Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Hirooki Goto
NEVER Openweight Championship
Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 01/04/2017) I’m tentatively excited for this, though I’ve been let down by every Shibata vs Goto match since the first one, and both of these men have had… odd performances over the last year or so. Shibata tosses his belts (the NEVER belt and the RPW British Heavyweight belt) into the ring with a pretty hilarious amount of derision, which tells you a lot. They start off with some grappling, Shibata aggressively going after his former friend with strikes and armwork. Goto seems somewhat taken aback by it and doesn’t quite know how to respond, and that indecision works against him. Even during Goto’s comeback, Shibata is laser focused on causing his opponent pain, and it takes a big backdrop driver and top rope elbow drop for Goto to really turn things around. Shibata stubbornly eats a few chest kicks and asks for more, stuffing the man with an elbow and his corner dropkick spot afterward. It’s really some vicious stuff, even compared to Shibata’s usual strikes, because it feels like there’s an extra malice behind it. Shibata slaps on an abdominal stretch, punishing Goto with a weak back suplex when he dares to reach the ropes, but Goto pops right back up from it, and they trade a few strikes in between glaring daggers at each other. They each hit a suplex before Goto slams his former tag partner’s head and neck against his knee, leading to a double down. Goto is the first to recover, hitting a facebuster onto his knee this time, but Shibata catches his kick afterward and turns it into a leg trap German suplex. Goto refuses to stay down, laying Shibata out with a clothesline, and Shibata forces him to stay down with an STO. On their knees, both men trade elbows back and forth, with Shibata slapping on a sleeper when Goto catches him in an Ushigoroshi. When Goto goes for the ropes, Shibata traps his arm in a sort of half straight jacket sleeper hold, adding a bodyscissors for good measure, and Goto has to limply roll over to the ropes to survive. Shibata struggles to lift him off the mat afterward, shoving Red Shoes aside, giving Goto time to recover and hit a pair of headbutts, and Shibata flattens him with a chest kick on the way to another double down. Shibata comes off the ropes and is caught in an Ushigoroshi, and a subsequent Shouten Kai earns Goto a nearfall. Goto fires up and buries a rough kick into Shibata’s chest, with Shibata immediately firing up as well and going at it with a hockey fight. Goto stuffs him with a headbutt or two, a facebuster onto the knee, and the GTR for the win. Despite some flashes of brilliance and a refreshingly aggressive Shibata (which feels weird to say), this is pretty bland in comparison to other matches these two have had with each other and with other opponents. That being said, there’s still a good amount of hard-hitting action strewn throughout, and it’s fairly enjoyable if you’re into this sort of thing.