Known for his impeccable style and eccentric persona, Shinsuke Nakamura has had some amazing matches in both NJPW and WWE.
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Nicknamed The King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling from 2002 to 2016, earning myriad titles, achievements, and accolades before signing with WWE and making a huge splash when he debuted in their buzz-generating developmental promotion NXT.
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Known for his impeccable style and eccentric persona inspired by Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury as well as his predilection for obliterating dudes with stiff knee strikes, Nakamura has put on numerous classics over the course of his career in both promotions, so let’s check out five of his best NJPW matches as well as five of his best bouts for WWE.
New Japan’s annual G1 Climax tournament is the best time of year for pure pro wrestling, allowing fans to watch every major NJPW heavyweight wrestle one another round robin style — sometimes in never-before-seen singles matchups — all for a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom. This match between CHAOS stable mates Nakamura and Okada was to determine the Block B winner, with the victor moving on to the finals against Hiroshi Tanahashi, and features incredible moments like Nak countering a Rainmaker into an armbar and Okada delivering a Tombstone on the floor.
Shinsuke Nakamura faced AJ Styles before in NJPW, but WWE hyped their WrestleMania 34 title bout as a “dream match.” It wasn’t the match fans were expecting, but it ended up facilitating a heel turn for Nakamura and a subsequent feud based entirely on Nak being unable to resist uppercutting AJ Styles in the balls. The best match of this series was the last one, a Last Man Standing match at Money in the Bank, which ended in Styles kicking Nakamura in the crotch and putting him through the announce table with a Phenomenal Forearm from the top rope.
In his New Japan career, Shinsuke Nakamura only ever had two singles matches against fan favorite Kota Ibushi. The first was in the 2013 G1 Climax, where the NJPW star Nakamura took on Ibushi, at that time an underdog part-timer who was best known for his work for the more comedy-oriented promotion DDT.
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The match is one of the great Nakamura matches, full of stiff strikes and one of the most egregious — but totally justified — kickouts at one you’ll ever see.
One of Shinsuke Nakamura’s most underrated bouts from his time in NXT was this singles match with Austin Aries, which had the misfortune of following Nakamura’s lauded debut match at the previous TakeOver. It’s not the overt banger that some of the other matches on this list appear to be, but it’s a great match with a solid story — hot acquisition Aries has a chip on his shoulder and feels upstaged by NXT’s newer, hotter acquisition, so he wants to prove himself at Nakamura’s expense.
The IWGP Intercontinental Championship is NJPW’s secondary championship, and it’s the title Shinsuke Nakamura legitimized with five separate title reigns. At NJPW’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom, he defended his IC title against Bullet Club leader AJ Styles in what many fans considered a dream match so good that their WrestleMania rematch never could have measured up. This would be both men’s final singles match for NJPW before signing with WWE.
Shinsuke Nakamura only fought Prince Devitt in a singles match once before — in a 10-minute bout in the New Japan Cup tournament in 2014 — but on a regular TV episode of NXT, the pair fought a match that went over double that length and ended up being the only match on the show. Expectedly hard-hitting, the match was a TakeOver quality affair in the days before NXT felt obligated to do those on their TV show.
You can never go wrong with a Nak/Tana match. Right after defeating Kazuchika Okada for Block B supremacy, Shinsuke Nakamura took on Block A winner, NJPW Ace Hiroshi Tanahashi, in the G1 Climax tournament finals.
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In this 32-minute bout, two of the company’s biggest stars and top rivals — who also come up together in NJPW’s dojo system — pulled out all stops to deliver a classic match that would also be their last singles bout together, as Nakamura would depart for WWE in January of the following year.
Nakamura took Samoa Joe’s NXT Championship at TakeOver Brooklyn II, so Joe decided to throw a weeks-long temper tantrum, wrecking NXT jobbers and hot new prospects until he got a rematch. This is that rematch, where two of the hardest hitters in NXT hit one another as hard as they can. Nakamura’s NXT run wasn’t really much when it came to character work or anything like that, but he had lots of awesome matches. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Nakamura deliver a nasty German Suplex to Samoa Joe.
Kota Ibushi, an avowed admirer of Shinsuke Nakamura, challenged his idol for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at NJPW’s biggest show of the year. It’s an awesome, hard-hitting match as you’d expect from a meeting of the Golden Star and the King of Strong Style, but the match is extra exciting because of the storytelling: the younger Ibushi is desperate to prove himself to the veteran, so he adopts a surprisingly aggressive style against Nakamura that almost comes off as heelish to an American wrestling fan.
Shinsuke Nakamura’s very best WWE match was his first, a highly anticipated TakeOver bout against beloved NXT protagonist Sami Zayn, who was on his way out of developmental, during WrestleMania weekend. Despite a lack of a build or a feud surrounding it, the match was an intense and exciting 20 minute affair that had the crowd so hyped that they had to invent a new chant to show their excitement: “Fight forever.” It’s not only Nakamura’s best WWE match, but also one of the best NXT matches of all time.
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Danny Djeljosevic is a writer based in San Diego, CA. His last name is slightly easier to pronounce than it looks.