Who is Shinsuke Nakamura?


Smackdown Live featured the surprise debut of former NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura to the WWE's main roster. Nakamura is well-known to hardcore wrestling fans around the world, but he doesn't have the appeal or name recognition to many US fans only familiar with the WWE. So who exactly is Nakamura and why is his appearance on Smackdown Live a big deal?

Nakamura got his start in Japan working for the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion. After briefly competing simultaneously in professional wrestling and MMA fighting (where he compiled a 3-1 victory), Nakamura became the youngest ever wrestler to win New Japan's most prestigious title, the IGWP Heavyweight Championship. Nakamura would spend the next decade in New Japan's main event picture, fighting the likes of Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and AJ Styles.

While Nakamura was always had tons of starpower, he really discovered himself in 2009 when he turned heel and adopted a new way of wrestling. Nakamura's strong style wrestling (adopted from a style of wrestling Japanese legend Antonio Inoki used in a real life match against Muhammed Ali) used harsh kicks, knees, and punches instead of more flashier moves. While Nakamura's in-ring style focused on punishing opponents, his entrances and personality grew more flamboyant, adopting a rockstar-type personality. Nakamura became a fighting blend of Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury, walking into the ring with an unmistakable swagger and walking out after kicking his opponent's head off.

Before he came over to the US, Nakamura helped legitimize New Japan's Intercontinental title, raising the title's prestige with matches against Kevin Owens, NXT superstar Andrade "Cien" Almas, and AJ Styles. Styles and Nakamura have plenty of history over in Japan, as the two dueled for the Intercontinental title just before Styles and Nakamura both left for the WWE in early 2016. Styles ended up in the Royal Rumble, while Nakamura went to NXT and helped carry the developmental brand after the departure of Finn Balor to the main roster.

So that's who Nakamura is, but why is he such a big deal for the WWE? Well, Nakamura is arguably one of the top wrestlers in the world, having won multiple awards and accolades for his matches in Japan. Nakamura was the winner of the Wrestling Observer's Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award, given to the top wrestler of the year. Other recipients of the award include John Cena, AJ Styles, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair, and Kurt Angle, so you can see why many fans consider him to among wrestling's all time elite.

Nakamura is a main event talent, someone who should be able to put on instant classics against the WWE's top wrestlers. But he's also incredibly versatile, able to flip between jovial to serious in a moment's notice. Not only can he connect with fans, Nakamura is someone who can entertain even when it's clear he's not trying too hard.

Nakamura also represents the WWE's biggest push to become a truly worldwide brand. The WWE has traditionally struggled to maintain a strong audience in Japan, one of the biggest wrestling markets in the world. While many of its wrestlers have experience in Japan (including Finn Balor, who founded the Bullet Club while wrestling for New Japan), none have quite the starpower as Nakamura. The WWE wants to sell the WWE Network around the world, and Nakamura represents a very big part of their plans.


The WWE has a bonafide star on their hands, a main event caliber talent with an established fanbase and the ability to turn every appearance into a spectacle. Hardcore fans already love Nakamura's flamboyant entrance, his top-notch music, and his over the top mannerisms, as well as his ability to put on a five star match with anyone. If the WWE treats Nakamura right, it shouldn't be long until stadiums are shouting "YeaOh!" as Nakamura drops into his iconic pose in the ring.