Before he was ‘The Artist’ and well before Michael Cole started calling him “Shin”, Shinsuke Nakamura was the ‘King of Strong Style’, one of, if not, the hottest name in Japanese professional wrestling. As a five time IWGP Intercontinental champion, three time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, two time NXT Champion, and WWE United States Champion, the list of accolades that Nakamura has held over his years just goes on and he is sure to have more in his future.
What makes Nakamura stand out as one of the greatest wrestlers of this generation is not just his excellent use of Japanese strong style, but his incredible character work in or out of the ring. He oozes with a charisma that can show him as a confident babyface, or an arrogant heel, Nakamura is truly one of a kind.
While Nakamura hasn’t exactly shined the way fans would have liked on WWE’s main roster, the matches he has had in NJPW and NXT are arguably some of the best wrestling matches of the past two decades thanks to their hard hitting action and exciting storytelling.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the greatest Shinsuke Nakamura matches to date.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Sami Zayn – NXT TakeOver: Dallas 2016
One of the best NXT matches of all time and possibly Nakamura’s best match since leaving Japan, his match against Sami Zayn in Dallas is how you make a debut.
It was Kinshasa (formerly the Bomaye) versus Helluva Kick, and ultimately the Kinshasa would prevail giving Nakamura his first NXT win, showing anyone who hadn’t heard of him just what Shinsuke Nakamura is all about.
Zayn and Nakamura had never shared the ring before until this date and my god did they knock it out of the park. Nakamura’s strong style strikes and Zayn’s lucha libre style compliment each other so well that the match never once feels slow or subdued, the action is constantly high octane with an incredible display of agility.
Outside of that, what makes this match absolutely incredible is that, by Zayn’s admission, it was called entirely on the fly with no practice beforehand. Just goes to show how incredibly talented both wrestlers are and what they can do given the chance.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles – Wrestle Kingdom 10
What do you get when you cross the best Western wrestler in the world with arguably the best Japanese wrestler in the world? Magic.
Leader of the Bullet Club AJ Styles vs IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura faced off at the biggest event of the NJPW calendar and they tore the house down.
They waste no time picking up the pace and keeping it high; stiff strikes, submission reversals, high flying offense, incredible character work, this match literally has it all. The match goes from incredible spots of dodges and reversals to both men standing in the ring slapping the taste out of each other’s mouths, and then back to fast paced action.
The two men are considered the most talented wrestlers of the East and West respectively and this match shows exactly why, both men pull out all the stops before Nakamura finally hits the brutal Bomaye knee strike to end the match, one post match fist bump later, and the match has sealed its place in the anoles of NJPW history.
This match would also be Styles’ last match in NJPW before leaving for WWE later that month, the night after it would also be announced that both Styles and Nakamura himself would be leaving NJPW. What a match to go out on.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – Wrestle Kingdom 8
“The King of Strong Style” vs “The Ace of New Japan” is a match that sold itself purely on the nicknames. A match that was so popular with the fans that it main evented Wrestle Kingdom over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito.
Much like the two Intercontinental Championship matches at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10, this match is the perfect showcase of Japanese wrestling and could be the perfect gateway for wrestling fans who are looking to get into Japanese wrestling.
The two men pull out all the stops when it comes to showing off both Nakamura’s strong style striking and Tanahashi’s high flying offense and it makes magic in the ring. Nakamura’s heel charisma comes through once again as he brutally stomps Tanahashi’s limp body as it lays on the apron.
Tanahashi was already an established main event star having held the IWGP Heavyweight Championship five times before this match, and he proved to be an incredible opponent for Nakamura picking up the win after hitting his High Fly Flow finisher.
While it may not be on par with his following matches against Styles and Ibushi, it stands as the start of the hat trick that would be Nakamura’s stellar IWGP Intercontinental Championship matches at Wrestle Kingdom.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Samoa Joe – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II
Outside of beating Sami Zayn in his debut, this is definitely the biggest win of Nakamura’s WWE career to date. 121 days into his first run as NXT Champion, Samoa Joe had next to no competition on the roster, he dominated everyone. Step forward “The King of Strong Style” and at TakeOver: Brooklyn II, Nakamura took down the “Samoan Submission Machine” to win his first NXT Championship.
While Nakamura would only hold the title for 91 days before dropping it back to Joe at TakeOver: Toronto, it was the battle of attrition that made this match such a classic. Both Nakamura and Joe have intense physical styles focusing on wearing down an opponent before hitting that final crushing blow.
Both men fought tooth and nail, dishing out hard strikes with both men kicking out of each others finishers, it was a match that truly looked like it could go either way, until with one more Kinshasa, Nakamura would pick up the win and begin his first reign as NXT Champion.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kota Ibushi – Wrestle Kingdom 9
A year before Nakamura and Styles would tear the roof off of the Tokyo Dome in their Intercontinental Championship match, Nakamura would demolish the roof against Kota Ibushi in a match which can only be described as “Kicks: The Musical”
Both Ibushi and Nakamura are two of the hardest strikers in the business, showing exactly why it is known as “strong style” with their hard kicks, knee and elbow strikes. The two would keep the pace incredibly high with spectacular displays of agility, reversals, and high flying offense, the crowd did not let up their applause and cheers once as the two fought to the bitter end for the coveted IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
The match also shows off Nakamura’s remarkable charisma as he plays the cocky heel, not seeming to take his opponent seriously at all one point literally shrugging off some of the stiffest elbow strikes to the chest before leathering Ibushi with his own strikes.
This match is so good that I would personally rank it as better than Nakamura’s match at Wrestle Kingdom 10 against Styles.
Wow, the G1 Climax 2014 was a good event for Nakamura matches. Not only did he blow everyone away in the finals against Tanahashi but he also put on an absolute clinic against the “Stone Pitbull” Tomohiro Ishii.
Utter physicality is what this match is, each punch, kick, strike, and headbutt sounds echoes throughout the arena as the two men egg each other on for more, all while brushing off each other’s offense. Highlight of the match being a striking match between the two, ending with Nakamura being laid out in one punch by “The Stone Pitbull”, brutal stuff.
Nakamura would win the match and head to have an even better match against Okada in the finals but this match stands as a hidden gem of what can be an incredibly long tournament.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura Vs Bobby Roode – NXT TakeOver: Orlando
NXT TakeOver: Orlando was already an incredible event stacked with matches such as Aleister Black versus Andrade “Cien” Almas, Ember Moon versus Asuka and the tag team triple threat match between #DIY, Authors of Pain, and The Revival. But the cherry on top of the wrestling sundae is without a doubt Shinsuke Nakamura versus “Glorious” Bobby Roode for the redesigned NXT Championship.
The second meeting between the two veterans after they met in the main event of TakeOver: San Antonio at which Nakamura failed to regain the championship, so it would be at Orlando where Nakamura and Roode would face off once again.
The match takes a slower pace than the rest of the matches on this list to fit Roode’s powerful wrestling style, wearing down Nakamura with technical wrestling and submission attempts.
Roode dominated throughout most of the match before Nakamura mounted a comeback, however it would prove to be in vain as, for a second time, Roode would defeat Nakamura. The match would be Nakamura’s last on the NXT brand before he would debut on SmackDown against Dolph Ziggler. If only his main event matches were on par with this.
8. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Hiroshi Tanahashi – G1 Climax 25 Final
Hello again Tanahashi, fancy seeing you here. After failing to topple Okada at the G1 Climax the year before, an injured Nakamura managed to make it all the way to the finals of the 2015 G1 Tournament to face off with none other than Okada’s perpetual rival and “Ace of NJPW” Hiroshi Tanahashi.
The match starts at a subdued pace but quickly picks up as the two begin to get the better of each other. The match is pure, unfiltered Japanese wrestling as character work once again takes a backseat to unbridled talent as two of the best battle it out for a spot at Wrestle Kingdom.
For a second year however, Nakamura would fail to win the G1 finals, however he would go on to reclaim the IWGP Intercontinental Title and have that spectacular bout against AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
9. AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura – Money in the Bank 2018
Okay, I know there are countless NJPW matches that could go on this list instead, however this is the best main roster match Nakamura has had since joining WWE so I feel it deserves a mention.
Since Nakamura joined NXT back in 2016, all fans dreamed of was an eventual rematch between Styles and Nakamura and after Nakamura won the 2018 Royal Rumble it looked like that match was in sight. Styles and Nakamura did face off at WrestleMania and the match was fine, right up until the WWE turned Nakamura heel by dishing a post match low blow to Styles after failing to win the WWE Championship.
Following this saw a feud literally built on low blows, WWE took a dream match and added childish humour to it when all fans wanted was a pure wrestling match between the two. It took them until June 2018 for fans to finally get a match that was what they had hoped for when Styles and Nakamura faced off in a Last Man Standing match.
The match was as good as a WWE match between Nakamura and Styles could be, it’s not as hard hitting as the Wrestle Kingdom match but it was never going to be. Honestly it’s the match fans should have gotten at WrestleMania as the two literally took each other to the brink in order to claim the win.
The biggest issue with the match is the fact that Nakamura failed to capture the WWE Championship once again and, to date, still has not held the most coveted wrestling championship in the United States which is a horrendous disappointment.
10. Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kazuchika Okada – G1 Climax 24 Final
If it isn’t obvious by now, Nakamura’s work in Japan completely eclipses his WWE work, especially on the main roster where his heel turn was reduced to him repeatedly hitting AJ Styles in the plums.
In 2014, three men sat comfortable at the top of the NJPW main roster; Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Shinsuke Nakamura. Whilst Tanahashi and Okada were the ones in the spotlight fighting for two years over who was the true face of the company, Nakamura sat in third place having the occasional bout with the other two but getting slowly removed from the NJPW spotlight.
Saying this, every bout he put on with the two is top tier stuff, most notably this match at 2014’s G1 Climax final in which he and Chaos stablemate Kazuchika Okada put on a twenty minute clinic of a match. The pace is slower as the two spend the first half of the match wearing each other down with submissions and technical spots, but once the match gets going, oh boy does it pick up.
The two start laying each other out with DDTs, stiff dropkicks, and of course elbow strikes to the face as the two stand off in the ring. Also, Nakamura counters a Rainmaker into his signature armbar which is just beautiful to watch.
Nakamura’s incredible charisma shows again as he tries to use his egotism to throw Okada off of his game. However, this is all in vain as after a series of Rainmakers, Okada would clinch the win over Nakamura winning the tournament and it’s thanks to matches such as this that the G1 Tournament has become a must watch event of the NJPW calendar.
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