Shinsuke Nakamura has been a household name in wrestling for the past two decades. He had a glittering career in Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling, becoming one of the most popular stars Japan has ever produced. Nakamura became a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion during his NJPW career. The self-proclaimed (though later proclaimed by all) “King of Strong Style” built a reputation in Japan as a puroresu master. His style unique; his stance seemingly influenced by the ancient zui quan martial art and his manner more chilled than a freezer in the arctic. He is also a two-time NXT Champion, a Royal Rumble Match winner and two-time WWE United States Champion. So it’s safe to say his success hasn’t been limited to just Japan.
A History of Being Intercontinental
Despite everything that Shinsuke Nakamura has achieved in his career, the one title that most complimented him was the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. It can be argued that it complimented Nakamura, too, as Nakamura became synonymous with the championship. Nakamura held it a record five-times (though Tetsuya Naito is currently on his fourth reign, so watch out, Nak). He elevated the title to main event status with stupendous matches against the likes of Kota Ibushi and WWE co-worker, AJ Styles, at Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10, respectively. The Ibushi match became the Wrestling Observer’s pick for Match of the Year in 2015, despite the match taking place within the first week of the year. That’s how great it was.
After departing Japan in early 2016 (vacating his beloved IWGP Intercontinental Championship in the process), he took this style across the pacific to feature in the WWE. He quickly established himself as an absolute fan-favourite in NXT and soon captured the NXT Championship. He became the second ever two-time NXT Champion, after beating the first man to do it, Samoa Joe, at an NXT show in Osaka, Japan. The Nakamura hype was well-and-truly now a United States resident.
When Nakamura arrived at SmackDown in April of 2017, he brought much of that fanfare with him. Early on in his run, he beat the likes of John Cena; displaying the respect Nakamura earned from WWE hierarchy. Though he suffered momentum-stalling defeats against at-the-time WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, Nakamura still went on to win the big match at Royal Rumble 2018. In doing so, he became the first Japanese star to win the match, a feat which wouldn’t be matched until Asuka won the women’s equivalent just an hour or so later.
His unique style, charisma and charm was working so effectively on the main roster that he earned his WrestleMania title shot. Who was it against? AJ Styles, the man who Nakamura successfully defended his IWGP Intercontinental Championship against at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Whereas Nakamura won on his home turf, the away fixture would go in favour of the American Phenomenal One. Though the match disappointed and didn’t live up to the heightened expectations produced by the Wrestle Kingdom match, it was still a solid match. Unfortunately, it would result in the beginning of the end of Nakamura’s main event run.
Leaving the WWE Title Picture
He would soon turn heel. Though things initially looked promising with cool new entrance music, badass character and heightened aggression, it was clear Nakamura was transitioning out of the title picture. Nak would lose his rematches against Styles before entering the United States Championship picture. He began feuds with R-Truth, Rusev and Rey Mysterio. He won the title twice in the process, before disappearing off our screens entirely. His name became embroiled in internet rumours, speculating that he would be leaving at the end of his soon-to-be-expiring contract. Thankfully, this turned out to be nothing more than rumours, as Nakamura reportedly signed a new contract in April 2019.
Though Nakamura elevates any championship, the US title was not the right fit for the King of Strong Style. Nakamura’s history as the ultimate IWGP Intercontinental Champion was always going to bring him to one championship in the WWE. Just like fellow Intercontinental figurehead Chris Jericho, who in the the twenty years since his WWE debut became synonymous with the Intercontinental Championship, so too will Nakamura. In 2018, Jericho became the first man to have held both the IWGP (1x) and WWE (9x) Intercontinental Championships. In July 2019, Nakamura became the second. By pinning former champion (and long-time NJPW friend/enemy) Finn Balor at Extreme Rules, Nakamura continued his legacy as one of the all-time great Intercontinental Champions.
The win made him the first Asian-born performer to hold the famous white strap. The title (still the best looking in the WWE) is a perfect fit for Shinsuke Nakamura. Just like the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, it looks made for Nakamura. Now that Shinsuke Nakamura has captured the title and has held it for an entire month, here is hoping this is the beginning of yet another exciting Intercontinental Championship legacy for the veteran Japanese performer. Nakamura, as mentioned, can elevate any championship – he just needs the freedom to do so.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Want to see more Nakamura? Then visit the WWE Network, where you can catch all of Nakamura’s present and future matches. Want some classic Nakamura? Then make sure to check out New Japan World!