WWE has just signed potentially one of the biggest stars that they have not just signed recently, but perhaps ever. Booking strategy and the ability to connect with an American audience will eventually write the Nakamura story as it relates to the 36 year old veterans future, but let’s just go ahead and dive right into it.
Why should the common fan connect with this larger than life talent?
In 2002, the “super rookie” debuted along with one of New Japan’s arguably, if not definitive, greatest of all time, in Hiroshi Tanahashi and current NJPW Never Openweight champion Katsuyori Shibata. They were termed “the three musketeers” and all three wrestlers are still top hands to this day. Nakamura was a good hand in the ring. Not only did he produce very watchable matches, but he also competed in a number of MMA bouts where he boasted a sound record and even competed, albeit in a losing effort, against Daniel Gracie. He won the IWGP Heavyweight champion from Hiroyoshi Tenzan, who WCW fans might be familiar with, as he is a household name to fans new and old. The match was good, but compared to some of the modern product, not great in my opinion and that is just that, my opinion. Injury forced Nakamura to vacate the belt and while I can write you a lengthy story about his return and subsequent title reigns, I won’t do that.
Nakamura participated in an excursion that took him around the globe where he honed his skills competing in Mexico, Russia and Brazil, gaining muscle mass and continuing to establish himself as a player for the future. He factored into NJPW heavily as a part of the “Black Stable” along with Masahiro Chono, who again, American wrestling fans will remember from his days in WCW where he entertained fans alongside the Great Muta, competing in contests against men like Chris Jericho and so forth. Nakamura featured prominently as the “Ace” of the stable and was still heavily featured in NJPW at that time. He saw action against legends of the sport like Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. As things in NJPW evolved, new stars were established and we had the pleasure of seeing the rise of considerably the true “Ace Of The Universe” in Hiroshi Tanahashi and the arrival of another talent who leaps off the page with his unbelievable in-ring acumen and ability to connect with the crowd in “The Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, who returned after his own horribly booked showing in TNA. That is a tale for another day though, my friends.
That’s a quick summary, and here’s where things get good. During this time, Nakamura formed a heel stable called “CHAOS” and proclaimed that he was going to resurrect the Japanese “Strong Style” and was later referred to as “The King of Strong Style” by Antonio Inoki and others. Strong Style can best be defined as a harder hitting style and I need only refer you to matches in NJPW that feature it prominently during this day and age, and I assure you, it will be quite easy to fall in love with. This introduced us to the “BomaYe”. I can write you books on why a running knee strike, especially a running knee strike that be executed from any angle, can hit you in the face, the back of the head, come from the top rope or to the apron outside the ring, is something that I cannot even put into words. CHAOS has made its mark and continues to make its mark on the business and what makes it most interesting, is that the stable featured both Nakamura and Okada, which is ridiculous to say the least. Don’t even get me started on Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano, or I will take the majority of your day away from you.
During this time, a funny thing happened. New Japan introduced the IWGP Intercontinental title, which was meant to be a secondary title, and has been held by the likes of MVP of WWE and TNA fame, Bad Luck Fale, Hirooki Goto, Tanahashi and a number of others. Where the story gets interesting however, is that Nakamura won the title, and some might argue that he brought it to a level that surpassed the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, to the point where fans clamored for Nakamura in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8, where he had a 5 star match against Hiroshi Tanahashi, albeit in a losing effort.
So why should you care? This is all fine and well, correct?
Jim Ross has been one of the greatest wrestling commentators throughout the years and along with Matt Striker, he was asked to commentate New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 as part of a promotional effort with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling. The card was stacked from top to bottom and featured so many stars, young and old, ranging from Tetsuya Naito to AJ Styles. The action was fast paced, fierce, contained so many elements that a common wrestling fan might enjoy, from brawling in the form of a championship match between Togi Makabe and Tomohiro Ishii, to high flying aerial assaults from the Young Bucks, to the comedy of Toru Yano.
The Intercontinental Title match is set to take place. It’s next on the card. The challenger? Kota Ibushi. A tag team specialist who put on some muscle mass and returned to action to challenge Nakamura by executing a german suplex on the talented star. Ibushi comes to the ring with great fanfare, and we turn to the entryway for one of of the most incredible entrances in the history of wrestling. I’ll allow you good folks to look it up and enjoy that for yourself. It’s like spoiling Star Wars, it’s just something I won’t do. Jim Ross calls the entrance beautifully and I believe he sums up Nakamura better then I’d ever hope to do.
“This man is one of the most unique, most talented…” (I’m skipping a bit here.)
“He loves Freddie Mercury (Of Queen). He’s a Michael Jackson devotee. He’s also called The King of Strong Style, meaning he’s a bad dude. How you go from being a fan of Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson and a bad dude, is a unique journey to say the least.”
Bad dude isn’t what he said and I’ll keep it fan friendly for the PG era with that one. I remember sitting in a comfortable chair and laughing so hard when he said that, but it sums it up. You can listen to Jim Ross call that match. He does it so much justice. Matt Striker, at one point, while working for a rival promotion in Lucha Underground, referred to Nakamura as his favorite wrestler in the world. He didn’t even try to play it off afterwards. There is a german suplex spot with Ibushi in that match that pretty much sums up how JR must have felt calling that match, and it hearkens back to the days of “STONE COLD! STONE COLD!” It took me back to when I was a youngster watching Hogan and Warrior at Wrestlemania 6 as far as just being a fan of the product. That is where everything began anew.
Nakamura’s charisma doesn’t just jump off the page, it literally leaps into another book and continues to write its own story to this very day and surely for many days to come. Nakamura retained the title. I’d apologize for the spoiler, but but the larger than life talent went on to defend against Yugi Nagata, also of WCW fame, and many others before dropping the title to Hirooki Goto and ultimately reclaiming it from the established star before going on to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 10, which I’ll come to shortly.
During this time, New Japan had working relationships with other promotions. When Nakamura signed with the NXT brand, you saw comments froma number of current WWE and NXT talents. One of those talents was Kevin Owens. I beg of you, go find the match from the Ring of Honor promotion, May 17th of 2014, which was a ROH/NJPW War Of The Worlds event. I consider that to be my 2014 match of the year, in a year where a number of matches etched themselves in my mind. Finn Balor, who featured prominently in New Japan as Prince Devitt, can attest to Nakamura’s off the page charisma and in-ring acumen. He was there. He saw it firsthand. The list of accolades for the star, and coming from the talents who praise the star, cannot be ignored. Daniel Bryan, before having to retire due to injury, clamored for an opportunity to work in a WWE ring against his former roomate. If you don’t want to take my word for it, trust theirs. They certainly have a better knowledge of the business and what Nakamura brings to the ring and will bring to the fans.
So…Wrestle Kingdom 10. The WWE Royal Rumble 2016 brought us a world traveler as the #3 entrant. It was a man looking to eliminate then champion Roman Reigns. Unfamiliar music, but the fan reaction told us what we needed to know, he was PHENOMENAL. AJ Styles made his own WWE debut and continues to turn heads after traveling the globe himself, staking his claim in federations like TNA, and furthering the Bullet Club stable in New Japan as the IWGP Heavyweight champion on two occasions. At Wrestle Kingdom 10, this man, this world class athlete, challenged Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental title and the internet exploded. The match was everything you would expect and more and not only elevated AJ Styles, but elevated Nakamura. The two men stood on top of the world after that match and it allowed AJ Styles to bring his talents to the WWE and entertain us with programs against Chris Jericho, The Miz, The New Day and whomever else we are going to be allowed to enjoy him in the ring against. AJ Styles gave his notice at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Most wrestling fans had already heard the scuttlebutt. Karl Anderson and Doc (Luke) Gallows of the Bullet Club also turned in their notices. I heard that myself and was super excited to get to enjoy these top tier talents in a WWE ring. However, the exodus hadn’t ceased.
Shinsuke Nakamura gave his notice. Dare we dream? Was this just internet buzz? Were these just wishful fans getting their hopes up? Would we really be able to wear our “King Of Strong Style” shirts to live NXT and WWE events?
Sami Zayn, former NXT world champion and Ring of Honor mainstay, lost a major number one contendor’s match at an NXT taping. NXT General Manager popped up to announce that despite Zayn coming up short in the contest against the number one contendor, he would be seeing in-ring action against a major NXT signing at the “NXT Takeover” Dallas” event just days before the grand daddy of them all, Wrestlemania. Who would he be competing against? It’s an image on the titan-tron. It is a side profile of a very unique haircut, and it’s a familiar face. The arena goes absolutely bananas as fans of the product will get to bear witness to a dream match at that event. Sami Zayn will compete against Shinsuke Nakamura. It will be everything and more. American wrestling fans will quickly become familiar with this explosion of charisma. These two top hands will deliver a quality piece of business and we will have even more reason to thank Triple H and the WWE brass for bringing the very best that the world has to offer, to a WWE ring, and to arenas throughout the world. They presented a beautiful video package on the WWE website to familiarize fans with Nakamura, one that I made reference to a little bit earlier. He is presented the same challenge that men like AJ Styles, Apollo Crews, Hideo Itami, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and so many others have been faced with.
Can Shinsuke Nakamura make the WWE and NXT audiences fall in love with him the same way that fans across the world already have? Chris Jericho said it best during his first interactions with Styles. You haven’t done anything until you’ve done it here. The sky is the limit for Nakamura. But I will ask you one more time. Why should you care about Shinsuke Nakamura?
The answer is simple. Five minutes on the screen, five more minutes in the ring, and he will make you. I will raise my late cup of coffee in his honor. Here’s to hoping that each of you falls in love with “The King Of Strong Style” the way that I, and so many others, already have. YeaOH!
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