FLYIN’ SOLO #07
It’s no secret that I’ve never been fond of Shinsuke Nakamura. I don’t hold the same contempt for him that I do Sasaki, Inoue, KENSO, or Kanemaru, but I’m rarely ever impressed with him. However, I seem to be in the minority with that line of thinking. In an attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt, I downloaded several matches against a variety of opponents.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI/SHINSUKE NAKAMURA © vs. MANABU NAKANISHI/SCOTT NORTON (IWGP Tag Team Titles - New Japan 3/15/05
This isn’t so much a “Good Nakamura match” as it is a “Good match that involves Nakamura.” There’s no doubting that it’s good, and considering who’s involved, it’s much better than you’d expect, but Nakamura himself isn’t really more than the warm body paired with Tanahashi. The only real things that Nakamura adds to the match are a nice float over DDT early on, and his counter of Norton’s bodyslam a triangle choke that leads to the finish. Nakamura may be the one who actually gets the win, by pinning Norton, but it’s Tanahashi who makes it happen. Aside from the triangle choke spot, there isn’t really anything here that from Nakamura that almost anyone else on the roster couldn’t bring to the mix.
Nakanishi and Norton are your jacked up version of the Midnight Express, tossing the champions around with ease, and coming up with a couple of clever tandem spots, while Tanahashi is Ricky f’n Morton, taking the bulk of the abuse and selling like crazy. Nakamura’s just there. Once the heels single out Tanahashi’s ribs (injured when he takes a bodyslam on the exposed concrete) this really gets cooking. Tanahashi’s selling is awesome, and Norton and Nakanishi take full advantage and come up with some good ideas to keep the match moving along. Norton even busts out Chris Jericho’s Liontamer (as opposed to the Walls of Jericho), and for once, Nakanishi’s usually horrible looking spear actually looks like more than just a prerequisite spot for him. The only thing that pushes the envelope a bit was Nakanishi’s Argentine backbreaker. It’s supposed to be his finisher, and an injured Tanahashi shouldn’t have been able to linger so long, but Nakanishi makes up for it by dropping Tanahashi across his knee when he decides to let him go. Tanahashi makes the tag a few minutes later, and Nakamura secures the choke, but he can’t make Norton give up. Norton even does a powerbomb twice, although Nakamura is tough enough to not lose the choke, but it’s Tanahashi who makes the difference with a Shining Wizard that lets Nakamura roll Norton over for the pin. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express analogy to the champions is actually dead on. Nakamura certainly wasn’t bad, he was serviceable, but you remember this because of Tanahashi.***1/4
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. NAOFUMI YAMAMOTO (New Japan 12/25/05)
It’s not Nakamura that winds up looking the most impressive. Yamamoto is the one trying to prove himself here, and he shows all the intensity and fire that you’d expect of him. When he gets a chance to throw his kicks, he really lays them in. When he gets caught in the first armbar, he escapes by stomping on Nakamura’s face. Nakamura doesn’t show that same sort of fire. He just wants to win the match and nothing more. There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but Nakamura’s idea of just winning seems to be to spend his control segment just doing whatever springs to mind, without any real rhyme or reason. Nakamura sells big for Yamamoto, especially the backdrop near fall toward the end, and the mediocre attempt at a 619, but he doesn’t show any personality at all. He’s not a jerk like Chono or Suzuki, and he doesn’t assert his spot above Yamamoto on the pecking order like Nagata or Kobashi. He’s just bland. He smartly learns his lesson from the face-stomping by getting a second armbar and cradling Yamamoto’s leg, which forces the tap out and kills his dreams of getting that first big win. It makes sense that Yamamoto’s goal of getting the upset was the centerpiece of the match, but Nakamura could have added to it, and instead he just stayed in the background.
HIROSHI TANAHASHI © vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (IWGP Heavyweight Title - New Japan 12/10/06)
Now this is a match that I can get behind. Nakamura finally shows some personality, by being a total dick heel and sharking on Tanahashi’s ribs. It was a bit disappointing that he didn’t fall back on his mat skills and try to stretch Tanahashi into submission, but he made up for it by punting him in the ribs. Tanahashi is mostly his usual great self, bringing the great selling and bumping, and finding smart ways to stay alive, and eventually get ahead. At one point, Nakamura hits a knee to the ribs and Tanahashi bumps like it was a shot from Takayama. Tanahashi isn’t perfect though, there a few selling lapses from him, the most jarring being his idea to ‘skin the cat’ back into the ring, without any real issue.
The only mark against Nakamura’s performance here is that he kills the idea of the Landslide being a real finisher by hitting it and not even bothering for the pin. Tanahashi had just hit knees on the attempt at the High Fly Flow, so it made perfect sense to follow up with it. But, Nakamura makes up for the one misstep by doing smart things like the reverse bodyslam after Tanahashi got the ropes to legally break the sleeper, and his counter of Tanahashi’s Dragon sleeper into one of his own. Tanahashi’s Sling Blade isn’t really given any respect either, Tanahashi hits it and Nakamura jumps right up, but the HFF and Dragon suplex had already been established as Tanahashi’s finishers of choice, so it’s not a big deal. They take things home after the Landslide spot, with Nakamura going for broke with a Landslide off the top and Tanahashi slipping out and hitting a big powerbomb, which sets up the HFF and Dragon suplex for the win. If you want an example of how much both men have grown as workers since their first big push in 2004, then this is hard to steer clear of, but citing this as the best IWGP Title match of the decade (as I’ve heard it praised as) is a bit much. There’s no doubt that it’s very good, but I’d rate Tanahashi/Goto from 11/07 and Mutoh/Nakamura from 10/08 higher. ***½
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA © vs. SHINJIRO OHTANI (IWGP Heavyweight Title - New Japan 10/12/09)
I would have loved to see this pairing during Nakamura’s rookie year. As it is now, it’s fun, but doesn’t come together as well it would seem like this pairing should. Both of them indulge in goofy no-selling, like Nakamura taking an Ohtani staple, the dropkick to the back of the head, and just jumping to his feet and charging right into a series of Hashimoto-style chops. The Hashimoto tribute was great, but there had to have been a better way to get there. Ohtani is no better, blowing off the reverse slam, which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s surprising coming from him. The finish sees Nakamura hit a knee to the back of the head, which Ohtani jumps back up from, and then stumbles into position for the Boma Ye to give Nakamura the win. The other big thing that holds this back is that they basically burn nearly the first half of the match on the mat. Nobody believes that the match will end that quickly, and Nakamura is far removed from being the kid that can surprise and submit anyone at any time.
Of course, this is still Ohtani and, past his prime or not, he adds some fun touches to things. The best being when his forehead gets busted open and he unloads on Nakamura in the corner and does the famous boot scrapes. It gets a big reaction more for being a familiar spot than anything else, but it worked. There’s another good moment when Nakamura rears back for a kick, but Ohtani catches it and drops and elbow across the leg, and then hits a big spinning kick of his own to avenge his getting busted open. For his part, Nakamura does what he can to make it look like the grizzled, but past his prime, veteran still has what it takes to knock the IWGP Champion off his pedestal. He’s willing to take some big bumps and his selling, when he remembers to do so, is typically good. Nakamura’s reactions to the elbow to the knee and the release Dragon suplex were both perfect. As is par for the course on dream matches like this, it winds up underwhelming overall. It’s certainly not a bad match, but it’s more fun than it is good. ***
SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. HIROYOSHI TENZAN (G1 Climax - New Japan 8/12/12)
Well, it took him nearly nine years, but Tenzan finally got a win over Nakamura (his 2004 G-1 win can’t really be considered redemption, given that it was Nakamura’s second match of the night versus Tenzan’s first). Tenzan and Nakamura’s performances both go a long way toward making Tenzan’s long overdue redemption into the huge moment that it deserves. Nakamura somewhat drops the ball in the offense department, he doesn’t do much more than a bunch of knees and kicks, but he makes up for it by selling huge for Tenzan, especially the Mongolian chops. When Tenzan gets a surprise shot on Nakamura to turn the tide, Nakamura takes a huge bump, such as the surprise lariat and Tenzan literally using his head to stop the Boma Ye. The Boma Ye counter winds up the beginning of the end. Tenzan hits a couple of more headbutts to the face, and the TTD and moonsault seal the deal.
If this isn’t the grumpiest match of the whole G1, I’d be surprised. Tenzan may be the babyface, but he’s as gruff and heelish as he’s ever been. Especially the last couple of headbutts to the face, and Tenzan stomping on Nakamura’s face to break the armbar. Of course, considering the participants and the long history between them, it’s not really a surprise that this is so hateful. The only real misstep is the treatment of the Anaconda Vice, and that seems to have long since fallen by the wayside as Tenzan’s finisher of choice. But, Nakamura was still banged up enough that they didn’t need to do the whole song and dance of Nakamura fighting to his feet, getting slammed back down, and then doing the armbar counter. And, when Tenzan’s armbar counter was so much more simple and smart, the ‘Vice only looks worse. It’d have been nice to see Nakamura bring more offense to the table, especially as the top heel, but it’s not so bad that he doesn’t. The dressing on the shoulder suggests that he was hurt going in, and Tenzan was the one with something to prove. ***1/4