Katsuyori Shibata has announced his comeback and it’s set for Wrestle Kingdom 16, on January 4th, 2022. Having been retired since 2017 after he suffered a subdural hematoma during a match with Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis, it seemed almost impossible that we’d ever see Katsuyori Shibata inside a NJPW ring unless he was presenting an award. He required an emergency operation and as far as everyone was concerned, his career was over.
Then in October, he appeared in a UWF Rules Exhibition Match vs. Zack Sabre Jr – a match that he wasn’t medically cleared for, it should be noted – and recently Katsuyori Shibata said that he had a major announcement to make at the finals of the NJPW World Tag League/ Best of The Super Jr.
Those finals were held today and Katsuyori Shibata walked to the ring before stating;
January 4, I’ve got a match.”
He threw down his mic and walked to the back, tears in his eyes, and the entire IWC took to the web to unanimously praise his return. Well, nearly.
I have a problem with this. The injury that Katsuyori Shibata suffered was so bad and so dangerous that it could’ve – and would’ve if not for life-saving surgery – killed him. His style of wrestling has always been a threat to his health and his signature headbutt that he has used for so long was the overriding factor for this all happening in the first place. And I’m not sure I want to see Katsuyori Shibata back in competitive action.
This isn’t a slight on Katsuyori Shibata in any way, nor is it a dig at NJPW and their medical staff, but I cannot believe that an injury so severe that it almost cost him his life could’ve healed enough that he can safely compete in a sport where there’s always the chance you’re going to get dropped on your head by accident.
Still, Katsuyori Shibata and NJPW must know what they’re doing, and though I will be among the thousands that watch Wrestle Kingdom 16 and cheering his every step from entrance to exit, I will be watching the whole match through my fingers, praying that nothing goes wrong.