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[2015-07-05-NJPW] Katsuyori Shibata vs Kazushi Sakuraba


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Man this was awesome. Shibata is someone I love in the right setting and roll my eyes at when he indulges his New Japan main event side, but this was was almost exclusively what I like about him condensed into thirteen minutes. Sakuraba is in his mid-40s and looks it, graying at the sides, his scraggly facial hair and his J League superfan ring gear. Shibata kicks lumps out of him and there's a great bit where he's doing his running corner dropkicks as Sakuraba just lays hunched up like a man who's forgotten why he's still doing this. He can't strike with Shibata, he'll lose that battle every day, so he has to dig into his bag and use everything that made him the Gracie Hunter. I loved all of his quick throws and submissions, going for kneebars to set up armbars to set up chokes like a man younger than his years. At points he was literally crawling all over Shibata, tying up his legs and his arms at the same time forcing to Shibata to grab the ropes with his teeth. My favourite was the fight for the cross armbreaker that he managed to turn into a choke with his fucking ankles. Some of Shibata's selling was unbelievable, especially while in the chokes, and I about lost it when his eyes started rolling back like he was about drop (crowd picked up on it and popped huge too). Shibata getting back into it with the strikes was probably inevitable, but I thought it was great how he went to the choke to wear Sakuraba out for the penalty kick, knowing that it didn't work going for it off the bat earlier. I loved this.

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I watched this on AXS TV originally and the subtitled lead in and post match helped give this match great context. It's Pupil vs Teacher, Anger vs Intelligence, Ace vs Legend- True Strong Style! So, if you see this match available to watch or have it on DVD -go into it with this mindset :) I felt the contest was a callback to the style of Gotch, Inoki, Fujinami, Fujiwara, Maeda, etc. This is a Classical Strong Style bout and not what NJ is calling strong style OR what people consider stiff chop exchanges to be. No, this was like an actual sporting contest like Mixed Martial Arts. The fact that Saku is a grappling god made the match seem that much more real. Shibata was game as hell too! It was emotional, electric, and intense. This was a classic match and a perfect example of Inoki Strong Style in the 21st century to me.

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  • GSR changed the title to [2015-07-05-NJPW] Katsuyori Shibata vs Kazushi Sakuraba
  • 2 years later...

You never quite know what you’re going to get with Sakuraba. But he was immense in this match. And I mean him, not him working on Shibata. Sakuraba’s wiseness allowed him to lock in some great submissions that were perfectly buyable as flash finishers. Sakuraba would cling onto Shibata’s back and lock in a double arm wringer - in which meant Shibata had to use his teeth to grab the ropes - and then later lock in a neck crank in desperation and had Shibata in trouble again. The best submission of the match was Sakuraba locking in an arm triangle but altering it in a way that put his foot up against Shiata’s windpipe. A dirty hold but the crowd went nuts when the camera did a close up on it. Shibata had to deal with that innate skill of his partner that doesn’t go away with age, unlike speed and other physical attributes, and had to rely on his striking and grit to see him to the end where he laid Sakuraba out with a PK. Great, great match. ****1/4

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