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Of course, that Nakamura was mostly an illusion. Although Nakamura always had grand entrances, he frequently didn't push himself in all but the most important matches. That is not to say he ever just phoned in a match, but he only brought the intensity he was frequently known for part time. Even in the middle of huge feuds, he likely only showed intensity for two to three minutes in the many multi-man matches NJPW used to build to feuds.
I have long believed WWE could learn a lot from New Japan's booking strategy. Factions and a lot more six and eight man tags would help protect a lot of their feuds for bigger shows. Nakamura clearly preferred that style of operation as his intensity on television and even at many pay-per-views often seemed a shadow of his New Japan times. It was very strange to hear him called the King of Strong Style when he often showed little of the fighting spirit that defines the puroresu style.
The 2018 version of the Royal Rumble started out with a crowd hot for Finn Balor and Rusev. It kept its fire through multiple appearances and multiple eliminations. But when number fourteen hit the ring, business clearly picked up. With Finn already on fire, he and Shinsuke quickly lit up the crowd.
But Shinsuke and Finn's profile remained just one of many. The ring stayed full for much of the Rumble, but after the elimination of the #30 entry Dolph Ziggler by Finn, business picked up in the match. The final six were clearly split into two camps: the young guns of Roman Reigns, Nakamura and Balor versus the veterans John Cena, Randy Orton and the returning Rey Mysterio. But unlike previous years, the veterans met with trouble. Mysterio and Orton were both soon eliminated, and then there were four.
The intensity of those final four were palpable. Cena and Reigns stood against the Japanese imports Balor and Nakamura. The chosen ones stood against a pair of stars honed anywhere but in WWE. Despite a half hour in the ring, Nakamura had only eliminated one man: his old foe Sami Zayn.
But strong style made its comeback at the end of the match. Nakamura showed all the fire of his most famous confrontations as he stood up to the two men WWE put more money behind than anyone else in the last fifteen years. And in the space of ten minutes, he sent both John Cena and Roman Reigns hurling over the top rope.
Many fans assume the much desired AJ Styles / Shinsuke Nakamura rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 10. But I would rather see a rematch from a much earlier match, one from 2006 at a New Japan event called Toukon Shidou Chapter I. At that show, the defending IWGP Heavyweight champion was a man named Brock Lesnar and his opponent was a man searching to reclaim that belt, then a "super rookie". Shinsuke came up short against "The Beast" but I'm sure I'm not the only one that would love to see a Kinshasa delivered to the skull of the current WWE Universal Champion.
If WWE can continue the stride from their current booking and help Shinsuke rebuild the big match feel he carried so well in New Japan, they could restore the mystique he built in his classic confrontations with Tanahashi, Okada and Goto. WWE is currently overflowing with talents he could bring that same magical fire against. We saw it against Zayn and to a lesser extent in his main roster debut against Dolph Ziggler. But there's also talents like Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and Cesaro on the roster, as well as folks like Adam Cole, Aleister Black and Andrade "Cien" Almas (a man that once beat Nakamura for his IWGP Intercontinental title) waiting for a call up from NXT.
Whatever the case, the Royal Rumble this year stood out as one of the best in the company's history. With the right strategy, they could build a Wrestlemania in New Orleans like none other. Whatever the case, Shinsuke Nakamura looks to be a huge part of the future of WWE. Here's hoping the big matches for the King of Strong Style are here to stay.