Tomohiro Ishii (c) vs Katsuyori Shibata
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 12/30/2016) This is one of those matches that tends to look bad in retrospect despite adoring it at the time, so I’m going to give it a second look here. Also I want to have a review of it that isn’t a million words long. They start things fast and furious with callbacks to their 2013 G1 match (one of a few matches I’m comfortable with calling five stars), and the crowd loves it. It’s goofy, to be sure, as these guys take turns going “no, hit me HARDER” in a competition setting, but with stubborn strikers such as this, it works on some level and doesn’t feel too much like bad anime, though I’m sure many would disagree. Their selling (as well as their lack thereof) is much of the same, being real goofballs but compelling if you can buy into it. The action itself is just fantastic, real mean-spirited and brutal without appearing explicitly dangerous for the most part. The big clunking headbutts are the obvious exception to that rule, though they provide for some tremendous, groan-inducing spots. There are very awkward moments strewn throughout here as they transition between super-stiff spots and spots that aren’t meant to be stiff and end up looking super weak (not just in comparison, but in general), and in flitting back and forth between extremes they pass over the optimal middle. A lot of that is due to Shibata’s bumping and how he moves in the ring. Likewise, the general pacing of this match isn’t great with the constant back and forth, and it’s too long to be the explosive sprint their 2013 G1 match was. A year ago, when I watched and reviewed this the first time, I thought it was just incredible, describing it as the sort of matches that separates the great from the stellar, the four and three quarters from the five. Here, a year later, I feel quite different, though I’d say I still love this match on some level. If you can buy into it as I did on that cold January morning all those months ago, it’s a thrill a minute and brutally delightful all the way through. But if you can’t buy into it, it’s probably because this match is inconsistent at its very core. Mere seconds after sportsmanly allowing their opponent to attack them, these men are going at it tooth and nail. Savage kicks to the face are followed up with sloppy suplexes. At its best, this match feels so real and visceral, but at its worst it couldn’t feel more fabricated, and the jump between those two extremes is very jarring. In the end, I suppose I think the good outweighs the bad here, though it’s truly hard to separate the two, and I know many people have a harder time of doing it here than I do.If you like the sort of matches that these two have, you’ll probably love this to no end, and if you don’t like them, you’ll probably find it pants-on-head stupid.