This Sunday at Wrestlemania, on arguably the most stacked card in WWE history, we will have the pleasure of witnessing a match between 2 of the very best professional wrestlers in the entire world. The WWE Champion AJ Styles defending his title against the winner of the 2018 Men’s Royal Rumble Shinsuke Nakamura. This is being billed as a dream match, and some of you may be aware of history between these 2 competitors pre-dating their time in WWE. Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles has in fact happened once before, and in this blog I’ll be telling you all about it. Hopefully you’ll go and watch the match for yourself, or if not I hope to further your excitement for Wrestlemania.
So… on January 4th 2016 at the New Japan Pro Wrestling event ‘WrestleKingdom 10’ (aka their equivalent of Wrestlemania) in the Tokyo Dome, a 1st time ever one on one match up took place for the prestigious IWGP Intercontinental Championship; the champion Shinsuke Nakamura defending against the then leader of the Bullet Club; AJ Styles. On the morning of WrestleKingdom 10 it was widely reported that AJ, Nakamura and also Doc/Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson all handed in their notices to New Japan, informing them of their intention to sign with the WWE. This may have been a blessing in disguise as it led New Japan to abolish their policy of giving 1 year deals to their top stars. 24 hours later AJ was turned on by his Bullet Club teammates, just weeks later he would enter the Royal Rumble match and Shinsuke would make his WWE debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas that following April. Gallows and Anderson followed soon after, and the rest is history. But this was the match that made the hype for the arrivals of Styles and Shinsuke to the WWE reach near unfathomable levels.
The match begun with an extended ‘feeling out process’ between the two, with very little moves from either man in the early stages. AJ had a long rest hold in, they both exchanged holds, and then both men stood tall as the psychological battle between these 2 warriors was evenly fought early on.
Both then attempted their finishing moves but were each dodged by the other. They then exchanged taunts to one another, it was really an enthralling chess match up to this point. AJ then hit a dropkick, Nakamura got on top soon after though as the contest remained an even fight. That was up until Styles appeared to fall awkwardly on his back, and with concern by the ref and coming from the voice of the commentators Nakamura turned his back to let Styles be seen to… only for AJ to get up and hit The King of Strong Style in the back (AJ was a heel in New Japan so tactics like this were unsurprising).
Styles then locked in an exquisite looking submission on Nakamura, only broken when he was able to find the bottom rope. AJ maintained control with a series of strikes to the title holder, another great exchange between the 2 followed, ending when Shinsuke dropped Styles onto his knee to further target his opponent’s back. Styles received more damage on the outside of the ring when Nakamura launched him into a barricade railing. He then rolled him into the ring as Nakamura demonstrated his unique set of offence with a series of kicks, an inziguiri and then his ‘good vibrations’ move in the corner of the ring to his opponent. He then set up for his Kinshasa finisher (then known as the ‘Bomaye’) but AJ moved out of trouble. He was though unable to move out of the way of a knee strike with AJ trapped in the corner; 1 , 2 , but not the 3 as Styles kicked out.
Styles would then hit a springboard forearm, a vertical suplex into the lower part of the padding on the corner turnbuckle and then, after having a potential Styles Clash countered out of, was able to lock his Cab Crusher submission in, AJ hit some more kicks but then it was Nakamura who responded with a big inziguiri kick to Styles that left both men down with the magnitude and just how much they were putting in to this match that was about to really go to another level.
Nakamura would then take charge after a backstabber. He then went for his Bomaye but AJ moved out the way once again, another delightful exchange of wrestling then led to Styles locking in the Cab-Crusher, but Shinsuke then rolled him over into an Armbar, to which AJ defiantly punched his way out of. It did though demonstrate that Nakamura isn’t just a striker, he can mat-wrestle and grapple too!
He’d maintain his control of the match by putting Styles in a torture rack position that he turned into a spin-out Powerbomb that earned him a 2 count and a nearfall. AJ would show his willing and determination by getting back into it, he attempted to perform the Styles Clash on 3 occasions but each time he was unable to lift Nakamura up. And as such Shinsuke then flipped him over and went to hit him with another knee strike but was unsuccessful. He did though later hit the Bomaye from the top rope no less, and believe me it REALLY connected right on Styles face. The impact of the move in fact left both men down.
Styles was able to recover enough to bring the match to an even level again. They exchanged more strikes, AJ even got a nearfall in on Nakamura, and then followed a really wondeful exchange of fist and leg strikes from both men. Styles hit a Pele Kick but Shinsuke responded with enough offence to get a nearfall of his own.
Shinsuke would then get Styles in a fireman’s carry position but AJ rolled into a nearfall, before then hitting a Bomaye of his own. And with the momentum swinging his way now he made his way to the top rope before hitting a glorious-looking 450 splash that gained a 2 count. At this point the crowd really seemed to get into the match, and in Japanese culture it’s rare for a wrestling audience to be particularly loud during any match.
Nakamura then amazingly rolled AJ into another Armbar, he pulled at his leg then to increase the pain on his opponent too. Nakamura would then transition into a Triangle hold… and then somehow AJ picked his opponent up with 1 arm and hit the Styles Clash! 1 , 2 , but again not the 3! AJ’s frustrations then began to be clear to see and his Styles Clash would be blocked again. As a result Styles chose to take Nakamura to the top rope with him, he then looked like he would attempt a ‘super’ Styles Clash but Shinsuke was able to hit some strikes on AJ meaning he was able to take charge before slamming him down from the top. But this was still not enough to put Styles away.
A desperate yet defiant AJ Styles began to crawl away in search of some sanctuary from a resurgent champion but would succumb to 2 Bomaye knee strikes from Nakamura. And that was FINALLY enough to give him the win and Shinsuke retained his IWGP Intercontinental Championship. But he had to do everything he could to do so and the challenger Styles for sure played an equal part in an absolute classic.
The young lions (the New Japan term for developmental talents) quickly entered the ring to tend to both these exhausted warriors, amongst them was current IWGP United States Champion Jay White by the way… once both men were able to sit up Nakamura offered Styles his fist to bump. And AJ would reciprocate Shinsuke’s sign of mutual respect after what was an incredible contest. A real special moment for the live crowd and a defiant one in New Japan and wrestling history. And as AJ was helped to the back whilst the victorious Nakamura soaked in the celebrations of the crowd, it was clear that both these men had now a new found level of admiration for one another. Nobody could possibly dream of where and how far that would go and the heights it would reach.
And so now we are less than a week until we get the long awaited rematch. On a different continent, in front of 3 times as many live fans in attendance and a surely many times over bigger tv audience. It will be an incredible match, but the back story of both men and their almost unbelievable road to get here just makes it that little bit more special. And just the simple fact this match is happening makes me smile; AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. Absolutely tremendous.
Ps. If you wanted to see just how good the match was, you can see it for yourself @ https://youtu.be/HajGBj3uQiE