New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) Katsuyori Shibata had the biggest match of his career at the April 9 Sakura Genesis show against Kazuchika Okada, where Shibata was made to look like one of the biggest stars in the business.
Unfortunately, it’s starting to look more and more like that will be the last match of his career.
NJPW reported that Shibata suffered a subdural hematoma (bleeding between the skull and brain) in the match, with Tokyo Sports saying that Shibata collapsed backstage afterwards and had to be rushed to the hospital for an emergency five-hour surgery. Shibata reportedly suffered partial paralysis on the right side of his body in addition to issues with his memory.
While it is unclear, many believe the injury happened during this headbutt that occurred 30 minutes into the 38-minute classic.
This being the world of pro wrestling, there were many in the industry questioning if the injury was legit or a part of an elaborate story line to set up a future rematch. However, according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, that does not appear to be the case. On the latest edition of his podcast, Meltzer said that Shibata is still in the hospital and that he will likely remain in the hospital for several weeks.
The good news is that Meltzer also reported that Shibata has regained feeling on the right side of his body and that he has started to regain his memory. That being said, an injury this severe — subdural hematoma’s can often be fatal — is expected to be career-ending, as Meltzer believes “he’ll never be cleared to wrestle again”.
This is the second time in Shibata’s career where someone has suffered a traumatic head injury during a match; the first being back in 2000 when Masakazu Fukuda passed away after suffering an injury against Shibata after a flying elbow gone wrong.
This is also the second serious injury for NJPW in just over a month, as Tomoaki Honma suffered a severe neck injury in March that left him paralyzed for several days. Honma has since undergone surgery and he has regained movement in his extremities.
Shibata is a former three-time NEVER Openweight Champion and tag team champion in NJPW. He had recently won the 2017 New Japan Cup, which had granted him a match against Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship — the most prestigious title in Japan.