Shinsuke Nakamura made his much anticipated debut at NXT TakeOver: Dallas, and immediately stole the show like many people predicted he would. The 36-year-old wrestler has already had a storied career in his native Japan, and in fact, that career has expanded into the United States and plenty of other countries around the world well before he signed with NXT. There’s no denying the move has lead to Nakamura receiving his biggest audience yet, and WWE clearly sees the star he could become, so there’s a good chance they’ll keep talking about his many accomplishments as he builds his star in the WWE Universe.
Whether Dallas was your first exposure to The King of Strong Style or you’ve been a fan for years, fans agree that in his one NXT match, Nakamura displayed a level of showmanship, charisma, and wrestling talent far beyond that of a mere rookie. In fact, Nakamura’s natural ability to steal the camera’s attention has been flourishing since he made his wrestling debut at 22 years old. WWE will be telling us a whole bunch about Shinsuke over the next few weeks, months, and years, but here are 15 facts about Nakamura we think they might leave out.
15. His Career Began in MMA
WWE has already done a good job of bringing up one similarity between The King of Strong Style and WWE’s resident monster, Brock Lesnar. Both men held Japan’s top wrestling title, the IWGP Championship. They have mentioned that Shinsuke also shares Brock’s background in MMA. Granted, Nakamura’s MMA career wasn’t quite as impressive as that of The Beast Incarnate. Not that Shinsuke’s MMA record was terrible—he only had five fights on record, and he won three of them. A fourth was ruled a no contest, meaning he only actually lost one fight – his debut (Brock lost his big debut, too). Still, Nakamura’s time in MMA was so short and ultimately uneventful, it feels more like a trivia note than an actual selling point to his legacy.
14. He Formed A Tag Team With Another NJPW Legend
With Shinsuke debuting in NXT, AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar in WWE, and Kota Ibushi and Bullet Club seemingly not far behind, the WWE Universe is gradually becoming more and more familiar with the superstars of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Another modern legend of New Japan is Hiroshi Tanahashi, and although he has yet to make a full time jump stateside, he’s directly intertwined with most of the men who have. Out of them all, Tanahashi has by far the most history with Nakamura, both as a rival and as a partner. The two debuted in wrestling around the same time, and early in their careers formed a tag team and won the IWGP Tag Team titles together in 2004. The partnership was short lived, and the two later engaged in a feud that essentially lasted until Nakamura left New Japan.
13. He Trained With Brock Lesnar
Shinsuke and Brock have more than just a lot in common in wrestling, they’ve also crossed paths on several occasions. The two crossed paths in the ring on January 4, 2006, when Nakamura challenged Lesnar for the IWGP Championship. Nakamura was already a major star and former champion, but had yet to find his true calling as The King of Strong Style. Nakamura was smaller and far less flashy, and could see that Lesnar, although not “flashy” in the traditional sense, was far above him in terms of overall performance. The two grew a mutual respect after the match, and it’s been claimed Nakamura began training with Lesnar at his personal gym shortly thereafter. Brock wasn’t the only American impressed by the growing star…
12. WWE Were First Interested In Him In 2006
After the loss to Lesnar, Nakamura made plans to leave Japan and learn the subtleties of wrestling styles and techniques made popular in other countries around the world. A major factor in these plans was an offer from WWE. WWE agents John Laurinitis and Dean Malenko were both interested in Nakamura, and even attempted to form some type of a talent share with NJPW for his services. The idea of Nakamura joining the WWE Universe a full 10 years earlier than he did probably has fans of his in tears over what we may have missed, but considering how different a performer he was at the time, it’s probably for the best Shinsuke waited until he tapped into his boundless charisma to make the journey stateside. As it turns out, he got his WWE experience in a different manner…
11. He Lead A Group of Past and Present WWE Superstars
Stables and factions are an integral part of American professional wrestling, but it doesn’t compare to how important they are in Japan. After his loss to Lesnar and brief foray into training around the world, Nakamura returned to NJPW to join Masahiro Chono’s villainous group, BLACK. Eventually Shinsuke split from BLACK and formed RISE—Real International Super Elite. While in these groups, Nakamura began establishing his new character as the man who would revive Strong Style, and he started to gain some well-known allies while he did so. Other members of RISE included WWE cast-off Tyson Tomko, future NXT trainer Giant Bernard (Tensai/A-Train/Albert), and future NXT Champion Prince Devitt (Finn Bálor). Simply teaming up with people from around the world isn’t going to draw people’s attention unless they were huge stars, and none of these guys were at the time. Facing and defeating a former major WWE superstar on the other hand…
10. He Wrestled Kurt Angle
It would probably get a little bit confusing trying to explain the whole story surrounding why there were two IWGP Championship belts in 2008, so we’ll just cut to the important part: one was held by Nakamura, and the other was held by former WWE superstar Kurt Angle. Nakamura won his title, considered the more legitimate of the two, on January 4, 2008, while Angle won his version a few months earlier in June of 2007. On February 17, 2008, Nakamura defeated Angle to unify the belts. Just a few short months after the match, Angle and Nakamura teamed up to face the team of AJ Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi, with Angle and Nakamura ultimately victorious, in another classic match WWE will probably never mention.
9. He Won the 2011 G1 Tournament
WWE has done a pretty solid job of bringing in superstars from around the world and making their accomplishments seem somewhat important. Especially with people who wrestled for NJPW, there’s no huge threat fans will stop watching WWE to switch over to a show in a different language, so WWE is happy to use a wrestler’s past accomplishments to build their character until they start having new ones. Shinsuke has already been touted on WWE television as the youngest IWGP Champion in history, but they haven’t mentioned he equally impressively won a bevvy of major tournaments, which occasionally were even more prestigious in the wrestling world than winning a title. Case in point, the 2011 G1 Climax Tournament. The 2011 tournament was the largest G1 in history at that time, and Nakamura wound up the winner, outperforming 19 other men. Nakamura fought to the finals of the tournament in 2014 and 2015, but ultimately came in second place behind Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, respectively.
8. The Original Bomaye
Shinsuke Nakamura won his first NXT match by delivering a jumping knee strike to Sami Zayn’s head, dubbed by commentary as the Kinshasa. Nakamura has been using the running knee strike as his most devastating finishing move since 2009, but until he signed with WWE, the move was known as the Bomaye. Both move names are in reference to boxing’s legendary Rumble in the Jungle, promoted by Don King and pitting George Foreman against Muhammad Ali. The rambunctious Zairian crowd was strongly behind Ali, and spent the majority of the fight chanting “Ali Bomaye,” which translates to “Kill him, Ali!” The phrase is also the name of a popular rap song by The Game. Either due to copyright issues with the song, or the fact naming a move after murder doesn’t exactly fit in with the WWE PG standard, the move’s name was changed to the Kinshasa, after the city where the fight took place.
7. He Legitimized The IWGP Intercontinental Championship
New Japan Pro Wrestling has existed under that name for over four decades, and WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki was crowned as the first IWGP Champion in 1987. There were IWGP Junior Heavyweight and Tag Team Champions for even longer than Inoki held the main prize, but NJPW was and still is so heavily reliant on tournaments and exhibition matches that they never had a need for the excess of title belts seen in modern WWE and certain other promotions. In 2011, NJPW finally decided to add a secondary title with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. The first champion was WWE expat MVP, followed by ECW mainstay Masato Tanaka, but it was Nakamura who went on to hold the title the most times of any wrestler, and many people say he legitimized the belt by doing so. Shinsuke held the IWGP Intercontinental title five times in total, and ultimately left NJPW while still champion.
6. He Threw The First Pitch At An MLB Game
Although Nakamura just recently made his way to WWE, he has wrestled in the United States for independent promotions plenty of times over the past few years. In 2012, shortly after defending the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in California, Shinsuke was honored with the duty of throwing out the opening pitch for a Major League Baseball game. The game was between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays, and Nakamura even supported the home team by wearing a Rangers jersey to the mound. Throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game is pretty standard celebrity fair, but it was still a pretty big honor, considering Nakamura was well away from being a major star in America when he was asked to participate. It doesn’t really compare to his real mainstream breakthrough, though…
5. He Was In The Japanese Music Video For “Happy”
Professional wrestling doesn’t mix with mainstream culture often, and when it does, WWE always makes a huge deal out of it. Of course, they’ll only do so if the wrestler getting attention works for them at the time, and they can treat the individual’s success as the company’s success. Vince McMahon would be overjoyed if one of his superstars appeared in the music video of a number one hit song, but if any other wrestlers appeared in that same video, you probably won’t be hearing that song at WWE HQ any time soon. This is why it was never mentioned that not one, but two major wrestlers were featured in the Japanese music video for Pharrell’s 2013 mega-hit “Happy.” Shinsuke danced in the video wearing the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, and fellow NJPW wrestler Kazuchika Okada appears as well, posing beneath a windfall of cash, referring to his nickname, The Rainmaker. Although “Happy” was clearly the more famous song, it wasn’t the only music video to feature Shinsuke’s killer dance moves…
4. He Was The Star of a Tempura Kidz Video
While virtually any wrestler would jump at a chance to receive the publicity appearing in a number one hit music video would surely give them, Shinsuke didn’t need the promise of bolstering his fame to get funky, he just needed a song he could get down to. This is how The King of Strong Style also appeared as the star dancer of a music video for the Japanese teen pop group Tempura Kidz. In early 2015, Nakamura and the Kidz created the video for “Miira Killer.” We’re not going to pretend to have any clue what the song is about, but we admit there’s something cool about the Mockamura costumes the kids are wearing, and Shinsuke himself was more than game to dance around and have fun with them for a few minutes.
3. He Wrestled Kevin Owens for Ring of Honor
In the buildup to Nakamura’s debut, various WWE wrestlers were interviewed giving their thoughts on the enigmatic performer, and that included fellow up-and-coming superstar of the future, Kevin Owens. Owens mentioned in his talking heads that he instantly respected Nakamura and became a fan after the two wrestled, but what WWE left out is when, where, and why they wrestled. The two WWE superstars locked up for War of the Worlds 2014 at the Hammerstein Ballroom, an event cross-promoted by NJPW and Ring of Honor and broadcast live on the Internet through Ustream. The fact this all took place in a well known wrestling venue in America makes it a little bit too close to actually being competition, so WWE probably won’t bring it up any time soon. The main event of that same show featured AJ Styles, and speaking of AJ…
2. His Last Singles Match In Japan Was Against AJ Styles
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura have even more in common than Brock Lesnar and Nakamura. In fact, so far this year, the two have been virtually inseparable, first in the ring, and then insofar as their nearly identical career paths. Both were huge stars in NJPW who made long rumored, but always unexpected, debuts to lead their respective WWE brands into the future. Not only did their eventual debuts set the WWE Universe on fire, but even before that, the two were constantly linked, so much so that the final singles match either man wrestled in Japan was against each other. The two battled over Nakamura’s IWGP Intercontinental Title at Wrestle Kingdom 10, and both gave their notice to NJPW the morning of the match. While many WWE fans were hoping the two would continue feuding in WWE, it seems like things will have to wait until Shinsuke is called up from NXT.
1. He’s Already Everybody’s Favorite Wrestler
WrestleMania 32 will go down as one of the biggest events in WWE and wrestling history, if only for the fact it broke their previous attendance record with an alleged 100,000+ on hand. Diehard wrestling fans don’t even care, though, since the real talk of the weekend was Nakamura’s debut. His theme song has already hit number 1 on the iTunes Soundtrack Chart, and wrestling critics have almost been unanimous in calling his match with Sami Zayn the best of the weekend, if not the entire year thus far. Most tellingly, during the WrestleMania 32 main event between Triple H and Roman Reigns, neither of those superstars seemed to endear themselves to the crowd, who instead chose to chant for Nakamura at least twice during their encounter.
Before ever entering WWE, Nakamura was already called the Wrestler of the Year and Most Charismatic Wrestler of the Year by the Wrestling Observer, winning the first accolade in 2014 and the second in both 2014 and 2015. Now that The King of Strong Style is poised to take over NXT, WWE, and the world, we can only imagine how many more people will be saying this about him by the end of 2016.