Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada | A Forgotten Clash Of Puroresu and Strong Style

On November 3rd, 2004, at the 20th Anniversary show of Masahiro Chono, two of the most hardest-hitting men in all of pro wrestling’s history met in the squared circle. It was to determine who was the most violent.

On one side, we have a former 5-time Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion and one of the four pillars of the beloved ’90s All Japan. On the other side, we have The Wrestler and a man with an illustrious history in both wrestling and combat sports. This is the Forbidden Door opening for Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada.

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada
[Photo: Daily Motion]

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada
The History Of Two Warriors

Toshiaki Kawada made his wrestling debut on October 4th, 1982. With a history of amateur wrestling in his high school years and training in the NJPW dojo. He made a name for himself in AJPW through his stiff wrestling style and hard-hitting martial arts strikes, earning him the nickname ‘Dangerous K’.

Despite the long-term damage his wrestling style did to his body. He continued to mix his martial arts with the different Japanese styles prominent all throughout AJPW. It helped to elevate him to legendary status in Japan, awarding him 23 five-star or above matches from Dave Meltzer.

Throughout the 90s, Kawada was one of the most feared wrestlers in the world, with a certain man coming from the horizon to challenge for that title. Katsuyori Shibata came into the wrestling world in 1999 in New Japan Pro Wrestling, alongside legends such as Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura as the ‘Three Musketeers’.

Shibata established himself as The Wrestler through his deliberate pure technical style and precise striking. This elevated him to big-time matches for IWGP titles in both the heavyweight and Junior heavyweight divisions.

His violent style was solidified in the 2000 Young Lion Cup when he hit Masakuza Fukuda with an elbow drop. This put him in a coma, which led to him dying 4 days later. As well as this, he had a history of competing in kickboxing and MMA in 2003 and 2004. This added some legitimacy to his style. However, he had one more item on his checklist before getting the name of the hardest hitter in wrestling. It was a win over Toshiaki Kawada.

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada –
King’s Road vs. Strong Style

Not only was this match going to be a battle of toughness and striking, it was also destined to be a clash of opposing wrestling styles in Japan. Toshiaki Kawada became a legend through his lineage with the King’s Road style of wrestling, which was prominent during the ’90s All Japan.

It consisted of technical wrestling and strong storytelling throughout the matches. This included hard-hitting strikes and a violent array of suplexes. The style has created a history of having some of the greatest matches among the wrestling world. Toshiaki Kawada made himself famous in AJPW with his legendary rivalry with his high school friend turned to enemy, Mitsuharu Misawa.

In the other big-time company in Japan, NJPW, Antonio Inoki was developing a style that mixed his history of martial arts and combat sports with professional wrestling called Strong Style. The excellence of strong style was mixing the spectacle and storytelling of wrestling with the stiff strikes and MMA-style technical grappling to give the matches a more intense and realistic feel.

Katsuyori Shibata became one of the prime examples of strong style to the wrestling world. With his fighting experience, it helped him to bring masterful grappling to his matches. He could compete with some of the best technicians in the sport, such as Zack Sabre Jr.

As well as this, Shibata’s savage blows could knock off the jaws, such as Tomohiro Ishii and even a former UFC fighter in Matt Riddle. Not only did this match represent a contest of who was the baddest man in Japanese wrestling, but was also a contest that put the two most prominent styles in all of wrestling against each other.

Straight To Business

Knowing the history of violence and greatness that Toshiaki Kawada is capable of, Katsuyori Shibata knew that he had to give his opponent no time to breathe. Before the bell had rung, Shibata hit a surprising array of strikes in the corner. But before he could land a kick to the face, Kawada quickly escaped to the outside.

An experienced veteran not being caught twice by the same trick. However, the punishment continued with a barrage of kicks to the back and chest of Kawada and leaving him laying outside, taking a stand in the squared circle.

Kawada did not take this onslaught lightly by showing zero fear and getting straight back in the ring. He was preparing to throw down with the Wrestler. After a short standoff and lock-up, they went straight back to business by throwing elbow after elbow with scary force toward their opponent’s jaw.

No advantage was shown until Shibata managed to rock Dangerous K with a precision slap to the chin. After this, Shibata began to grind down Kawada with a stretching chin hold that he turned into the Kawada special, Stretch Plum, to mock the King’s Road style.

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada –
Art Created Through Savagery

Both made it back to their feet, but it did not take long to go back to their usual pleasantries. Kawada tried to trade slaps with his enemy to get an advantage. But Shibata slowed him down once again with the strong-style kicks to the damaged midsection of Kawada. However, the first mistake was made when Shibata tried to mock the ‘Kawada kicks’, which only fired up the opponent.

Both men had an intense head-to-head, which Shibata ended by palm-striking his adversary in the chin, which had zero effect on Kawada. The Dangerous K’s response was an abundance of strikes to the head and a beat down in the corner. This included some savage martial art kicks and sickening stomps to the head to try and put out Shibata. He followed this up with a King’s Road style backdrop, high on the neck of the Wrestler to take him out for good.

Neither man was holding back on each other, regardless of the slams, the wrestling, or the strikes. The savagery could only get worse from this point onwards, despite the greatness in the squared circle.

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada
Taking Intense Puroresu To A New Level

Toshiaki Kawada tried to take the victory with a tight Stretch Plum that looked to tear the head right off the Wrestler’s body. After a dangerous amount of time in the hold, which would have taken out many wrestlers.

Kawada showed mercy by going for the cover, which Shibata barely escaped the three count. The mercy shown was a mistake. As Shibata caught a kick from Kawada and proceeded to rain down strikes on the leg and face of Kawada that somehow didn’t knock him out cold.

The intensity began to turn up with a barrage of brutal chops, forearms, elbow, and saps that had the goal of taking out the other. But would not put down two of the toughest wrestlers in the world. When Shibata got the better of that ugly exchange, he locked on a tight Sleeper hold that was turned into his own high-angle back suplex. Once again, mimicking the King’s Road style.

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Toshiaki Kawada (NJPW, 11/3/04) – Space Flying Tiger Blog

After one more exchange of strikes and le kicks, which began after Shibata landed a ferocious knee to the head. Kawada flattened out his opponent with a right hand and proceeded to kick him in the face. After one more knee to the back of the head, Shibata was finally overcome by the violence put on him by the King’s Road, and Kawada picked u the victory in a brutal matchup.

Katsuyori Shibata and Toshiaki Kawada  –
The Hidden Legacy

The match between Toshiaki Kawada and Katsuyori Shibata is seen as a hidden dream match to many in the wrestling world with their similar hard-hitting styles and the greatness that both men had created through their wrestling ideologies. However, both men did pay the price for their legacy.

Toshiaki Kawada retired 6 years later. In 2010, after competing in companies such as NOAH and ZERO-1, Kawada collected a list of injuries on his back and neck from the relentless suplexes that were seen from the King’s Road style that he had become accustomed to.

Similarly, Shibata had to retire for 4 years in 2017 due to a subdural hematoma through the repeated use of head-butts and strikes to the head. Even though he has returned in 2021 and competes in companies such as AEW and NJPW, he is unable to reach the level he was at a few years back, with this style seen in the match through the careless blows to the skull of each man.

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Toshiaki Kawada (NJPW, 11/3/04) – Space Flying Tiger Blog

Both men knew the risks of injuries going into their matches with their respective styles, but still went through with their stiff and competitive battles to create art in professional wrestling that will excite fans for years to come.

Despite all of the dream wars that we could have if Katusyori Shibata did not have to retire early, but we saw him face off against one great opponent that complimented him well and gave him a fight for the ages: Toshiaki Kawada.