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Cafe Puro (11/16/15): Why Shinsuke Nakamura Is Hall of Fame-Worthy

Hey, have you heard about the word?

What word?

You know, the word that came out recently that Shinsuke Nakamura has finally attained Hall of Fame status!

It was previously announced that the inductees for the 2015 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame will include the red-hot IWGP Intercontinental Champion, joining a class that already has The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar, Carlos Colon, Ivan Koloff, and Perro Aguayo, Jr. (RIP). And considering that they are being inducted in one of the most prolific and established Hall of Fames in the world, it speaks a lot for Nakamura to be included in this year's class. What's also an achievement is the fact that he was the second highest voted wrestler (all things considered) in this year's nomination, next to Brock Lesnar (only by a minimal margin), and that he beat out all other established wrestlers, including Daniel Bryan, Edge, and even CM Punk.

It may have been a bit unusual for Nakamura to be inducted at a relatively young age of 36, but for long time fans of the King of Strong Style, this isn't really a surprise at all. If anything, the end result in itself is already an accepted fact for fans all over the world. And there are many reasons why this is the case.

The Credentials

In today's pro wrestling scene, what matters is how legit you are as a pro wrestler and as a fighter. And when it came to both fronts, Swagsuke got it all covered.

Since his debut in 2002, he managed to rack up various accolades in his entire career, including reigns the IWGP Tag Team Titles (with rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi), the IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship (for wrestlers aged 30 and below), the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for three times, and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship for an astonishing five times (current champion as of this writing). 

As a matter of fact, in 2003, he became the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history by defeating an on-a-roll Hiroyoshi Tenzan, further cementing his "Super Rookie" status in the eyes of NJPW management. He is can also be called "Mr. Unification," as he unified the IWGP Heavyweight Championship wtih the NWF Heavyweight Championship, then held by the monstrous Yoshihiro Takayama. Not to mention, he also managed to unify the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship with NJPW's version (which was caused by Brock Lesnar's vacating of the championship due to travel issues) in an outstanding match against Kurt Angle, via submission no less!
He also won the New Japan Cup in 2014, the G1 Climax in 2011, and the G1 Tag League (now known as the World Tag League) in 2006 with the iconic Masahiro Chono. And he also managed to net various awards from various publications, including Tokyo Sports for Match of the Year honors in 2013 (vs. Ibushi) and 2014 (vs. Okada). And as of last year's Wrestling Observer Year End Awards, he won awards for Wrestler of the Year and Most Charismatic Wrestler in 2014 (which we'll discuss later on). 

It should also be noted that he has a very good MMA record of 3-1-1, and that is considering that he managed to retain his badass credibility despite living in the dark ages of NJPW when Antonio Inoki was all MMA-crazy on his booking decisions. Thankfully, he decided to focus on the world of professional wrestling, and he has not looked back since. No doubt about it, he is as badass as his credentials would speak of.

The Surviving Link of Strong Style

In many ways, Shinsuke became today's living link of an ideology that began at the birth of NJPW: Strong Style, the art of utilizing legitimate fighting styles in the world of professional wrestling. It was started by Antonio Inoki in the 70's, and popularized even further by the late, great Shinya Hashimoto in the 90's. In the 2000's, Nakamura took the mantle of Strong Style, and adapted that mindset into a fighting style that is updated for today's standards. As a matter of fact, this became the central focus of why CHAOS, his faction, was formed in the first place: the resurrection of the Strong Style mentality. He even called out Inoki in 2009 despite the latter not being affiliated with NJPW by then, wanting to see him face-to-face but to no avail.

While we will never see Inoki or Hashimoto compete, we can be rest assured that Nakamura will carry on the name of Strong Style competition in his matches. Look no further than the use of his wildly acclaimed Boma Ye knee strike which, like Randy Orton's RKO, can really come out of nowhere. He can seriously hit the Boma Ye anywhere, on the ground, standing up, and even as a jumping attack. No move exemplifies Nakamura and his mindset on Strong Style more than his knee hitting an unfortunate individual's face or head.

Nakamura vs. Tanahashi

Being said, Shinsuke and his generational rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi, are two sides of the same coin. While Tanahashi represents the flash and grandeur of pro wrestling, Nakamura represents a more serious fighting approach that was brought about by Strong Style. You may call this today's version of Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels. And despite their difference in styles and ideologies, they continue to churn out best match honors every single time they face each other. It is no wonder that these two men will forever be synonymous to each other's careers when it's all said and done.

Big Match Shinsuke

In today's pro wrestling scene, workrate matters. Many fans these days will very well likely say the same thing. And for Swagsuke, this is not a problem at all. To put it simply, he is just very, very good in the ring, and the fans know it.

No matter who the opponent is, the size, or the style, Swagsuke can easily adapt to his opponent and bring out the best in them. Whether it's a 5-star match he had with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 9, or a fantastic battle of contrasts against Karl Anderson much recently at Power Struggle 2015, he will deliver. In fact, if you're only watching a show live because of Shinsuke competing, no one would blame you. Think of Shinya Hashimoto's brutal fighting style, but designed to suit any opponent at any time. Flexibility is not a problem for the CHAOS leader.

No wonder Daniel Bryan was very interested in facing Swagsuke in WWE's trip to Japan. And no wonder a certain Eater of Worlds is such a huge fan of him.


In 2009, Nakamura and Toru Yano formed CHAOS, a faction that was an offshoot of Togi Makabe's GBH faction and a result of his rivalry with said Unchained Gorilla. Consisting of former GBH members, the original design of the faction was to oversee the resurrection of Strong Style. But when plans with Antonio Inoki and IGF did not push through, it became the primary heel faction of NJPW until Suzuki-gun and Bullet Club came along.

These days, CHAOS is pretty much within tweener territory, a gang of outlaws that are beloved by fans despite supposedly being heels. CHAOS is also, in many ways, a gathering of established and rising wrestlers. Many stars have affiliated themselves with the faction over the years, from the likes of Giant Bernard (aka Matt Bloom), Karl Anderson, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, and Kazuchika Okada to even guys like Captain New Japan (formerly Hideo Saito), Daniel Puder, Brian Kendrick, Davey Richards, Rocky Romero, and YOSHI-HASHI.

CHAOS is certainly a crazy gathering, and fans would not have it any other way.

Charisma Overload

When he started wrestling in 2002, he was known as the straight up MMA fighting guy who spoke with his actions more than his words. In 2009, he became an evil, emotionless version of that guy.

But in 2011, something happened. He came back from his temporary excursion with CMLL in Mexico, and suddenly started wearing more flamboyant outfits, began acting like Freddy Mercury and Michael Jackson inside a man's body, and fought as if he had the attitude of Jackie Chan. He became more carefree, a rebel that finally found his true calling, screaming "YEAHOH!" when the chance arises. And it was during this time that he finally became known as the "King of Strong Style."

And you know what? Fans all over the world loved it! Japanese fans began to support him more than ever, accepting of this new development. And fans worldwide began to feel the energy that was shown by this revitalized Nakamura. For lack of a better term, it is an infectuous vibe that you just want to experience alongside him. American fans loved it. European fans loved it. Mexican fans loved it. Filipino fans loved it. Heck, it can be argued that his charisma out-charisma'd those of the top guys in the company! You know you are doing your job right when you are getting "this is awesome" chants before the match even starts.

And here's the kicker: despite the language barrier, we understand the passion that he's giving out! Wrestling is supposedly an art that does no recognize any language barriers, and Nakamura, despite the evident language barrier, spoke a universal language that hit fans right in the feels. He may never even have to speak a single word, and he will still get the biggest pop of the night.

He finally hit his true potential as both wrestler and performer, being able to freely express the way he is supposed to be. And when he retires, this is how he will be remembered forever.

Changing the Business Model

You would think that for all of these major achievements and credentials, that would be enough to secure him a spot in any hall of fame. But that's not enough for a man capable of changing the game.

His reigns with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship are legendary for many reasons, including his number of reigns, length of reigns (the longest in history), quality of matches, and match significance. But the one thing that made his title reigns legendary is how he changed the mindset of how a championship is presented.

To give an example, it was one thing that Tanahashi vs. Nakamura for the IC Title main-evented Wrestle Kingdom 8 due to a fan voting. But when Nakamura decided to go after the IC Title, a title he made significant, instead of an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match after winning the New Japan Cup, it was a turning point in New Japan's history. Suddenly, the IC Title gained tremendous significance, main eventing shows and putting the spotlight of various deserving contenders. It was a far cry from the old model when it was always the heavyweight championship that was featured in the main event of major shows. The IC Title benefitted from Nakamura's charisma in the same way Nakamura benefitted from becoming synonymous to the IC Title. And when opponents compete for the IC Title, they all understand that said championship is a huge deal.

In essence, the IC Title became an anomaly. What should have been a secondary title became just as featured as the heavyweight championship, and placed as an equal. Because of this, the NEVER Openweight Championship, used to be for young up and coming stars for the NEVER brand, became the new midcard title, a championship fought as a man's man's title, making a star out of Tomohiro Ishii and Tomoaki Honma in the process. By the end of it, everyone, from management to the wrestlers, benefitted from this new model, as if saying, "you don't need to have a heavyweight championship main event every time to draw a crowd." And all this was possible because of Nakamura's mission to bring the IC title to prominence in the eyes of fans in the same way he brought himself to prominence when he became the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history.

It cannot be a coincidence that WWE gave the US title and their own version of the IC title to John Cena and Daniel Bryan, respectively, at WrestleMania early in the year. Based on their actions, they are attempting to bring back prominence to these titles the same way Nakamura did with his IC title, and if Cena's Open Challenges are of any indication, the dividends are paying off.

Shinsuke Nakamura is a trendsetter, a maestro in the ring, a celebrated competitor, and now, you can call him a bonafide Hall of Famer.

What are your favorite Shinsuke Nakamura moments? Sound off in the comments!


Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.            

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