At the G1 Climax 31 Finals, fans got a big surprise as Katsuyori Shibata returned to competition. Shibata battled Zack Sabre Jr in a five-minute exhibition that ended in a draw. After the exhibition, Shibata promised that the next match would be for real before taking a back bump.
Speaking to NJPW, Zack Sabre Jr discussed what it was like locking up with Shibata again.
"My sights were set on the final until Yokohama, obviously. When it was clear I was out of the tournament, and this opportunity presented itself, well you saw what happened. Everyone knows just how serious his injury was in 2017 and his retirement. But when I saw him make that appearance in the Budokan in 2019…And he looked like he was in the best shape of his career. Plus I’d heard these rumours that he was a very hands on coach in the LA Dojo, I knew he was in the ring with them, practicing. So he was on my mind. It was like picking up where we left off. I wrestled him in March 2017 over the British heavyweight Championship," he said.
For the exhibition bout, ZSJ wore the same jersey he wore when he faced Shibata at the NJPW 45th Anniversary Show. Speaking about the jersey, ZSJ said, "It was lucky I still had it, heh. But he got injured right afterward, and I felt we never got the chance to really compete in NJPW, and I knew if we did they would be strong matches that brought the best out of me."
Asked if he's spoken to Shibata since the bout, ZSJ said, "No. It was a rare sign of sportsmanship from me, and I think that was enough. You won’t see that often from me. He almost died for professional wrestling. Seriously. It’s hard to not accept that handshake as much as my usual instincts would be to decline. You know, I bought a special Japanese edition of Monopoly just in case the next time we compete can’t be in a wrestling match, but I think he’ll be putting his ring gear on again, and I’m waiting for it.
It is unknown when Shibata will make an official return to the ring.
You can find Shibata's comments on his return by clicking here.
Zack Sabre Jr. is set to challenge Shingo Takagi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Title at NJPW Power Struggle.