Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D and occasional guests write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 Ongoing MOTY List: Shibata, Okada, Brain Trauma

7. Katsuyori Shibata v. Kazuchika Okada NJPW 4/9

ER: Yes, this is the infamous likely/hopefully last match of Shibata's career, as he's a super tough man who coconut clonks other tough men in the head as hard as possible, and because of that almost became a vegetable. But overall I thought it was his greatest career performance, at times masterful, and we also got the best Okada performance I've seen. Were there still problems? Yes, but the peaks far outweighed and made for some pretty great moments. Shibata works this like he's the Terminator, and Okada makes for a game Sarah Connor. Every strike Okada would throw at him, Shibata would emotionlessly brush it off as Okada's eyes would widen in disbelief. We start with some fun and engaging matwork, with Shibata almost always a step ahead but not wanting to finish, worked as if he just wanted Okada to realize how he could snap him if he wanted to. Shibata looks like he's hardly breathing and Okada looks like he's barely hanging on, Shibata easily maneuvering into chokes and an armbar, and later working over Okada's knee. I've been a consistent critic of Okada's convenient selling and poor placement of damaging moves, but I thought his selling was good here. There were still moments where he had to get his shit in, but even on his omnipresent dropkicks it's not like he would be hopping up afterwards, usually he would act like he immediately regretted doing a dropkick, and as the match wore on he wasn't able to throw out moves at full strength, allowing Shibata to stay standing through a couple of rainmakers lariats. I wish he hadn't done a pop up dropkick after the devastating sleeper suplex spot. I'm so over the pop up fighting spirit, and that suplex was such a colossal spot, Shibata choking the life out of him and then tossing his body away like trash. It should have been a bigger moment.

Shibata's attitude carried the bulk of this match. He wasn't just going along and having an Okada match, his smug attitude made all rote strike exchanges feel different, getting inside Okada's head by showing him how much more effective his strikes were. I have no clue how Okada's face and neck weren't bruised and swollen by the end. Shibata was great throwing out these condescending punts, not going for the kill, but swatting at Okada's spine, smacking him in the back of the head with a boot, just picking away at him in painfully annoying fashion. The headbutt is what it is. It's no grosser than any clonking headbutt you've seen Ikeda or Kikuchi throw, but it is admittedly troubling knowing what we know happened to Shibata post match. If you found out several tape submitters died of testicular cancer from ball shots, you probably would have laughed a little less at those episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos. The headbutt is gross, made somewhat better by Shibata finishing the final 5 minutes of the match, locking on sick octopus holds on Okada, but never able to put him away. I do think they had Okada take a bit too much damage, as it didn't seem like Shibata took enough to go down for the count (if we only knew how badly damaged his body was...), but I liked how Okada was able to convey his fading strength through his weakening rainmakers, and I think this is the best conceived version of a "main event New Japan style" match that I have seen. Shame about the effects of that style, though.

PAS: I was actively irritated at Eric for making me watch this, I have no desire to watch New Japan main event wrestling, and as someone who played high school football, college rugby and boxed in the golden gloves I am a little squeamish about brain injury (I am sure my brain scan looks like a bunch of old hot dog buns). Still I enjoyed this and Shibata sure went out on a hell of performance. Really dominant Shibata match which forced Okada to work from the bottom, which is where someone of his questionable offense belongs. Shibata also works better as a merciless killer, then as a guy doing 50/50 forearm exchanges. I loved Shibata tooling him on the mat, breaking out shootstyle submissions, and even British stuff from his Progress tours. This forces Okada to be the first guy to throw hands, and man does Okada get tooled. I loved the part where Shibata throws thirty or so short punches right to the jaw, and the kicks to the brain stem were grotesque. That headbutt was actually a great bit of wrestling drama, although man it is hard to watch with hindsight. I did like how Okada stepped it up with his shots, his forearms looked mostly good and that final rainmaker is the first time I have actually liked that move. I hated the no sell, and Okada's elbow drop is more CM Punk then Macho Man, but this was still about as much as I am going to like a 2017 Okada match.


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