The name may not be familiar to a lot of wrestling fans outside of Japan, but Katsuyori Shibata’s injury has fans all over the world concerned. After suffering a subdural hematoma in his match against Kazuchika Okada at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Sakura Genesis event, there’s reportedly a good chance he may have to retire. But there has also been a lot of debate as to whether the injury is a work, or part of NJPW’s storylines, or a shoot, meaning an actual, real-life event.
Last weekend, Katsuyori Shibata and reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada brought the house down in a title match many feel may have been one of the best NJPW matches in recent history. During the course of the match, Shibata launched a devastating head butt on Okada, but that appears to be what had caused him to be taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a serious brain injury, as was confirmed on the English-language NJPW website on Monday.
“Katsuyori Shibata was taken to hospital due to poor health following his main event match on April 9th at Ryogoku Sumo Hall. He was conscious and able to communicate while being admitted to hospital.”
“After a medical examination, he was diagnosed with subdural hematoma and surgery was conducted as part of his treatment. He is now recovering following a successful operation.”
God bless Shibata San. Please rest up. https://t.co/d2lgTczIfW
— William Ospreay (@WillOspreay) April 10, 2017
Katsuyori Shibata’s injury, a subdural hematoma, is described by WebMD as “collections of blood outside the brain” that are often being caused by severe head injuries, such as what may have happened to the 37-year-old Japanese wrestler when he head-butted his opponent Okada at Sakura Genesis. This could lead to a life-threatening situation if the bleeding and increased pressure against the brain becomes more severe, and while some of these hematomas can stop on their own, others may require surgery to resolve.
While the news of Katsuyori Shibata suffering a brain injury at a major NJPW event seemed like something that was obviously not part of a storyline, further reports in the coming days seemed to suggest that the injury may have been part of a storyline.
I don't care if it's a work or not, i just don't want Shibata to risk his life for my entertainment.
— 'brother Mort (@mortenvh) April 13, 2017
I know he's not on the Twitter machine, but I want to send good wishes to Katsuyori Shibata. I hope he fights through these health issues!!
— Christopher Daniels (@facdaniels) April 14, 2017
Uproxx wrote that based on veteran wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer’s sources, it was rumored that Shibata’s subdural hematoma may have been the company’s way of writing him off for an extended absence – in other words, a “kayfabe,” or scripted injury. Despite Meltzer’s long-standing reputation as a reliable source of wrestling news and rumors, Uproxx cast some doubt on what he said, suggesting that it wouldn’t make sense that a wrestling promotion would use something as serious as a traumatic brain injury to cover for a wrestler’s long-term absence from competition.
As of this weekend, however, it’s looking more likely than ever that Katsuyori Shibata was injured for real, and not as part of a storyline. According to WrestlingNews.co, Shibata did suffer a subdural hematoma and was temporarily paralyzed on the right side of his body, and while he is no longer paralyzed, it appears that he might be forced to retire as an active wrestler.
In the days since the Shibata injury, there have been some people within the wrestling industry who have gone on record to warn of the injuries that may result from Japanese “strong style” wrestling, which gets its name due to the hard, realistic-looking moves executed in the ring. WrestlingNews.co cited an interview current WWE Superstar Shinsuke Nakamura had done with Yahoo Sports Japan, where the “King of Strong Style,” as he is commonly known, said that wrestlers should give pause before executing overly stiff moves against their opponents.
“Lately exchanging dangerous moves has become a trend in Japanese wrestling,” read an English translation of Nakamura’s comments.
“With serious injuries happening, it might have to change, and wrestlers should look back and think about dangerous moves they do and the risks they take.”
In yesterday’s episode of Wrestling Observer Live (subscriber-only), host Bryan Alvarez said that Katsuyori Shibata got injured and hospitalized due to a combination of dehydration and the impact of the head butt on Kazuchika Okada. But with the injury now appearing to be legitimate and not an angle, Alvarez’s co-host Mike Sempervive commented that Shibata may be exiting wrestling with “one of the dumbest ways to end a career in wrestling history,” and that his match against Okada would have still been a five-star match even without the head butts.
[Featured Image by New Japan Pro Wrestling]