Shinsuke Nakamura will be headed to SummerSlam to take on Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship. He may, in fact, be the favorite to win it and if he does, he'll be leading the WWE as a Japanese champion who will be a big draw and help combat some of the reach New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) is making into North America.
Nakamura has been known to have repeatedly high-quality matches (barring one with Baron Corbin at Battleground) and to many, he's "The King of Strong Style". He's among the WWE's flashiest and most charismatic WWE Superstars as he makes his way to the ring with flashing lights, an iconic theme song and all the personality in the world. He can make you fall in love with him before he ever faces one opponent or sets up one wrestling maneuver.
Was he always this way? The simple answer is no.
Nakamura took the long road to reach his success. Starting in NJPW, he was the youngest IWGP champion in history, he knew the likes of Brock Lesnar very well and he's wrestled all over the world against some opponents we could only dream of seeing him wrestle in the WWE. He's the right person, at the right time to usher the WWE into a new era.
To get to know this future WWE Champion a bit better, below is a list of 15 things you may not have known about Shinsuke Nakamura. Enjoy, share and admire as he continues to take the WWE by storm.
15 Didn't Always Look This Way
Shinsuke Nakamura didn't always look like a Michael Jackson wannabe (all due respect). In fact, when he started, he was just another prospect trying to establish himself in wrestling.
It wasn't until much later in his career that he added the personality to his character that now has the fans so enamored. He was a great wrestler, had a legit fighting background, and became a huge draw in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. But, it was the style he took later that made him a commodity and asset the WWE wanted to sign. He helped influence what the WWE Universe sees on television today but some of the theatrics is not close to where he started. He's the rare breed of wrestler who can both wow audiences with his matches and get them to love him before the bell even rings and his personality has been greatly enlarged by the creative team at the WWE.
14 In the Japanese Version of "Happy" By Pharrell
The smash hit "Happy" by Pharrell Williams was huge in North America. As such, the song made its way around the world and another version of the video was shot for a different audience in Japan. In the Japanese version, producers decided to use a simple idea. Bring in a bunch of dancers and celebs and have them on a white stage dancing to the song. Guessed who's a part of that video?
If you said Shinsuke Nakamura, you're right! Congratulations, in that you're also able to answer one of the most obvious questions on earth considering the topic of this list. It shows off a bit of Nakamura's wacky side. If you want to check out the video in full, you can do so here. It also has an appearance by Kazuchika Okada.
13 Youngest IWGP Champion Ever
If you didn't watch any wrestling outside of the WWE, you've arguably missed the highlights of Namakura's career. He is best known for his work in New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), where he is a former three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, five-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, and the winner of the 2011 G1 Climax, 2006 G1 Tag League, and 2014 New Japan Cup tournaments. He's also the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history.
He won the title for the first time at the age of 23 years old. As a result, Nakamura was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 2015.
12 Dream Nakamura vs Lesnar Match Already Happened
You may know Nakumra for his top-notch matches in NXT with Sami Zayn or Samoa Joe. you might even consider his recent match with John Cena a great won, but one of the matches the WWE Universe really wants to see is Shunsuke Nakamura versus Brock Lesnar. Well, that match already happened. It was for Brock's IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
It was for Brock's IWGP Heavyweight Championship and it was as part of New Japan. Before Brock went onto the UFC and after his first exit from the WWE, Lesnar was in Japan wrestling. He was a top draw and making some serious coin. He faced Nakamura and won. It became a match that would change Nakamura's career forever and unless you were a big fan of wrestling in Japan, you may not have ever known that match happened.
11 A Five Star Winner
Wrestling insider Dave Meltzer has his own rating system for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It's a system he's been using for years and it's extremely difficult to earn a five-star rating for a match. You might not know that Nakamura has earned two of them in his career already.
He earned one for his match against Kota Ibushi at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9, when he defeated Ibushi on January 4, 2015. He earned the second against Hiroshi Tanahashi at NJPW G1 Climax 25 - Day 19 on August 16, 2015. To give you a reference of how good those matches would have to be, the highest rating he's earned in the WWE was against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas on April 1, 2016. That was one of the best matches I'd ever witnessed and it didn't come close to a 5, only earning a 4.5.
10 Nakamura Apologized to John Cena
If you watched SmackDown Live on Tuesday, you saw Shinsuke beat Cena to become the number one contender for the WWE Championship. You may have also witnessed a scary moment when Cena got dropped on his neck/head before Nakamura set up for the kinshasa finisher. (watch at about 2:45 of the video).
If you keep watching you'll notice that Shinsuke felt terrible. He nudged himself closer to Cena after pinning him to ensure he was ok. Then when they shook hands, he apologized and was visibly upset that the move wasn't pulled off more safely. Cena took it like a pro and said, "Don't be sorry". This is a move that could have gone horribly wrong and Cena is not the guy you can necessarily pull that move off with. This could have been bad news career wise for Nakamura if Cena was legitimately hurt.
9 His Loss To Lesnar Changed His Wrestling Outlook
When Shinsuke Nakamura fought and lost to Brock Lesnar in Japan, it was the wake-up call Shinsuke needed to expand his horizons and test his medal as a wrestler outside of just Japan. His goal was to hone his craft, learn new styles and return to Japan one day as a much-improved wrestler — one who could beat Brock Lesnar.
This earned Nakamura a ton of respect both around the world and specifically with Lesnar who offered to train with Nakamura until he left Japan to pursue his interests in the UFC. With all that Nakumara was scheduled to do globally, everything came to a screeching halt when Lesnar left. New Japan needed a star to stick around and that star was Nakamura. It would have been interesting to see where he ended up if he did in fact travel as he was originally supposed to do.
8 His WWE Debut Was Supposed To Be In 2006
We mentioned earlier that when Nakamura lost to Brock Lesnar in New Japan, he was set to travel the world and take in all he could from different promotions. He was set to go to Brazil, Russia, Mexico and the United States. One of the places he was supposed to go was the WWE.
The then President of New Japan was actually going to loan out Nakamura to the WWE so that he could learn North American style wrestling from the top promotion in the country. But, because of New Japan's need to have Nakamura back, they canceled that idea and Shinsuke never made it that far. There's no doubt that in 2006, Nakamura would have failed as a character and the WWE wouldn't have used him properly. There might not have been a Nakamura today had that relationship happened.
7 In The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame
It's rare to be honored by the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. It's a class of wrestlers honored by Dave Meltzer, not for being popular or for any political reasons. You get inducted simply by the number of your quality matches and contribution to the industry. To make it at an early age and well before your career is done is even rarer.
There are only 211 wrestlers/wrestling personalities in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame and Nakamura was honored in 2015 alongside Brock Lesnar. He made it in before Sting, Daniel Bryan, and Ivan Koloff. It was because he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship (3 times), IWGP Intercontinental Championship (5 times), IWGP Tag Team Championship (1 time), and NXT Championship (2 times). Imagine where he'll rank by the time his WWE career is done.
6 Had At Least 7 Nicknames
Most fans don't know anything other than Shinsuke Nakamura has always been Shinsuke Nakamura "The King of Strong Style". Wrestling under his real name, he's also had a number of other nicknames, some of which came in the WWE, but many of which originated in NJPW.
In the WWE, he was known as "The King of Strong Style" and still is. He was also "The Artist (known as Shinsuke Nakamura)" and "The Rockstar". In New Japan, he went by everything from "The Black Savior", "Child of God", "El Samurai de NJPW" and "Supernova". Personally, "The King of Strongstyle" is by far the best as it gives you a full glimpse of his in-ring style and sets him apart in many ways from every other WWE Superstar.
5 His Baron Corbin Match Concerned People
Behind the scenes, the WWE had plans to make Nakamura the potentially biggest draw in the company. With Cena leaving, Brock Lesnar possibly gone and a bigger need to reach an international audience to Vince McMahon had hopes that Nakamura could help combat the ever-expanding reach New Japan was making as they grew their streaming service and got fans interested in their product by the boat load. When Nakamura laid an egg with Baron Corbin at Battleground, everyone was worried.
Meltzer gave that match a 1.5-star review and many believed it was his worst bout to date. If this is what he was going to do at a WWE pay per view, what did that mean he was going to be like when it really mattered? His rebound match against Cena has people less concerned and it may say more about Corbin than it does Nakamura who might become the next WWE Champion.
4 A Dozen Signature Moves
While Nakamura is widely known as one of the best wrestlers in the world, he's got about 12 moves that have made him famous. Those are the Death Valley driver, Double Knee Backbreaker, Double underhook piledriver, El Nino (a springboard moonsault), a front sleeper hold, german suplex, inverted powerslam, knee drop, lariat (clothesline), Shining Triangle and a vibration boot. His final move is the "Kinshasa".
The final move ("Kinshasa") wasn't always known as that. Before the "Kinshasa" came the "Bomaye". The WWE couldn't keep the name because a company in the U.S. owned the trademark. The term "Bomaye" originally came from the Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman fight at "Rumble in the Jungle" when fans chanted "Ali Boymaye". It's amazing how you can become one of the best wrestlers ever with a dozen major moves and how one finisher can help define your career.
3 Wrestled Kurt Angle In A Unification Match
When we talk about dream matches, SmackDown Live already gave the WWE Universe one in Nakamura versus John Cena. Brock Lesnar versus Nakamura would be one if it hadn't already happened. So would Kurt Angle when he comes back to wrestle again. But, that match already happened too.
When New Japan Pro-Wrestling split into two companies, Antonio Inoki eventually unified the two divisions back into one. At the time, (2008) there were two IWGP Heavyweight Championships. The only way it could be settled was a unification match between the two title holders, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kurt Angle. In what was considered a fantastic bout, the two icons collided with Nakamura winning and becoming the undisputed champion. But, just because it already happened once, doesn't mean fans wouldn't love to see it again. Many of them would be seeing it for the first time.
2 Was in MMA
Nakamura isn't just a great wrestler. His background in MMA earned him street credibility and the respect of guys like Brock Lesnar. On December 31, 2002, he made his mixed martial arts debut in a fight, where he was defeated by Daniel Gracie via submission to an armlock. Nakamura's second MMA fight took place on May 2, 2003, when he defeated Jan Nortje with a guillotine choke. He followed that up on September 13 with another submission victory over Shane Eitner in his third MMA fight.
Nakamura's MMA career wasn't lengthy, choosing instead of focus on the art of wrestling, but if he wanted to, he could shoot wrestle with pretty much anyone in the WWE and they'd learn quickly he's not a guy you mess with.
1 Helped Advance "Strong Style"
Most of the WWE Universe has now heard the term "Strong Style" but many don't know where the term came from or are completely aware of Nakamura's role in the style. The first person to use and make famous "Strong Style" wrestling was former WWE Superstar and Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. The style is focused on using harder kicks and strikes as well as a variety of submission maneuvers.
When New Japan split, Nakamura fought on the side of New Japan and resurrected the style, building his own crown and throne then calling himself the "King of Strong Style." Basically, Nakamura took the style, advanced it and gave it personality. It's likely what the WWE saw in that personality that made the company want to sign him.