. He finished the match but looked worryingly injured as he staggered to the back. It is currently believed he will never wrestle again.
However, his recovery from this injury has been life-affirming and he is still part of NJPW as head of the LA Dojo.
This match took place at Sakura Genesis, April 9th 2017. The venue being Ryōgoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall). It received critical acclaim and is often cited as many individual's favourite match.
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Okada didn't defeat Shibata, rather he survived him. It could be suggested Shibata defeated himself his that trajic head butt. In the end the result wasn't that important, with Katsuyori Shabata's health being the most important thing. Reports suggest he has made a strong recovery from the injury.
The dynamic was fascinating from the get-go. Shibata seemed unintimidated by his much more successful opponent. This proved fair as he dominated the offence.
It is unusual for a man to take as much as 69% of the offence against the greatest champion in the history of New Japan but that is what Shibata did. He almost doubled the strikes of Okada and dwarfed him in terms of submission.
Many might consider Okada fortunate to have escaped with his title reign in tact. If we dive deeper that opinion seems more poignant.
This match almost hit the 40 minute match with Okada getting the win at 38:10, hitting the Rainmaker for the 1,2,3.
A large 264 offensive manoeuvres were hit, almost 7 a minute! 177 strikes were hit and there were wrestlers in submission holds for 06:17.
Not only do the numbers support Shibata as the MVP of this match despite not being the winner but so do the statistical illustrations of the match.
Flow of Offence and Tide Changes
This match contained some almighty tussles for control of proceedings, as you can see from the exchanges of limited attacks. Shibata won both of the significant striking battles in this match. However Okada insisted on challenging Shibata's striking prowess in both.
Shibata racked up impressive numbers due to the manner in which he utilised flurries of strikes on Okada at various points.
The other massive difference in the offensive totals is of course submission offence. Shibata's 334 seconds of submission holds dwarfing Okada's 43 seconds. Shibata's largest surge of offence contained a 142 second submission hold.
Flow of Offence - Periodised
Now we look at the match in 5 minute chunks to see who controlled which part of the match. Or rather how many more than Okada, Shibata controlled.
7-1 in actual fact, with Okada only getting the best of the 20-25 minute period. However he did have the best five minute spell of the match here.
What we see here is that except for five minutes in the middle Shibata bossed this match. It it wasn't for that misplaced head butt he may well have won the IWGP title.
Even in the last 5 minutes Shibata still had a better offensive tally than Okada even though Okada picked up the win. It was Okada's ability to hit the Rainmaker that proved key for him as it has done in so many big bouts.
Time in Control of the Contest
This is an interesting category as it qualifies the time that a competitor is in total control of their opponent. For the time to be counted they have to have downed their opponent after two or more big moves or have downed them after a series of strikes.
The large chunk of grey represents the time where the competitors were feeling each other out or exchanging offence without building momentum.
We can see the disparity between Okada and Shibata again. Shibata's accumulation of time in control benefitting greatly from his submission offence.
The dynamic between Okada and Shibata. There is a moment early on where Shibata sits down and invites Okada to take advantage rather setting the tone for his dominance of the match.
The furious strikes of Shibata. Kicks that will make you wince and slaps to the back of Okada's head that must make him see red!
Okada's character work, he really sells the treat of Shibata. He resorts to fouls at times and even refuses to use clean breaks on more than one occasion.
I loved a lot of this match. The dynamite between the two was fascinating and the striking battles were brutal as well as competitive. I loved how much Shibata was put over even in defeat, Okada is the master of this.
The headbutt is horrible to watch especially when you know the consequences of it going in. I found the match much less enjoyable after this and the after match scenes just plain difficult.
In short, this is worth your time and definitely one of the best matches of recent years but perhaps not in the best ever conversation.