KENTA and Katsuyori Shibata have a storied history. They went from soulmates to rivals, from closest friends to bitter enemies.
After his recent G1 Climax win over Hirooki Goto, KENTA made some interesting backstage comments.
“Every time I face Hirooki Goto, I can’t help but think of Shibata. What are you doing, Shibata?
Hurry up and step up to me. I have no idea where you are. Come on. You’ll be forgotten about if you don’t act soon.”
Hirooki Goto was once the tag team partner of Shibata. They won the IWGP Tag League in 2014 and would also win the IWGP Tag Team Championship.
However, the real story is between KENTA and Shibata. The pair used to be tag partners in Pro Wrestling Noah in 2005. Their careers took them to different places, however they would reunite in 2019 before a shocking betrayal.
Let’s look at how the careers of KENTA and Shibata unfolded over the years and what led to their rivalry.
KENTA and Katsuyori Shibata
Shibata’s final match for nearly six years took place on December 31, 2006, when he defeated Kazuhiro Hamanaka. By January 2007, Shibata left wrestling to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. Shibata returned to New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 2012, where he would go on to become one of its most popular wrestlers. During his third run in NJPW, Shibata won several championships. Having earned the right to challenge for any heavyweight belt of his choosing, Shibata called out Kazuchika Okada and challenged him to a match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The match occurred on April 9, 2017, at the Sakura Genesis event. Okada defeated Shibata.
Following the match, Shibata collapsed backstage and was rushed to a hospital. It was discovered that he had suffered a head injury that required emergency surgery. The injury, combined with severe dehydration, caused Shibata to also experience some paralysis on the right side of his body. It was believed that he would never be cleared to wrestle again. Shibata appeared at the 2017 G1 Climax finals on August 13, tearfully stating:
“I am still alive! That is all.”
Shibata soon became the coach of NJPW’s Los Angeles DOJO, where younger wrestlers trained.
KENTA would go on to become a staple of NOAH. He won many championships, including the GHC Heavyweight Championship and the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship. In 2014, KENTA signed a contract with WWE where he would be featured on the company’s development brand, NXT. He would work in WWE under the ring name Hideo Itami. Itami made his in-ring debut at the following day’s tapings of NXT, defeating Justin Gabriel. In November 2017, Itami would be moved from NXT to the main roster as part of the cruiserweight division on 205 Live. Failing to achieve the success he wanted, it was reported in January 2019 that Itami requested and was granted his release from the company after a five-year run.
The Reunion and The Betrayal
At the NJPW Dominion 6.9 event in Osaka-jo Hall, Shibata walked out onto the stage to introduce KENTA, who was making his surprise debut in NJPW. With Shibata as his manager, KENTA announced his participation in the 2019 G1 Climax tournament. Kenta made his in-ring debut for NJPW on July 6, defeating Kota Ibushi as a part of the G1 tournament. Kenta competed in the A Block of the tournament and stayed undefeated in singles matches for over a month and a half as he defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi, Lance Archer, and EVIL before suffering his first defeat against the then IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on July 27.
On the final night of the G1 tournament, KENTA competed in a six-man tag team match alongside CHAOS members Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI against BULLET CLUB’s Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, and Bad Luck Fale. KENTA turned on his teammates in the match’s closing moments and assisted BULLET CLUB to victory. As Kenta was going to explain his actions, Katsuyori Shibata rushed into the ring and attacked KENTA until the rest of the BULLET CLUB members ambushed Shibata. This marked the first time Shibata had engaged in physical wrestling since his injury.
The commentary team shared the sentiment of many fans as they stated the heartbreaking line:
“KENTA was supposed to be Shibata’s soulmate.”
It was revealed later that night KENTA was the newest member of BULLET CLUB. As the club accompanied Jay White to the ring, KENTA came out wearing a BULLET CLUB shirt, which received thunderous boos from the crowd.
Teasing the Match
At the 2019 Power Struggle event, Jay White defended his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against Hirooki Goto. During the match, Shibata came to the aid of Goto before being ambushed by KENTA.
At the Summer Struggle 2021 event, KENTA faced off against Tanahashi with Shibata on commentary. During the match, KENTA repeatedly tried to send Tanahashi into the referee. Tanahashi tried a dropkick in the corner, but this time, KENTA pulled the referee, Red Shoes, in the way. With the referee down, KENTA hit a low blow and used his old IWGP US title shot briefcase as a weapon. Shibata got in the ring and hit KENTA with a pump kick before reviving Red Shoes and Tanahashi.
On the final night of the G1 Climax 31 on October 21, 2021, Shibata wrestled Zack Sabre Jr in a 5-minute grappling rules exhibition match. In December 2021, Shibata announced that he would compete in an official wrestling match at Wrestle Kingdom 16 on January 4, 2022. At the event, Shibata would defeat his LADOJO student, Ren Narita.
Shibata most recently appeared at the AEW/NJPW PPV, Forbidden Door. He came to the rescue of Orange Cassidy against Will Ospreay and the United Empire.
With Shibata seemingly healthy given his recent in-ring appearances, paired with KENTA’s call-out, this highly anticipated, four years in the making match could very well happen.
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