Welcome to Tale of the Feud, a series in which I go back and cover iconic wrestling feuds. Previously, I’ve gone back and looked at the violent rivalry between Bryan Danielson and KENTA before covering the generational battles of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. Today’s entry, though, is about redemption. It’s the story of Katsuyori Shibata proving himself to the New Japan fans and the legends they revere. Enjoy this dive into Shibata vs The Third Generation.
Katsuyori Shibata was supposed to be the future of New Japan. Alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, he was billed as one of the ‘new Three Musketeers’, a link back to the legendary trio of Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Shinya Hashimoto. Those three young studs were being groomed to step-up and carry the company, but then, Shibata left.
It’s easy to forget now, but in the early 2000s, New Japan was not in a good place. The debate around Inokism will rage on forever, but whatever you think of the wrestling, the company was a mess financially and the booking was erratic at best. So, in 2005 Shibata walked away from New Japan and went to work, among other places, for their rivals in NOAH. He was seen as having turned his back on the Dojo that raised him, angering fans, management and wrestlers alike.
Then, in 2012, the new owners of NJPW, Bushiroad, brought Shibata back (alongside Kazushi Sakuraba) without telling several key people backstage. It would be one of the last times Bushiroad would interfere on the creative side of things, but the move had been made, and Shibata now had to prove himself to both the New Japan fanbase and those in the back. It was a long road to recovery for him, including an epic feud with his old friend Hirooki Goto that saw them go to war and team. The final stop, though, took the form of three of the men he’d left behind.
For it wasn’t only his peers Shibata turned his back on, but also his elders. The Third Generation, the group of wrestlers who carried New Japan during the period now known as the dark years, had been relying on the likes of Shibata to pull them out of it. Instead, he’d walked away, and now he was back winning titles in their company (he beat Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom 10) and disrespecting them. If he was going to hold that honour, he was going to have to prove himself against the old dogs.
Kojima comes out surrounded by his Third Generation friends, Tenzan, Nagata and Nakanishi. In contrast, Shibata makes his way to the ring alone, that intense scowl already etched onto his face.
If you’re a fan of either of these men, then you can probably already picture this match, even if you haven’t seen it. Shibata’s intensity continues into the action, as it doesn’t take long for them to unleash in a flurry of forearms. It’s two hard motherfuckers going at it, working with hard strikes and tight submission holds.
And the story running through it is one of Shibata taking Kojima’s best. One of the key moments sees him firing up, walking through a barrage of Kojima blows before sending Koji crumbling into the corner with one of his own. Despite Kojima’s many strengths, it’s shown that Shibata is a step above him. Younger, fitter and able to hit that little bit harder.
It’s what leads to him getting the win, placing Kojima on his arse with a Sleeper before following up with a Penalty Kick. It’s as decisive a victory as you’ll see and Shibata’s first step to earning the respect of the Third Generation. The battle isn’t over yet, though, as Tenzan climbs into the ring to make his challenge. In response, the champ doesn’t say a word, raising his title in the air to accept.
Verdict: Hard Motherfuckers
We again get the contrast of Tenzan walking out surrounded by The Third Generation while Shibata makes the walk alone, the lone wolf coming up against this legendary collection of wrestlers. It’s a striking image, which kind of sums up the feud. Shibata chose to go it alone rather than stand beside his New Japan brethren (that requires you to ignore the fact that Kojima did the same thing, but we’ll let them off with that).
If the Kojima match was an example of the Third Generation stepping up and matching the young stud in Shibata, this was an example of just how brilliant The Wrestler was. 2016 Tenzan, like 2020 Tenzan, is a beat-up man who can’t go the way he once did. However, for the ten or so minutes this match goes on, Shibata does a fantastic job of hiding that. He works around Tenzan’s weaknesses, making him look like the hard old motherfucker he is.
A big part of that comes through that massive head. Time after time Tenzan comes thudding in with headbutts which Shibata sells like he’s being hit with a baseball bat. He’s flopping around the ring, unable to deal with the barrage of blows from Tenzan’s head. It’s a clever move as it requires the minimum amount of movement from Tenzan. All he’s required to do is be Tenzan, that imposing figure of the man who the crowd knows so well, while Shibata does most of the work.
Of course, in the end, the younger man picks up the victory as he again proves himself capable of surviving the veterans and giving it back to him ten times harder. Afterwards, though, Shibata takes a second to bow in Tenzan’s direction, showing respect to the ageing star. What’s less respectful is the kick he delivers to Yuji Nagata’s head, winding Blue Justice up and setting the stage for match number three.
Verdict: Shibata Is Awesome
Tencozy stayed in the back for this one, but Nakanishi still stood at his old partner’s side, cornering him against the lone wolf.
The story here is that the things which worked against Kojima and Tenzan, aren’t enough to put Nagata down. Shibata goes to some of the same tricks, an early Figure Four and a flurry of kicks standing out, but Nagata is a stubborn old cunt. He’s stood at ringside and watched his two friends fall, so there was no way the same thing was going to happen to him.
The turning point comes in a moment similar to Shibata’s firing up against Kojima. He’s teeing off with kicks to Nagata’s chest, but makes the mistake of slapping him around the head. It fires the veteran up, causing him to spring to his feet and send Shibata to the ground with a single blow. In the blink of an eye, it’s now the veteran who is coming forward, driving stiff knees into the champ and dropping him with a brutal Brainbuster.
Shibata doesn’t go down easy. It’s not in his nature. The final blows between these two ring out across the arena, the kind of slaps that would knock out a normal man, but Nagata refuses to flinch. Then, at the death, he gives Shibata a taste of his own medicine, a brutal Penalty Kick to set up the Backdrop Driver and this old dog has reclaimed some honour.
That was an awesome match that told the story of Nagata stepping up to this young prick and putting him in his place. Throw in Nogami going crazy on commentary for his hero, and it was hard not to get wrapped up in the emotion of it. The Third Generation had their victory, but this feud wasn’t done yet.
Verdict: Yuji Nagata, That Is All
Throughout the Best of the Super Junior tour, Shibata and Nagata would find themselves on the opposite side of the ring, their teams trading victories. It meant all roads converged at our final match, Shibata vs Nagata II at Dominion where the entire Third Generation was back to stand in Yuji’s corner.
Despite losing that last match, Shibata walks into this one with all the arrogance in the world. Early on he even teases going for a very familiar Armbar, not quite rolling his eyes back into his head, but blinking in a way that makes you wonder whether he’s about to. At one point, he even invites Nagata to kick him, calling him forward to deliver shuddering blows to his chest.
And as the match goes on, this gets stiffer and stiffer. Blood starts to stain Nagata’s teeth, meaning that when he locks on that Armbar himself, it only becomes all the more terrifying. Both men take their moments in control to dish out horrible strikes on top of horrible strikes, as dealing pain seems to take the place of going for the win. It’s two people trying to beat respect into each other.
In the end, it’s a choke that makes the difference, Nagata trying desperately to escape it, but Shibata hanging on limpet-like. It allows him to sit Old Yuji down and set him in the exact same spot Kojima and Tenzan occupied before meeting with that PK. The Wrestler got his title back and put The Third Generation behind him once and for all.
In the post-match, Shibata steps back and bows to Nagata, his respect earned through the battles they had. Then, in return, Nagata moves in, shares a few words and raises his hand as the Third Generation watch on, accepting him back into the fold. The Wrestler then leaves the ring, letting the three veterans have their moment as he heads to the back, the torch that was once meant to be placed in his hands arriving later than they expected, but getting there eventually.
Verdict: The Torch Is Passed
I struggle to watch this and not feel a little bit sad. It’s a beautiful piece of storytelling as Shibata goes up against the past to atone for his sins and earn his right to be the future. Over the course of these four matches, you can hear the fans getting louder and louder for him, and by the end, he has been reaccepted by the New Japan faithful. Of course, what we know is that it’s an acceptance that he’ll never get to embrace fully. His first IWGP Heavyweight Title shot just a year later marked the end of his career, and he’s now stepped back to become a trainer. Still, that doesn’t change the fact this is a fantastic feud and well worth your time. Sit back and remember Shibata because fuck that man was good.
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