People backstage at Wrestle Kingdom 16 were reportedly “freaking out” after Katsuyori Shibata apparently took it upon himself to change the rules for his comeback match. The scene unfolded during Night 1 of the event on Tuesday.
Katsuyori Shibata got on the microphone in the ring just before the match. According to a translation from New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s English language website, Shibata declared, “‘Let’s change the rules. This is a pro wrestling match!”
On Thursday’s Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer said almost no one backstage knew Shibata was going to try to change the rules of his match. Noting no one backstage knew what was happening, including New Japan’s head booker Gedo.
Katsuyori Shibata and his opponent, Ren Narita, exchanged some kicks at the start of the match. However, the match later settled into a grappling-focused contest. Shibata pinned Narita after connecting with a penalty kick.
While calling the action for the English language broadcast on New Japan World, Kevin Kelly speculated that Shibata had “gone into business for himself”. A fact that Shibata confirmed after the match.
“I stepped out of line with the company,” Shibata told reporters backstage. “I will gladly take any penalty that’s issued me.”
Dave Meltzer said it’s unlikely that Katsuyori Shibata will face any punishment from New Japan management for his actions. Meltzer thinks it would reflect poorly on the company after the work Shibata put in to return to the ring.
Shibata was forced into early retirement in 2017 after he suffered a subdural hematoma during a match against Kazuchika Okada. Shibata worked for years to prepare his body for a return to in-ring action.
Katsuyori Shibata stated recently that he feels he may have only a handful of matches left in his career. Shibata is currently the head trainer at New Japan’s dojo in Los Angeles.
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