On January 30th, Shinsuke Nakamura wrestled his last match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. In over a decade with the company, Shinsuke established himself as a megastar, setting a trend amongst fans and becoming one of the most charismatic and skilled athletes within the company, let alone the entire world.
He is set to star in WWE’s developmental program NXT, which has welcomed a plethora of talented wrestlers who have made a name for themselves in the indies and within various well-known promotions. Shinsuke’s first match will be against the face of NXT – Sami Zayn, at NXT’s next PPV event in Dallas.
The match will undoubtedly be one of the best performances of the night, but there’s a selection of fans that haven’t seen his unique look and unmistakable talent. He’s relatively unheard of, but here’s a rundown of why Shinsuke Nakamura, the King of Strong Style, is set to be your new favourite wrestler.
Born in Kyoto, Japan in 1980, Shinsuke started off his amateur wrestling career in high school and soon found his footing quickly. He was winning junior qualifying classes all over until he passed a newcomer audition for NJPW in 2001. Just one year later, he was inducted into the New Japan dojo and had his first match against Tadao Yasuda.
It was easy to see the appeal of Shinsuke even then, and New Japan had faith in his abilities by allowing him to become the youngest IWGP Heavyweight champion in history, beating Hiroyoshi Tenzan, only a year and four months after his initial debut. His combination of strength, speed and expertise made him a favourite amongst fans, and various matches against several MMA fighters cemented his place within the company.
After vacating the title after an unfortunate injury, Shinsuke later teamed up with Hiroshi Tanahashi, one of New Japan’s current and most popular wrestlers. They had a successful run together, which later ended up with them feuding. However, after disbanding Nakamura challenged a wrestling superstar to the ring; Brock Lesnar.
Shinsuke’s defeat to Lesnar was followed by his announcement that he was departing from New Japan to hone his skills. There were rumours about a brief stint in WWE but nothing came to pass, and before long Shinsuke returned to the company following an urgent need of talent. Lesnar had abruptly left, and the founder Antonio Inoki was reportedly forced out following a sharp decline in business, which was a result of his focus on MMA and foreign talent.
Nakamura and Tanahashi then took centre stage, and paved the way for NJPW. Both feuding for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Shinsuke failed to acquire the belt until two years later at Wrestle Kingdom II (the NJPW equivalent of Wrestlemania). A month later and despite a triumphant win against the great Kurt Angle, Shinsuke later dropped the championship to Keiji Muto – also known as The Great Muta.
One year later, and Shinsuke Nakamura had decided to form a stable called ‘CHAOS’ with one of the NJPW’s biggest jokers, Yano Toru (a wrestler so talented, he can sell his very own DVDs whilst putting on a match simultaneously). Their goal? To bring back ‘strong style’ into NJPW.
It was around this time when Shinsuke debuted his devastating finisher, the Boma-Ye. He cleaned house during the G1 Climax tournament 2008, crediting the move as the one which later fractured Tanahashi’s orbital bone. However, Shinsuke failed to the win the annual tournament, later redeeming himself in 2009 by winning the IWGP Heavyweight for a third time in his career.
With this new move-set behind him and his endless charisma, the King of Strong Style managed to defend the title for two years. However, he suddenly lost the title to Togi Makabe (a wrestler who takes his inspiration from Bruiser Brody) and was briefly sidelined with an injury. This lead to a chase for the title yet again, involving Tanahashi with some truly incredible matches.
If there was a spot to be filled in the company, Shinsuke would fill it. He would be paired up against wrestlers from different companies which NJPW had employed, and numerous different champions. Still, he hadn’t claimed a title until 2012, where he won the IWGP Intercontinental for the very first time. He defended the title for an extended period, against the likes of Kazuchika Okada (think Ric Flair, but 28 and not creepy), Karl Anderson and Shelton Benjamin.
A rematch with Shelton Benjamin resulted in a loss for the great Shinsuke, but he later reclaimed it and nominated none other than Tanahashi to wrestle in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8. Unsurprisingly, as was the case with their back-and-forth feud, Tanahashi took the win.
Invasion Attack 2014 was a superb PPV for NJPW, which saw Bullet Club members The Young Bucks betray their leader, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), and Shinsuke won the Intercontinental title from the clutches of Tanahashi. Again, their feud had been going for years, but their performances were entertaining nonetheless.
NJPW followed with a North American tour, which coincided with Ring of Honour for a joint PPV, titled War of the Worlds. Featuring the likes of A.J. Styles, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger and Okada, War of the Worlds showcased one of ROH’s biggest stars Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens), in a match-up against Nakamura.
Some hardcore wrestling fans were more than aware of Shinsuke and his amazing capabilities, but it wasn’t until Jeff Jarrett pushed his partnership with NJPW to promote Wrestle Kingdom 9 to an American audience that people started to take notice. Utilising one of the greatest commentators of all time, Jim Ross and some other guy called Matt Striker, Jeff Jarrett helped push the identity of such fabulous wrestlers as Okada, Tanahashi and Shinsuke, to name a few on the stacked up card.
One of the matches on the PPV involved newcomer and fiery upstart Kota Ibushi, who had attacked and challenged Shinsuke to an Intercontinental title match. Sick of Nakamura’s prominent place in NJPW, Ibushi wanted to take his role and further the career of younger talent. Of course, Shinsuke was more than happy to oblige.
Unsurprisingly, it was a sure-fire hit amongst those who were new to the promotion. Declared match of the year by many, Shinsuke’s match with the young and talented Ibushi helped further their careers and cemented Ibushi as a wrestler to keep watching, as he was destined for greatness.
After losing the title to Hirooki Goto, Shinsuke took part in the 2015 G1 Climax and lost to – you guessed it – Tanahashi. Thankfully for Nakamura, he did regain the Intercontinental for the fifth time and was then confronted by the newer leader of the Bullet Club, the phenomenal A.J. Styles.
It was a match-up that fans had wanted to see for some time. Styles had rejuvenated himself in NJPW, by challenging Okada in his first match and later claiming himself as the leader of the Bullet Club. His match up with Shinsuke Nakamura was inevitable, but no one could’ve guessed what was to transgress after Wrestle Kingdom 10.
It was rumoured soon after across message boards, that A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, along with members of the Bullet Club, were to be picked up by the WWE. It almost seemed unfathomable. A.J. Styles made sense in the scheme of things, but WWE taking one of NJPW’s hottest talents just seemed too crazy to be true.
Surprisingly, it was. On January the 6th, during an interview with Tokyo Sports, Nakamura confirmed his departure from NJPW. It was shocking news that NJPW were to lose one of their most essential wrestlers. With a career in NJPW spanning over a decade, it seemed that Nakamura wanted to continue his path with the WWE. At the age of 36 though, it was understandable. He had accomplished multiple reigns within the company, and it was time to look elsewhere.
Thankfully, NXT is the perfect place for him. Japanese talent such as Kenta (Hideo Itami) and Kana (Asuka) have fared rather well so far, with Asuka doing tremendously. If handled just as well, we could very well see Nakamura facing off against fan favourites. As long as he doesn’t get injured, that is.
In his time in NJPW, he went from being a ‘Super Rookie’ to becoming the King of Strong Style. He was a trendsetter, who brought forth a unique style. He has a brutal move set in the squared circle, which rivals many. His Boma-Ye for example, is one of the most impactful and stiffest moves in the ring as well. His 2006 break allowed for him to bulk up and change his skillset for the better, introducing moves such as the ‘landslide’ to his repertoire.
It’s funny, because when viewers witness Shinsuke for the first time, they see a goofy looking wrestler, with a half-shaved head and legs clad in bright red leather. But then, he moves. He moves and then suddenly, he’s captivating and insanely appealing. When he revealed his look featuring the shaved head, it wasn’t long before NJPW fans started appearing at shows with the same hairdo as well. He is to say, a trendsetter in the world of wrestling, which is not something that has been seen for some time.
He has been dubbed as ‘Swagsuke’ by fans, and there’s no surprise to see why. Just watch any one of his entrances at Wrestle Kingdom, and you’ll bear witness to a wrestler who moves in a remarkable fashion. If anything, he’s become so popular with his unique look and strong style, that he’s even featured in Japanese music videos (and surprisingly Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’).
Throughout his tenure with NJPW, Shinsuke still managed to keep things fresh. He switched up his move set, changed his look and despite wrestling Tanahashi almost as much as Orton and Cena, he still managed to keep his matches exciting. That is a testament to his abilities.
He just knows how to tell storylines in the ring remarkably well, and his match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 with Ibushi exhibited that perfectly. You could tell that Ibushi was the young underdog trying to make an impact against the arrogant veteran, with their movements in the ring telling that story, as they continuously mocked each other and stole moves.
Daniel Bryan has shown interest in a match, but whether or not the WWE will ever clear him remains to be seen. Hopefully, he faces off against Finn Balor to begin with, pushing himself straight to the top of the NXT card. His charisma is infectious and NXT viewers will be enamoured with his appearance on the show. He’s had previous experience with Kevin Owens and Finn, so it makes sense that he faces off against the likes of those within his first few months, at least.
It was evident during his last appearance at NJPW that he valued by his friends in and out of the ring for all those years. His close friend Okada was in tears and the overwhelming response from fans left Shinsuke emotional. He is without a doubt, a one of a kind wrestler. Talent like this doesn’t come around all too often, and WWE will have to carefully plan his place within their company. Hopefully, if all goes to plan – we’ll even see him rematch against Brock Lesnar. We can only hope.
Here’s to Shinsuke Nakamura’s next chapter in his illustrious wrestling career. May he Boma-Ye his way through the roster and become recognised for his quirky personality and extraordinary talent in the ring. He oozes charisma and through injuries and a turbulent time in NJPW, he proved himself again and again. He is without a doubt, one of the best wrestlers on this planet. YEAOH!