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31 Days of Wrestling (12/4/16): Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT TakeOver: Dallas

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Today, we’re looking back at the arrival of the King of Strong Style.


Days after New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10, news broke out that then-IWGP Intercontinental Champion and leader of CHAOS Shinsuke Nakamura had chosen not to re-sign with the Japanese company. WWE was quick to pounce on the opportunity and quickly picked up the new free agent. On March 16 on NXT, they announced his first match on for the company against former NXT Champion Sami Zayn.


As far as first impressions go, Nakamura could not have made a better one. Instantly being put against a pillar of NXT like Sami Zayn allowed him to showcase his diverse skills and insane charisma. His game was on point, his strikes stiff, and his aim true. And when he delivered his rechristened Kinshasa knee strike, people knew NXT was looking at its new king.

Zayn didn’t go down without a fight though. He fought like he had something to prove, and in a way, he had. Sami is one of the most beloved stars of NXT, and on his last night, he matched the King of Strong Style move for move. Zayn might have lost, but he went out in a blaze.


This was easily WWE’s first true match of the year contender. Everything about the match was brilliant: both guys were on top of their game, the crowd was absorbed into the match, and even the setting was perfect. Standing in the shadow of the WWE’s grandest stage WrestleMania, NXT dared to make a better show, and this match clearly outshined most of ‘Mania. If you needed one match to define 2016 for NXT, it was this.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

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