Katsuyori Shibata: Road to Becoming the New NJPW LA Head Coach
At thirty-eight years old Katsuyori Shibata has been made the head coach of the new Los Angeles dojo for New Japan Pro Wrestling. It has been a remarkable path to get to this position and Shibata didn’t necessarily expect to be a trainer this early but he’s very happy in his role helping to build the foundation for NJPW’s future. The Los Angeles dojo will open this month and Katsuyori Shibata has nineteen years of experience he can parlay to future stars like Brody King. The career of “The Wrestler” has been one to watch for fans of hard-hitting offense but it was just when Shibata was at his peak his in-ring career was all over just one year ago.
In 1999 Katsuyori Shibata made his in-ring debut for NJPW and he competed in the 2000 Young Lions Cup. Alongside Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shibata was one of the “New Three Musketeers” of NJPW to lead the company to the future. After spending years defining his style he decided to leave for Pro Wrestling NOAH and Big Mouth Loud in 2005. The former member of the Masahiro Chono faction, Black New Japan, became a tag team with Hideo Itami (KENTA.) In that time Shibata faced legendary Japanese figures Jun Akiyama, Kensuke Sasaki and Satoshi Kojima before briefly returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2006 with a win over “The Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi. It was then that Katsuyori Shibata decided to test himself in the Mixed Martial Arts world and he would not come back to NJPW until 2012.
Hiroshi Tanahashi challenged Katsuyori Shibata on his passion for pro wrestling in a rivalry that blended the realism of the situation and fighting spirit. Since Shibata earned the respect of “The Ace” he, therefore, earned the respect of the Japanese audience and the worldwide fan base. Since then Shibata has provided some of the most classic matches of the modern NJPW era against Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto and Shinsuke Nakamura. “The Wrestler” monicker became beloved for it’s no frills description of Katsuyori Shibata and it’s banner still hangs high in Karueken Hall for the word to see on NJPW World.
“With rehab and training, I’ve been sensing it’s time to move past the struggle of finding what I am capable of doing. These days, I’ve had a burning desire to take on a new challenge. What can I do in my current state? I thought a change in pace was needed, and the next thing I know, I found myself in Los Angeles” Katsuyori Shibata commented on his new head coach position. Sakura Genesis on April 9 last year would be Katsuyori Shibata’s final match ever in the match of the year against Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP heavyweight championship. Shibata had won the 2017 New Japan Cup tournament to earn the title shot and Shibata vs. Okada became a war that personified the smash mouth style of Shibata. Shibata suffered a subdermal hematoma as a result of a stiff headbutt combined with dehydration. Martial artist Tim Hague sadly passed away as a result of the exact same injury just months later. It was a step too far in a match that already had some of the most brutal strikes of any match last year but it was Shibata’s style to go well beyond 100% every match, to Shibata this was the match of his life.
The former three-time NEVER Openweight champion, British Heavyweight champion for RevPro in the UK and IWGP heavyweight tag team champion returned for the first time since his life-threatening injury at the 2017 G1 Climax finals on August 13. Fans and Shibata himself were in tears as Shibata got on the microphone to announce “I’m still alive.” Now Ring Of Honor Wrestling star Scorpio Sky is Shibata’s assistant coach in Los Angeles where Shibata can get back in the ring and do what he’s loved all his life. “I have found myself doing moves I haven’t really been able to do before” Shibata proclaimed. In this case, an NJPW legend gets what he wants and what he needs to finish an unforgettable career.