Tomohiro Ishii and Katusyori Shibata. Many stories can be told in wrestling, such as a feud between families and a blood feud between hated enemies. Still, sometimes, it can be as simple as two fighters having pure respect for each other to bring all their ability to the opponent facing them across the ring.
Both Ishii and Shibata have created legacies for themselves as being two of the hardest and most challenging men to ever step into a wrestling ring. So fans all around knew that when they stepped into the ring with one another, it would always result in hard-hitting fights in a rivalry that was a clear representation of the Strong Style seen over in NJPW.
Tomohiro Ishii and Katusyori Shibata –
The G1 Battle That Started the War
Katsuyori Shibata had just recently made a return to NJPW after a 7-year career in kickboxing in October 2012 and went back into being a professional wrestler full-time. His new background in being a legit fighter created an air of legitimacy around him that fans could not ignore, and going into his third G1 tournament in G1 Climax 23, he was definitely someone to watch.
Going into the fourth night, Shibata had 4 points, whereas his opponent, Tomohiro Ishii, who had been gaining a following through his hard-hitting matches against guys like Masato Tanaka and even scored an upset victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi to gain his only 2 points in the tournament and so, both men had a lot of momentum in the tournament.
There was no feeling-out process for this first-time encounter, and instead, both men just rushed at each other to deliver an abundance of stiff forearm shots, one after the other. This laid the foundation for the rest of the match, seeing both men laying in their heaviest shots to one another until they could keep down their opponent for good with Shibata using his concentrated striking of kicks and slaps, battling with Ishii slugging away with his chops and forearms.
There were many stiff strikes that caused both men to bleed from the mouth in the first minute of this match, and from there, the violence just began to escalate
They traded strikes throughout many iconic moments in the match, like both men kneeling to the other to allow chops and kicks to their chest, with neither man allowing themselves to take a break from the war that was ensuing in front of the 6,700 fans inside the Bodymaker Coliseum on August 4th, 2013.
The ending saw both men deliver blows to the head with an enzuguiri from Ishii, followed by a knee to the back of the head from Shibata. Before Shibata could respond, Ishii delivered three of the sickest lariats ever seen in a wrestling ring, followed by a brainbuster to finally stamp an end to the first chapter of this iconic rivalry after 12 minutes of insane striking from both warriors.
A win for Tomohiro Ishii here but just the beginning of the strong style battles between the two
Tomohiro Ishii and Katusyori Shibata –
Taking It to The Biggest Stage
The pair had two matches after their clash at G1 Climax 23 when they faced off on October 14th, 2013, at King Of Pro Wrestling and at the following year’s G1 Climax 24. Still, the next chapter of the rivalry is taken to the biggest stage in all of New Japan Pro Wrestling inside of the Tokyo Dome, which takes us to January 4th, 2016, at Wrestle Kingdom 10, where Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata face off once again for the NEVER Openweight Championship.
A close encounter face-off between both wrestlers showed off the pure intensity in this rivalry and that both knew that they were about to go to battle once again. This led to both men going into their respective corners and starting off with a very fast start with a shoulder barge and both men delivering quick combos of slap after slap, trying to knock off the other’s head and picking up from where they left off in their first encounter in G1 Climax 23.
The savage stiffness continued with both men taking a seat and taking turns to let the standing opponent kick them as hard as they can in the back with zero reaction from the recipient, showing how tough both men were with their hard-hitting style and their respect for one another, along with the intense style spirit that both men possess.
This was a similar match than the original with a quick pace, and the match was set around a display of the strong style of hitting hard, and often that was displayed in NJPW, but there was an extra edge in this fight between the opponents. With the raised stakes of the NEVER Openweight Championship on the line, the strikes landed with more sting. In addition, they would get more creative, like with flying kicks and headbutt exchanges, which seemed to go in favor of Shibata, who locked choke on Ishii, put him on the canvas, and kicked his chest in to win the NEVER Openweight Championship.
Ishii staked his rematch clause for the championship was set for February 11th, 2016, at The New Beginning In Osaka, where Ishii threw respect out of the window with more cheap shots, and disrespectful face washes with his boot in the corner. Shibata responds with some of the hardest strikes that he has ever delivered to anyone, knowing that he must deliver his best shots to put down a charged-up dog like Ishii, which saw him once again put down the Stone Pitbull after Shibata delivered too many blows to Ishii’s head, winning the match and retaining the championship, ending this chapter and leaving the rivalry one apiece to both men.
Crossing Paths One More Time
As fate had it, Tomohiro Ishii and Katusyori Shibata would meet for the final time in the semi-final of the 2017 edition of the New Japan Cup on March 19th, 2017. This match had the theme of every match that these two had together: testing each other’s jaws with their most brutal blows. However, not only did you have Shibata trying to match Ishii blow for blow, but here we have Tomohiro Ishii trying to out-wrestle The Wrestler, which we have never seen in their matches, showing the respect both men have gained for each other throughout the rivalry.
One spot that really summed up their rivalry, which is where they sat cross-legged in front of one another to trade slaps with each other on the necks and jaws to cause as much damage as possible, showing the respect of the strong style created by guys like Inoki and the resect both men had for each other’s abilities in order to do some hard-hitting wars such as this.
Being their longest singles match, clocking in at 22 minutes and 32 seconds, the exhaustion set in for both men, which allowed Shibata to lock in a choke and cause Ishii to pass out, gaining him the final notch on the rivalry. However, the post-match here was beautiful, with Ishii trying to get Shibata to carry on fighting, which made their intentions very clear: they want to truly fight forever.
Katsuyori Shibata went on to win the New Japan Cup and challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 9th, 2017 at Sakura Genesis, which saw Shibata have an unsuccessful attempt at the title and due to his hard-hitting style and excessive use of headbutts, the match with Okada went on to be his final match until October 21st, 2021 in a catch-wrestling match with Zack Sabre Jr due to suffering a subdural hematoma and requiring emergency surgery.
Ishii has went on to become a multi-time NEVER Openweight champion, creating a legacy of hard-hitting classic with guys like Omega and Ibushi and being one of the most consistent workers in all of wrestling.
Whatever paths either of these wrestlers take in their careers going forward, Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata will always look back on that legendary night on August 4th, 2013, in which both men met their greatest rivalry and made themselves famous by embodying the strong style that is talked about so much in New Japan Pro Wrestling and making themselves famous with a rivalry built on respect and proving themselves as the two toughest men to ever step in a wrestling ring.