[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this post in September 2015 before Shinsuke Nakamura came to the WWE, and at the time, I would have never dreamed he would. Little did I know that a short few months later, he’d be in NXT. For the record, he is still my favourite wrestler.]
I am assuming that if you are reading this website, you are a wrestling fan. If you’re not, maybe you’ll become one soon (seriously, it’s awesome)! But if you are a fan, and if you have been a fan for any length of time, you’ll discover very quickly that there are some wrestlers who you connect to emotionally as a character, and all the smart mark knowledge disappears, and you just cheer them. They make you believe. They get you out of your chair, jumping up and down. They cause you to want them to win, no matter who they’re facing. This is the art of pro wrestling at its best – when the wrestler in question draws you into what they are doing, and they make you believe, even if it’s just for a second. And make no mistake, that is absolutely an art form.
For me, growing up, there were only 2 wrestlers in the WWE that consistently did this: Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. They were the two I always bought into. The Undertaker came close, but man, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were my heroes. No one could touch them in terms of how much I loved watching them wrestle. When I watched WCW, it was Sting. Rey Mysterio Jr., Ric Flair, and Chris Jericho, came close, but even then, the only one that still elicited the reaction from me that Bret and Shawn did was Sting.
Three wrestlers in my entire life captured me like no other. Three wrestlers that I would always cheer for and want to see one. Just three. There are plenty others that I love – I already mentioned a few in Taker, Mysterio, Flair, and Jericho. I also loved Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and plenty more, but three have always stood above the rest.
Sting still draws this reaction out of me. I know it’s unlikely that he’ll win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions, but that doesn’t matter to me. When the bell rings, I’ll believe. I’ll be cheering for one of my heroes, and it will hurt if he loses and I’ll jump out of my chair and cheer if he wins. If you are a wrestling fan, you probably get this. You understand that some wrestlers just capture your attention and you can’t help but cheer them. If you’re not a fan, this will probably seem ridiculous. But that fact remains – your favourite wrestlers will always elicit an emotional response when you watch them.
As I was watching NJPW’s G1 Climax last month, another wrestler joined the ranks of Bret, Shawn and Sting for me, and I didn’t even expect him to, nor did I realize it until later in the tournament.
If you don’t know what NJPW’s G1 Climax is, I’ll summarize it quickly for you. It’s the biggest tournament of the year in any wrestling promotion worldwide. The format of the tournament has varied over the years, but generally speaking it’s in a round robin format. This year featured 2 blocks with 8 wrestlers in each block. If you win a match, you get 2 points. If you have a draw, you get 1. If you lose, you get nothing. Each wrestler within the block faces each other once, and the top two wrestlers from each block go on to the finals of the tournament. The wrestler that wins the final match wins a contract to wrestle the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom (NJPW’s WrestleMania) in January. This year was the 25th G1 Climax, and it proved to be a big one as they did 19 shows over about 3 and a half weeks.
As a preface to my comments about the tournament: This was the first time I’ve actively followed the NJPW product. I’ve never watched their shows before this August (except for the WCW Supershows back in the 90s), though I did see matches every now and then. The reason I decided to follow the tournament this year was because 1) a lot of people were talking about it and 2) AJ Styles was in it, and he was aiming to be the first American to win the tournament. This intrigued me, so I decided to check it out, knowing that I was in for some great wrestling.
I had limited knowledge of the NJPW wrestlers, and have only seen a few through ROH and the internet, but it was easy enough to follow and once I learned the names of the ones I didn’t know I was set.
Over the next 19 shows, I was treated to some of the best wrestling I’ve seen in a very long time. They had great psychology, great action, and great variety. No two matches were the same. Not only that, but wins and loses actually mattered. If a champion lost to someone in this tournament, you can expect him to have to defend the title against the person that beat him in the upcoming months. Everything mattered, and as the shows went on, the wrestlers sold the importance of these matches. The tension got higher and higher in each match, as the wins became more and more important. It was brilliant, basic wrestling storytelling that WWE usually lacks these days. 99% of this storytelling was done in the ring with no promos at all. It was refreshing. It was different. It was what an old school wrestling fan like me loves to see.
Early on in the tournament, a big name Japanese wrestler was injured – Shinsuke Nakamura. I was saddened to hear of his injury, but I thought that it might leave a better chance for AJ Styles to win the tournament even though he was in a different block than Styles, as Nakamura was the favourite to win the whole thing. By the last few shows of the tournament, I was cheering for someone else alongside Styles.
Nakamura made a comeback after missing one tournament match and a tag team match. As the tournament went on, I found myself starting to want him to win the B block while I wanted AJ to win the A block so the two could meet in the finals. At first, it was simply enjoying Nakamura’s work that led me to think that way. By the end of the tournament, I didn’t want to cheer for anyone else (even AJ!).
The last match of the A Block was AJ Styles vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (Kind of the John Cena of Japan, but not in a bad way, as everyone loves him) and the finals of the B Block was Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. Both block finals were amazing matches. If you ever have a chance to watch them, do it. AJ lost his match to Tanahashi, and I was slightly disappointed. Nakamura beat his stablemate, the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Okada in what has to be one of the most emotional wrestling matches I’ve ever watched in terms of how much I was drawn into it. When Nakamura won, I jumped out of my chair. I was marking out, to use the wrestling term. I completely bought into the story of the match, and Nakamura was the main reason why.
The finals were set – Nakamura vs. Tanahashi – the two greats of NJPW. Going in, I knew I would be cheering for Nakamura. The match that these two put on might be one of the greatest wrestling matches I’ve ever seen. It was 35 minutes of brilliant in ring action. Wrestling at it’s finest. It literally doesn’t get any better than that. Every false finish had me gasping. I couldn’t be torn away from the TV if you tried. Dave Meltzer gave this match a 5-star rating (which is extremely rare), and I don’t blame him. It was a masterpiece. JR would call it one for the ages. Tanahashi won after a gruelling battle. And it hurt. I mean, it actually hurt for me to see Nakamura lose. That was something I didn’t expect when I started watching NJPW. He overcame a legit injury and still tore the house down in all his matches, only to lose in the finals? Man, it hurt.
That’s when I realized that Shinsuke Nakamura is my favourite wrestler alive today. He joined the ranks of Sting, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels. He made me believe. Tanahashi and others obviously played a role in that too, but man, Nakamura made me buy into everything he did. It hurt to see Nakamura lose. It’s a good feeling. It means the wrestlers, bookers, and the promotion did their job. They got me to buy in. I’m completely hooked on NJPW now. They made me a fan, and Nakamura is a huge part of that. It’s the art of pro wrestling at its finest. Well done NJPW, you earned yourself a fan.
Nakamura has the IT factor like no other wrestler today. To me, he’s the best wrestler alive today. The good news for me is that he beat the champion in the tournament, so he’s likely to get a title shot sometime down the road, and I’ll cheering him on. YeaOh!
Who are the wrestlers who have made you believe? For some of you, maybe Nakamura isn’t the one you connect with. Maybe it’s Randy Orton, or John Cena, or Seth Rollins. Maybe it’s Dusty Rhodes or Ricky Steamboat. Whoever it is – leave a comment, and join the discussion! Tell your story of the wrestlers that make you believe!
Here’s a video of Nakamura performing his finisher, the Boma Ye (which means “Kill Him”. How more awesome does a finisher name get than that?) on various wrestlers with his theme song playing: