When the news that Shinsuke Nakamura would be joining WWE/NXT came out, many observers were wondering if Nakamura would be able to have the same kind of epic matches he had against the likes of Tanahashi, Styles, Okada, Ibushi and others in a promotion that is so different from NJPW. Those doubts were quickly put to rest when, in typical Nakamura fashion, the man himself went out and had a five star match against Sami Zayn on his first ever WWE/NXT appearance.
Now, after Takeover Dallas, I found myself discussing said match with the master of all thing IP, Widro, who wondered who else in WWE would be able to take Nakamura’s offense. And that’s the question I propose to answer today, my top 10 of wrestlers who would be able to have a Sami Zayn-like match with Nakamura. In other words, 10 wrestlers who, in my opinion, could keep up with the King of Strong style when it comes to ultra-stiff offense and hard-hitting bad-assery.
So, before anyone asks, no, no John Cena (You won’t be winning this countdown #CenaWins), no Randy Orton (he would probably dislocate his shoulder just by shaking Nakamura’s hand) and no Roman Reigns (WAHAHAHAHAHA… Ermh… Sorry), just ten guys against whom Nakamura could go all-out and gift us with the kind of matches that made him an absolute superstar in Japan… And now also in NXT. And now I’ve explained all that, let’s start with the fun stuff:
Those who have followed Cesaro’s pre-WWE career know that the Swiss Superman is no stranger to hard-hitting battles. During his ROH days, Cesaro has proven against the likes of Nigel McGuiness and Takeshi Morishima that he can take as well as he can dish out. Furthermore His European strong-man style is not that far removed from the Japanese strong-style, so this could become an intriguing clash of styles. This would be a first-ever match, but I have no doubt Cesaro could keep up with the “King of Strong Style”. The Cesaro Section would certainly love it, but, question is, will WWE allow him to?
9. Austin Aries
Another first-time ever match, there is no doubt Aries and Nakamura would have a whale of a time feuding with each-other. Both know how to play the crowd, both know how to play with their opponent and both are consummate in-ring technicians and generals. I’m guessing that WWE/NXT is currently more interested in steering Nakamura in the direction of Samoa Joe and Fin Balor at this point, but, they could be missing a big match her if they just ignore Aries as a potential adversary. Nakamura has always done well against opponent whose style differed from his (so has Aries for that matter), so I’m pretty sure we have one hell of a match just waiting to happen here.
Having spend years in Dragon Gate Neville is no stranger to Japanese puroreso and while he was booked as a Junior Heavyweight most of the time he did occasional tangle with heavyweights. As PAC, Neville even participated in NJPW Best of Super Juniors 2012 tournament, just before he signed with WWE (he finished first in a block that included Jushin Liger, KUSHIDA, and Prince Devitt and lost to Ryusuke Taguchi in the semis). The fact that Neville is more of an high-flyer is actually an advantage here, as it would give WWE the opportunity to promote the kind of matches that have been so successful in NJPW over the years, the aerial artist vs the martial artist. And if you still don’t believe me go (re)watch Kota Ibushi vs Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 9, that’s how good this one could be.
7. Alberto Del Rio
Might seem a strange name for some, but those are forgetting that ADR has had a rich career in both wrestling and MMA before he ever set foot in a WWE ring. And while the Alberto Del Rio character might seem boring to some, let me assure you that his previous incarnations as El Patron or Dos Caras Jr (the name he also used during his MMA days) are anything but boring. In other words, ADR can easily work that ultra-stiff style… If WWE allows him to. As written above, one of the purposes of this countdown is to find wrestlers who can take Nakamura’s offense full-on. And while this would force WWE to change the ADR character somewhat (which would be to the good), the man himself has certainly earned the right to check that particular box.
6. Finn Balor
That Finn Balor would be an ideal opponent for Nakamura is a no-brainer, since the former prince Devitt has spend th e majority of his career in NJPW. Indeed, between 2006 and 2013, Balor fought against just about the best NJPW has to offer, even managing to make the transition from successful Junior Heavyweight to successful Heavyweight. He even add feuds with the absolute top stars that are Okada and Tanahashi. But what about Nakamura, you ask? Well there has been one match. During the 2014 New Japan Cup, the two met in the quarter-finals, a match that was won by Nakamura in 10:23 (sorry, wasn’t able to find a link for this one). So it’s safe to say a good, long fond between those two is way overdue, given their respective in-ring styles are tailor-made to each-other. Luckily, it seems that’s exactly what NXT has in mind, who better than Nakamura to be Balor’s ultimate challenger for the NXT title?
5. Kevin Owens
Those two have met in the ring once before, at the joint NJPW/ROH War of the Worlds show in 2014. And while the match was only given 13 minutes or so, they did manage to put on quite a spectacle, leaving fans begging for more. While Kevin Owens, in typical WWE fashion, is a rather toned down version of Kevin Steen, is WWE is indeed serious at bringing Nakamura’s Strong Style to their main roster, then “Fight Owens, Fight” must be on top of their list as potential opponent for the “King of Strong Style”. Nothing too fancy, mind you, just a riveting, hard-hitting, have no mercy, take no prisoners all-out war, that’s what you can expect from those two. If given some leeway of course.
Below you’ll find their match from War of the Worlds 2014 (sorry for the poor quality).
4. A.J. Styles
Nakamura and Styles have clashed only once before, and that match is still a front-runner for match of the year. Indeed, on January 4th, NJPW promoted the first ever Nakamura vs Styles match at Wrestle Kingdom 10 and both easily exceeded the sky-high expectations. So, the pressure would actually be on WWE for this one, because we already KNOW those two can have a fantastic, compelling, highly competitive match. The only question remaining is if they can have such a match in WWE? In other words, can the WWE version of Nakamura/Styles (and I have no doubt this one will happen at some point) top the NJPW version of the match? Wrestling fans are watching WWE, it’s your move now…
On a side-note, I still haven’t been able to figure out which match is best, Nakamura/Styles at WK 10 or Nakamura/Zayn at takeover Dallas. Perhaps you guys can help me out here, below you’ll find the WK 10 match:
3. Samoa Joe
It seems that I’ve chosen just the right time to make this list since Nakamura and Joe are already getting in on during NXT Live shows, which mean a TV-match can’t be far behind. And this should be quite a spectacle, another first-ever match on this list and one that could set the standard when it come to in-ring brutality for quite some time. Joe’s viscousness and no-nonsense in-ring style is perfect for Nakamura who could easily bring back the Samoa Joe that became the Wrestling Observer’s Most Outstanding Wrestling back in 2005. Because for guys like Nakamura and Joe, this is what it’s all about, put them in a situation where they don’t have to hold back, and they’ll do the rest. Perfect opponents.
2. Hideo Itami
Some more “casual ” fans might frown at seeing Itami’s name so high up this list, but, let me make this very clear, if there ever was a wrestling fan’s dream-match, this is it. While Hideo Itami’s NXT career is currently on hold due to injury, the former KENTA has already done more than enough in Pro Wrestling NOAH, ROH and other promotions to carve his name in wrestling history. A former amateur kickboxer, when it comes to that hybrid MMA-wrestling style, he’s arguably one of the most influential wrestlers of his generation. Just ask CM Punk whom he got his Go 2 Sleep finisher from. KENTA’s stellar mathces against Bryan Danielson are still spoken off in revered tones and, against Nakamura he would actually have the opportunity to top even those. Because, this match would be the first ever singles match between those two. They came close in 2013, when the two collided in a couple of tag team matches which were so well received that the demand for a series of singles matches between those two immediately grew. NOAH and NJPW were certainly interested to promote those matches, unfortunately, KENTA’s departure from NOAH, put an end to the proposed dream-matches. Until now. I’m not sure if this would work on the main roster, as I’m unsure if the casual American audience is familiar with KENTA, but, when it come to NXT and the more hardcore fans, this is a match that NEEDS to happen. Just give these two a ring, some freedom, an audience and about 25-30 minutes and, believe me, they will make Nakamura-Zayn look like a walk in the park.
Finally, do I really need to spell out to you guys the impact such a match would have if the WWE were to promote this in japan? I didn’t think so…
1. Brock Lesnar
While I’m no fan of Lesnar’s current WWE run, even I must admit this could be a big money match by the time WrestleMania 33 rolls around. Not only that, but, with Nakamura, Lesnar would finally have an opponent that fans could easily accept as a genuine threat. This could be a MMA classic translated into the wrestling ring, the striker vs the grappler. Add to that Paul Heyman who would have a field day selling that one, and all elements are there to give us something truly special. Interestingly, both have collided once before, way back in 2006 during Lesnar’s stint with NJPW. After having won the IWGP heavyweight title in a three-way match against Masahiro Chono and Kazuyuki Fujita, Lesnar defeated Nakamura in his first title defense at the January 4th Tokyo Dome show (which you can watch below). This match was quite fun, with Lesnar being the bully and Nakamura being the (then still) high-flying underdog. And that’s the thing, much has changed since then. Well OK, Lesnar is still the Bully that will take you on a tour of suplex city, but, Nakamura has become the “King of Strong Style” in the meantime, meaning he’s very different from the courageous underdog he was back then. It can even be argued that, for once, the tables would be turned on The Beast. Usually, fans will wonder what this or this wrestler can do against Lesnar (see Ambrose). If WWE plays this correctly, then, for the first time since, well, ever, fans might wonder if Lesnar can take Nakamura’s kicks and submission game. And that would put The Beast in a very unfamiliar, but also very intriguing position. Big money match? This could be THE match of 2017.
And there you go, my top ten Nakamura opponents. Do you feel I left someone out? Or that I over-estimated someone’s capacities on this list? Don’t hestate to sound off in the comment section, that’s what it’s there for! And until my next top ten or Metalhead’s Riff, have fun!
Tags: AJ Styles, Alberto Del Rio, Austin Aries, Brock Lesnar, Cesaro, Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, KENTA, Kevin Owens, Neville, NXT, Samoa Joe, shinsuke nakamura, WWE