It was a monstrously shocking image to see at the G1 Climax in mid-August following the shocking turn from KENTA where he joined Bullet Club. KENTA’s friend, former New Japan star Katsuyori Shibata, stormed the ring to get physical with his friend for such an act of betrayal of his trust in bringing KENTA into New Japan following his departure from WWE.
It was a shock because it was the most physical contact we’ve seen Shibata participate in on-camera since his last match – which was in April of 2017. It was during that match that a vicious headbutt from Shibata against then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada at NJPW Sakura Genesis that left Shibata with severe brain trauma. It caused paralysis in his side and people feared for his life. When he was out of the woods, many feared he may never walk or return to normal again. He defied the odds and soon made a near-full recovery, becoming the head trainer at New Japan’s new NJPW Dojo in Los Angeles, California, where he’s been working the past year.
In last week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer mentioned that while “he hasn’t been cleared, but he will be attempting to get cleared…He trains with his students, but the issue in question is whether it can ever be healthy for him to take headshots and if he were to return as Katsuyori Shibata, can they work around that issue within the New Japan style.” But that anticipation of a possible return was fuelled even further on Tuesday, when his profile returned to the NJPW active roster on their official English website, after an absence of nearly two years.
Coming back from a serious head injury is a tough road that is rarely traveled, but last year WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan proved the naysayers and doubters wrong when he returned from severe head issues from concussions after over two years away from the sport. It’s always possible that Shibata has found ways to recover like Bryan has, and has gained clearance (or is showing favorably that he may be soon). The actions of Shibata against KENTA could be laying the groundwork for a massive showdown, perhaps even KENTA vs. Shibata at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Whether it’s for a one-off match to end on his own terms, or he’s making a full return like Daniel Bryan before him, the thought of Shibata returning to a New Japan ring is both an intriguing and frightening idea. Let’s just home his safety is at the forefront of any decision made, either by NJPW or Shibata himself.
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