Shinsuke Nakamura won the 30-Man Over-The-Top Royal Rumble Match on Sunday, January 29. The King of Strong Style outlasted 29 other Superstars to emerge victorious, giving him a shot at the champion of his choice at WrestleMania 34.
Nakamura chose WWE champion AJ Styles. The company’s biggest night of the year just got a little bigger.
This is the match that fans have wanted from the moment that Nakamura arrived on WWE’s main roster. His showdown with Styles at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016 is considered by many to be one of the best matches in that company’s history.
It also happens to be one of the best in both men’s careers. Styles and Nakamura were a perfect fit together and that chemistry is something that fans have never forgotten.
But WWE made the smart move by saving the rematch. It’s the kind of bout that should not be given away on TV; it deserves a major stage. Both Styles and Nakamura have earned that and talents of their caliber should have a worldwide showcase for their work.
WrestleMania is the perfect showcase and it’s the biggest one WWE can offer. But this time the IWGP Intercontinental Championship is not the prize; it’s the WWE Championship.
This one is so important for so many reasons. Style’s win for the title over Jinder Mahal in 2017 had to happen in order for his inevitable match-up with Nakamura to take place. The match obviously could have happened without a title in the mix but that’s not what WWE wanted.
This is about giving the fans a monumental match between two prestige performers. The industry’s top gold must be included to heighten the drama and validate the rematch for the world of WWE. Then there’s the fact that WWE’s recent awareness of New Japan has been addressed multiple times on the air. What better way to do that once again than by taking the Wrestle Kingdom main event of 2016 and delivering it on the WrestleMania stage?
New Japan may have done it first but Vince McMahon surely feels WWE can do it better.
This one is also important because Nakamura has never really enjoyed the explosion that many fans felt he would. Nakamura probably should have been higher up by this point in his WWE career, but the company has stalled at times when it comes to his booking.
One moment he’s heading for the top and the next moment he’s back down to doing nothing. It’s a problem that has plagued many talents over the years and Nakamura has been no different. Indeed it’s possible that he would have been better off back in New Japan from a success standpoint. He was one of their top guys and heavily featured as a face of the company.
Merely just being on the WWE roster is surely enough for many guys but for an international Superstar like Nakamura? He definitely had to trade in his elite status for a completely new ride back to the top.
But a star like Nakamura cannot be held down and WWE certainly knew that. There were many bumps along the way but now he’s at the top of his game and headed to the biggest dance of the year. He not only lived the Strong Style life; he mastered it. But now he’s fully adapted his style to WWE and he’s mastered that as well.
So now that he’s finally on his way to WrestleMania, Nakamura has truly come full circle in his career.
But perhaps most importantly this match is crucial because it elevates WWE as a serious pro wrestling company. Sports Entertainment is here to stay and fans know that. But fans also know that Sports Entertainment would never have existed if not for the pro wrestling.
WWE has spent the past several years rebuilding its image and it all began with the talent. CM Punk’s rise led to Daniel Bryan’s Yes Movement. That led to NXT’s ascension and stars like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn became household names. Styles and Nakamura followed. Now WWE has brought in Ricochet, Ethan Carter III, War Machine and Candice LeRae, once again proving that today’s indie stars are tomorrow’s worldwide phenomenon.
WWE is the pro wrestling company. The critics may not like that but no one can deny WWE’s efforts to strengthen its rosters with the industry’s best talents in the world. The onus is on WWE is to be the powerhouse it’s been since The Attitude Era and keeping that reputation means proving that the commitment to the wrestling is alive and well like never before.
AJ Styles versus Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34 may be not only the best match of the night; it might be the best match of the year. Both men have worked hard for that accolade and they will surely deserve it when their final bell rings on The Grandest Stage of Them All.