20th August 2016: NXT TakeOver Brooklyn II – Spoilers Ahoy!
Enter Shinsuke Nakamura…
No Japanese wrestler, in fact no wrestler ever, has anything like the charisma that Nakamura possesses. His strange facial mannerisms, body postures and voguing/ballet movements make no sense. He strides down the ramp with confidence, rhythm and style to operatic violin theme music. Few can escape his siren call. The pièce de résistance of the performance is a sudden rush to the ropes, where Shinsuke drops backwards and falls into a crumpled heap. It is unlike anything we have ever seen and it is charming as much as it is dramatic. The NXT Takeover main event saw Lee England Junior providing a wonderful violin concerto to the start of a very difficult contest indeed.
Samoa Joe is a big man, always has been. His dominance of the fledgling days of Ring Of Honor saw brutal hard hitting contests and pure domination. The move to TNA Wrestling saw his wrestling style evolve into a technical and submission based technique where he fought more cruiserweight style wrestlers. By far and away his best rivalry was against Kurt Angle and Joe shone in his ability to match him move for move, in not only submission based wrestling but a mixed martial art style. Slowly but surely Joe has moved his way through the NXT roster, not only beating Finn Bálor, but defending his title in a cage. Shinsuke Nakamura presents a challenge of different type because from a pure striking perspective, few had ever really hurt Joe and you wonder if they actually could.
Shinsuke comes from New Japanese Pro Wrestling where he rejuvenated the Strong style, a tough striking form of wrestling. It employs heavy knee strikes, straight arm punching and is a more dangerous form of pugilism. Joe is no stranger to this and at a 6’2” frame which weighs 280lbs, it takes a lot of power to even make a dent. Given that Nakamura has overcome many wrestlers’ styles and dominated with his finisher the Kinshasa, the Strong style was about to face it toughest test. Strip away the legacies and styles of these two men and you have two incredible wrestlers. One known for his submission moves and hard hitting back drop finisher, and the other for incisive punches and kicks with a running knee strike winning manoeuvre. Nakamura may appear nonchalant and casual in his manner, but he respects Joe enough to know him to be fierce and dangerous. His lackadaisical approach often provides a psychological edge, especially when he toys with his opponent on the ropes. This match saw a Samoan ready and waiting for Shinsuke at his best and this was obvious from the opening bell.
Both wrestlers have dabbled in MMA so the initial tussle featured some Ju-jitsu and amateur wrestling combinations. Once they settled into some limb based chain wrestling, Shinsuke was able to demonstrate his ability to escape basic holds with aplomb. The desire to strike hard is natural to both these combatants and as they punched and kicked trying to gain an advantage, both took counter measures and blocked as much as they could. In fact, as soon as a punch landed, evasive action prevented any real follow up. Shinsuke had a chance to vibrate his foot to the face of a fallen Samoan in the corner, the good vibrations signature, but was countered before any further damage could be inflicted. Joe was not letting his guard down for long and this featured commonly throughout the match. He has studied and knew all too well that consecutive combinations would only lead to the Kinshasa.
Joe has always had some beautiful linking moves and as he lands a power bomb on Nakamura, it leads into one of his best. The kick out leads to a variation of the Boston crab and as Shinsuke tries to slink his way out of it, Joe drops him and hooks his leg and grabs his head with the STF. As Nakamura stretched for the bottom rope, Joe grabs his arm and wrenches his neck backwards converting into the crossface. This has always been a very clever set of moves and one that shows a natural sequence, preventing any option of escape and damaging various parts of the opponents’ body. At this stage of the match, Shinsuke has suffered without landing more than a couple of knee strikes and kicks. The Strong style is being outwitted by a wrestler who seemingly has an array of submission holds that can absorb all the weapons in Shinsuke arsenal.
Joe wears down Nakamura slowly in order to attempt the finishing Musclebuster. He places Shinsuke on the ropes on two separate occasions only to have been knocked down. Both these opportunities see the execution of some fantastic wrestling moves. As Shinsuke strikes him multiple times, from out of nowhere Joe throws a left lariat that spins his opponent in the air. Nakamura seems hurt as the Samoan runs at him with a right hand, but he manages to muster the strength to roll Joe onto the floor trying to execute an arm bar. Note I said try because Joe is too crafty to be lured into this and grasps his left hand with all his might, preventing the extension into a bar. Nakamura gives in and instead wraps his legs around Joe’s head converting the move into the triangle choke. The crowd starts to buzz and Joe is hurting but his resilience stops his attacker from fully relaxing into the move. He gradually lifts Shinsuke and tries to execute his own submission; the Coquina clutch. The next few minutes are dedicated to the execution of this manoeuvre as Nakamura tried his best to evade either using the ropes or backing Joe into the corner. Even when Shinsuke manages to carry out a head roll, Joe is up and crushes Nakamura’s chest with a knee, like a thunderclap from the clouds. The Coquina clutch is locked once again…
Nakamura is really struggling to stop Joe and every move is countered and brought back into another submission. Joe places him onto the top ropes again for the Musclebuster but Shinsuke counters and drops trying to perform an inverted exploder. The Samoan is prepared and parries his hand stopping the execution of the move so Nakamura settles for a release German instead. As Joe crashes behind him, the time has come for the Kinshasa as Nakamura rallies the crowds. He runs and Joe catches him producing one of the timeliest scoopslams he will ever produce in his career. Still it is not enough to get the pin. More importantly the frustration tires Shinsuke, and combined with sheer pain, it can only lead to one eventuality. This time Joe places him on the ropes, tucks Shinsuke’s head into his shoulder and lifts him. He finally drops him onto his back and the move that has destroyed many a wrestler crushes Nakamura. Joe goes for the pin: one…two…the shoulder is raised! Shinsuke is still alive! Then we see the most poignant moment of the match as Joe stares with his eyes wide open in disbelief. The referee lifts his two fingers into the air confirming the count and Shinsuke writhes around in agony. Then from out of nowhere the crowd begin to sing. Hundreds of humming violins crescendo into a harmony affirming the affection for a wrestler refusing to stay down.
The Strong style has yet to prove fruitful for Shinsuke but his resilience allows at least one more opportunity. It is not technique that matters in this match but the sheer resolve of the man. As Nakamura rolls around like a wounded animal, it is his opponent that now feels the frustration. Joe goes to the well for a second time, places Shinsuke onto the ropes and hoists him back into Musclebuster position. He steps ready to drop but his victim wriggles and breaks the hold, landing on his feet. Whereas Joe stumbles backwards, overcompensates and lands on his behind. Shinsuke spotting the tiniest of chances, strides forward with the Kinshasa smashing Joe in the jaw. The Samoan musters up enough energy to break the pin but his attention is elsewhere. As he works his way back onto his feet, Joe is holding his jaw in pain completely rattled. His distraction stops him from seeing Nakamura take to the ropes and as he stands, an incredible force pushes him down to his knees again. The knee strike from upon high disorientates him further, as Nakamura plays his sweet tune, enticing the crowd but lulling Joe.
Swoosh, crack, thud.
One, two, three.
The second knee strikes the wounded bear and finishes him off. Joe was disorientated with the strike to the jaw, sedated with the hit to the back and knocked out from the Kinshasa. It was a moment to savour as it was the first chance Shinsuke had to actually repeatedly hit Joe hard. Throughout the match the Samoan absorbed the punches and kicks and counteracted subsequent moves. An almost perfect approach to fight someone of that ilk, but in the end no matter how hard he hurt Shinsuke, he kept getting back up. It was not so much the success of Strong style because Joe had the perfect strategy against it, but more the metal of the man. As with every wrestling match and its story, there are two actors and Joe was magnificent in defeat. The subtle movements to avoid submissions, the delicate weight changes to parry strikes and the brilliant exaggeration on the jaw strike built the intensity and delivered an epic finale. The wealth of experience and sheer number of quality matches these two men have on their resumes meant that it was always going to be a fantastic match. But what we witnessed was an amazing story full of technical ability, emotional delivery and most of all, hard punches and kicks. The legend from Japan reigns victorious and celebrates in style, punching the floor with his characteristic Yeoh! The people came to see Shinsuke Nakamura become NXT Champion and that is exactly what they got.