Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs Matt Riddle
RPW British Heavyweight Championship
York Hall, Bethnal Green, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
(reviewed 10/28/2017) Man, I like this so so so sooooo much more than I thought I was going to. Coming into this match I was real hesitant, as these sorts of styles clash (or more accurately, personality clash) dream matches can be hit or miss. I expected Shibata to refuse to work with Riddle’s shenanigans and I expected Riddle to refuse to be anyone other than himself. Instead, they both came to play here and leaned into those differing dispositions and highlighted them while sticking to their bread and butter of aggressive grappling and striking. As they’re both getting their bearings early on, Shibata’s able to gain control repeatedly on the mat, frustrating the former UFC star, who is very much used to sweeping the board with less technically sound opponents. Riddle sticks with it and is able to get a few holds in on Shibata, but the champion’s right there with him, determined to stay on top, taking Riddle down with a wristlock transition at one point that is astounding and something I’ve never seen before. Shibata continues wearing away at his opponent’s arm and this frustrates Riddle to the point that he just explodes with a shot to the liver that opens Shibata up before just raining strikes down on him left and right, leaving the champion reeling at the end. Before long, Riddle starts to settle into his groove, feeling the match, feeling the adulation of the UK crowd that adores him, and he gets a little cocky with a few chops. Shibata DOES NOT take kindly to it and stubbornly asks for some more, firing up, trying to get his blood going again with these chops from this annoying blonde goofball, eventually just flooring Riddle with a big elbow that exacerbates the harm done from an earlier armbar. They go on like this with these fiery segments back and forth, the sort of thing that sounds silly on paper, the sort of thing that I usually find off-putting, but here? Here, it somehow works. Even through a series of German suplex no sells it works because it’s rooted in this struggle of character that manifests through some damn good wrestling. Even through Riddle’s many dramatic faces after Shibata kicks out of his big moves it works because this, in a lot of ways, is the biggest test of Riddle’s career thus far, even considering the matches with Hero or Thatcher. I love the way Shibata sells and feeds and bumps here but Riddle’s on his best behavior too, with his only real foible being that dumb Pele kick that never looks good and is actually ghosted here. By the end he’s just throwing whatever he can at Shibata, even applying Shibata’s own combos like the sleeper and PK to put him away, but the champion survives it all. The real kicker is that Shibata simply has more firepower, has more stopping power, as all it takes is one big slap to cut Riddle off and open him up for the sleeper hold. The American struggles up to his feet, lifting his opponent with him, but Shibata uses the leverage to hit a sleeper suplex, stringing that into a penalty kick that sends Riddle grasping for the ropes, finally capping it off with a sleeper that Riddle just has no answer for and he taps. Awesome stuff here. At this point in time in January of 2017, this would have been my favorite Shibata match in God knows how long and even though, writing this in October, I know Riddle’s got a lot of highly-touted matches coming up that could easily take the cake, I’m thinking that this is my favorite Matt Riddle match ever. Make sure you see this match, folks.