Last weekend, NJPW star Katsuyori Shibata sustained a career-threatening injury in his match with Kazuchika Okada, now their former NJPW co-worker and new WWE SmackDown Live star Shinsuke Nakamura is speaking out the major dangers of Japanese wrestling. For years, pro-wrestling fans have known that Japanese wrestling was brutal and could literally be deadly to take part in. People have had their careers end here, and some have died there as well.
If there is a dangerous move in pro-wrestling, it was probably done in Japan first. Some that are banned across a variety of places like WWE are still legal to do in Japan. It is literally one of the most dangerous places to work for a wrestler. Their “Japanese strong style” is known for being brutal, but the idea of pro-wrestling is to not hurt yourself or your opponent for real. In Japan, there is a gray area. They don’t mind making contact with each other, and they don’t mind working “stiff.”
This means you work in a way where there is very little “fakeness” about what you do. There might be unknown submissions or throws during the stiff working match, and it looks more realistic as no one is planning for what happens. You’ll often see a difference in them because the performance of the stiff matches look like a real fight while the others look like a performance — because they are.
In Japan, working stiff is kind of part of it. So a lot of what you see here is realistic, which is why it is so dangerous to do. Okada vs Shibata highlighted, however, why this may not be the best thing to do. Shibata sustained a subdural hematoma, which is a bleed between the brain and coverage of it, or outermost covering. Think of it this way. You have a bone and skin. Imagine if something got in-between those two other than what is already there.
This would normally bring a lot of clotting trouble, sometimes even you might have to get it drained to remove this as it would be quite painful. This is just on your arm, and it dangerous to deal with then. Now, think of that on your brain. Blood is collecting in a spot right at your brain. It is pushing on the brain too, and unlike a concussion where one jar is it and you can hopefully recover — this does not go away unless taken care of quickly.
The problem on top of this is, you have to continue to evaluate it so you can be sure the hematoma does not return. Usually people sustain these types of things in car accidents or things like this that bring great force to the head. Shibata did this after a headbutt to the head of Okada. On top of this, he had taken stiff kicks to the head and punches in this match. This is not even considering the several other matches he has had this year alone that could have built things up.
After his match with Okada, Shibata collapsed and was taken to a local medical facility where they saved his life. Had this happened at his home or with no one around, Shibata would be dead right now. Many people have died from hematomas, so the guy is incredibly lucky. This raises a lot of questions though, but the main one is why is Japanese wrestling so dangerous and why, in knowing that, do they not change things?
Former two-time WWE NXT Champion and new WWE SmackDown Live star Shinsuke Nakamura, spoke on this recently after hearing of what happened to Shibata. Nakamura was one of the top guys in NJPW for years before he jumped to WWE in 2016. If anyone knows what it is like to work in Japan, it is Nakamura, especially when it concerns New Japan, where this took place. Nakamura told Yahoo Sports the following, with a translation from Chris Charlton
“Lately exchanging dangerous moves has become a trend in Japanese wrestling. 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.”
Nakamura is right when you consider things. In WWE and other places, they do take risks, but it is calculated. There is hardly ever a match where you see tons of danger throughout. Some like that aspect, while others feel the barbaric nature is just too much. Eventually, it does have to change. If not, we’ll continue to see people come close to death like we just saw with a great young talent in Katsuyori Shibata.
[Featured Image by NJPW]