Saturday, 17 March 2018
Katsuyori Shibata v Kazushi Sakuraba (New Japan, 7/5/15)
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 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.